..."Over here you have the conservatives, who look at the Bible the same way medieval Catholics looked at the church and pope: infallible, inerrant, absolutely authoritative. Then over here you have the liberals, who see the Bible more or less as a collection of artifacts, reflections of the religious life of the Jewish and early Christian people--inspiring, perhaps even inspired in places, but not authoritative..."
He (Neo) continued "What if the real issue is not the authority of the text down on this line but rather the authority of God, moving mysteriously up here on a higher level, a foot above the ground? What if the issue isn't a book we can misinterpret with amazing creativity but rather the will of God, the intent of God, the desire of God, the wisdom of God--maybe we should say the kingdom of God?"
Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, pp 50-51
There is a subtlety here that I've had a hard time seeing through, but I think I'm starting to understand it now.
I can't remember where, but I've heard or read of some emergent who has said the we conservative have made the Bible into a "paper Pope", which seems to be what McLaren is saying in that first paragraph, when he says conservatives view the Bible as Catholics used to view the Pope.
But that argument refutes nothing. If anything, it's like taking a forgery of an art work and using it to disprove the existence of the real piece of art. Mankind taking the words of a mere man as being as authoritative and infallible as the Word of God only shows mankind's errors, not that the Bible is not to be viewed as infallible, inerrent, and absolutely authoritative.
The subtlety comes in in the next paragraph, where McLaren through his character Neo tries to separate the will of God from the Word of God, or maybe a more accurate way of saying that is he's separating what one thinks is the will of God from what one thinks of the Word of God.
He begins by trying to separate the question of the authority of the Word of God from the question of the authority of God. The problem becomes, though, that once he's done that, how does he intend to know the authority of God in regards to what God's will is? If God is authoritative, then why is the Word He gave us less authoritative? If God's Word isn't authoritative, then how are to know for certain what the will of God is?
One can see how this works out in the ideas of liberals such as Borg and Crossan and Spong--the Bible to them is largely a work of mythical fiction, with little real history buried in the obviously fantasy accounts of miracles and angels and all that stuff. We can know little if anything of the real Jesus from the Bible, and obviously the accounts of his death and resurrection are mostly if not totally made up by sincerely but ignorant followers who wrote them many years after the fact, and perhaps there is Paul who may have seen the early church as a way to make a name for himself or what not. While the Bible is of course respected and revered (in the same way a wife-beating husband may claim to love his wife), there is no compulsion to follow it's obviously barbaric dictates by those who have progressed beyond such things.
And so, the Word of God is merely...there. If anything, they seem to take far more time trying to explain it way than anything else. And in the end, one can see that their ethics and morality and almost completely contrary to anything in the Bible.
That is the door McLaren opens with this idea, back in 2001. And does anyone care to deny that emergents have walked through that door, and are becoming more like the liberals referenced above?
This attempt to artificially separate the authority of the Word of God from the authority of God is not good, and in the end doesn't make sense. Imagine, for example, a king issuing a decree. The words of the king in the decree have authority, because the king has authority. It would not do to say that while the king yes has authority, the words of the king are really not so authoritative.
And if that could be said of merely human king, how much more for the One who is King of all Kings? To say that He has authority, but to say that His Word does not, is a tricky bit of sophistry that will not work, but will only undermine the idea of God's authority.