Whole Counsel Theology

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My Continued Posts over at Envoy

Over at Envoy Magazine (link in the previous post) there has been an ongoing discussion about the sufficiency of Scripture and it being the only infallible rule for faith and practice. In any case, the people over there were using an incorrect definition of the term Sola Scriptura (at least many of them) and because we weren't agreeing on a definition, the conversation wasn't going anywhere. With my post below, I think some of that changed.

Patti said:
Dear Shawn,
I do believe it might be wise to do a little honest examination of sola scriptura here, or at least your take on it. Does it really even exist? Do people really read only the Bible and take it alone as their rule of faith?
Did you take a Bible study course, whether formal or on your own? Did it contain material to help you understand the Bible, especially with difficult verses? Did it teach you that any and all tradition must be viewed with suspicion or rejected because it isn't the Bible?

Patti, you have underlined a major issue that is cutting the legs out from underneith this whole discussion. What you have described above is NOT what Sola Scriptura means! It's really not.

Do some people read only the Bible and nothing else and get the right answers and interpretations? Sure, some of them do, but this is not the meaning of the doctrine.

Have people such as myself (and Shawn I suspect) taken courses on the Bible, and read books to help us understand it better? Yes! Have I studied some Greek and read exegetical commentaries? YES! Have I studied grammar so that I can identify certain parts of speech and how words fit together so as better to capture the thoughts of the Scripture's writers? Absolutely!

Do I have my own traditions? You had better believe that I do!

However, any and all traditions that I may espouse and respect are to be submitted to Scripture, because Scripture, and only Scripture, is the infallible rule of faith. Confessions and traditions are only useful when they are based on the Scriptures in that they serve as a summary and explanation of what the Bible itself teaches. Where a confession or tradition fails to interpret the Bible correctly (in its textual, historical and cultural contexts according to the rules of grammar and language) then that tradition (at least at that point) must be rejected.

THAT is what Sola Scriptura means. THAT is why Protestants (such as Reformed Baptists like myself) and Roman Catholics have such a disagreement -- because of doctrines that the RC church holds like Papal Infallibility -- which flies in the face of the Scriptures being the sole infallible rule. The pope, being a man and not God, is capable of error (just like Paul and even Peter). Because of that, we must study intensely into the Scriptures, begging God to get our traditions and presuppositions out of the way when we come to the sacred text so that by His grace we can interpret it properly (of course not ignoring the fact that the Holy Spirit will work through knowledge of things like grammar and context).

If we cannot settle on this definition of Sola Scriptura then this discussion will go nowhere, because all people will be doing is attacking a doctrine and belief system that doesn't exist.

Statements like "James White doesn't believe in Sola Scriptura anyway" (at least I think that is how donnatoo put it) are unhelpful. Even if you don't think he's holding to the right definition of it, the one I provided in my last post, that is really irrelevant. The reason is this: it is the definition that he is using, and it is the definition that I am using. So then, that is what must be argued against. We say there are no other infallible rules. If you say there are (and I am 99.99% certain that you do) then that is our point of disagreement.

Agreeing on a definition is critical. As a Reformed (Calvinistic) Baptist, I have to fight against a lot of incorrect presuppositions that many people in my denomination have about what "Calvinists" believe. Many think, as a Calvinist, that I believe this or that which really isn't true, and isn't what it means to be a "Calvinist." I also recently worked to arrive at a common understanding about what someone thought was "free will" so that we could have a mutually agreed to definition to further the discussion. Without it, then we go no where. You will think that we are avoiding the issue, when it is not the issue we were trying to engage in the first place. :)

In any case, I hope this had clarified a few things.

For Jesus, My Lord and Savior,
David B. Hewitt

After that post, I think things finally started going the right direction, though I am unsure exactly. So, I responded to Patti again as well as a newcomer to the thread below.

Patti said:
Dear David,
So, too, is our Sacred Tradition measured, and it is also used to protect Scripture. That was how we established the New Testament canon used by Christians. I'm glad we have some common ground. Thank you for clearing up things.

Ah, but here lies the difference. I would say that any and every tradition must be measured by Scripture by the means I mentioned above. This included the so-called Sacred Tradition of the RCC. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees quite soundly when they allowed their traditions (which they considered sacred and authoritative) get in the way of the requirements of Scripture. So then, that is what protestants seek to do... at least, that is what they ought to be doing, though I'll readily admit most do not, which is why we have a lot of the problems we have in our churches, which I'll explain briefly below.

Just_Robbi said:
To me, the crux of the matter is that Sola Scriptura gives each reader to come to his own understanding of Scripture. Theres no need for bible classes - the Holy Spirit will guide you. If you go to bible classes the teacher then becomes your authority? No?

No. A lot of people think that, but it is not true, at least not all of it. For sure the Holy Spirit guides in interpretation; without the Spirit's guidance then we'll never get the full thrust of the Scripture and it will not impact us as it should.

That being said, the Holy Spirit, when He inspired the writers of Scripture to write, they did just that -- write. They used language. Therefore, the Holy Spirit communicates in Scripture through the language that the original writers used to write. This is why we must understand the rules of language in order to interpret it properly! We need to understand context and grammar, vocabulary and historical setting so that we can grasp the way that the original writers of the Holy Scriptures were used by the Spirit to write.

This is why we need Bible classes. The professor doesn't become the authority in those cases; rather, the authority is still the Scripture. This is true because the professor is going to communicate to us the things needed to understand the Scriptures properly, how to escape presuppositions and use grammar, context, etc.

Just_Robbi also said:
How do you know the teacher is instructing you correctly in those bible classes. Many protestant churches have differing doctrines, no?

If the teacher is training you how to use language/grammar and context properly, then he is doing a good job. Once we have those tools in our hands and are fully submitted to the Holy Spirit, we can be confident we are arriving at the correct interpretation of a passage. Of course, if we do NOT know the language as well as we ought (as most of us do not) then it would help us to seek out a person who knows more than we. Then, when that person gives an interpretation, question them as to how they have arrived at it. If that interpretation squares with the context (the MOST important interpretive principle, and arguably the one you can learn with the least amount of schooling), then it should be accepted.

Many protestant churches do have different doctrines, yes. The reason for this is threefold:
  1. Failure to distance oneself from traditions and presuppositions before interpretation. When we come to the Scriptures we must beg the Holy Spirit to speak from His Word and that we would not do violence to the text as we interpret it. Traditions (ALL of them) must be subimitted to the rigorous scrutinization of the Scriptures.
  2. Failure to user proper hermeneutical (interpretive) methods. This is first and foremost the context, but also includes other nuances of language (vocab/grammar/culture).
  3. Sin. If we are unrepentant of our sin and are in rebellion against God, then even IF we arrive at a correct interpretation, we won't care. We'll reject it and then maintain our erroneous lifestyle and convictions.

One or more of these is always present when interpretations do not agree.

I hope this has been helpful!

David Benjamin Hewitt



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