Saturday, June 09, 2012

This is a defense of Sola Scriptura, I guess. Isn't this the mighty Leithart? Isn't he supposed to know more than us? Mother Church cowers in fear! After all, we didn't know the Spirit speaks to the Church! Why didn't you say so? If I have to believe in Sola Scriptura in order to really understand Scripture, I'll just put off that reading of Amos I was going to do. I mean, I'll just clutter it up, deferring to the bishops in Council, or those morons Augustine and Aquinas. I don't know what's so hard to understand about the problem.
Tell you what, Leithart, riddle me this one: Jack Collins and Gerhard Forde in a room, explaining their respective theologies to a class of eager and receptive students. Lots of agreement. Lots of appeals to the Fathers, and to Scripture. But if Scripture is the final rule, who's right in the matters where they disagree? Do they not represent separate ecclesial bodies because those people believe this to be a much more than debatable matter? And yet truthfully, if those bodies aren't tasked by God to settle it definitively, who cares? Isn't that what the fundies have figured out even if Keith Mathison is in denial about it all? It's a pity that our Catholicism renders us suspect to make the point. It stands nonetheless. That was the first thing I figured out. I didn't give a fig what Rome said about anything, but I knew if my submission to a church body was provisional, then so are the dogmas they propose. If I choose to invest them with authority over me, well and good. But the key words there are, "I choose."
It is indeed natural that people would appeal to the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. But for God to consent to the wide variance of opinion on non-trivial matters, it means at least that He doesn't care--suggesting that whatever God does care about, it isn't in the Scriptures, the texts He gave us--or God is lying. I'll take it as axiomatic that if you're Christian and reading this, you're not going to go with that. God is God, so He cares about everything, including that His children agree in everything; if we're not, the fault is ours. But at this point, the Protestant will remind us that we're all sinful, blah, blah, blah. (Which is true, of course.) But I'll make it simple for you: In order to come out with God-truth in this whole deal--which is what we want, right?--either the individual's interaction with the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures is infallible, or the Church is, however conceived. But you already gave yourself the trump-card over your own ecclesial community, remember? So the infallibility isn't there. Not that you'd want it to be, by your admission. Lots of people--influential people, are taking the winsome, quiet version of the "God doesn't care about our differences" horn of the dilemma. I don't blame them. But relativism is the result. And I know for a fact that they don't want to be relativists or stubborn individualists.
But that's the thing: you're writing whole books about your version of the "Church"! Does anyone see the irony? I'll say the same thing I said to Leithart's post earlier this week: unless you're holding the keys of the Kingdom--or you're sent by him--I don't care. It's not because I don't think you're smart, or totally all-in for Christ. Probably every single one of you reading this is more intelligent, godly, and wise than I am. But if you agree you're not holding the keys, who is?
Isn't that really the question? The only one that matters?


Timothy R. Butler said...

Well, I think there are two issues: I think we'd both agree that there are matters of substance that are disagreed upon within the Catholic church, even today... ones the pope has not spoken ex cathedra on. Bryan and I even discussed some of these awhile back. So, while Protestants disagree on some things, most of us would agree that they aren't the "essentials."

A provisional authority does not mean a provisional, relativistic faith. It is more of a humble awareness that I am a flawed human being who gets things wrong. Let's put it in a different context. We still don't fully understand how light works, right? Now, we have theories that are likely to be flawed. We have an "infallible source" (i.e. light we can examine), but we are flawed at times in how we understand that. Does that mean we are relativistic in our understanding of light or rather than we are slowly moving closer to an objective truth? These are not two ways of stating the same option...

As to the keys, knowing who holds the key (as in a singular entity) is really only important if you already assume a single person holds the keys as the Catholic church does.

Jason said...

I've got to take issue with your first paragraph. First off, doctrinal issues not ruled upon definitively are opinions. Even if they are held with great passion and cause friction, they are simply opinions. Even these are not first-order, by the nature of the case. The point here is that the Church tells us what is most important and less so. It is principled, and more than that, well defined.
If the reason the authority is provisional is because the individual defines the scope and extent of that authority over him, that is the very definition of subjectivism, whose close cousin is relativism. This is not at all the same as being unable to articulate the depth of God's mystery; rather, it asks the extent to which the individual can overrule and redefine the authority and rules under which he lives. That is the intractable problem of Protestantism in the grip of Sola Scriptura.
Finally, there was certainly a point at which I did not know or accept the Catholic Church's authority; even then, (or especially then) where the concept of ecclesial infallibility could be expressed is not a minor one. It is in this idea that dogma MUST be found and defined. The Scriptures are too clear about the importance of the Church as the People of God to be satisfied with an invisible, unreal concept. For their part, the Fathers told me where and who the Church was; it's not my fault that this proves mildly inconvenient to my previous position (or yours). I didn't assume they held the keys, but I found out.