Posted by: jadanzzy | July 10, 2008

The Writing on the Wall

Going through my blogroll, I came across this: In Defense of Sola Scriptura.  Always struggling with the nature of Scripture in its relationship to the Church at large, I eagerly dove in.

The blog’s author, C. Michael Patton, gives a great overview of the different roles Scripture and Tradition plays/ed through Christian history, then proceeds to defend the Catholic Dual-Source theory, and then flips it by ultimately defending the Reformed sola Scriptura theory. I would recommend reading it if you’re interested in knowing what each theory is. However, I’ll continue by forming a non-seminary-educated, ground-level, gut response to all of this.

Patton’s defense of the Dual-Source theory and its criticism of sola Scriptura had me surprised by its coherent argument: If the Reformed Christian believes that the Canon is the final authority, then who were the ones who deemed certain texts inspired in the first place? Again, I cringe at my lack of broad perspective.

The only simple question I have with all of this is, where does culture play into the role of text creation, canonization, and interpretation? For it is in a cultural construct that the writers of the books and letters of the canon shared their stories of their interaction with the Unknown God. And it is within a cultural construct that the church fathers deemed one text orthodox and the other heterodox. And still, It is within another cultural construct in which the pope deemed one Tradition holy and the other heretical. Catholics, Orthdox, Evangelicals alike may believe that their own Scriptural leanings or Traditional creations are infallible. But do they not see that they’ve been placed within a certain cultural zeitgeist that most certainly influences their thought processes? What then does it mean for Scripture to have final authority? What does the Holy Spirit’s influence look like?

If you and I have talked ad nauseum about theology, etc., then there’s a good chance we’ve talked about the Holy Spirit’s role in conjunction with Scripture. I’ve been personally disturbed by the role modern Christians have placed on the Holy Spirit as the driving force for their “correct” interpretation of Scripture. So the Holy Spirit is our divine fact-checker? Does not the Holy Spirit enable one to imitate Christ in a worthy manner in this dark world? Is it not the Holy Spirit that empowers the Church to be a redeeming and reconciling force in our divisive world? And is it not the Holy Spirit that illumines scripture to reveal radical acts of subversive love and truth in our aimless world?

The Bible does not seem to astound us anymore. We are no longer transformed by it in our place and time. We have come to lord over it, in the name of the Lord. But maybe the bigger problem is that we think God is limited to the Bible when all authority was given to… Him.



  1. Just for the sake of argument:

    Sola Scriptura is a tenet of Calvinism. My dad recently told me a quote he had heard (so this is fuzzy third- to fourth- hand hearsay): someone once described Calvin’s god, in a word, as “sovereign”, and John Wesley’s god, in a word, as “love”. The argument of sovereignty is difficult to get around, because the most easily and oft-argued point is the “robot” argument. It escapes people’s minds that God would tie strings to every event in the history of the universe, unilaterally balancing the rotation of the white dwarf a hundred galaxies away with the platelets in a blood cell that causes our papercuts to clot.

    But that’s not how sovereignty would be applied. Here, the questions to be fired back across the divide go like this:

    a) couldn’t the Holy Spirit, if He is God, have orchestrated a unique moment in time, utilizing the cultural influences and contexts of each individual at the canonizing council, to give rise to a perfect, sacred, timeless text (not necessarily to be taken with ultra-literalism but one written in the exact right way so as to be living and active throughout the generations)?

    in other words, if God is sovereign, wouldn’t He take into account the impact of culture, even if it’s unseen to us?

    b) are you saying that the Holy Spirit can’t convict us of a truth in scripture, even if that truth is subjective?

    c) I think many, many conservative foundationalist Christians of the Reformed tradition would argue that the Bible does remain astounding in this day and age, and certainly continues to have transformative effect in our churches today and around the world. And I would hazard a guess that their data would be reliable.

  2. i like this post, in that it brings to light a major discussion that people need to think about more.

    however, there is an issue in regards to the rhetorical questions about the functions of the holy spirit as not being a fact checker, but the one who illumines scripture, enabling one to imitate Christ, and the like. the issue is how do we know that it is the HS that illumines scripture and enables us to imitate Christ? do we learn about the Holy Spirit from our culture/tradition or do we learn that from Scripture?

    Perhaps it seems circular in that they are mixed with each other and similar to the “chicken or the egg.” However, whenever i’ve asked the “chicken or the egg” question most of the people i ask tend to answer “chicken.” in my personal experience i’ve never really learned much about the HS through my culture or tradition. i’ve only read about it in the Bible.

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