Some time ago an acquaintance from my Protestant fundamentalist days was in touch by email. Kevin is now a Baptist pastor working on his PhD. He wished to engage me in conversation to help me see my way out of the murky waters of Catholicism into the pure clear light of his religion.
I had not come across any disputant for some time who was really a sola Scriptura person. Most Evangelicals, when pressed, will offer some modified and qualified version of sola Scriptura because they will admit that they rely on a Presbyterian, or a Baptist or a Methodist (or whatever) tradition to help them interpret the Scriptures. Even if they don’t sign up to a particular denominational name brand, and claim to be ‘just an ordinary Evangelical’, it isn’t too hard to get them to admit that even as ‘an ordinary Evangelical’ they are still interpreting the Scriptures within a particular historical and theological context, and therefore they are reliant, at least a little, on a form of tradition.
Not Kevin. The weird thing about discussing the matter with Kevin is that there was an absurdity to it all. Kevin would say, “Dwight if you just open the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance he will enlighten your heart.” This was code for: “The Holy Spirit will lead you to believe like I do.” My reply was, “But Kevin, this is exactly what I have been doing for the last twenty years and the Holy Spirit has led me to become a Catholic.”
“Yes, but Dwight, if you will just open the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your heart…”
“But Kevin, that is just what I have been doing for the last twenty years and the Holy Spirit has led me to become a Catholic. What I don’t understand Kevin, is that if the Scriptures are the only source of truth, why should your interpretation necessarily be the right one? If we don’t rely on tradition, and it is just you and the Bible and the Holy Spirit and me and the Bible and the Holy Spirit, why should you be right and me be wrong?”
“But Dwight if you will but open the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your heart…”
There was a weird kind of absurd tail chasing going on. Logic could not permeate such an absurd position, and I realized that within Kevin’s world view was also a kind of dis-trust of reasoning and logic. I’d forgotten about the fundamentalist’s absolutism. Since then I’ve enountered it amongst several other fundamentalist with whom I’ve been involved in discussion.
Perhaps the word ‘discussion’ is an overstatement. There wasn’t really much discussion going on I’m afraid.
This is why nowadays I just short circuit any attempt by a Protestant to “rescue me from the Mary worshipers” by stating: “Look, I believe that the apostolic Tradition of the Church in communion with the Roman pontiff and Scripture are the two means through which we know God’s will. You believe that only Scripture is. It’s not going to do me a fat lot of good to quote ecumenical councils to you, and you’re not going to make it anywhere just throwing bible verses at me. If you want to discuss the relative strengths and weakness of our initial starting points, fine. But I am not going to waste our time in talking past each other.”This usually results in something similar to your experience–they pull out their KJV and say “but the Scriptures doesn’t say anything about the Pope having authority.” Sigh. Has anyone had the experience of someone admitting that other Protestants are all heretics? Some fundamentalists will, basically by following a line of reasoning such as:1) The Holy Spirit told me that x verse means x2) That Protestant over there doesn’t agree with me3) Therefore, that Protestant is a heretic because I KNOW that x verse means x4) Time to create my own storefront church and leave the heretic to the flames of hell
Having lived in the Bible belt, I’ve also learned how to get out of the dreaded “fundi-sandwich.” This is when someone is trying to convert you from Catholicism and another fundamentalist overhears and joins in. If they are not of the same denomination (or congregation or storefront church or that church their uncle pastors in the barn) just whip out James 2:14-26 and ask them to give their exegesis. Almost without fail, the two fundamentalists will disagree about what it says, and start arguing with each other, allowing you to slip away to more rewarding conversations. There are other verses that this works with, of course, but this one never fails.
“But Kkollwitz if you will but open the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your heart…”I ask if doing so makes one infallible, i.e, having inerrant access to the truth.If so, then why does the Holy Spirit lead people into so many conflicting versions of the truth?etc.
“…a kind of dis-trust of reasoning and logic.”Reminds me of this post at a recent Beckwith thread:”….it is the “best and brightest” at the evangelical Protestant college where I teach that walk into the offices of those of us who will listen to them, saying: “I am weary of the lack of intellectual stimulation in the church.” “I am weary of the lack of mystery.” “I am weary of the lack of authority.” “I am weary of the lack of history and tradition.””I am weary of a diet of milk.”
I loved this story that went around a few years ago:A man was desparate and had decided to put a gun to his head and end it all. But then he thought, “Surely God would not want that.” Being a good Bible-believing Christian, he took out his Bible, closed his eyes, opened the Bible and pointed to a verse. He opened his eyes and read: “Judas went out and hanged himself.” “Obviously a mistake. I’ll try it again.” So, he closed his eyes, opened the Bible, and pointed to a verse. Again he opened his eyes and read, “Go and do thou likewise.” “Oh no! Something is wrong here. I’ll give it one more try.” For the third time, he closed his eyes, opened his Bible and pointed. When he opened his eyes, he read, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
matt,Your strategy may be a somewhat successful strategy for dealing with the “fundi-sandwich” in the Bible belt. But any well-schooled Prots informed of Martin Luther’s concerns about the canonicity of James should not get too distracted by that rabbit trail. ☺
Robin,Most fundamentalists have very little concept of Christian history, in my experience, and most seem to think that the Bible descended from Heaven bound and numbered. I’ve even had a Methodist minister tell me that a member of his congregation was outraged that he was using the NIV instead of KJV, because “if it was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me.” When the minister pressed further, he discovered this man truly believed Paul was wandering around Asia Minor with a English, 1611 A.D. Bible. Which makes it easy for Paul to write his Epistles, since all he had to do was copy them out of a book! LOL! Obviously, most fundamentalist Christians aren’t as daft as this particular man is, but there are pockets of such people in the fundi world.I am more than willing to talk with them about the codification of the canon of Scripture–they’ll realize they owe the Church more than they want to admit! 🙂 But I doubt most of them would be too concerned that Luther thought James “an epistle of straw” or that Revelation contained various errors, since they don’t agree with Luther on many theological positions. The most notable is that a large number of fundis believe that being “saved” is at the moment of personal confession of belief in Christ–separate from, and not even requiring baptism–while Luther clearly believes those who are baptised by water are imputed the justification of Christ, by faith and grace alone. Most Bible belt fundis seem to be an eclectic mix of Calvinistic, “Oneness”, and Holiness backgrounds, neither of which really follow a Lutheran understanding of church.
I spent some time in my early 20’s as a me-n-Jesus-n-Bible-n-Holy Spirit solo Christian. (Sola Liz.) But the more I studied the NT, the more I realized Jesus founded the very Church that I ran away from. It’s so bloody Catholic. The Bible made me a Catholic when I wasn’t even really enthusiastic about the prospect. You can’t read the NT and avoid the whole Church question.However, most Bible Christians don’t read the whole NT (much less the whole Bible). There’s lots of bits out of Romans and Galatians, and some Malachai thrown in to keep the tithe money flowing (an OT work of the law that apparently Paul didn’t dismiss in Romans).How to p.o. a fundi: did you know that chapter and verse numbering are a MEDIEVAL CATHOLIC INVENTION?kentuckyliz