June 22, 2012
The Bible is King (Part 2)
Is Sola Scriptura a self-defeating doctrine?
Even though “we” want to identify ourselves as evangelical, Evangelical Christianity has become a battle ground of proof texts. No matter what the particular battle is.
“I’ll see your 1 Tim. 2:12 — Paul not suffering a woman to teach, with Paul lauding the apostle Junia in Romans 16:7, greeting his co-laborers, Priscilla & Aquila in Romans 16:3–4 and 2 Timothy 4:19 and writing of their house church leadership in 1 Cor. 16:19. Winning!”
On this particular battle, Smith writes,
The Bible seems to say many things that can be reasonably read and theologized in various ways. In studying the various sides of this heated debate, one gets the distinct feeling that it is actually the divergent prebiblical interests of the many interpreters—both traditionalist and feminist—that drive their scriptural readings, as much as the texts themselves. That too presents problems for biblicism. But the more pertinent point here is this: apparently smart, well-intentioned scripture scholars in fact do read the same set of texts and come away making arguably compelling cases for opposing if not incompatible beliefs on a matter of significance for Christian personal and church practice. — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 780–85 (Kindle Edition)
But for those Biblicists in the inerrant camp — as Scot McKnight suggests — their understanding of the text is the one that is correct. If Paul says ‘women can’t teach’ then it’s obvious, WOMEN CAN’T TEACH. Some are so exacting in their understanding of the inerrant, perspicuous scriptures that they proudly proclaim that they won’t even let women read scripture in a church service — as it’s almost like teaching. (Which reminds me of the old joke about Baptists and dancing, but I won’t go there right now.) The logical extension of this is that since hymns and some worship tunes also teach, the soprano parts should be song by castrati, n’est-ce pas?
One of the prompts for this post was something that Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher pointed to earlier; the resignation letter of Jason Stellman, pastor of a Seattle PCA church. One of the stumbling blocks for Stellman that he felt forced his resignation was his changed position on the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
I have begun to doubt whether the Bible alone can be said to be our only infallible authority for faith and practice, and despite my efforts (and those of others) to dispel these doubts, they have only become more pronounced. In my own reading of the New Testament, the believer is never instructed to consult Scripture alone in order to adjudicate disputes or determine matters of doctrine (one obvious reason for this is that the early church existed at a time when the 27-book New Testament had either not been begun, completed, or recognized as canonical). The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18–19; Acts 15:6–29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine fails its own test). Moreover, unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion.
Some suggest that Stellman is about to swim the Tiber. I find that as problematic as others find his rejection of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fida — but his rejection of the Reformed position on Scripture resonates with me.
Christian Smith (who has swum the Tiber) notes the vast numbers of Christians who have their faith ship-wrecked when their Sola Scriptura world view is shattered by reasoned inquisitors. He writes,
To argue that our only lifeline to God is the Bible is way off base. It also fails to recognize the many ways we know about and simply know Jesus Christ. It fails to explain how the Christian church for its first three hundred and fifty years—when it did not possess the defined biblical canon as we now know it—managed to know Christ. “The Christian faith,” Craig Allert rightly observes, “did not grow in response to a book but as a response to God’s interaction with the community of faith.” — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 2457–61 (Kindle Edition)
And then later,
Scripture is not worshiped. It is not in scripture that we place our hope. It is not on scripture that we stake our lives. All of that is reserved for Jesus Christ alone. … Scripture is sometimes confusing, ambiguous, and incomplete—we have to admit and deal with that fact. Biblicism insists that the Bible as the word of God is clear, accessible, understandable, coherent, and complete as the revelation of God’s will and ways for humanity. But this is simply not true. Scripture can be very confusing. It can be indefinite. The Bible can lack information and answers that we want it to have. To say such things seems, from a biblicist perspective, to insult God, scripture’s divine author. But that is, again, because biblicism starts off with wrong presuppositions about how the Bible ought to work. — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 2546–47 & Loc. 2661–66 (Kindle Edition)
The Bible is not our King… King Jesus is our King. (And may I highly recommend you read Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.)
Our understanding of Scripture must come first from our relationship with the Risen and Living Christ. To view the Bible as “all the truth” too often denies the reality of Jesus being very much alive and actively working through His Holy Spirit.
As Eugene Peterson interprets John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” He is alive and in our midst - something the Scriptures witness to.