Tom Nichols Tag Archive

I have been preparing to preach a sermon on power and authority this Sunday. As part of my informal research, I have asked several people to define the words power and authority for me. Are they the same? Are they different – and if so, how? Most people gave a similar response: a short pause, followed by an attempt to reason the similarities and difference between the two terms. It was our youth pastor who gave the best response. After pausing for a moment, he said, “You can feel it. The difference is there. But articulating it is hard to do!”

Power and authority are major themes in the Scriptures. It is incredibly important that Christians develop a positive theology for power and authority – not only so that we know how to handle them rightly, but also so that we know how to prevent and respond to their abuse. One of the reasons why churches have proven incapable time after time in preventing and responding to abuse is because we do not have a positive theology for how to handle power and authority with godliness, humility, and respect.

So what do we mean by the terms power and authority? While I cannot attempt to say everything that could be said, here are six points for us to keep in mind as we develop a theology of power and abuse. Continue Reading

There is no doubt that we in the West – particularly in the United States – are facing an authority crisis. One only needs to take a cursory look at posts on social media, comments on YouTube, or the stories run on various news channels to see that we have a real problem with authority. Intense disagreements with authority figures or established sources of information have become the norm for the world we live in.

Author Tom Nichols has described this phenomenon in his book The Death of Expertise. He describes what we’re experiencing as the “collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers.”[1] Equal rights means that our opinions must be equal as well; to reject authority and expert figures is to assert our own autonomy and individualism – both of which are national virtues. “The death of expertise,” Nichols writes, is a “rejection of authority in all its forms coupled to an insistence that strongly held opinions are indistinguishable from facts.”[2]

Nichols identifies several causes for what we’re all experiencing today, such as the lost art of conversation, critical thinking being replaced by the Google search engine, and the fusion of entertainment with journalism. Yet regardless of its cause, this shift in the public attitude is marked by the fact that it is now a positive thing to be hostile toward sources of expertise and authority.

It is in this context of our current age that makes the Christian view of authority completely unique. In a world where we have associated the word ‘authority’ with abuses of power, privilege and platform, true Christian authority is marked by an ethic of service, sacrifice and suffering. The Church has been tasked with shining a light on this ethic of authority by Christ himself through the practice of ordination. Continue Reading