In philosophy it’s known as “misplaced authority.” I prefer calling it “the Holiday Inn Express experience.” You know the ads. Staying at a Holiday Inn Express is such a smart travel move that those who stay there are able to perform wonders outside their normal area of expertise.
Of course, it’s just a joke. No one really believes you can do brain surgery just because you get a good deal on a motel room.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem with misplaced authority. One of the most obvious examples is Albert Einstein. Einstein was a genius in physics. His theoretical constructions continue to be the starting point for most serious discussions concerning the nature of the physical universe. No one questions that he was a smart guy.
But does that mean he was an expert in other areas of inquiry? Einstein was constantly being asked what he thought about God. This is classic misplaced authority: Since he knows bunches about the universe then he probably has special insight into the One who designed the universe. And he never even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.
A more recent example involves another Al—Al Mohler. This Al is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is one of the shining stars among the new Southern Baptist conservative royalty. This Al has emerged as an eloquent spokesperson for biblical inerrancy and the resurgence of Calvinism among Southern Baptists.
Holding a doctorate in theology from Southern Seminary along with additional post-graduate studies at Oxford University in England, no one questions that Al is a smart guy. And his credentials as an inerrantist grant him enormous authority among Southern Baptists to speak to all matters biblical and theological.
But here’s where the Holiday Inn Express experience begins: Just because someone is an expert on the Bible does not mean they get to make up new sins.
That’s right—Al Mohler has made up a new sin. He calls it the “sin of waiting.” Al is worried that young people in our culture are waiting too long to get married. This delay leaves them open to all sorts of temptations, most of them sexual. The solution, get married early. Mohler believes that God would have young men thinking about marriage when they are as young as 17 years of age.
Al, of course, is entitled to his opinion. He is free to think whatever he wants to think. But once he dubs something a “sin,” then he has invoked the authority of the divine will. After all, the very definition of sin is behavior that deliberately disobeys the expressed will of God.
Now it’s important to understand there is nothing in the Bible about a “sin of waiting.” In fact, there is no divinely decreed age for marriage. Al just made it up. He has taken his opinion and elevated it to the level of holy writ. He has declared something a sin that the Bible does not even discuss. In short, Al claims to know what’s going on in God’s mind.
I don’t question that Al is a smart guy. He is well read and is a recognized expert in his field. But those credentials do have limits. Presuming to know what God thinks about a subject on which the Bible is silent is sort of like claiming to be a brain surgeon after one night in a cheap hotel.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Ala.