Discussions with self-appointed-Protestant-apologists are often sidelined (salvation, the papacy, Mary, etc) from the real issue: theological method. The simple truth is that a bad tree (method) cannot produce good fruit (doctrine and morals).
Wikipedia (if Wikipedia says it, it must be true) states that Sola scriptura was (is??) a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation. So, to continue a bad metaphor, the Protestant tree stands or falls by this one principle. Wikipedia gives us a good working definition for Sola Scriptura:
Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, “by scripture alone”) is the assertion that the Bible as God’s written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.
Assuming the above to be semi-correct (and I am very happy for someone to float a different definition), allow me to ask two simple questions of our separated brethren:
- Is Sola Scriptura scriptural?
- The definition above illustrates the major problem with the idea of Sola Scriptura in one word: self-authenticating. For this to be true the Bible must claim for itself the place given to it in Reformed Protestant Theology. It must, in other words, state that it is the final authority for all issues of Christian doctrine. If, however, it is held as an assumption, room is given for a higher authority.
Yet, this issue goes further. The Bible must be explicit (in the words of the definition, clear) on all issues and not tacit since the latter requires an interpretive agent. This issue is central: what is clear? Who is a rational reader? For example, are the words of Jesus clear when he says This is my Body? How is the doctrine of the Trinity scriptural?
- Is Sola Scriptura historical?
- The above defines the Bible as the written word. How did this written word come into existence? Was there a time when this written word was not but there was a group of people who dedicated their lives completely to Jesus? Further, taking the assumption that the Bible self-authenticating, where is the list of the canonical books to be found in the Bible?
The issue is further clouded when one asks whether there is a historical continuity to this idea. How does novelty make for good theology?
BTW: There is a Star Trek movie (is it The Search for Spock?) where Spock and Bones discuss Spock’s death. Spock simply says that unless they find a referrence point they cannot start the discussion. Well, Mr Self-Appointed-Internet-Protestant-Apologist, unless we find a reference point there is no discussion!