Dear Bryan Cross:
Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my comments. I have a few rejoinders, which I'll try to group in some sort of organized way below - not necessarily keeping to the same outline as above (i.e. in the comment box), although with respect to the consequences, I'll maintain the [A]-[E] nomenclature. I realize that the response is a bit long, and so I've posted it on my own blog, rather than cluttering up the (ever growing) comment box with it. I realize sometimes overly long comments can be a drag on a thread. I've tried to use headings as well, to help the weary reader orient himself among the rejoinders offered.
I. Sola/Solo Leads to the Consequences by "Natural Necessity"
I appreciate this clarification to the article, because I did not detect this concept expressed in the article. Certainly it wasn't expressed in so many words, but - of course - perhaps it was an implication that I missed: I will present several examples from the article that perhaps should have alerted me. In any event, I have several objections to this approach.
a) The Concept of Natural Necessity is Incompatible with the World of Ideas
1) Describing Natural Necessity
You provided a classic example of natural necessity[Fn1] with the acorn => oak tree example. The nature of the acorn is to become an oak tree, although (of course) something like a squirrel, a fire, or a lad with a slingshot may intervene to prevent this natural progression. More precisely, it is the nature of an acorn to be a potential oak tree. Every normal acorn is a potential oak tree by natural necessity.
2) Nature of Ideas
While it is easy to speak of the nature of an acorn, it is more difficult to speak of the nature of ideas. Ideas lack, for example, interaction with the so-called laws of nature. When we speak of the nature of ideas, we are typically speaking of the definition of the idea. For example, if we say that it is in the nature of "red" that it is not blue or yellow, we are speaking essentially as to the definition of the idea.
Of course, we may also speak loosely of ideas using the term "nature." Thus, for example, in part I of your article, you write [Fn2]: (a)
... sola scriptura, no less than solo scriptura, entails that the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture. This implies that what Mathison calls ’solo scriptura‘ is in fact a more clearly distilled manifestation over time of the true nature of sola scriptura.(ellipsis mine)
I call this a loose use of the term "nature," because it does not appear to be referring either to the laws of nature, or to the definition of the idea, but rather to something else - something difficult to explain, though we will attempt to do so. Before we do so, it may help to see the other instances of your usage in the article.
(b) In section IV(A) you state:
But there are two ways to make oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. One is a direct way and the other is an indirect way. The direct way is to subject all theological questions directly to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. That is the solo scriptura position. Because it is direct, the nature of the position is quite transparent; we can see clearly in such a case that the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive authority.(bold emphasis mine)
(c) In section V(A) you state:
Here we should say something about what it means to bind the conscience. It is of the very nature of law to bind the conscience. Law does not coerce the will, but law binds the conscience precisely insofar as reason grasps it as the standard or rule to which our beliefs, words and actions ought to conform.(emphasis mine)
(d) Later in section V(A) you state:
A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification.
(e)And again in the same section:
Civil laws bind the conscience in that we are obligated to obey them, so long as they do not conflict with a higher law, whether that be the natural law, or the law of God as revealed through the Church. Hence the nature of genuine civil authority does not show that the Magisterium cannot bind the conscience of the faithful.
(f) And again immediately afterward:
In addition, the nature of the Church’s Magisterial authority is not rightly determined by determining what nature of authority is sufficient for civil government. Such a method would presuppose both that the Church is equivalent in nature to a civil society and that there is no existing ecclesial authority that provides the definitive answer to questions about the nature of the Church’s authority.
(g) And further (same section again):
For this reason, without apostolic succession, the Church would be a natural society providentially governed by God, another nation among the nations. Only by apostolic succession is she a divine society that does not compete with natural societies, because grace builds on nature. In short, civil authorities acquire their natural civic authority by God’s providence through lawful processes. Since the Church is a supernatural society, ecclesial authorities cannot acquire their authority naturally under providential guidance. Ecclesial authority is not natural authority, but supernatural authority, and therefore requires succession from a supernatural source.
(h) In Section V(B):
Moreover, our argument helps explain the rise over the last one hundred and fifty years of the explicit embrace of a solo scriptura approach within Protestantism. Philosophies and theologies more fully manifest their nature over time. If there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, then we would expect the sola scriptura doctrine taught by the early Protestant to come to manifest its true nature over time as outright solo scriptura. Sola scriptura could temporarily conceal its true nature, as Protestantism lived on the inertial remnants of Catholic conceptions of sacramental authority. Sacramental magisterial authority is supernatural in origin, as we explained above, because the Church is a divine institution. The denial of sacramental magisterial authority closes a person off to the Church as supernatural, leaving only the possibility of democratic (bottom-up) man-made authority under providential guidance. As Protestants have come to understand more clearly the democratic nature of Protestant ecclesial authority, they have come to see that as Protestants, they themselves as individuals, hold final interpretive authority, and have come to live as such. This explains the widespread solo scriptura phenomenon within Protestantism that Mathison decries.(bold emphasis is mine)
As you will note, (g) is an exception to the general use of "nature" in the article. In examples (a)-(f) and (h), the term "nature" is being used loosely to describe the idea [Fn3]. More specifically, examples (a), (b), and (h) deal with the "nature" of sola/solo scriptura:
- in example (a) it seems we are being told that the "nature" is "the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture";
- in example (b) it seems we are being told that the "nature" is "... to subject all theological questions ... to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture";
- in example (h) we seem to be told that solo scriptura is the true nature of sola scriptura; and
- again in the same example, it appears that the nature of sola/solo scriptura is being equated to "the democratic nature of Protestant ecclesial authority."
By way of comparison, examples (c)-(f) deal with the nature of other ideas and things:
- in example (c) we are told that "It is of the very nature of law to bind the conscience";
- in example (d) we are told that "A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification";
- in the same example, we are told that "a person ... by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification"
- in example (e) we can infer that it is in the nature of civil laws to "bind the conscience in that we are obligated to obey them"; and
- in example (f) we can infer that the nature of Ecclesial and Civil authority are capable of comparison and contrast.
We should note, before continuing, that the items in example (d) relate to the natures of things, rather than ideas. Furthermore, in examples (c) and (e) we are dealing, in essence, with the definition of the concept of laws.
What is interesting is that with respect to solo scriptura, it almost appears that the definition of solo scriptura is being used as its "nature." That is to say, the "nature" of solo scriptura (per the article) appears to be able to be summarized as: "the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture" and consequently is entitled "... to subject all theological questions ... to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture" with ecclesial authority (if any[Fn4]) being democratic.
Those things appear to be definitional of solo scriptura, at least as it is defined by Mathison, although it does not appear to be definitional of sola scriptura (again, as defined by Mathison). So, it appears that (at least with respect to sola scriptura) the article is not using the term "nature" in the sense of definition.
Possibly the best explanation for the loose use of the term "nature" is found in the comment: "Philosophies and theologies more fully manifest their nature over time." What this comment means [Fn5] is that the people who hold to a particular philosophy or theology (ideology, for short) reveal the practical consequences of that ideology in time.
Thus, for example, folks take the position that the Soviet Union revealed the practical consequences of Marxism. Likewise, some folks argued that the Peasants Revolt revealed the practical consequences of Lutheranism, and other folks argued that the Inquisition revealed the practical consequences of Roman Catholicism.
In short, such a claim is a claim about the people who hold the ideas, not about the ideas themselves. Consequently the claim isn't really about the nature of the ideas as such, but of the people who hold the ideas.
b) Analytical Problems with Mixing Ideas and People
There are a few main reasons why mixing ideas and people (under a claim of natural necessity) poses analytical and persuasive problems:
1) Free Will
Practically everyone ascribes some form of "free will" to men [Fn6]. This makes it hard to ascribe to a strict causal relation between an ideology and human behavior. To go back to the analogy, the human will is a very active Squirrel that may interfere quite easily with the "natural" progress of a particular ideology.
2) Multitude of Ideologies
In many cases, people subscribe to a variety of different ideologies on different subjects. For example, some people are cautious, other people are more risk-loving. Some people are frugal, others are spendthrifts. Some people are skeptical, some are superstitious. It can be difficult to pin behavior on a single ideology. For example, are Scottish Presbyterians notoriously frugal [Fn7] because of their Calvinism or because of a genetic predisposition toward frugality or perhaps does Calvinism appeal to them because they are frugal?
3) Identifying the End-point
It is hard to say what should be used as the end-point observation for determining the historical outworking of an ideology. It is tempting to use the present time, for obvious reasons. If, however, one was to judge "Christianity"[Fn8] at the time of the crusades by the crusades, or at the time of the Inquisition by the Inquisition, one would get a different result than either before those periods or after those periods. Same goes for "Christianity" before, during, and after Constantine.
4) Properly Characterizing Trends
Associated with (3), there is a problem in determining whether something is a trend or a deviation from a norm. If one took the graph of a heart beat and stopped one's observation at the right place, it could look like the heart is either ready to explode (on the increasing pressure part of the beat) or implode (on the decreasing part of the beat).
5) Shifts in Ideology / Impurity in Ideology / Categorizing an Ideology
One frequent objection one hears from Marxists is that the Soviet Union is not a fair representation of Marxism because it did not embody "true Marxism." Likewise, we are told that the Peasant's Revolt was not genuine Lutheranism, and that the Inquisitors were acting out of accord with their church's theology and/or moral teaching. Whether we accept these items or not, it becomes difficult to persuade someone that (for example) "torture is the natural outworking of Roman Catholicism" if the person will not acknowledge the torturer as a faithful Roman Catholic.
c) Attempted Application of Natural Necessity to Sola/Solo Scriptura Fails to Prove/Persuade
Calling solo scriptura the "true nature"[Fn9] of sola scriptura in the sense of being the practical outworking of it, runs into the problems above. To the extent that people accept "free will" it is tough to ascribe the outworking to the ideology apart from the people. The revitalization of sola scriptura during the time of the Reformation [Fn10] was also accompanied by a number of other sociological factors and the rise of a number of ideologies (such as views on personal liberty and equality) and influences (increased affluence and literacy) that are hard to link to specific causes.
We don't have to stick to general handwaving. The combination of a collapse of feudalism in favor of more democratic forms of government, together with a rise in literacy, can at least intuitively explain a general increase both in lack of respect for authority (both civil and eccelisial) and an increase in confidence in one's own abilities (if one is an illiterate serf one may not feel as qualified to interpret Scripture as if one is a merchant who can read and write in three languages).
In fact, while it is difficult to attribute weight to various forces, those forces on their face have more explanatory power with respect to the changes seen in the Reformation and post-Reformation period in terms of attitude toward authority than does sola scriptura, as such - since sola scriptura has to do with infallible authority, not authority in general.
II. “Hermeneutical chaos and anarchy” is not a characteristic of the sola position.
Your response, Bryan, in this regard was to argue that by considering only a single church that practices this method, I have created an artificial abstraction. However, of course, if disagreement among churches that allege adherence to the sola position are counted as "hermeneutical chaos and anarchy" then the disagreement among churches that allege adherence to the "apostolic succession" position should be counted the same way. Furthermore, of course, grouping many churches together is no less (and perhaps is more) of an artificial abstraction than examining a single church.
III. “Multiplication of schisms” – this allegation is counter-intuitive.
Your response to this allegation is to claim that although it may be counter-intuitive it is reality. You state: "The existence of all these (thousands) of different Protestant sects is indisputably true." No one denied that there are many different denominations of "Protestants." What is counter-intuitive is that this is characteristic of an ideology that is (by nature) relativistic. Relativism promotes unity, in that it promotes tolerance of different views, since no one's view is any better than anyone else's view. It is an absolute view of truth that promotes schisms.
You noted that sometimes churches split over things like the color of the carpeting. That may well be, and that has nothing to do with faith or morals. Such a split is not a split that relates to the subject matter of sola scriptura and consequently simply serves to demonstrate that other factors than sola scriptura are at play in the multiplication of schisms. In short, your example is undermining evidence with respect to your contention.
IV. The claim that “the creeds have no 'real authority,'” is logically impossible
Your response, Bryan, in this regard was to allege, in essence[Fn11], to say that you don't view the authority as "authentic" if its authority grounded in a particular way and/or if submission is conditioned in a particular way. There are two responses:
1) Insisting that authority isn't authentic unless it is grounded in particular way etc. appears simply to beg the question. One might paraphrase your objection as, "the creeds lack real authority because their authority is not strong enough." However, that's not a valid objection unless the creeds (or confessions, or whatever) must have stronger authority than they do in sola scriptura churches.
2) Your characterization of authority in sola scriptura churches isn't accurate. The idea that "a so-called authority that has as its basis of authority that it agrees with me" is an unrecognizable caricature of the sola scriptura position.
3) Your reasoning could be applied to argue that a bishop in Roman Catholicism lacks any "real authority." Why? Because the same reductionism to "my interpretation of" applies to the teachings of the Church, which are a greater authority than the authority of an individual bishop. In fact, your reasoning amounts to saying that no authority is a "real authority" unless it is - in essence - the ultimate authority.
4) Your reasoning further implies a radical sola eccelesia position. That is to say, you deny the Scripture any "real authority" (by your definition) because in the event that you conclude that there is an apparent difference between (your interpretation of) the teachings of Scripture and (your interpretation of) the teachings of your church, you accept (your interpretation of) the teachings of your church.
V. “A practical relativism concerning the content of Scripture” Conflates Proper and Improper Flexibility
As noted in my previous comment, it is proper to have charity in the non-essentials. Since the objection doesn't differentiate, it only creates confusion.
VI. "“Destroys” the authority of Scripture “by making the meaning of Scripture dependent upon the judgment of each individual,”" misrepresents the Sola position
I am thankful for the clarification provided in your comment. However, when you say things like, "In other words, each person is his own pope," you are seriously mischaracterizing the sola scriptura position.
Your comparison to a land without judges is not persuasive. The reason it is not persuasive is that even in a land where we have judges that interpret the laws, we don't feel compelled to agree with their interpretations. Sometimes we openly (more or less, depending on the land) state that the judges misinterpreted the law. We live with the consequences of the decisions of the judges, but we don't (always) agree with them. We abide by their decisions for the sake of keeping the peace, because of threat of force for disobedience, or simply because they must be obeyed as long as conscience permits it.
Your analogy fails to persuade, in short, because it compares submission to judicial orders with belief about truth. I realize that I run the risk of falling foul of a counter-objection that I am conflating the objection with the antetype. Nevertheless, the comparison made was to the fact that we need judges to keep order rather than each just interpreting the laws as we see fit. Thus, the comparison was laws=> Scripture and judges => church. Nevertheless, we are supposed to agree (in your proposed world) with the church, whereas we need only obey the judges.
VI. If Sola Scriptura Should be Blamed for Solo Scriptura, then Apostolic Succession Should be Blamed for Sola Scriptura
Your response here is to rebut the idea that a good thing should be blamed for an evil thing that comes from it. I don't necessarily disagree with your argument. In fact, I'll reproduce it here:
That would be like saying that since God made Lucifer, therefore God is to blame for Lucifer’s sin. But while Lucifer’s being comes from God, Lucifer’s sin does not come from God, even though Lucifer’s sin depends upon Lucifer’s being. All evil comes from good in this way, as Aquinas explains in Summa Theologica I Q.49 a.1. Protestantism came out of the Catholic Church not by an essential continuity with its intrinsic principles, but as a discontinuity, a rupture with the principles of sacramental authority and apostolic succession that had been operative in the Church from the first century.But your argument is also a rebuttal to the use of historical progression to blame sola for the solo position. I realize that in your final sentence you attempt to argue that Sola Scriptura is continuous with Solo Scriptura, but the difference between subordinate authority and no authority is a real difference (not withstanding the discussion you've made above to the effect that a subordinate authority is not an authentic authority).
VII. It is not fair to pitch inconsistently practiced [X] against consistently practiced [Y]
You answered my question about whether you agree that it is unfair to pitch inconsistently practiced [X] against consistently practiced [Y] with a "no." That's perplexing to me, since I can't see how it is fair for you to make such a comparison.
Perhaps you intended your "no" to mean that you don't think you're making a comparison between inconsistently practiced [X] and consistently practiced [Y]. However, with due respect, I think you'll find that you are making such a comparison. You refuse, from what I can see, to permit me to abstract a group of consistent practitioners of sola scriptura, but you insist on abstracting a group of consistent practitioners of apostolic succession.
VIII. There Are Other Ways to Avoid Anarchy / Many Schisms / etc. without Either Apostolic Succession or Sola Scriptura
I had noted that there are other ways to avoid alleged consequences [A]-[E] besides either sola scriptura or apostolic succession. Your response doesn't really seem to address this objection. Instead, it tries to blame the JWs and Mormons on "Protestantism." Whether or "Protestantism" should be blamed for their existence[Fn12], they provide other ways to avoid the supposed problems. The point is that whether or not something avoids particular problems is not determinative of the worth of the ideology. It's unclear whether you missed this objection entirely or not.
The attempt to blame the JWs and Mormons on "Protestantism" while plainly not blaming them on sola scriptura gets us back up to Section I(b)(2) of this response. There are other ideologies besides sola scriptura at play within "Protestantism" making it difficult to demonstrate that the historical progression is the result of natural necessity as opposed to historical accident.
IX. The Cost of "Apostolic Succession" May Not be Worth the Benefit of Solving the Problems
You responded to my criticism that "Apostolic Succession" may solve the alleged consequences at too high a price with two responses:
Your first response was that "speculation is cheap and easy." But my comment is not simply idle speculation. The existence of trade-offs is simply an aspect of any decision-making event. Your article attempts to identify the negatives of an alternative to sola scriptura but does not address the negatives to "apostolic succession."
Your second response was that "authority is not control or force." This response seems absurd on its face. The "Catholic Encyclopedia," for example, speaking of the laity in Roman Catholicism states:
Consequently they are not allowed to preach in church, or to undertake to defend the Catholic doctrine in public discussions with heretics. But in their private capacity, they may most lawfully defend and teach their religion by word and writing, while submitting themselves to the control and guidance of ecclesiastical authority.Similarly, under the topic of "Acceptance," the encyclopedia states:
Acceptance by the faithful is not required for the binding force of ecclesiastical laws. The Apostles received from Christ the power of binding and loosing, and the hierarchy (i.e. the Pope, bishops and other prelates) have inherited this power, as has always been recognized in the Church.The rigidity of the Roman Catholic system may be thought to be a strength in terms of avoiding alleged consequences [A]-[E], but there are tradeoffs to rigidity - tradeoffs that the article seems to refuse to recognize [Fn13].
I hope the above discussion has demonstrated what I think are some of the weaknesses in the approach of the article. The assertion that solo scriptura proceeds by natural necessity from sola scriptura hasn't been established but merely asserted. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate nature necessity with respect to an ideology, particularly because it involves mixing human beings and the ideas.
The alleged consequences don't actually seem to be tied to sola scriptura in any concrete way. In fact, it seems that to tie the consequences to sola scriptura the deck must be stacked against sola scriptura by creating a multi-church abstraction to compare to a single church. Similarly, the arguments presented to deny that the creeds (or whatever) have any real authority are demonstrably wrong in that they would imply that any subordinate authority is not a real authority.
With respect, most of the criticisms of the article seem to be missed, such as the criticism that the article fails to address the trade-offs of the Roman Catholic system. The cost of avoiding anarchy to Hobbes was tyranny. He thought it was worth it, but most folks today disagree. At any rate, one must at least consider the trade-offs before one can conclude in favor of an alternative.
Consequently, I continue to think the article has a significant number of holes at critical points.
1. Of course, there are other varieties (or at least nuances) of "natural necessity" in the literature. For example, as used in Jonathan Edwards, natural necessity refers to the necessity imposed by natural causes: "Thus men, placed in certain circumstances, are the subjects of particular sensations by Necessity: they feel pain when their bodies are wounded; they see the objects presented before them in a clear light, when their eyes are opened: so they assent to the truth of certain propositions, as soon as the terms are understood; as that two and two make four, that black is not white, that two parallel lines can never cross one another; so by a natural Necessity men's bodies move downwards, when there is nothing to support them."
2. There are a bunch of examples, so I'm designating them with small Roman letters.
3. I'm tempted here to say that the terms "spirit" or "essence" could be interchanged with "nature" in most places in examples (a)-(f) and (h). I'm not sure whether that truly does justice to the usage, however.
4. There seems to be some tension in the article as to whether the ecclesial authority in "Protestantism" is properly characterized as democratic or anarchical. Possibly the authors of the article view the two as equivalent, though, of course most democracies (whether broadly or narrowly defined) would beg to differ. The article never says that anarchy itself is in the nature of solo scriptura, though perhaps we should infer that from the explanation that "natural necessity" is what leads to anarchy. If so, one wonders whether the article's authors think that democracy in the civil sphere also naturally proceeds to anarchy, or whether this observation is limited to the ecclesial sphere.
5. If I may be so bold as to claim to know the meaning that was intended by the authors!
6. There are different formulations of free will among different groups. In Calvinism, for example, a person makes choices according to the person's nature and circumstances. In other views, man acts with absolute or curbed autonomy. A full discussion of the difference between Calvinistic Free Will and Libertarian Free Will is beyond the scope of this post.
7. Hopefully this example is an inoffensive stereotype. No offense to my Scottish brethren is intended.
8. I'm using the term "Christianity" here as it is typically used in sociological circles, not with theological connotations.
9. Quotation here is not necessarily a quotation of something Bryan Cross wrote, but rather what I take the gist of the article's point to be.
10. For the reasons set forth by Webster and King in their 3-volume series, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of the Faith, I view the Reformation as a revitalization of the ancient practice of sola scriptura not a theological innovation. That debate is also beyond the scope of this response.
11. I am boiling things down quite a bit here, but it seems to me a fair characterization. I hope you don't disagree.
12. Certainly, it would be unfair to try to blame sola scriptura for their existence. It is good that Bryan does not attempt to make that accusation, but his accusation is even less relevant in view of the fact that he blames some other alleged aspect of "Protestantism."
13. For example, one of the tradeoffs is that error once promulgated as a definition is irreformable.