Consider for a moment the significant difference between a preacher (or a Christian, for that matter) claiming authority (as many are want to do) and that same preacher (or Christian) pro-claiming authority. I claim my authority as preacher only by pro-claiming God’s authority. It is, in other words, an authority transmitted—an authority illuminated—an authority I but indicate—to which I point.
At first consideration, it might seem that such proclamation, such a subordination of any personal claim of authority of office, of position, of status, of income, of knowledge, of education—such a subordination of any authority people of faith can claim as individuals, would eliminate, or, at the very least, curtail much abuse of authority in the name of God. And yet, we still run the risk of overstepping. For we risk too much authority in proclaiming the absolute authority we can always only know in part.
Fred Craddock, one of the pre-eminent voices in preaching, has a book entitled As One Without Authority, and yet, how can I claim no authority as preacher while claiming to proclaim the absolute authority of God? So how do we appropriately confess the limits of our own authority without completely rejecting that authority, and, more importantly, without compromising the authority of God we proclaim?
For it is a risk we must take—are called to take. Given a voice, a mind, an imagination, we’re to use them. And so, we take the best of whatever personal authority we have, and submit it to the proclamation of God’s authority. We acknowledge as preacher—as proclaimer, “I speak more boldly than I can justify.” We say, “I may be wrong, but it is more important for me to speak significantly and relevantly and risk being wrong than to speak less significantly and less relevantly and reduce my risk. If I take great care not to risk statements about the Bible, about God and God’s expectations of our living—take great care not to risk statements that might be wrong, I honestly wouldn’t have much to say!
So confession necessarily accompanies profession, and (here’s the key), in the midst of the confusing clamor of those claiming and proclaiming authority, the confession of faith I proclaim is an authority not of decree or of hierarchy—not of rigid dogmatism or command, nor is it an authority of power, but rather a relational authority, personal, grace-full and loving—easily distinguished from all autocratic expressions of divinity. So any authority I claim in proclaiming that authority cannot be other than that.
And thus I offer you my best impression of God. Better than claiming to offer you my best understanding of God—always too great—too presumptuous a claim to make. And “impression” allows for so many good associations. Here she is, an up-and-coming young stand-up, in the pulpit, doing her impression of God. Here’s what has impressed me—formed itself on me—in and through me—left its mark on me. A good prayer, by the way, don’t you think? “Impress me, God.” For God makes a good impression. God creates a good impression. That is, in fact, what creation is! And as part of that creation, this constitutes my impressing (not necessarily impressive), confessing, professing.