Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jake Magee Responds

There are a few things happening here. His article, my response, his reply, now me again. I shall try and reduce the confusion by using colors. He picked blue so I shall use green for my new comments.

Hello Randy,
The original article is italicized; your comments are black and non-italicized.  My response is in blue. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I know pastors are busy. 

Jake Magee responds to some conversion stories in Surprised by Truth. He is actually pretty fair and rational. He takes seriously the fact that well-formed, intelligent protestants came to believe Sola Scriptura is false. He also takes seriously the consequences. If Sola Scriptura is false then "Protestantism has been dealt a fatal blow."

The first objection he deals with is that SS is unbiblical. He goes to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He actually tries to follow the logic though.
     All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for  
     correction, for training in righteousness 16; that the man of God may be adequate, 
     equipped for every good work 17 (NASB).

First of all, Scriptures are described by Paul as being “inspired by God.”  The phrase “inspired by God” is translated from the Greek word “theopneustos” which is literally rendered  “God-breathed.”  By this Paul is communicating that the very writings were breathed out of the mouth of God.  Further, the authority that Scriptures do have is derived from the verity that the very words were spoken by God. 
Sure the scriptures are God-breathed. Catholics don't deny Sola Scriptura because we disrespect scripture. We just want it in it's proper role. The word "authority" is wrong here. Scripture is a book. It cannot have authority. Authority is defined as "the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine". A book can't do that.

I don’t think “authority” is an improper adjective for Scripture.  I did a quick Google search combining Catholic, Scripture, and authority and found a bunch of Roman Catholic publication that use the same designation for Scripture and Tradition (e.g.  If it’s good enough for your team, its good enough for mine. 

I think the word has multiple meanings so I guess I should not have objected so much. I did feel you were muddying some important distinctions. Scripture plays an important role in our lives but there are some things it can't do just because of the fact that it is a book.

Moreover, I think its clear that text can “determine… settle issues or disputes...commands etc.”  In ligation a valid and clearly stated contract (text) will direct a judge to rule in favor of one person over another.  The judge himself will make this judgment because he or she has sworn to operate in a way that is faithful to other text (state and federal laws found in books) that are referred to incessantly.  If they are not faithful, the judge’s judgment may be challenged in appeals.

This is where we disagree. Why do we need judges? Why can't you just let the law decide? Because both parties will often claim the law is on their side. The law is inadequate to function as a sole authority precisely because it is a document.  Scripture can't function as the sole authority for the same reason. Disputes often have both sides claiming their position is biblical. Someone has to vet that claim.

Lastly, “authority” seems appropriate given the description given to us of Scripture by Scripture.  Here’s one of many passages:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) 

Any casual word study of phrases like “law of God” produces multiple passages that clearly describe Scripture as authoritative. 

I think you are pointing out another difference. Catholics don't believe the scriptures and the word of God are the same thing. The word of God is scripture, tradition, and the magisterium. So Heb 4:12 would not be talking just about scripture. Scripture isn't actually "living". We have living church leaders who, based on scripture and tradition, bring the word of God to life. 
 Secondly, notice that Scriptures are “profitable.” No one in this debate disagrees about this statement.  However, the text says that Scripture is profitable “for” one kind of thing “in order that” another kind of thing might be true.  To put the matter formally, Scripture is profitable for x, in order that y.  The variable x refers to “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  The variable y refers adequacy and equipping believers.  It is the y that Protestants point to as a clear declaration in Scripture of its own sufficiency.  Let’s look at verse 17 more closely.
This is a big problem. If x is profitable for y that does not imply nothing else is profitable for y. If eating right is profitable for health then exercise cannot be profitable for health? You cannot just focus on what y is and ignore the connecting word "profitable" that open the door to other things being just as important. 

Randy, I wish you had read the article a little closer.  This was the first objection I directly addressed, as well as addressing this on the back end of the essay.   I’ll give you the first passage now and the second passage with the next point. 

I did read the whole thing. I intended to respond to the rest of your article later. In the second section you did take the matter of sufficiency to be proved. It isn't. The text does not say scripture is sufficient. If anything, it says teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness together are sufficient. 

Now many Catholics do accept the material sufficiency of scripture. This is as distinct from the formal sufficiency of scripture which would be needed for Sola Scriptura. But we don't believe it based on 2 Tim 3. It is just not there. It is not anywhere in scripture. You can argue for material sufficiency from tradition but then you have violated your own rule. Your task here is to show Sola Scriptura is not self-refuting.  

I don’t see the logical misstep, and this was addressed in the previous comments.  But let me elaborate.  The passage says that a man of God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work when something is taught, something is used to reprove, something is used to correct, etc.  The passage clearly equates that something with “Scripture,” and nothing more.  Therefore, Scripture is sufficient as that which is to be taught, corrected to thorough equip a person for faith and practice.   
I don't think the passage equates the something with scripture and nothing more. It says scripture is one thing that would do these things. It does not say it is the only thing or even the best thing. It is the only thing Paul has in view at this moment. He is giving scripture high praise. But he gives tradition high praise and the church high praise in other places.
You seem to suggest that since this passage implies that there is a teacher, reprover, corrector, and trainer, then we can’t cite this passage as a proof text for Sola Scriptura.  But as mentioned in my previous comments, this is to misrepresent the doctrine of Sola-Scriptura.  
I am not saying it denies Sola Scriptura. I am saying it fails to prove it. He could have said the book of Genesis is inspired by God and profitable for teaching ...That would not prove Sola Genesis. The words just don't mean that.
 The doctrine of Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean that Scripture is necessary and sufficient for everything.  In other words, we readily admit that even though Scripture is necessary and sufficient for x, it may be necessary and not sufficient for y.  For example, we maintain that although Scripture is necessary and sufficient as a guide to live a godly life, it is insufficient as to whether or not I live a godly life.  For, in addition to the guide, I must add my will.  To use an analogy, a compass is sufficient to guide me to the north pole, but it is insufficient in actualizing my trip to the north pole.  There are all sorts of other conditions that are to be met in the actualization of this trip.  As it pertains to living a godly life, we don’t believe in Scripture alone (we believe in Scripture + God’s grace + human volition) | “you can add to this list ‘eyes to read, ears to hear, teachers who teach…’|.  But certainly that doesn’t take anything away from the sufficiency of Scripture as a guide to live a godly life.  In the same way, even though there is need for an interpreter doesn’t take away the necessity and sufficiency of Scripture as a guide.

You keep running away from the Sola part of Sola Scriptura.  This is a good thing. It is the problematic part. We need an interpreter. The Sola part tells us we can't find one that is trustworthy. None that at least gets the basics infallibly right. Sufficient needs to mean that Sola Scriptura is at least workable. It would not imply it is best but it would be at least one possibility. But empirical evidence shows it is not workable. The interpreter problem seems to be way bigger than people are willing to admit.

How might a Roman Catholic respond? 

Perhaps the Catholic might respond by saying that Paul doesn’t state that Scripture is “alone sufficient.”  He might argue that Scripture is sufficient as a guide, but tradition is also sufficient as a guide.  That is, Scripture is not the “only” guide available to believers.  Tradition gives us instruction that either spells out doctrines which are implicit in Scripture, or perhaps it gives us revelation not found in Scripture.  So a person who has tradition but no Scripture is also “complete and perfect, furnished perfectly for every good work.” 

 {Instead of your health analogy, I used the compass/stars analogy}
 To illustrate this point, one may use a compass to point to true north, or one may use astronomic markers to perform this task.  Both rely upon something different in pointing to the same truth.  The person using the compass relies on the magnetic field of the earth.  The person using astronomical markers relies upon the earth’s position relative to the stars.  The one depending on the compass cannot claim to have the only way of finding true north, and vise versa.  And so it is with Scripture and Tradition.
So does that not assume sufficiency as a premise? It is implied in your compass analogy as well. There is no way the compass and the stars together could give you a fuller or more reliable direction. The compass is actually getting quite a simple bit of information. God's word needs to provide us with all the essential answers to questions of faith, morals, worship, etc. We don't even know what all those questions are.

 However, there are a number of problems with this line of reasoning.  Firstly, when Protestants say that the Bible alone is sufficient as a normative guide for Christians, we don’t necessarily mean that nothing else could be sufficient.  For example, if Christ appears to a native in Africa who doesn’t have a Bible and reveals the truths about God’s kingdom, this might also be sufficient.  So, when we say “Sola Scriptura,” we mean that the Bible, by itself and without the addition of anything else, is good enough as a guide to the Christian life.  I don’t need to know what Christ revealed to the native in Africa, for the Bible is good enough for me in America.  Yet, Protestants also urge that nothing else is actually sufficient, for nothing else has proved itself to be the authoritative voice of God.

So what are we trying to do? You want to show Sola Scriptura is taught in scripture. In response to some texts where scripture tells us to cling to tradition or tells us that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth you give a logic argument why we should ignore what scripture actually tells us to do and stick with scripture alone. 

The argument is the bible is "good enough". It depends what you mean by that. In some sense the Gospel of John by itself is good enough. Should we ignore the other books of the bible? We don't want to minimize our experience of God. We want as deep and as full a revelation as is available. We also want to avoid error. 

When you say nothing else has "proved itself to be an authoritative voice of God". How does something prove itself? What is the standard you measure something against to see if it is the voice of God or not? Isn't it a matter of faith rather than proof? When somebody publishes a list of 100 biblical contradictions, are you surprised they found that many? I am not. I don't believe any of them are real but if you don't approach the question with faith you will find lots. Same with scripture and tradition. Does it require some faith to believe what they teach makes sense? Sure. Is it more faith than it takes to believe the bible alone makes sense? No. 

So how does the bible prove itself? It doesn't. Sola Scriptura can't solve the canon question. Tradition flows directly from Jesus so it can be as reliable as it's source. Scripture was not written by Jesus. We need to believe some other revelation that tells us these books were inspired. When you try and describe what that is it sounds a lot like tradition.

 I don’t think this is a problem with Sola Scriptura. It appears to be a general problem with humanity.  And it appears to be one that you have succumbed to as well.  You seem to be quite confident in your assessment of this article, but I haven’t detected the charity and objectivity to read, represent, and respond appropriately to it.  The only straining I sense is the one that denies the obvious import of the passage, fails at a serious assessment of the topic, not to mention the crass caricatures my position represented in the above paragraph (i.e., “Now John” – it’s Jake by the way “Magee’s opinion has become the Word of God…).  I was very careful in the article to be kind and fair in both the presentation of the RC position and in my response to it.  I’d appreciate a similar response.   

Sorry if I seemed uncharitable. That was not my intent. I did think it was a bit much for you to compare your conclusions to the divinity of Jesus. But generally you have not been arrogant or dismissive so I should not have replied so smugly. I do think the lack of check and balances in the Sola Scriptura system is a problem. It gives people the choice between being arrogant or being wishy-washy. Catholicism lets you boast in Christ alone. That is in the church as the body of Christ and it's teachings. One can brag about them and not be prideful. 

But secondly the context really shoots holes in his conclusion as well. When you examine the verses prior it becomes clear Paul is talking about the Old Testament when he mentions scripture. That is a devastating problem he does not mention.
 I’m sorry, please elaborate the devastating problem and how it relates to the particular argument I make.  I'm not even sure what portion you're referring to.
You need to read a few verses before:
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Paul refers to the scriptures Timothy was reading from infancy. That could not be the New Testament. Paul died around 66AD. So Timothy would have been born around 40AD. No way Timothy read any NT book when he was a boy. Paul would have been referring to the Septuagint. So you are being a bit anachronistic in assuming the word "scriptures" means the 66 book canon you are familiar with.  

Randy, I appreciate your desire for the truth.  I’m open to fair and balanced feedback.  I look forward to that from you.
Jake Magee  
Thank you for replying Jake. I am trying to be fair and balanced. You might not think I have succeeded. Thanks for telling me what you thought was unfair and not just skipping out on the whole thing. 

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