This is a reblog from Principium Unitatis.
MONDAY, JULY 14, 2008
Michael Brown on “Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo”
I recently read Michael Brown’s “Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo”. What I say below is a reply to his post. (On a related note, my post on Keith Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura can be found here.)
Michael claims that the sola scriptura position is not “me-and-my-own-interpretation-is-authoritative”. He claims that sola scriptura advocates read and interpret the Bible “with the church”. Sola scriptura advocates, he claims, are not biblicists. Their position, according to Michael, is not solo scriptura.
But when you ask sola scriptura advocates what exactly they are referring to by ‘church’, they will eventually answer with something semantically equivalent to “whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do”. And if you ask them, “Which creeds, confessions and historical theology are authoritative?”, their ultimate answer is semantically equivalent to “those creeds and confessions and historical theology that agree with me-and-my-own-interpretation-of-Scripture.” Some will answer this latter question by claiming that they follow those creeds and confessions and historical theology that were put forward by “the church”. But, again, when you ask them what exactly they are referring to by ‘church’, you find eventually that their ultimate answer is semantically equivalent to “whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do.” Sometimes sola scriptura advocates appeal to Protestant confessions like the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession. But if you ask them why they believe those confessions to be authoritative, and not, say, the Council of Trent, you will eventually find an answer semantically equivalent to “because those confessions [or those who wrote them] interpret the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do.” This is what I have previously called “painting a magisterial target around one’s interpretive arrow”, like shooting an arrow into a wall, and then painting a target around one’s arrow to make it look as if one shot a bullseye.
Advocates of sola scriptura distinguish their position from that of biblicists by claiming that biblicists practice solo scripture. And I imagine that most self-described advocates of sola scriptura are not biblicists in the I-only-use-Scripture sense. But this distinction [between sola scriptura and biblicism/solo scripture] is not relevant to the fundamental authority problem of solo scriptura. That is because for both sola scriptura and solo scriptura/biblicism, the individual remains the final interpretive [of both Scripture and Tradition] authority.
This is more difficult for advocates of sola scriptura to see about themselves, because by claiming that the Church is the final authority [where ‘Church’ is defined as “whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do”] they create a semantic and social layer between themselves and their treatment of themselves as their own ultimate interpretive authority.
According to Michael, biblicism, but not sola scriptura, encourages people not to “subject themselves to any theological or ecclesiastical authority that might be contrary to their own interpretation.” But if you ask sola scriptura proponents to whom they themselves subject their interpretations, you will soon discover that the answer is “those who interpret Scripture mostly or entirely like I do.” So in this respect, there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and biblicism.
You can read the rest of this post –> Principium Unitatis
Filed under: Protestant Tradition |