Sunday, October 07, 2012

Outline of Mathison’s Arguments

Keith Mathison’s book The Shape of Sola Scriptura is the book everyone tells me to read for a good defense of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

In a blog post from April 2011 I raised some questions about the arguments in the book and I recently re-read the book to try to really nail down just what he was saying.

Because I find the narrative of the book maddeningly unsystematic, I have tried to reproduce his basic line of argumentation in as systematic a form as possible. Here is a basic outline of his argument (and I hope Matthison will kindly correct me if I have not adequately represented his argument.)

  • Solo Scriptura (not to be confused with Sola Scriptura which Mathison defends) means that the individual is the final interpreter of scripture.
    • "Proponents of solo scriptura have deceived themselves into thinking that they honor the unique authority of Scripture. But unfortunately, by divorcing the Spirit-inspired Word of God from the Spirit-indwelt people of God, they have made it into a plaything and the source of endless speculations. If a proponent of solo scriptura is honest, he recognizes that it is not the infallible Scripture to which he ultimately appeals. His appeal is always to his own fallible interpretation of that Scripture.” p. 253
  • By contrast, the reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura means that scripture is the only ultimate authority (the qualifier ‘ultimate’ distinguishes this from non-Protestant approaches), although scripture is interpreted within the context of the church.

    • "For the first three centuries, we find a general consensus regarding authority….The Scripture was to be interpreted by the Church and in the Church within the context of the regula fidei [the rule of faith]. If it was taken out of its apostolic context, it would inevitably be mishandled.” p. 48
    • "The Church was the interpreter and guardian of the Word of God…”
    • “…the true interpretation of Scripture is found only in the Church.” p. 319
  • The Churches which can legitimately serve this function as the interpreter and guardian of the Word of God are those communions which assent to the creeds of the early church, principally the Nicene Creed and the definition of Chalcedon.
    • According to sola scriptura…the true interpretation of Scripture is found only in the Church…. How then do we identify the Church when there are numerous communions claiming to be the Church? …we can identify the fragments of the true visible Church by their acceptance of the common testimony of the Holy Spirit in the rule of faith, especially as expressed in written form in the ecumenical creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon.” p. 319 and 321

    • This includes non-heretical Protestant churches, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodoxy.
      • The reformers were wrong to consider only themselves to be the true church. p. 332
  •  Even though Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are branches of the true church (and therefore logically fall under the rubric of those churches which can function as the interpreter and guardian of the Word of God), one should not join either of them because their teachings do not align with the teachings of Scripture.


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