Steven Nemes – Theological Authority in the Church

Episode: In this episode Chris Tilling interviews Steven Nemes about his forthcoming book, Theological Authority in the Church (Eugene, Or.: Cascade, forthcoming [2023]). This new book by Steven Nemes argues, via an interpretation of the New Testament texts themselves, in favor of a “low” conception of ecclesial authority in theology. It maintains that no one in the Church has any further authority than that of derivatively, fallibly, and in principle reversibly relating and bearing witness to the teachings of Jesus and the works of God in Him. It concludes with an essay about the consequences of this thesis for the practice of Christian theology and the nature of Christian faith itself. It draws principally from the thought of Huldrych Zwingli and Adolf von Harnack.

Guest: Steven Nemes has a PhD in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, where he studied under Profs. Oliver Crisp and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. He is the author of Orthodoxy and Heresy, a volume in the Cambridge Elements in the Problems of God series, as well as of two forthcoming books, Theology of the Manifest: Christianity without Metaphysics, forthcoming with Lexington Press/Fortress Academic, and Theological Authority in the Church: Reconsidering Traditionalism and Hierarchy, forthcoming with Cascade Books. He currently works as an instructor of Latin and Greek at North Phoenix Preparatory Academy. He is happily married to Rachel, and they have a 6-month-old son named Cristian.

Steven appeared in a previous episode, debating divine simplicity here.

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4 Replies to “Steven Nemes – Theological Authority in the Church”

  1. Laura

    Thank you very much for this interesting discussion.

    I did wonder, throughout the interview, how Dr. Nemes sees the distinction between the teaching of Christ and traditionalism play out in practice. It seems to me that we only have access to the teaching of Christ through the Bible, and we only have access to the Bible through the interpretations of human beings. Those interpretations are necessarily situated and contingent on the social location of the interpreter.

    So, I wondered:
    Does Dr. Nemes address the role of interpretation in accessing the teaching of Christ?
    And when accessing the acts of God, does Dr. Nemes, as a former and/or present-day Pentecostal, include the acts of God today, or only the canonical acts of God?

    When in a protestant church, the same man stands up week after week and proclaims his interpretation of Christ’s teaching, which is often based on a long tradition of interpretations of that passage, I’m not sure how we have gotten very far away from a mini-version of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. But I haven’t read the book, and maybe I would find the answer there!

    Again–thank you for this podcast. I enjoy thinking through these issues. As a Biblical Scholar, it’s fun to listen in on theologians’ discussions!

    • Steven

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks very much for your comment and for your kind words about the interview.

      Your questions are good ones. I address them at length in the book, especially in chapters 6 (“Objections”) and 7 (“Concluding Remarks”). But I can answer them briefly here as follows.

      1. Accessing the teachings of Christ is only possible through interpretation. Indeed, accessing anything at all apart from one’s immediate lived states (happiness, sadness, hunger, cold, pleasure, pain, etc.) is only possible through interpretation. But this interpretation is necessarily fallible for all persons who are not Christ himself or God. Any particular person’s interpretation can in principle be called into question if one determines that it is not faithful to its object, namely Jesus’s teachings or God’s works in him.

      2. Any word of Jesus and any act of God is normative in principle if it is intended to be. But whether or not Jesus has said anything or God has done anything in this sense is a matter of fallible interpretation. There is no escaping fallibility in this process.

      3. The difference between the Protestant church and the Roman Catholic Church is that—in principle at least—the Protestant should allow that the tradition be revised or corrected (or so I say), whereas the Roman Catholic Church considers certain deliverances of their tradition are not legitimately subjects of revision or correction.

      I hope this is helpful!

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