Sola Wha?

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.



~ by xristosdomini on January 3, 2009.

8 Responses to “Sola Wha?”

  1. Okay, so I knew I had to comment as soon as I read the word “drubbing”. I hadn’t heard that one before. I further knew that I had to comment on the term “psychological plinko”. Both made me exceedingly happy in my word-nerdiness.

    I also (and more importantly) had to comment because I am also of a growing conviction that our theology has to be run through the wringer of real life before we accept it as sound doctrine. Biblical truth will not crash and burn in a Christian community (or cause that Christian community to crash and burn if they follow it). I agree completely with Sola Scriptura in that the Bible always stands on its own feet as the sure authority on doctrine. But I agree with you that our perceptions of the Bible are not necessarily to be instantly trusted and defended — especially on issues that are not clearly spelled out in a verse.

  2. Amanda, watch the verse thing, take it in context. Adam, the bible is not a book. It is a collection of books written by or about the very profits of God. It has over and over thru history predicted the future with out error. It is proven by scholarship and archeology. As a document inspired by the Word of God it is a recording of His Thoughts.As such it has not one lie in it. Out of love I submit these thoughts. The bible never ordered a crusade.
    The bible never ordered Jews to be tortured.
    Years the bible was in charge was not called the Dark Ages.
    The bible never said little babies go to Hell, or to Limbo.
    I am glad that Limbo is out of business. See what happens without the guidance of scripture? Pray that the same Holy Spirit that helped pen the words will make those words clear and relevant to you. Read John, there is no need to add or take away a word.
    Read in Context, know the History,understand the Relationships of the players, be sensitive to Inferences ,read in the Spirit, Trust in His Word. The words of man pass away like the grass. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide

  3. Adam, see you as an apostate!? Never! You’re coming back to the teachings of the early Church. For the first 200 years remember there was no single collection of scripture, but rather many many ‘books’ and scriptures circulating.

    One of the things I love most about my church (The Orthodox Church) is that it has preserved the teachings of the Apostles and the holy Fathers unaltered throughout her 2,000 year history. It was from this Church that the Roman Catholic Chruch schismed from (and later the Protestants from the RCC). You should look in to it, I’m sure you’ll be amazed!

  4. Willoh, I feel I must apologize to you for evoking a pavolov reaction in your response. I am not criticizing the Bible, and I know that it is a collection of 66 books written over a period of more than 2000 years. I also know that the Catholic Church has several errors of doctrine. I also know that the Protestants suffer from the exact same illness.

    In answer to your specific objections:
    No, the Bible does not command Jews to be tortured. It also never declares that Christianity has replaced “Israel” in Old Testament prophecy.

    Your definition of the Dark Ages is somewhat suspect because (A) some of the brightest lights of the church occured during that time and (B) the Church was the single largest political entity of that time.

    Yes, the Bible never says that deceased infants go to Purgatory or Hell… it also never says that deceased infants go directly to Heaven and collect $200 either.

    What I am getting at is that the modern understanding of “Sola Scriptura” lends itself to Christians clinging more to the Bible than God. As I said, it is not a matter of whether or not the words make sense. Any idiot can understand “thou shalt not murder”, but when we start talking about Soteriology or Eschatology, we need to be bracing our philosophical conclusions with real world facts, or our philosophy will have the same risk of being incorrect that a pure experience alone would. That is my point.

    I take it then that you are Eastern Orthodox? I don’t think I have ever actually spoken to one of your ranks. That being said, the pleasure is mine.

    I have great respect for both the Eastern Orthodox and the RCC (and Protestantism). I appreciate that the EOC believes they have maintained the Apostles teachings… but there is this odd phenomenon where things passed down through 2000 years develop small changes that can lead to just as much confusion. Example, why are there at least 12 seperate codexes of the original books running around? However, this is slightly off topic.

    Amanda: I knew your wordnerdiness would appreciate my additions to the lexicon…

    To all:

    I hope everyone will realise that the intention of this post is not to highlight denominations as evil or “more correct” or what ever. My entire point here is to ask the question of what we mean when we say “Sola Scriptura”. The Bible is without doubt the Final Authority on any kind of doctrine. However, that does not make it the ONLY authority. I believe that doctrine can be shaped and augmented by real life and by direct revelation of God. While Scripture itself is not supposed to be a fluid entity, our understanding of it is. Much as how a painter can make a portrait of a still life that anyone can see and identify as a town square, or what have you, it is through the experience of the artist and of the audience that we being to understand things such as subtle bits of satire that are lacing the strict image.

    Similarly, it is through real world experience and the helping hand of God that we begin to understand the subtleties of His character, His thoughts, His desires, and what He was thinking when He told Paul to write what he did. If we just stare at the painting, we can appreciate the technical aspects of it (brushstrokes, technique, color choice, etc.), but we will never get the full understanding unless we get to know the artist themself.

  5. Art, it would seem, is never a subject that should be taken lightly. One glance at a sunrise tells me enough to know that God is best artist this world has ever seen in any of it’s gyrations around the sun. If God is the greatest artist, than everything He has done is His masterpiece. Not to take a Platonic philosophy that our current state is the best of all possible futures, but quite honestly you have no hope of truly understanding the art without an understanding of the artist.

    I think the question I would pose is if doctrine shapes reality or merely describes it. If the latter, then it would make sense that doctrine is going to be a product of reality rather than a mere philosophy that is removed from the same.

    Anyway, enough of my thoughts…

  6. Hey Kristosdomini,

    Yeah, we’re not all that common in America.. yet. *laugh* Anyways, out of curiousity, what do you mean by 12 seperate codexes? If you’d like to not clutter up your comments section here you can e-mail me at

    Anyways, I just wanted to say that I’m glad you’ve recognized some of the, if not errors, then dangerous of sola scriptura. Like you said, the Bible is the chief source of Christian doctrine, but there’s also a 2,000 year history after it, and God has continued to move in the world since the Pentecost. I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers, but I feel a little bit sad that there are some who think that the entire Christian religion is contained sole in one small collection of books and letters.

    I’d love to talk to you more if you want to, just e-mail me!

  7. I have visited churches where the Holy Trinity was Father Son and Holy Bible. I did not mean to offend. Sola Scriptura is meant as how we understand God, not to replace God. Please excuse me now, someone rang a bell and for some reason I can’t stop drooling.

  8. So I forgot to respond to my own thread… I’m human…

    Pilgrim: The codex remark is a reference to how we have so many different source texts that form the various english translations of the Bible. Whether you are looking at the Codex Sinaiticus, the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Masoretic Texts, they all have one thing in common. Namely, they purport to be the most accurate of collections of the Biblical source texts. However, due to the vast amount of time between not only the composing of these copies but also because of the age of the parchment itself, they all contain minor differences in content. The exact same phenomenon happens in the recitation of doctrine. When you pass on your beliefs, your disciple will do what you do correctly about half as often, and any of your flaws will be magnified in their outworking. To that end, the idea that any doctrine of any kind has been preserved unchanged (or nearly unchanged) for 2000 years is logically silly.

    willoh: No offense taken. Why would I be offended by what I agree with? The kind of places that abuse the idea of “Sola Scriptura” just happen to be who I am focused on in this post. I don’t think that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura should be scrapped, but I think it needs to be given it’s correct place.

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