No institutions, and very few persons, function as authorities for theology after Google. Ever since Jesus’ (often misunderstood) statement about Peter that “on this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16), the church has had issues with authority. The point is too obvious to need examples. The pastor standing up in the pulpit in the early 1960s was still a major authority. Of course, pastors still stand up in pulpits today, and some still view themselves as indispensable purveyors of truth.
But the world is changing around us. Those of us who speak in pulpits are having to rethink our relationship with the audiences we address. Most people today shrug their shoulders at those who claim to be authorities in religious matters. (For many of us, scripture continues to be an authority, but the way in which it’s an authority has changed massively over the last 30 years. More on that topic the next time I write.) Theology today means what some number of us find plausible about our faith or are convinced of. Our leaders are people like Brian McLaren or Tony Jones or Spencer Burke — people who say things that ring true to us, so that we say, “Yeah, I think that guy’s got some important insights. I’m going to read his blog or find a way to talk with him, and I’m going to recommend to my friends that they do the same.”
One thing I anticipate, though with a sense of "here we go again", is this writer's promised take on his views of scriptural authority. I think I know what it will be like, but I can hope not.
Anyway, what about the above?
Well, first, what is being said? He says that pastors and churches and denominations are not how the authorities they once were. He even hints at a questioning of biblical authority, or at least how his version of it is different than what people thought in the past.
He gives a small list of 'usual suspects', but why are they "our leaders"? What does it mean that they "say things that ring true to us"?
A crooked salesman can say things that a person may say "rings true". Anyone who has followed a cult leader will say how that leader says things that "rang true". Someone who thinks that Al Gore is anything other than an agenda-driven charlatan may say that his claims about global warming "ring true".
"Rings true" is a poor way of determining if something is true or not. If anything, it says more about the listener than the speaker--perhaps it simply rings true to a person because it is what he or she wants to hear, it doesn't so much "ring true" as it "agrees with me". Which is why the fact that we now know that much of the data behind global warming was bad data, that the scientist behind it were playing fast and loose with the facts, does not effect those who truly believe in it and want to continue implementing changes based on it, no matter how much damage those changes will do to society. It is why people who are in a cult or a false religion will sooner kill others who tell them the truth than themselves listen to the truth and believe what is true.
Which is why this statement of his seems cultic to me.