Dialogue in Calvin and Hobbes comic strip:
Teacher: If there are no questions we’ll move on to the next chapter.
Calvin: I have a question.
Teacher: Certainly Calvin, what is it?
Calvin: What’s the point of human existence?
Teacher: I meant any question about the subject at hand.
Calvin: Frankly, I’d like to have that issue resolve before I expend any more energy on this.
Brad S. Gregory in his The Unintended Reformation; How A Religious Revolution Secularized Society builds the second chapter around the subject of “Life Questions.” The name of the chapter is “Relativizing Doctrines.” The Life Questions (Gregory capitalizes this throughout the book) he speaks of are the following:
‘What should I live for, and why?’ ‘What should I believe, and why should I believe it?’ ‘What is morality, and where does it come from?’ ‘What kind of person should I be?’ ‘What is meaningful in life, and what should I do in order to lead a fulfilling life?’
As he develops his argument, he points out that historically the majority of Westerners since the Middle Ages have answered the Life Questions through some form of Christianity. He states that however these claims work themselves out, they must involve doctrinal claims of one sort or another.
And this, according to Gregory, is the rub. Because over time, and especially since the Reformation
Christian truth claims vary greatly across different individuals, congregations, churches, and traditions. In countless ways they conflict with one another. … Somewhere, at some time, by some congregation or individual, almost anything has gone or still goes under the adjective ‘Christian’. Combined with this vast pluralism is the widespread (but not unanimous) view that whatever its particular content, religious conviction is a highly personal, individual matter, such that only each person can determine what is right and best for her or him.
Then, as a result, each person becomes his or her own sovereign.
… truth is whatever is true to you, values are whatever you value, priorities are whatever you prioritize, and what you should live for is whatever you decide you should live for. In short: whatever.
Even though we may reject religious answers to the Life Questions, one cannot be absolved from answering them, even if implicitly. Gregory spends the remainder of this chapter exploring the root philosophical-theological causes, implications and complications of this moral relativity.1
This is what Calvin wanted answered, before moving on. Good for Calvin.
- Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation; How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 76, 77 ↩
I have come to like the idea of killing off old ideas so well that I’d like to expand it today. In Part One, I suggested that Protestants should give up on a doctrine that has never really worked itself out, even though it started with the best of intention: Sola Scriptura. In Part Two, I want to suggest giving up on the designation Protestant, by letting it die. I’m not sure what this “protest” amounts to in the twenty-first century. What specifically, is still being protested? After all we have taken ourselves out of the Roman Catholic Church, and for a long time have had our own church families, the many divisions of which are called “denominations.” The various denominations are the children our branch of the Church has produced. Each of them has a different name. But they remain in the Protestant family. In leaving the RCC, and starting our own family of churches, we let it be known that there was very little about our former family that we liked. But that was a long time ago. To hang on to the Protestant designation after so many years sounds like a child who many years ago threw a tantrum because of being angry at Papa. He was too demanding, too authoritative, was corrupt, and had some ideas that were damaging to the family. So the reformers walked out in protest and became known as Protestants.
However the Church that launched the protest is all grown up now — or at least ought to be. Therefore it should no longer have the character of the angry Church of five hundred years ago. Many of the arguments that made sense then, no longer work. And if we still have issues with the RCC, they should no longer have the nature of “protest.” And there should not be the need to fight even though disagreements still exist. Now our own family has multiplied into thousands of fragments disagreeing with each other over almost anything. We have serious trouble sharing the same table with each other, or at even having conversation.
So it makes sense to me just to drop the “Protestant” label. It no longer has a usefulness. There is a need to prayerfully look for something else. After all we are Christ’s Church. Our differences with the RCC and with our brothers and sisters of other denominations have become an offense to the world. They are a huge stumbling block. Protestantism needs to die. Some say it is already dead, although I have my doubts.
Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can. …
Protestantism ought to give way to Reformational catholicism. Like a Protestant, a Reformational catholic rejects papal claims, refuses to venerate the Host, and doesn’t pray to Mary or the saints; he insists that salvation is a sheer gift of God received by faith and confesses that all tradition must be judged by Scripture, the Spirit’s voice in the conversation that is the Church. …
I urge you to read Lethart’s entire post. What he says has profound possibilities for the unity of Christ’s Church. Let the idea of “Protestant” die.
See also: Without Intent
Listening to NPR I heard a segment on Which Scientific Ideas Must Die? It is based on the book entitled This Idea Must Die; Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress, by John Brockman. The thesis of the book is the following question, which was put to 175 brilliant minds: “What scientific idea needs to be put aside in order to make room for new ideas to advance?”
It is not my intention to discuss this NPR piece or the book. It is to ask this same question to the Church and to theologians who serve the Church.
Here is the question: What if Protestants would kill off, Sola Scriptura, or “by Scripture alone”? And just admit that it no longer works, or for that matter, never did work? If one looks at the state of Protestantism, it is a total mess. I’m not sure how many denominations exist at present time. Each one has its own slant on Biblical interpretation. Different conclusions about matters of faith are the norm. Add this to the thousands of “independent” churches that dot the landscape of our country. Each one is headed by a pastor who is in some ways his (almost always a “his”) own pope. Every denomination, every independent, operates according to its own set of beliefs, and all claiming the backing of scripture. According to the principle of noncontradiction a true statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time in the same sense. Yet we find Protestant groups and pastors doing just this while applying Sola Scriptura. And this has been true since the very early days of Reformation. There are enough issues connected with Sola Scriptura for an entire series of posts if one were so inclined.
So – we need some thinkers willing to be brave and announce the demise of this doctrine.
Following are a few internet writers considering Sola Scriptura from various points of view:
- According to Scripture by Tim Staples
- Sola Scriptura by Fr. John Whiteford
- The Evangelical Calvinist by Bobby Grow
- Solo Scriptura; The Difference a Vowel Makes by Keith A. Mathison