Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry (DMin)



First Advisor

Dottie Escobedo-Frank, DMin

Second Advisor

Jamie Noling-Auth, DMin

Third Advisor

Nijay Gupta, PhD


Five hundred years ago, a group of Christians challenged the authority of church and tradition, provoking a Reformation that changed the face of the world. But the fractured history of Protestantism suggests the question of Christian authority is more complex than the potent rallying cry of “sola scriptura” might have first suggested. Scripture requires interpretation, and interpretation opens the door to substantial influence by church, tradition, Spirit, reason, and even individual experience. Branches of Protestantism have distinguished themselves in part by the authoritative priority they attribute to these sources. But Christian authority cannot be possessed as a static and absolute quality of any single entity. Its shape is fundamentally relational, emerging from the dynamic interchange between ancient scripture and present context, inspired tradition and Spirit-endued community. In short, the authority of the Bible functions dialogically. Section one of this dissertation traces the ways Christian perspectives on authority have shifted over time as the church has encountered new challenges. Section two describes how branches of Christianity have attempted to solve the authority problem by anchoring it in different primary sources—tradition, scripture alone, Spirit, experience, and reason. Section three introduces a dialogical paradigm as a fresh way for conceiving how religious authority functions and points to the distinct contributions of various dialogue partners. It concludes with the case study of gay marriage, exploring what dialogic authority looks like in practice. Section four describes the artifact, a book entitled The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today, which provides a lay introduction to core questions of biblical interpretation and authority. Section five contains the book proposal. Section six reflects on the importance of what I have learned viii in the course of this dissertation and suggests ideas for further work that may be of value to the church.

Included in

Christianity Commons