Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura

By Dave Armstrong (mid-1990s)

* * * * * 

Catholics accept Church authority and a reliable, divinely-protected Tradition, whereas Protestants "pick and choose" which traditions are to their own particular denominational taste. This is arbitrary in two ways:

1) There is really no cogent, non-arbitrary method for Protestants to determine which tradition is true (e.g., NT Canon) and which is false (e.g., Marian doctrines);

2) The notion of "authority," where present at all in Protestant ecclesiology, is inadequate for the task of proclaiming "authoritatively" which tradition is true, and the grounds will be circular in any event:
Protestant (P): X is a true, biblical doctrine because it is biblical.

Catholic (C): According to which denominational tradition?

P: Ours.

C: How do you know your tradition is true, while others which contradict it are false?

P: Because we are the most biblical.

C: How do you know yours is the most biblical?

P: Because our exegesis is the most all-encompassing and consistent, and true to the clear teaching of Scripture.

C: But the other Protestant traditions claim the same superiority . . .

P: I must say in love that they are wrong.

C: How do you know they are wrong? I thought that Protestants were supposed to be tolerant of each other's "distinctives," especially in "secondary" issues, yet you are calling fellow brothers in Christ "wrong."

P: I am compelled to because they have a faulty hermeneutic and exegesis, and I must stand firm for biblical truth.C: How do you know they have a faulty method of interpretation?

P: By Scripture and linguistic study, and the consensus of scholarly commentaries, and because R.C. Sproul said so [ :-) ]

C: But again, the others claim the same prerogative and abilities.

P: Then if they are wrong, they must be blinded by their presuppositional biases, or else by sin.C: How do you know that?

P: Because they come to the wrong conclusions about the perspicuous biblical data.C: Frankly, I would say that that is circular reasoning. But, even granting your contention for the sake of argument, how does an uneducated seeker of Christian truth choose which denomination is true to the Bible?

P: The one which is most biblical . . .

C: Now, don't start that again [smiling]. They all claim that.


P: Well, then, the one which is apostolic and has roots in the early Church.

C: Then the Fathers must be studied in order to determine who has the early Church, "apostolic" tradition?

P: Yes, I suppose so [frowning].

C: But what if it is found that the great majority of Fathers have an opinion on doctrine X contrary to yours?

P: Then they are wrong on that point.C: How do you know that?

P: By studying Scripture.

C: So when all is said and done it is irrelevant what the early Church, or the Fathers, or the Church from 500 to 1500 believed?

P: Not totally, but I must judge their beliefs from Scripture.C: Therefore you are - in the final analysis - the ultimate arbiter of true Christian Tradition?

P: Well, if you must put it in those blunt terms, yes.

C: Isn't that a bit arrogant?

P: Not as much as the pope and a bunch of celibate old men in red hats and dresses telling me what I should believe [scowling].

C: You make yourself the arbiter of all true Christian doctrine, down to the smallest particular, yet you object to a pope who makes an infallible pronouncement about every hundred years or so!!!! Most remarkable and ironic! I say you are obviously a Super-Pope, then.

P: You can say that if you like. We call it the primacy of the individual conscience.C: So you think that your own individual opinion and "conscience" is superior to the combined consensus of hundreds of years of Church history, papal pronouncements, apostolic Tradition, Councils, etc.?

P: Yes, because if a doctrine is biblical, I must denounce any tradition of men that is otherwise.

C: For that matter, how do you know what the Bible is?

P: Well, I'll quote from John Calvin:

Scripture is indeed self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning . . . Illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else's judgment that Scripture is from God . . . We seek no proofs, . . . Such, then, is a conviction that requires no reasons . . . I speak of nothing other than what each believer experiences within himself.

[Institutes, Book I, chapter 7, section 5 / vol. 1, pp. 80-81 in Battles/McNeill edition]
C: That seems intrinsically unreasonable, by Calvin's own stated criteria. Yet you've attempted to give me reasons and logic throughout this whole conversation!

P: Faith requires no reasons. The Holy Spirit makes it clear.C: Well, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. But I would say that you would not know what NT Scripture was for sure, if not for the Catholic Church. Calvin's criteria is essentially no different than the Mormons' "burning in the bosom" as a justification for their beliefs. Besides, on what grounds do you trust Calvin, when he contradicts earlier Church Tradition? Scripture is not self-authenticating, in the sense of its determining the extent and parameters of itself. This is clearly shown in the divergences in the early Church on the question of the NT Canon.

P: There was a broad consensus among the Fathers.C: I'll grant you that . . . very broad. But there is more than enough difference to require an authoritative decree by the Church to put the matter to rest.

P: But God guided those Christians specifically because His Word was at stake.

C: Oh? First of all, I'm glad to hear that you acknowledge the 4th century Church as "Christians." Many Calvinists and other Protestants think the Church was already off the rails by then!

P: Well, that's silly, because Chalcedon was a good Council, and that was held in 451. So was Ephesus in 431.

C: Good. So you agree that God guided the early Church. But not in all matters?

P: No, not when they talked about the papacy, Mary, bishops, the Real Presence, communion of saints, penance, purgatory, infused justification, baptismal regeneration, confession, absolution, apostolic Tradition, apostolic succession, and many other erroneous doctrines.

C: How do you know that?

P: Because those doctrines clearly aren't biblical.

C: According to which "clear" denominational tradition?

P: Ours . . .

C: [smacks forehead, then throws hands up and gazes toward the heavens, wincing in despair]


And so on and so forth. Yet Protestants claim we are the ones with an epistemological problem!


CD-Host said...

In real of course Baptists don't even get caught in that trap regarding tradition. They reject all traditions including the Catholic derivation of the NT canon. This can be proven by noticing that they accept the Wulfila as being the bible that God raised up for the Goths, even though the Wulfila does not contain the book of Acts, i.e. has a different canon.

What they know is that the bible that God raised up for the English speaking world is the KJV. The canon comes from the British Bible Society based on a consensus of the church starting from pre-Lutheran reformers and existing to today. As long as such a consensus exists the 27 book canon is the correct canon.

In other words:
God's church knows God's word for themselves.
God's church in the English speaking world has the 27 book NT canon.

God's church in other parts of the world may very well have different canons, and his church certainly in other times had different canons.

There is no appeal to an unchanging tradition handed down from the church anywhere.

Dave Armstrong said...

This is why the Baptist tradition (like any Protestant tradition, ultimately, is viciously circular. Tradition is all over Scripture, and they claim to follow Scripture, yet they selectively diss tradition. It can't possibly be done (assuming one is trying to think logically and consistently) See:

Tradition is Not a Dirty Word


Biblical Evidence for the Oral Torah (Hence, by Analogy, Oral Apostolic Tradition)


Biblical Evidence for True Apostolic Tradition vs. "Traditions of Men"


25 Short Biblical Arguments For the Binding Authority of Tradition


Biblical Evidence For Apostolic Oral Tradition


Sola Scriptura vs. Ephesians 4 and St. Paul's Word Selection: Scripture(s), Tradition, and Church (+ Body)


The Old Testament, the Ancient Jews, and Sola Scriptura


Many many more:


CD-Host said...

Hi Dave.

Those are two different issues entirely. You are making two different claims here.

A) The canon cannot be derived outside of tradition.
B) The books in the canon mandate the use of tradition.

Either (A) or (B) can be true of false entirely independent of the other. Your post was about (A) not (B) and I addressed that. Before jumping on to (B) I just want to make sure you see how this refutes A.


On (B) you definitely want to be careful. Take your second link. I'm not sure by "Oral Torah" what exactly you are going to include. But at the very least Mishnah is always included by Jews. Now you may mean some sort of "oral torah" that doesn't actually exist, which has the stuff you seem to want about sacrificial practice but not like strong support for Judaism. For example if you are actually going to argue that Mishnah is biblically supported then Yeshu Ha-Notzri (Jesus the Nazarene) "practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray". John 7:12,47 specifically refutes that charge. So is Jesus nothing more than a magician and a false prophet, or do you want to rethink your position on the Mishnah?

And that example gets to the crucial distinction Baptists make. They don't deny there exists church tradition. What they do deny though is that there is an authoritative tradition. They don't deny that the charges against Yeshu Ha-Notzri are made in Christian history, anymore than they deny the council of Nicaea occurred. And in fact Baptists even have their own body of traditions that they hold dear like the four freedoms.

However, a Baptist rejects the authority of all tradition. That is the meaning of sola scriptura. Tradition exists it is just not authoritative.

Many of the verses you use for example 2Thes 2:15 are much more specific than you are applying them. They indicate is that apostles have the authority to create binding statements. And the bible agrees that the the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Eph. 2:20. No questions the apostles had teaching that were not written down yet and are authoritative. And given this foundation, Baptists believe that the apostles did fulfill their commission, that those things that needed to be retained were recorded per God's instructions to other profits (example Isaiah 30:8).

So we have two levels:

Scripture is authoritative
Tradition is advisory

Scripture is inerrant
Tradition is errant

Scripture is perspicuous.
Tradition is a web of complexity.

In short
Scripture is the word of God.
Tradition is the word of Man.

Baptists aren't unique in their sola scriptura position. Where they are unique is a serious attempt to be fully consistent with it. My pastor never considered himself or his teachings to be authoritative. His job was to elucidate and enlighten, he could teach about scripture but he could not generate his own scripture. And since “the church” meant the local church.....

A set of binding teachings by Jesus or the apostles would be scripture. So saying "I think there is a collection of teachings that is not in the canon" is just saying "I think we have the wrong canon". And that's fine. Propose alternate books and see if the church of God sees them as the words of God. This is how other controversial books got accepted.

Now if you want things over and above scripture then what you would be basically be saying is that you want men who have some secret teaching that are not recorded elsewhere and they have the ability to construct new scriptures. And that is only granted to prophets and even among prophets is rare.

So the question isn't really "tradition" but making it into a specific claim.

Dave Armstrong said...

It remains pointless and a poor use of time, IMHO, to debate internal Christian matters with an atheist.

But thanks for your thoughts.

CD-Host said...

Yeah it couldn't be that your arguments don't hold up. The whole Catholic apologetic falls apart when confronted with Baptist theology.

The Catholic apologetic depends crucially depends on the contradictions in Lutheranism and Reformed theology. Take a principled position, the contradiction goes away. Face it, there is no "vicious circle" at all.

I think I've demonstrated that about 1/2 dozen times now.

Dave Armstrong said...

You certainly offer a unique perspective! :-) You're "sure" there is no God but you're also awful sure that Baptists cream Catholics whenever the two meet. LOL And you're here to provide the Baptist / atheist position . . .

Of course it may be that you are an anti-Catholic Baptist utilizing the cover of a supposed atheist view in order to argue with me: knowing my (nearly five-years-old) policy on non-interaction with anti-Catholics, for the sheer futility of it.

Stranger things have happened online, and people pretend to be a lot of things they are not. The anonymity game (that has always annoyed me about the Internet) does nothing to disabuse me of the possibility of subterfuge for polemical purposes.

CD-Host said...

I don't know what an anti-Catholic is.

And if you click on my name you can see a 5 year history of posts and topics. So unless I was planning subterfuge for years so that I can get onto your blog. You might want to put your paranoia in check. You were the one who asked me about my theology, so you can do constant ad hominem attacks. My intent has been to discuss issues. And I haven't offered a "atheist / Baptist" perspective. Except on the atheist thread, everything has been a pure Baptist perspective.

Your tradition argument fell apart to good old fashioned IFB style religion.

but you're also awful sure that Baptists cream Catholics whenever the two meet.

Yeah it is odd. I'm still not sure why. You would think many of the Reformed arguments that work well against Baptists would work for Catholics. I'm actually thinking of posting on this on my blog, the rock-paper-scissors of apologetics.

I just need to figure out the mechanism a little better.

Jim Paton said...

"The whole Catholic apologetic falls apart when confronted with Baptist theology."

ROFL. This made my day. The old one's are most certainly the best.

Dave Armstrong said...

I got a big kick out of it, too. :-) We might as well pack it up, huh Jim, in the face of these unanswerable, unutterably profound Baptist refutations (so courteously brought to us by an atheist). LOL