It’s all a matter of authority

Sep 22, 2021 by

by Stephen Kneale, Building Jerusalem:

When talking with your average, university-educated, white middle class Brit about the gospel, much of your success depends on whether you can affirm Christianity logically (so they feel). When talking with your average South Asian Muslim, whether university educated or otherwise, what matters most is whether it accords with the recognised authorities. When chatting with the average non-university educated Brit, things are persuasive when they can be shown to work in practice with immediate value. They are more likely to be swayed by their friends than ‘authorities’.

But, of course, all of these things are matters of authority. We all have recognised authorities. Even those we consider to be anti-authoritarian have a recognised authority of some sort. It’s not that people don’t recognise authorities, it’s that their authorities are all different. That means, when it comes to our evangelism, the authorities to which we appeal will need to change depending on the people to whom we’re talking.

So, in a middle class, university educated setting, we appeal to both logic and the academics who are recognised as leading authorities in their field. The educated professor, who is able to show his logical workings, is more likely to be heard than the uneducated person speaking outside of their field. But ultimately, the university educated believe they are relying primarily on their own logic. If we are disagreeing with the educated professor, we have to show logically why we believe they are wrong (and, often, with reference to other educated professors who agree with us). They think they are trained to reason logically, and what is logical to them is that those with the greatest training know the most within their field. So, we must appeal to the right authorities. Their recognised authorities are those with the right training and their own sense of logical reasoning. The gospel, to this group, must be reasoned logically and with reference to those with relevant training. Their highest authority is personal logic, with academics acting as a secondary authority for them.

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