I’m sure there are some people who will be positive that I have apostasized after reading this post. I’m also sure that I don’t particularly care. There are many good things that came out of the Protestant Reformation… what with common language Bibles and all… but there are some things that came out of the Reformation that are somewhat destructive. Case in point, most Protestants have a deep resentment of the Catholic church that borders on hatred. While despising our spiritual fathers is nothing new, there is something that I am more interested in keying off on today… the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
For those of you who aren’t up on your Latin (which I would assume is most people), Sola Scriptura is the term that is used to describe the idea that the Holy Writ is the only authority for doctrine and theology. In its proper place, this is very true… but the modern usage of this doctrine deserves a thorough drubbing. In the modern Protestant movement, Sola Scriptura translates to “anything that isn’t specifically in the Bible is of Satan”.
This understanding of Scripture is to completely misunderstand what it is. The Bible (or, the Judeo-Christian scriptures if you will) is not a comprehensive list of right and wrong. To that end, the Bible will not specifically answer each and every question we bring to it. What the Bible will do is open a gateway into the heart of God so that He can answer the questions that scripture does not. By way of example, the Bible does not say that drinking or smoking are wrong. It does say that drinking in excess is wrong, but it does not preach total prohibition. However, we see that God cares about the correct workings of the created order… He made it and called it good, and He is going to restore it in the end. Based on this, we can say that the things which create an aberration in the created order (ie, smoking causes cancer) is at the very least not holy. However, I cannot say that the view that smoking is wrong is actually supported Biblically.
We also need to remember that the Scriptures were not written with a Divine Hand on a laid open scroll with no human authors. Much of scripture is not based on mere philosophical worldview type stuff, but rather on… drum roll please… real life experiences. So when we say that experience is invalid for the formation of Doctrine, by necessity, you need to throw out Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (and, by extension, his letters), the announcement of Christ, The Resurrection, and the Testimony of the early Apostles. Kind of a bleak look, ain’t it?
In the buisiness world, we constantly argue about whether book smarts or “street smarts” are more important. As long as you are not a complete dolt, either will serve you well in the business world. But for some reason in theological circles, book smarts are almost idolized and street smarts are condemned. It is my charge that both are necessary for a correct view of doctrine.
If you only have book smarts, you run the risk of becoming overly myopic in your worldview, where the world becomes reduced to a mere list of verses rather than a living and breathing entity with a living and breathing God who is actively involved in the planet. By way of contrast, if all you have is “street smarts” you place yourself in danger of having your experiences skewed by a bad psyche. The fact is that the world does not fit into nice and neat models, yet God is very logical.
Yes, experiences are subjective. Yes, our understanding of our experiences are fickle. So is our understanding of Scripture, interestingly enough. What I would caution people about is that not one single individual on this planet has doctrine purely from scripture anyway. When we read a piece of information, we need to comprehend said piece of information. In that process, what we have read plays psychological plinko in our brain, bouncing off of our formative experiences, past woundings and preconceived notions. That is how three people can read “Thou shalt not murder” and come up with three entirely different opinions about what it means. The comical bit is that all three people will think that their opinion is the “biblical” one.
Doctrine is not formed solely on the basis of the Biblical testimony. If it were, there would be no dissention on theological matters. Doctrine is formed based on our depth of study and our depth of experience. People who had an abusive father are going to have a very difficult time grasping the concept of God as a Father. People who were hurt by a spouse are going to have a very hard time relating to Jesus as the Bridegroom. Just as how people are not reduced to mathmatical equations, doctrine is not merely a product of the written words on a page, but a product of the person communicating and the person recieving the communication.
So what does doctrine require? It requires a solid biblical grounding, practical experience, and direct revelation from the God who is our ever present help in times of trouble. Anything less, and we are in danger of being decieved.