Monday, February 20, 2012

Sola/Solo Revisited

A while back there was a series of articles at Called to Communion responding to a book by Ken Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura. There was a bunch of back and forth. Eventually Mathison responded. He even responded on this blog once.  But his main reply was in two parts. One was to note the bias of the authors. That is they all seemed to come from a Catholic point of view. The second was to make a more generic argument against the Catholic church.

Neal Judisch wrote a reply to that reply. There were a number of other replies but I want to reflect on Neal's which I don't think was ever really responded to. His response was basically to point out that the responses were not logical critiques of the logical argument presented. They were claims of bias but they don't matter when you are not making an argument from authority. If the trustworthiness of someone's judgement is not a premise of the argument then pointing out bias does not refute anything.

So that is where it was dropped as far as I can tell. With Neal challenging Mathison to refute the argument in logical terms. That is to state precisely which premise he rejected or why he didn't feel the conclusion followed from the premises. That was about a year ago. Nothing. Sure there were many comments on all of these posts but nothing I can remember as coming close to meeting this challenge.

So what does that mean? If you reject Catholic arguments because they are Catholic and not because they are logically unsound? What that ends up doing is pitting faith against reason. Reject this conclusion on faith despite the apparent rational basis for it. It is dangerous territory. It essentially says there are some truths that cannot be properly scrutinized by reason.

Protestantism is supposed to be based on scripture and plain reason. There is huge subjectivity in what counts as plain reason. But if defending it requires you to reject logical arguments without explaining what is unsound about them then you have taken that subjectivity to a new level. You end up undermining every logical argument you ever make. If you can simply ignore logical problems then why can't some else? 


  1. Yes this is what we have all seen: arguments are made and the Protestant apologists don't rebut them. Either they ignore them or they go and talk about something else, but the argument stands.

  2. This would bother me a lot if I was still protestant. It happened quite a few times. When a protestant made a strong attack the Catholic would have a solid rebuttal. But when a Catholic made a strong attack the protestant would often have nothing on point.

  3. I know you are off for lent but by the time Lent is over I'll forget. Just to comment this is a perfect example of the rock-paper-scissors and Judisch even notes this.

    The original article had the position quite explicitly, "a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead". So Judisch himself ties apostolic succession to what he calls the "no distinction" thesis. The problem is I don't think Judisch is actually addressing the depth of the problem.

    The article attempts to prove no-distinction vs. distinction hence refutes sola scriptura vs. solo scriptura. Except that actually isn't true at all. There is a huge difference between saying that someone is the ultimate authority and saying they are the only authority. Everyone is the own ultimately authority even under Catholicism. Even if Protestantism didn't exist, even when Protestantism didn't exist this was still the case. Ultimately, at least in our society a person could choose to be Catholic or Muslim or Wiccan or Jewish or atheist and thus engage in precisely the sort of searching for a matching sect that Judisch is objecting to.

    Today Christians don't need to become Jewish if they believe the Old Testament law is still binding because groups like Adventists still exists. Today Christians who believe biblical moral codes are particular to that society and that we should focus on meta-teachings and need to deconstruct the bible to get at its meaning, don't need to become Wiccan there can those beliefs in liberal churches like the UCC. And 1300 years ago Christians who objected to the Catholic position on slavery and debt founded Islam.

    Moreover within religions, as long as they lack state coercive powers, individuals are their own ultimate authorities. Traditionally Rabbinic Judaism unequivocally rejects anything like priesthood of the believer. An individual Jew, even the most famous rabbi in the world is not free to draw binding conclusions for himself from scripture. As an aside I should mention the Jewish example BTW disproves Judisch main claim that the only alternative are apostolic succession or chaos, Jews have fully functioning authority with no claim that any rabbi has a grant of supernatural authority or any sort of access to non public teachings.

    Judaism had a movement which preaches something similar to the sola scriptura called Karaism. Since at least the 9th century, Rabbinic Jews (the other 95+%) agreed this was a heresy so severe it constituted its own religion, and that Karaites weren't Jews at all anymore. Until one day a group of Jews decided that to embedded Karaite theology into their denomination and within a little more than a generation it became the dominant form of Judaism in America, though Karaites themselves are still very fringe.

    Ultimately in every religion (at least as they are practiced in our society) every individual has ultimate authority about
    1) what religion to believe and disbelieve
    2) which sect of a religion to follow
    3) what parts of their religion / sectarian theology to believe and disbelieve

    and collectively
    4) whether to found new sects and religions if they don't like the options available.

    (part 2 to follow)

  4. (part 2)

    There is no avoiding that ultimate authority. Prior to the English Reformation there was a group of reformers, followers of Wycliff called the Lollardy. Among them there were all sorts of religious ideas. For example a non uncommonly held position was that the church should be lay. Some went so far as to deny that Christ had apostles in the authoritative sense. They all lived in a Catholic country that could (and sometimes did) burn Lollardy at the stake for those views, but these ideas spread through the population anyway during the 15th century because they were immensely popular. And that opinion continued even during the era of Protestants.

    Once that is established however, it becomes clear that most individuals don't have strong opinions on most issues. They "go with the flow" on all but a small fraction of their religions rites and beliefs. It never even occurs to them to question most of these beliefs that there even is an alternative. And that is the distinction between an ultimate authority and an only authority.