Monday, October 31, 2016

"you will receive no other law for your belief than that interpretation of the Scripture which seems to you the best"

I am going to reserve comment on the quotation from the title of this thread until the end of this post, focusing instead, for now, on Alister McGrath's, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, which I recently finished reading (link to Google Books preview).

I had actually purchased this book—along with a number of others—a few months back, but did not get around to reading it until just a few days ago. Dr. McGrath is one of my favorite Protestant authors, especially his works on Christian history (both history proper, as well as historical theology), and this book did not disappoint. If one is looking for a polemical treatment on the subject he addresses, don't bother purchasing the book; but, if one is looking for concise, objective and balanced contribution, definitely get a hold of a copy.

His introduction sets the tone (of course) for the book, beginning with some reflections on the July 1998 Lambeth Conference. From the pen of Dr. McGrath we read:

In July 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion met in the historic English cathedral city of Canterbury for their traditional Lambeth Conference, held every ten  years. The intention was to address the many challenges and opportunities that Anglicanism faced worldwide...The bishops gathered every day for prayer and Bible study, a powerful affirmation of the role of the Bible in sustaining Christian unity, guiding the church in turbulent times, and nourishing personal spirituality.

But how was the Bible to be interpreted...

How, many Anglicans wondered, could the Bible be the basis for their identify and unity when there was such obvious disunity on how it was to be understood? How could a text-based movement have a coherent inner identify when there was such a clear and fundamental disagreement on how that text was to be interpreted and applied on an issue of critical importance?

The idea that lay at the heart of the sixteenth-century Reformation, which brought Anglicanism and the other Protestant churches into being, was that the Bible is capable of being understood by all Christian believers—and that they all have the right to interpret it and to insist upon their perspectives being taken seriously. Yet this powerful affirmation of spiritual democracy ended up unleashing forces that threatened to destabilize the church, eventually leading to fissure and formation of breakaway groups...

The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves. However, it ultimately proved uncontrollable, spawning developments that few at the time could have envisaged or predicted. (Pages 1, 2)

On the next page, he raises two very important questions:

Who has the authority to define its faith? Who has the right to interpret its fundamental document, the Bible? (Page 3)

This is followed with:

The outbreak of the Peasant's War in 1525 brought home to Luther that his new approach was dangerous and ultimately uncontrollable. If every individual was able to interpret the Bible as he pleased, the outcome could only be anarchy and radical individualism. Too late, Luther tried to rein in the movement by emphasizing the importance of authorized leaders, such as himself, and institutions in the interpretation of the Bible. But who, his critics asked, "authorized" these so-called authorities? (Page 3 - bold emphasis mine.)

The above questions are repeated throughout the book. In addition to strict individualism, the issue of competing "authorities" creating fragmentation almost from the very beginning of the Protestant revolt/revolution are raised. Dr. McGrath states that, "There was no single Wittenberg reforming program, no single approach to biblical interpretation and application" (p. 65).

Is it any wonder that such problems were greatly magnified as the revolt/revolution spread from Wittenberg?

McGrath moves on from Wittenberg to Zurich and Zwingli, then to the Anabaptists; and in chapter 4, to John Calvin. Chapter 5 is devoted to England and the "Emergence of Anglicanism", which is followed by "European Protestantism in Crisis, 1560–1800" (ch. 6), and then "Protestantism in America" (ch. 7).

Questions concerning authority and interpretation continue. Chapter 10, "The Bible and Protestantism" is excellent, containing reflections on the issues of sola scriptura, translations, commentaries, lectionaries, theological works and the canon.

On page 209, he writes:

Since every Protestant has the right to interpret the Bible, a wide range of interpretations cannot be avoided. And since there is no centralized authority within Protestantism, this proliferation of options cannot be controlled. Who has the right to decide what is orthodox and what is heretical?

And just a bit later he states:

Over the years, each strand of Protestantism developed its own way of understanding and implementing the sola Scriptura principle.

Dr. McGrath has added confirmation to many important issues that have been raised here at AF. From almost the beginning of this blog, I have pointed out that the assessments of A.N.S. Lane in his important article, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey” (LINK ), raise some serious, unanswered problems for the Protestant paradigm. The following quotation from Lane's work has been published at the bottom of the right side-bar of this blog for nearly a decade now:

The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgement. The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgement but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45 – bold emphasis mine.)

And back in Nov. 2009, I posted the following from yet another Reformed author:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)

Clearly, the questions of individual interpretation and authority outside the Bible itself raised by Dr. McGrath are/were also on the minds of Lane and Mathison.

And so, with all this in mind, I shall ask: how does one determine which interpretation of the Bible is the correct one? And further, is there an authority in place which/who has the approval from God himself to provide the correct interpretation of His Word?

Now, back to the opening quotation/title of this thread:

"you will receive no other law for your belief than that interpretation of the Scripture which seems to you the best"

This quotation is from Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy (page 3, of Mackey's English trans., third edition, 1909 - PDF version available online HERE).

For anyone who has ever pondered over the questions raised by Dr. McGrath, I sincerely think that you owe it to yourself to read de Sales thoughtful answers.

Grace and peace,



Nick said...

I've come to sort of the opposite conclusion in my studies. In reality, it is Catholicism that holds to Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, while it's the Protestants who hold to Traditions-Of-Men Alone and Works Alone. Sounds outrageous, but hear me out.

In the Protestant mind, Works Alone are what save us, but the catch is that we cannot do these works because we are sinful. Adam didn't need faith to be saved in the Protestant view, rather he needed a lifetime of good works. So the "solution" is Imputation of Christ's Righteousness, wherein Christ lives a lifetime of perfect obedience in our place and imputes this to us such that we stand before the Father as if we had lived a lifetime of Good Works. God judges us worthy of heaven based on a lifetime of good works, nothing else. "Faith" in the Protestant view is merely accepting that Jesus lived a lifetime of perfect obedience in your place. So it's not really faith that saves in the Protestant view, it's works, cloaked by the term "faith" to sound more humble. In contrast, Catholicism sees faith as an infused virtue, accompanied by other infused virtues and graces, and these are what save us by having the Trinity indwell within us. Works don't make any sense here, as if you had to work your way into a relationship with the Trinity rather that graciously accept the relationship via the sacramental life.

Similarly, it turns out that the Bible is very perspicuous, and being God's Word it can only teach one thing: the fullness of Catholicism. It is impossible for the Bible to teach error, so not a single Protestant doctrine can be found in it. Catholicism is clearly taught in the Bible, while Protestantism is nowhere to be found. Every Protestant doctrine you look for in the Bible will come up very short. They talk of Imputation of Christ's Righteousness as if it is plainly taught throughout Paul, but ask them for specific verses and they will find a way to change the subject to Mary. Ask them where their Sunday Liturgy consisting in a glorified Bible study is taught in Scripture and you'll find them changing the subject to priest abuse. Ask them where the Bible describes Baptism are purely symbolic and/or non-regenerative, and they'll turn to Paul's talk on faith alone. The trick is to actually ask them where in the Bible they derive this Biblical-sounding teaching and you'll be pleasantly surprised: nowhere in the Bible! You'll find they are more willing to drop the Bible like a hot potato before they grant the Catholic side any legitimacy.

The real myth about Sola Scriptura is that it gives the impression Protestants are actually following the Bible in the first place, when in fact they aren't following it at all.

Rory said...

Boy Dave...What is McGrath waiting for? A sign from heaven isn't necessary when you reach the conclusions he has reached.

Hey Nick...Sounds outrageous? I can go with you part way. If one is careful there is a certain sense in which we are sola fide, with regards to original justification.

But I could never agree with the Protestants as regards perspicuity of Scripture alone. It is amazing that anyone, Catholic or Protestant, believes it in our day. If Ignatius of Antioch had taught congregational ecclesiology, I could reconcile it with Scripture. If Justin Martyr had denied regeneration by water baptism, I could reconcile it with Scripture. The words alone can have too many different meanings.

I need more than Scripture. In short, I need the Fathers. I want the faith of the Fathers who died for Christ and His Church. I trust that they faithfully transmitted the Traditions of the Apostles, and I only want to believe what they did, while admitting that without Sacred Tradition, I would stumble about when and where the Scriptures are to be taken figuratively or literally.



David Waltz said...

Hi Nick

Thanks much for taking the time to respond to my opening post.

Your thoughts concerning the issue of "faith alone", has brought back to mind some older threads I have posted on this topic; the following are links to a couple of those threads:

A Catholic affirmation/understanding of faith alone

Steve Hays and Jason Engwer vs. Dr. Charles Hodge

As for sola scriptura, I think the following thoughts from Karl Rahner are germane:

==I would like, however, to try in the last part of our reflections to bring forward certain reasons for our not needing to accept – not even from a Catholic point of view – a constitutive material function of tradition which goes beyond the testimony of the nature of scripture; that we can say conversely, therefore, that it is entirely possible to formulate a Catholic sola scriptura principle with regard to the Church’s deposit of faith, provided that we understand this in a Catholic sense and therefore understand it to involve also an authoritative attestation and interpretation of holy scripture by the living word of the Church and her magisterium, and an attestation of scripture itself and its authoritative interpretation which cannot be replaced by scripture itself. (Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations - vol. 6, p. 107.)== [Link to original thread.]

Now, I must say that your post has given me much to contemplate; I may post some further musings after some in depth reflection...

Grace and peace,


David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

So good to see you back at AF...

As for Dr. McGrath, I think his view is that though the RCC is a valid Christian denomination, he believes that it has accumulated some doctrinal errors that he is not able to give assent to. In other words, he gives priority to his personal intellect, and is more comfortable living with an admitted fragmented Church, rather than trying to submit his intellect to a higher authority.

Grace and peace,


Nick said...


Catholics must insist on perspicuity because (1) the Bible was written to ordinary people using more or less plain language, and (2) denying perspicuity gives the impression to 'opponents' that Catholics are actively trying to avoid what the Bible plainly says and instead are hiding behind 'unwritten traditions'.

I'm not saying there are no difficult passages in Scripture, only that for the most part the Bible is pretty readable and that the Fathers and venerable Catholic theologians have explicitly affirmed this. And you'll be amazed at the success/progress of your interactions with Protestants when you embrace this as well, because it totally pulls the rug from under them. For example, Protestants sit cozy thinking that they can just pull out Romans and the Catholic must retreat to James or Church Fathers. This is tragic. How about Catholics turn exclusively to Romans and show that Paul not only contradicts Protestantism, he affirms Catholicism? How about that?

Whenever I want to frighten a Protestant, I offer to debate them Sola Romans, and they panic because all they've ever known is asserting their man-made doctrines using a dubious quote from Paul, then never get called out on it by a Catholic, which gives them the impression they're on firm ground. There's a reason why Protestants refuse to interact with my blog posts examining Romans 4, Ephesians 2, Galatians 3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.


I await any future posts you have on the matter. I want to clarify that your old Sola Fide posts don't quite get to the heart of what I'm getting at. It's not that there is a legitimate notion of Sola Fide for Catholics, but rather that there is no legitimate notion of Sola Fide for Protestants. The whole rationale for Imputation is that Protestants believe that salvation in it's very essence is works based. This is totally against the Catholic/Biblical view in which salvation in its essence is relationship based. Trent Session 6 says justification in its essence is going from a child of adam to an adopted child of God. In no sense does Imputation or Works make sense within the context of adoption.

Consider what Jason Engwer said on your post: "The “only thing” Paul wanted to know from the Galatians was how they received justification (Galatians 3:2)." It turns out that Jason's wording actually hides a significant detail. Consider what Paul actually said: "Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" Notice, Paul is asking did they receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by works of the law or by believing the Gospel? The indwelling of the Holy Spirit making us adopted children (3:7b, 3:14) is the exact opposite of Imputation of Christ's Lifetime of Obedience. This is huge. It means Jason had preconceived ideas that weren't actually Biblical, then he quoted Paul, and didn't get challenged on that quote, leaving Jason to think Paul was on his side.

David Waltz said...

Good morning Nick,

Yesterday, you wrote:

== I want to clarify that your old Sola Fide posts don't quite get to the heart of what I'm getting at. It's not that there is a legitimate notion of Sola Fide for Catholics, but rather that there is no legitimate notion of Sola Fide for Protestants. The whole rationale for Imputation is that Protestants believe that salvation in it's very essence is works based. This is totally against the Catholic/Biblical view in which salvation in its essence is relationship based. Trent Session 6 says justification in its essence is going from a child of adam to an adopted child of God. In no sense does Imputation or Works make sense within the context of adoption.==

Agreed. I would add that the adoption takes place via regeneration (i.e. 'born again'), which sure seems to indicate that regeneration cannot be separated from justification.

Just a couple of days ago, I happened upon two videos that drive home the point that the Protestant view on the relationship between justification and regeneration is contradictory/incompatible. You can access them at YouTube via the following links:

Documentary - Protestantism's Big Justification Lie

Born Again Refutes Faith Alone

Would be very interested in your thoughts once you have had a chance to view them.

Grace and peace,


Nick said...

Hello David,

Yes, I have seen those videos before. I agree with the overall point they make, I think the videos could have been much shorter though. I also think they could sharpen their points a bit. I don't share those videos because they are from a Sedevacantist group, but I think it would make a good short blog post.

One answer I've never gotten from the Reformed is that if a person is regenerated prior to justification, then why does Paul say in Romans 4:5 that God justifies "the ungodly"? How can an regenerate person be "ungodly"?

Dennis said...

Hi David.

I read your blog occasionally.

Regarding the comments above & having watched the first vid.

Do you really think the assessment about justification / regeneration is really that "set in stone", in the minds of the Reformed ? Do they make delineations that "concrete"? I don't see why they wouldn't take salvation as a package that includes justification, regeneration & sanctification. wouldn't they see thatall 3 are part of salvation. Even if they emphasize justification, surely they would state regeneration is a gift that commences a new life that obeys God & grows in holiness ?


David Waltz said...

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for your interest in AF, and taking the time to share your thoughts. You wrote:

==Do you really think the assessment about justification / regeneration is really that "set in stone", in the minds of the Reformed ? Do they make delineations that "concrete"?==

I have yet to check the context of the references mentioned in the video; and until I do so, I am reserving judgment on the conclusions proposed therein.

However, with that said, I suspect that there is 'much more to the story' than the video suggests. For instance, I know for a fact that though all Reformed theologians believe that regeneration precedes belief, they disagree as to the when. There also seems to be disagreement concerning the full/total affects of regeneration—beyond, of course, identification with the new birth/new creation.

Anyway, I plan on doing a new thread on this topic after I have fully checked the context of the references mentioned in the video, though I don't know exactly when I will be able to do so.

Grace and peace,


Dennis said...

Thanks. Id like to see what you come up with.

Although I don't believe in the way justification is presented as a "status" set in stone, I would think that we are creditd with Christ's work, otherwise when we depart this earth how would we be further transformed without our own effort, to be accepted in God's presence?


Dennis said...

Hi David,

I wonder if this assessment by TF Torrance helps:

Justification by faith means that we reject all forms of self-justification. We look away from ourselves and exclusively toward Christ for the locus of justification. As Torrance (1960:238) argues:

Justification by grace alone remains the sole ground of the Christian life; we never advance beyond it, as if justification were only the beginning of a new self-righteousness, the beginning of a life of sanctification which is what we do in response to justification. Of course we are summoned to live out day by day what we already are in Christ through his self-consecration or sanctification, but sanctification is not what we do in addition to what God has done in justification.

Sanctification is not something the believer “adds to” justification by a “new self-righteousness.” Rather, both justification and sanctification are realised in Christo; that is, both are intrinsic to Christ’s incarnate assumption of fallen Adamic life and the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father. Torrance argues, however, that there is a tendency in the Westminster Catechisms, evidenced by their emphasis on the Ten Commandments, to return to the old Roman notion of infused sanctification worked out through strict adherence to legal precepts. The insistence that something must be added to justification and sanctification appears in both liberal and evangelical Protestantism in the idea of “co-redemption” and its emphasis on an “existential decision” as the means whereby we “make real” for ourselves the kerygma of the New Testament. This effectively means, argues Torrance, that in the last resort, our salvation depends on our own personal decision. For Torrance, however, justification by faith calls into question everything we have done as believers. As a Reformed theologian, he rejects any idea of co-redemption and aligns himself with the theology of the old Scots Confession and its assertion that “we willingly spoil ourselves of all honour and glory of our own salvation and redemption, as we also do of our regeneration and sanctification.” As Torrance rightly asserts, justification by grace alone guards the Gospel from corruption, whether by Evangelicalism, liberalism, or Roman Catholicism (Torrance, 1960:238, 239).


However in this scheme, how does this become a reality to a person if not through personal decision ? If God's Spirit motivates someone to follow Him, doesn't infusion along with imputation take place ?


David Waltz said...

Hi Dennis,

Thanks much for the post, and especially the link to Dr. Davis' blog. In the right side-bar, he mentions the following:

==My doctoral thesis is on "The mediation of Jesus Christ in the scientific theology of T.F. Torrance."==

I tracked down his thesis; it can be accessed online via THIS LINK.

It is an impressive 391 pages; I plan to read it as soon as my current studies into early patristic baptism—and its relationship to ecclesiology—is finished.

If you have the interest, and time, to read this thesis before me, I would be very interested in hearing your assessments.

Grace and peace,


Dennis said...

Wow, now you're asking for somethng especially now that its just before Christmas...