Saturday, August 27, 2005

Divisions in Sola Scriptura

It is common practice for a Roman Catholic to point out that there are [insert large number here] denominations under the Protestant umbrella, and, upon making this sociological observation, to then deduce that sola scriptura [henceforth SS] is falsified or unlikely or self-refuting.

One such strategy to counter this claim is to argue that either there aren't as many Protestant denominations as the large number mentioned above, and possibly at the same time to argue that Rome herself has various subgroupings that could rightfully be called "denominations." Along both of these lines, Eric Svendsen does some nice work here and here and here. To be even clearer, Svendsen does two main things:

(a) Argue that the large number of Protestant denominations [given as 25,000 or 30,000 by some Romanists] isn't really that large by appealing to the fact that sometimes two different denominations believe and teach the same things, being different denominations only with regard to some sociological or geographic status.

(b) Argue that there is no small number of divisions of thought in the Roman Church, and that, to be consistent, these divisions of thought are for all practical purposes distinct denominations, despite their formally Roman state.

Svendsen's articles expose the sloppiness of certain RC apologists and triumphalists who appear to try to run with anything that helps their cause, and, as further entry in the catalogue of silly overzealous RC apologist tricks, they serve a useful purpose for those on my side of the fence.

However, I think there is an even easier way to rebuff the Roman charge that X denominations somehow falsifies or makes less probable the claim that scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith.

What is this easier way? Answer: merely point out that there is no logical connection between the sociological fact that people disagree over the interpretation of scripture and the claim of SS. In other words, pointing out that there are X denominations is a complete non sequitur; this sociological fact has no evidential bearing on the question of whether SS is true.

Here are some comments intended in support of the above:

(1) A rule of faith is just that: a rule of faith, a standard, a norm, etc. There is nothing inherent in the words "rule of faith" that implies that everybody who holds to it will agree on particulars. Steve Hays and I both hold to SS. Steve's a Calvinist; I'm not. Svendsen and I both hold to SS. Svendsen thinks that the autobiographical passages in Rom 7 don't apply to, among other people, Paul; I do. But these disagreements about exegetical conclusions between Svendsen, Hays, and myself no more falsify or improbabilize SS than our agreement would verify or make highly probable SS.

(2) Related to (1), where have Evangelicals or classical Protestants of note claimed that SS leads to complete uniformity of thought? I myself have never heard or read such a claim, and I've read a fair sampling of conservative Protestant and Evangelical works.

(3) SS is basically a claim whose form goes along the lines x is the unique object with property P, where the unique x is the Bible and property P is the property of being an infallible rule of faith. Now how does one argue against a claim of this form?

(a) If one accepts the Bible as an infallible rule of faith and denies SS, then one must claim that there is at least one infallible rule of faith distinct from scripture. [Show that there is y distinct from x that also instantiates P]

(b) Or, one could argue that the propositions in the Bible don't constitute an infallible rule of faith by finding a proposition in the Bible that is false.

(c) Along the lines of (b) but not being quite the same thing, one could argue that SS leads to some sort of formal contradiction in Christian faith, practice, etc.

Therefore, to carry out (a) one must argue that there is something apart from scripture that is an infallible rule of faith; (b) is carried out by finding an error in scripture.

Note that a Romanist's pointing out that there are X denominations under the Protestant umbrella does nothing along the lines of (a)-(c) just mentioned. Again, refer to (1) and (2), where it is stated that nowhere in the principle of SS itself nor in the mind of Evangelicals do we have the implication that people will have the same beliefs; this should make it clear that this sort of argument is not a successful implementation of (c).

Let's shift gears now and meet the Roman claim about X number of Protestant denominations being injurious to the SS cause on its home turf. This is the tack that Svendsen takes in one of the links given above. Steve Hays parodies a piece of RC triumphalism as well.

Some brief comments:

(1) There are plenty of divisions in Roman Catholicism as well: traditionalists, sedevacantists, moderates, liberals, conservatives, etc. Here at the Pedantic Protestant I've discussed such people as Gerry Matatics and Robert Sungenis, Roman Catholics who think something has gone quite wrong with Rome. I've gone to masses and have seen crass liberalism on display. I've worked as an assistant professor at a Roman Catholic university and have seen functional atheists as religion professors and priests. I've read Catholic magazines such as New Oxford Review that lament the liberalism that has infected the RCC.

(2) For a Protestant, organizational unity is completely inferior to doctrinal unity. I have much more a bond with a Svendsen or a Hays, even though we are all in separate church bodies, than I would with, say, an ELCA [liberal Lutheran] member at my LCMS or WELS parish who denies inerrancy, inspiration, the vicarious atonement, etc.

(3) One need only observe the history of the RCC to see that the papacy and magisterium have not been able to keep people unified in belief, so, if a RC apologist wants to try the unsuccessful line of stating that divisions in conservative Protestantland somehow falsify or improbabilize SS, then this acid devours the Roman claims as well. Therefore, given the historical record, and especially in light of the liberalism of today's RCC, the Roman argument takes out both the Romanist and the Protestant.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if we can't depend on "Sola Scriptura" to arrive at the true meaning of the text, what good is it? Leaves both Protestants and Catholics in the same epistomological swamp of depending entirely on their own private interpretation.

Sunday, September 04, 2005 9:54:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

See the Sept 4 thread responding to this, please.

Sunday, September 04, 2005 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Sept 6, actually.

Thursday, September 08, 2005 12:06:00 AM  

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