Herding Cats on Sola Scriptura

Truly Reformed™ Protestantism suits a particular personality type: the sort of person who likes diagrams, neat handwriting, little lists of facts, mathematical formulae, and a certain kind of precision. In its own limited sphere, Truly Reformed Christianity is handy because its love of diagrams, rigorous logic, and TRVTH tends to breed apologists who are fit foils for the mad men who have lost everything except their reason, such as the New Atheists. The intense focus on either/or thinking that so dominates the binary logic gates of the Truly Reformed brain can be very helpful in answering truly either/or questions such as, “Does God exist?” So Reformed folk can be lethal in debate with the mushy thinking of New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

But for precisely this reason, Truly Reformed Christianity — being a thing of diagrams, formulae, and equations — is often very uncomfortable with stuff like actual lived human experience, mystery, and the fact that the world is incarnate and not a diagram or a series of logic gates. It doesn’t know how to dance. When God zigs where the Truly Reformed Predictive Computer Model said He should zag, the Truly Reformed guy has to just go on urging everybody to stop living in the 21st century and return to the 16th, and to stop asking questions that the original Reformed brains declared to be out of bounds.

Sadly, most of the human race does not comply, and so a Truly Reformed guy has to periodically engage in the Sisyphean labor of trying to herd all the Protestant cats back into the Calvinist bag.

Case in point: the pathetic case of Pastor Bob DeWaay, who tries to get Evangelicals to stop noticing sola scriptura is preposterous in an article titled, “Why Evangelicals are Returning to Rome: The Abandonment of Sola Scriptura as a Formal Principle.”

Why is sola scriptura so crucial? Well, because if Protestants don’t make that absurd anti-biblical doctrine the center of their theology, then they are liable to not think exactly as DeWaay does, and that can lead to all sorts of mischief — much of it heretical or, worse still, Catholic!


What kinds of mischief? Well, for starters, there’s all that touchy-feely stuff of Robert Schuller who, in his revolt against a Christianity of Diagrams, constructs a Christianity of Feelings. Schuller writes:

Where the sixteenth-century Reformation returned our focus to sacred Scriptures as the only infallible rule for faith and practice, the new reformation will return our focus to the sacred right of every person to self-esteem! The fact is, the church will never succeed until it satisfies the human being’s hunger for self-value.

The Sacred Right of Every Person to Self-Esteem is the sort of thing that sets Calvinist teeth on edge. After all, as Garrison Keillor notes, Calvinist Puritans came to this country seeking the freedom to be harsher with themselves than English law allowed. A 21st-century religious culture all agog for the simplistic cult of Self-Esteem is one not likely to thrill people still in love with the 16th-century simplistic cult of Total Depravity.

But that’s just the birth of the Truly Reformed Blues, for the Second Reformation is also hailed by Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Christianity as something so formless you don’t even have to be Christian to be part of it. Warren’s reformer is the “man of peace,” and he doesn’t even have to be a Christian. In fact, he (or she) “could be a Muslim, but they’re open and they’re influential and . . . that’s going to bring the second Reformation.”

Time was, of course, when to be Protestant was to proudly boast that you were carrying on the One True Faith of the Apostles against the papists who had been tossed out of the Vineyard. It’s hard to maintain this scenario when the 21st-century heirs of the Reformation are hailing Muslims as co-heirs of the Reformation and insisting nobody ever gets tossed out of the Vineyard of Inclusiveness. That gives guys like DeWaay headaches.

So does still another menace to Truly Reformed thinking: C. Peter Wagner’s “New Apostolic Reformation.” Wagner’s a charismatic who sometimes says nice things about Catholics. Worse, as DeWaay complains, his “thousands of apostles and prophets in his movement have shown as little regard for sola scriptura as any non Roman Catholic Christian group apart from the Quakers and . . . [t]hey show little or no concern for sound, systematic Biblical exegesis.”

Of course, St. Francis of Assisi showed little or no concern for sound, systematic Biblical exegesis, either. The same is true for a great many giants of the Christian tradition. But this is not likely to mollify DeWaay, for whom systems are the sine qua non of Christianity, and for whom there is no difference between the Catholic Magisterium standing in direct succession from the apostles and some self-appointed guy who thinks the Holy Spirit is giving him daily prophetic downloads.

Similarly, Emergent Christians disturb DeWaay because they have as much repugnance for DeWaay’s little systems of order as he has zealous love for them. So the Emergents are rebuked by DeWaay for their failure to adhere to Christ’s clear command, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples: that you embrace sola scriptura, evidential and presuppositional apologetics, and foundationalist systematic theology.”


Also in DeWaay’s Rogue’s Gallery: Dallas Willard, Wheaton College, and the editors of Christianity Today (CT), who all commit the heinous sin of thinking one could learn something from the early Church. DeWaay inveighs against the February 2008 issue of CT:

The cover of the CT article reads, “Lost Secrets of the Ancient Church.” It shows a person with a shovel digging up a Catholic icon. What are these secrets? Besides icons, lectio divina and monasticism are mentioned. Dallas Willard, who is mentioned as a reliable guide for this process, has long directed Christians to monastic practices that he himself admits are not taught in the Bible.

Apparently, DeWaay thinks Willard should stick to using terms like “limited atonement,” “unconditional election,” “salvation by faith alone,” “total depravity,” “irresistible grace,” “presuppositionalist,” and “Bible,” since these were constantly on the lips of Jesus and His apostles. (Oh. Wait.)

DeWaay’s horror mounts as Willard dares to suggest that sola scriptura doesn’t work and is inhuman:

Willard pioneered the rejection of sola scriptura in practice on the grounds that churches following it are failures . . . . The “failure,” according to Willard is that, “. . . the gospel preached and the instruction and example given these faithful ones simply do not do justice to the nature of human personality, as embodied, incarnate.”

Willard actually believes the Scripture means it when it says that the Word should be made flesh? DeWaay’s klaxons are sounding:

The remedy for “failure” says Willard is to find practices in church history that are proven to work. But are these practices taught in the Bible? Willard admits that they are not by using an argument from silence, based on the phrase “exercise unto godliness” in 1Timothy 4:7. Here is Willard’s interpretation:

“Or [the possibility the phrase was imprecise] does it indicate a precise course of action he [Paul] understood in definite terms, carefully followed himself, and called others to share? Of course it was the latter. So obviously so, for him and the readers of his own day, that he would feel no need to write a book on the disciplines of the spiritual life that explained systematically what he had in mind.”

But what does this do to sola scriptura? It negates it. In Willard’s theology, the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Biblical writers, forgot to inspire them to write about spiritual disciplines that all Christians need. If this is the case, then we need spiritual practices that were never prescribed in the Bible to obtain godliness.

Like a doctrinaire Marxist, DeWaay’s answer to Willard is essentially, “Sure, your prescriptions to emulate the early Church may work in reality, but will they work in theory? If it’s a choice between meeting human needs and giving up my pet doctrine of sola scriptura, then we must remember that man was made for the doctrine, not the doctrine for man!”

Note the semi-permeable intellectual membrane here. Even though the Bible never says “sola scriptura,” we must “presuppose” it because DeWaay embraces this human tradition. But when Willard takes something that actually is in Scripture (namely, the command to meditate on God’s word, as in Psalms 143:5) as the basis for lectio divina, DeWaay suddenly requires the Bible to be the Big Book of Everything and insists that all which is not compulsory in Scripture is forbidden. The specific technique of lectio divina is evil because it is not “prescribed in the Bible.” One wonders what DeWaay makes of marriage, since it, like scriptural meditation, is recommended in Scripture, but nowhere does Scripture prescribe specifics on how to contract a valid marriage. By DeWaay’s logic, we are only allowed to marry in theory, not in practice.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the spiritual disciplines Willard is rediscovering. As St. John Damascene points out, icons simply emulate what God Himself did in becoming an Icon in the person of Christ (Hb 1:3). Likewise, monasticism is simply the extension of what Jesus and John the Baptist did in the desert. Indeed, DeWaay’s entire complaint against Willard turns on the ambiguity of calling these practices “unbiblical” when they are, in fact, extra-biblical but not anti-biblical, just as the DeWaay-approved words “Trinity” and “Bible” are. Indeed, they are far more biblical than the purely human and anti-biblical tradition of sola scriptura.


That said, devotion to sola scriptura is not really the core issue for DeWaay. Rather, it is terror of the Incarnation. That’s why DeWaay’s prescription is to flee the Incarnation and return, not to the Bible Alone, but to the Sacred Diagrams and Mathematical Concepts of the Truly Reformed. To back up this exhortation, DeWaay performs an exegesis of the letter to the Hebrews that is extraordinarily strange.

Hebrews is, of course, written to exhort early Jewish Christians who were tempted to abandon the Eucharistic Sacrifice and return to the Levitical sacrifices of their ancestors. It is chockablock with references to the priesthood, sacrificial bloodshed, and the insistence that Christ has inaugurated a priesthood and a sacrifice that is superior to the Levitical priesthood. Its conclusion could not be clearer to an ancient Christian who has been hearing the words, “This is my body. This is my blood” for decades in the Christian Liturgy: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat” (Hb 13:10). In short, Hebrews says, “The blood of Jesus can save you, and the blood of goats and bulls cannot. So stay at Mass and stick with the blood of Jesus you receive there.”

But DeWaay, in his terror of the Incarnation, reads something entirely different:

The key problem for [Judaizing Christians] was the tangibility of the temple system, and the invisibility of the Christian faith. Just about everything that was offered to them by Christianity was invisible: the High Priest in heaven, the tabernacle in heaven, the once for all shed blood, and the throne of grace . . . .

But the life of faith does not require tangible visibility: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Roman Catholic Church has tangibility that is unmatched by the evangelical faith, just as temple Judaism had. Why have faith in the once-for-all shed blood of Christ that is unseen when you can have real blood (that of the animals for temple Judaism and the Eucharistic Christ of Catholicism)? Why have the scriptures of the Biblical apostles and prophets who are now in heaven when you can have a real, live apostle and his teaching Magisterium who can continue to speak for God? The similarities to the situation described in Hebrews are striking. Why have only the Scriptures and the other means of grace when the Roman Church has everything from icons to relics to cathedrals to holy water and so many other tangible religious articles and experiences?

Note the curiously telling confusion. DeWaay cannot distinguish between the Eucharistic blood of Christ and the blood of goats and bulls. Why? Because they are both physical and therefore (curiously) “unreal.” For DeWaay, the “real” blood of Christ and the “real” altar is an invisible abstraction, a disincarnate concept.

Similarly, the horror of the physical — in a word, of the Incarnation — suffuses all that DeWaay has to say. The entire Old Testament drama that God crowded with the physical and crowned with the Incarnation itself goes for nothing. All these things were prelude to the Real Thing, which is an Idea, not a sacrament: namely, the Truly Reformed diagrams of Justification by Faith Alone, Substitutionary Atonement, sola scriptura, Predestination, and the various other computer models that constitute Truly Reformed Christian doctrine. Any helps such as icons, sacraments, and so forth that might address us as physical incarnate beings are marks of “apostasy.” For DeWaay, the Word was made word. Period.


The problem is, once the 16th-century mood for abstraction, systematizing, and disincarnation is past, normal people cannot live in the sort of universe the Truly Reformed demands. And so the 16th-century rebel with his world of either/or Christianity has to fight a two-front war. He must both repudiate his Catholic parents and disown his Protestant children.

The Catholic, with his both/and approach to revelation, can affirm the Catholic truths that survive in the Truly Reformed tradition (there is such a thing as truth, revelation is orderly, God is sovereign, predestination is part of reality, etc.), but he can also provide what the Reformed Christian jettisoned (namely, the Magisterium and the rest of Sacred Tradition, as well as a certain comfort level with a much wider variety of human experience, both natural and supernatural, than Truly Reformed types can bear). That’s why the Catholic can account for why the books of the Bible are the books of the Bible, while the Truly Reformed can only blather about “presuppositionalism” and shout down people who ask, “But how do you know Ecclesiastes is inspired?”

Dittos for the good things that guys like Schuller, Warren, Wagner, and Emergents see. Human beings do need to know that they are fundamentally good (albeit fallen) creatures made in the image and likeness of God. They do require a purpose for their lives. We are called to apostolic work, and we are not supposed to fall into the fundamentalist heresy of Absolute Certitude about everything. All these are real aspects of Catholic teaching. But the Faith, while embracing what these folks get right, can likewise correct their crazy imbalances.

That’s why the Church can indeed welcome human wisdom when it comes from Muslims like Averroes and even pagans like Aristotle. It can affirm human dignity without affirming human vanity. It can reform its sinful members without deforming the Church into something utterly formless. It can acknowledge charisms but not pretend every spouting popinjay with a “vision” overrides the judgment of Holy Church. It can acknowledge Mystery while not living in a perpetual fog. And it can do all this while acknowledging the supreme importance of the inspired word of Scripture just as much as DeWaay does, but without falling into the anti-biblical prison of sola scriptura.

The cramped world of Truly Reformed doctrine has yet to figure out that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in its philosophy. So, for that matter, do the equally cramped doctrines of Schuller, Warren, and the Emergents. People like Willard and the Emergents have at least taken the first step of wisdom: They know that they do not know. The second step of wisdom is to acknowledge that this fact points us not to an endless Dictatorship of Relativism and agnosticism (which is simply another cramped little intellectual and spiritual trap) but to the fullness of revelation that subsists in the Catholic Church following her Incarnate Lord, fully present in the Eucharist. May we all meet one day at that Altar.

Mark P. Shea


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

  • Leonardo

    Prove All Things

    “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.”

    1 Thessalonians 5:21

    There were three great doctrines or principles which won the battle of the Reformation. These were first, the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture:

  • TheOldCrusader

    “breed apologists who are fit foils for the mad men who have lost everything except their reason, such as the New Atheists”

    Fit foils? I guess – if by that you mean patsies. I tend to think these types look like simpletons when matched against atheism. Especially when they segue off into young earth creationism.

    “Why is sola scriptura so crucial? Well, because if Protestants don’t make that absurd anti-biblical doctrine the center of their theology” – they would have no reason to exist. That’s why certain of the Anglicans have tried (and failed) to split the difference.

  • Paul Kemp Jr

    Awesome article, this made my morning!

  • Mark Shea


    Yes, yes. Test all things by the Scriptures (and agree with Leonardo) and you are a Truly True Christian. Been there. Done that.


    Don’t confuse the Truly Reformed with a modern fundamentalist. Not all Protestants are the same (which is the point of the article).

  • Tom


    Hmmm. “Prove all things.”

    There are two problems with your exegesis (and it is YOUR exegesis, not, e.g., the Holy Spirit’s):

    The verse does not say “You should privately prove all things.” Perhaps it means “You, the collective church of the Thessalonians–to whom this letter is addressed–should test all things corporately. This collective testing is precisely what the Magisterium does in Catholicism today. Your doctrinal blinders cause you to think that the “You” to whom this sentence is addressed is singular. So does your Protestant habit of tearing verses out of context. In context, the verse, and the entire First Letter to the Thessalonians, are addressed to the whole church.

    The verse also does not say “Prove all things by the Word of God.” This is an extra-biblical addition on your part. So much for sola scriptura.

    Lastly, note that the preceding verse of 1 Thessalonians refers to prophetic utterances. This verse is primarily about claims of private spiritual experience. Some, like the apparitions at Fatima, the Church will test and keep. Some, like Protestants’ pet private ideas about “sola scriptura,” “sola fide,” and “private judgment,” have been tested, and failed.

  • Roger Garner

    Mark, this is a truly profound essay!

  • Sam Schmitt

    “devotion to sola scriptura is not really the core issue for DeWaay. Rather, it is terror of the Incarnation.”

    I notice that Leonardo never mentions the Incarnation.

    (BTW, where in Scripture is the principle of sola Scriptura set forth?)

  • Faj Ashua

    Reminds me of Ambrose, via Newman: “Non in dialectica complacuit Deum salvum facere populum suum.” God did not will to save His people by logic.

  • Deacon Andrew

    Brilliant article. I dabbled in Reformed theology once upon a time, before converting to the Orthodox Church (and I don’t want to get into a debate about that point with my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters– been there, done that). I’ll only point out that the more I actually read the New Testament and tried to think and live as a Christian, the more the “solas” of the Reformation fell apart. I mean no disrespect to Reformed Christians, but it takes someone who’s pretty gifted intellectually to be able to hold all of this together — the fact that we are to live a certain way and do certain things as Christians, and that our works “don’t count.” Reformed Christianity is not for normal people, as is pointed out in this article.

    The instant I pick up the Bible and start reading, I am making my own tradition. I also have to tell my Evangelical and Reformed friends that I’m not putting the Church above the Bible, I’m putting the Church above myself, above my own interpretations and traditions.

  • Pammie

    I try hard to follow these theological discussions, without much success. But it reminds me of an Evangelical, Christian Zionist, Rapturist friend who asked me if I wanted to take a 2 year intensive Bible course with her, going verse by verse through the entire Bible. I politely declined telling her that my Church had been doing that very thing for 2,000 plus years just to make it easier for thick people such as myself.

    I’m not sure that was the correct answer , but it was what I was thinking at the time. Thank the dear Lord that I don’t have to go it alone via “sola Scriptura”. Interesting subject though.

  • Lisa

    Loved the essay on the differences betweeen the Catholic church and other branches of Protestantism. As a person who has a logical bent of mind, I can see the appeal of Reformed Christianity. But it really falls short of helping us in our daily walk and problems of life. Total Depravity and Predestination are depressing doctrines. Why even try to live a holy life if you are already damned without knowing it and “bad to the bone”?

    I am glad that I converted to the Catholic faith. It provides the answers to the questions while preserving the sense of the mystery of faith.

  • fish

    Having exercised my right and obligation to private judgment, I can without doubt declare, that any man who does not swear loyalty to the church of Rome is betraying Jesus his Saviour and is rejecting the truth taught in scripture.
    That by refusing to submit to the authority given by Jesus to Peter, expressed by his caring ‘The keys to the kingdom’ such a man likewise rejects Jesus authority to give those keys and shows himself not to understand , scripture an many different points and levels, especially the nature of the Davidic kingdom.

    If that is not enough to put an end to the idea of private judgment, it is only because the reader is not interested in understand what God requires of Him.

  • Mary

    In order to hold fast to the “right of private judgment,” avoid the second letter of Peter like the plague. Otherwise you will face the flat statement of scripture that no scripture is a matter of personal interpretation.

    “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.”

    Unless you are so fortunate as to have a translation that will misrender it, as being the prophet’s understanding. Of course, if some hardy sort will declare that even with the full translation it really only means that the writers of scripture were inspired, but sometimes it’s hard to hold fast to the personal interpretation that “X, because Y” really means “Y and nothing else”.

  • Joseph Drake

    Thanks Mark. You seems to have rounded up a lot of loose ends for us. Most of these things I didn’t know about. Why do I sense another book coming?

  • Mary

    Martin Luther himself gave you the lead on preserving this one. If you don’t have quite the gumption to declare the Letter of James an epistle of straw containing none of the Good News — still avoid it. Especially since it has a great whooping not in front of the only appearance, in the entire Bible of the phrase “by faith alone.”

  • Mary

    He does not say, “Whatsoever apostles,

  • Mary

    Note the Scripture cited:

    “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.”

    Note the claim what it means:

    The principle laid down is this, “Prove all things by the Word of God.

  • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    This is the type of stuff that made me comeback to the Church.

    As a revert from, well nothing, I read Mr. Shea’s take on the Faith and this is the type of thing that grabs you shakes you a bit looks at you and grabs you again.

    Simply brilliant stuff.

  • David Davies

    Mr DeWaay: “The principle laid down is this, “Prove all things by the Word of God.

  • Kevin LeDuc

    I was a Protestant for over 30 years before I went through RCIA and joined the Catholic Church. During the time I was a Potestant I never once even heard the term “Sola Scriptura”. Most of the denunciation of the Catholic church was done out of an utter lack of knowledge of what Catholics believe. After reading the Catechism I discovered that about 90% of what Protestants believe about Catholics was simply not true. I now find that about 90% of what Catholics believe about Protestants is also wrong. I hear even deacons make statements that are so out of the context of true Protestant understanding that all it does is drive a wedge between the two groups. The term “Sola Scriptura” can only divide and cannot bridge the gap between the two groups. It is as though Catholics want the gap to exist as part of a turf war. I like the concept of extra-Biblical as opposed to anti-Biblical. Protestants only oppose anti-Biblical statements. Catholicism only embraces the concept of extra-Biblical and most Protestants just don’t understand what some of the Catholic concepts really mean. One of the main problems in the real world is that a huge percentage of Catholics do not understand the true teaching of the Catechism and connot articulate the Catholic religion well enough to talk about it correctly leading to misunderstanding. The other problem is that Protestants are so biased against the Catholic Church that they are not open minded enought to understand the true church. I believe we should stop arguing about words and start reflecting Jesus by our deeds.

    Kevin LeDuc

  • Jason Ward

    First, it is important to remember that by “every individual Christian has a right to judge for himself by the Word of God” the writer means to judge for himself “by the Bible alone.” Yet no where is in scripture is “Word of God” even implied to be restricted to the collection of 66 books that Reformed Theology calls the Bible.

    When Paul wrote “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good” did he establish a necessity for judging all things by the Bible alone? Definitely not. 1 Thessalonians was one of the earliest works of the NT. Considering that there was only one book of what is now the NT available to the Thessalonians, Reformed Theology was impossible for the church members in Thessalonica who alone had this letter at the time.

    Finally, the claim of a right, necessity, and duty to private judgment creates a contradiction with other books of the NT including the writer of Hebrews:
    Heb 13:17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

  • Cord Hamrick.

    Don’t worry.

    As the sheep, in search of real and meaty spiritual food, abandon dry wells, they will run to the well of living water.

    “Leonardo” speaks of things which “won the battle of the Reformation.” Has anyone “won?”

    Had there been such a victory, then there would have been but one Christian communion which emerged doctrinally unchanged from that battle, and it would have in within it a majority of all Christians, and they would be one in faith and morals.

    Hmm. Now that I think about it, there is such a communion: The Catholic Church.

    But I doubt that’s what Leonardo is thinking of when he says someone “won.” He seems to think the reformers (a term which itself, by implying change for the better, begs the question) won.

    The reformers won? Odd notion, that. Upon what objective criteria could they be judged to have “won?” They remain a minority of Christians worldwide, and no church within their tradition has not split a hundred times, and not even the most orthodox of the splintered groups retains the orthodoxy of faith and morals which was defined as orthodox at the time of their founding.

    The faith of Luther and the faith of Calvin is for all intents and purposes extinct from the earth, with their latter day inheritors maintaining their dissent from Catholicity but not the stringency on matters of faith and morals which they held to distinguish them from the bishops who remained in communion with Rome. If one wishes then to argue that the faiths of Luther and Calvin remain, one can only conclude that it is this dissent, this insistence on maintaining a distance from Rome, which is the identifying principle of those faiths. They’re not sure what the heck else they are, but whatever it is, it isn’t Catholic.

    And that’s no basis for a continuing orthodoxy on earth. Which is why, as the anti-Scriptural and profoundly newfangled doctrine of Sola Scriptura runs dry, as thoroughly debunked as communism, the groups founded upon it dwindle. The Donatists and the Montanists looked pretty good in their heyday, too.

    Where are they now?

    So don’t worry.

  • Bek

    Leonardo: “I.

  • William

    I’m thankful to Leonardo for driving home Mark Shea’s point about avoiding the Incarnation. How ironic that Leonardo would add to the scripture the phrase “the Word of God,” capitalize it as a title, and then interpret it as meaning the Bible. When in fact, the title Word of God is a person- Jesus. According to the Bible, the Logos is not an idea, but, by the humility of God, Divinity made human. If anything is to be proven, Leonardo is right, it is by the Word of God. That is, by the person of Christ, by the mystical body of Christ, by power of Christ given to his Apostles.

  • Brennan


    (By the way, your name points you to one particular Church, and it’s not the Baptists). I appreciate you taking the time and having the guts to post what you did on a Catholic website.

    You write:

    “When I say the right of private judgment, I mean that every individual Christian has a right to judge for himself by the Word of God, whether that which is put before him as religious truth, is God’s truth, or is not.”

    As others have noted, how was this even possible, not only in New Testament times, but through most of Christian history when large numbers of people could not read, and even if they could, would certainly not be able to buy a Bible from the local bookstore prior to the printing press?

    “And when I say the necessity of private judgment, I mean this,

  • twb

    The tendency, even the drive, to interpret all of reality by a specific set of rules is hardly reserved to Protestants. It’s amazing, when you really start paying attention, how much of religion, philosophy, and general blather revolves around the motif of “I have figured it out” – reducing the world to a set of rules *I* understand. Whether it’s Sola Scriptura, the Inevitablity of Economic History, the Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy, the Will Of God As Recorded By One Guy In This One Book, or some other fetish, it’s a very common human madness. Really, going all the way back to the garden. We are far too often too confident in our personal, individual definitions of ultimate reality.

  • bob

    30,000 Protestant faiths in the US all making different claims on and interpretations of scripture. If a Christian rejects the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, how then does one decide which of the 30,000 to go to for instruction? When I see a new, well built, plenty of parking, good marketing, bring your java to Sunday service, Protestant church go up in my area, all the other older, stale mainline Protestant churches in the area empty out and close and all the Protestant’s go to the new church. Until of course, the newest, nicest, latest and greatest Protestant church opens up, and the flock heads to these greener pastures. It seems that the theology, scripture interpretation, etc. doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the facilities and “Jesus my way.”

    I’ll challenge Protestant friends with: “The major differnece between your new church and my Catholic Church across the street is that Jesus’ body and blood, soul and divinity is fully present in the Catholic Church, and He is not in your church. would like to discuss this?”

    The Catholic Church is built on Rock, not on sand.

  • Joshua Chamberlain

    DeWaay is a dispensational fundamentalist. A Catholic apologist arguing with a dispensational fundamentalist is like two ships passing in the night. Instead, why don’t you have a dialogue on sola scriptura with someone like Keith Mathison? You might not find that debate so congenial.

  • Cord Hamrick


    By “congenial” do you mean “easily won?”

    Whether such a debate would be as easily won in the opinion of an audience depends I suppose on the discernment of the judges and the cleverness and public-speaking talent of those engaging in debate and whether they were having a good night.

    But since the premise at issue (the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of Sola Scriptura) remains the same, why should the intellectual side of the debate — the quest for truth which remains after all stagecraft is removed — end any differently?

    Mathison’s Shape of Sola Scriptura and Critique of the Evangelical Doctrine of Sola Scriptura are an improvement inasmuch as they recognize the failures of particular implementations of Sola Scriptura (which he terms “solo scriptura” to distinguish between them and the view he ascribes to the Reformers).

    But while they are an improvement over DeWaay et alia, they fail to recognize that absolutely no implementation of Sola Scriptura exists, or ever can exist, which would not ultimately manifest the same failings as those he recognizes within “solo scriptura.”

    Mathison (correctly) takes these failings to completely refute “solo scriptura” as understood by Evangelicals, but all the distinctions he draws between that view and his own proposed alternatives turn out, on examination, to be distinctions without differences. He holds the Evangelical view, but manages to convince himself and others that it is something different by surrounding it in a cloud of vague appeals to tradition which turn out to exclude any actual, historical tradition or any living voice of authority which could serve to distinguish between mutually-incompatible traditions.

    It is laborious to cancel out one-by-one the individual wisps of this cloud, but they do in fact all turn out to be self-refuting on examination. And when the cloud is gone, Sola Scriptura of any variety is left exposed as just “solo scriptura” all over again.

    It logically follows that, since no form of Sola Scriptura is immune to the very same failings which Mathison regards as refuting “solo scriptura,” no form of Sola Scriptura is unrefuted. The entire doctrine is itself thereby refuted, quod erat demonstrandum.

    So Mathison makes a good try. Understandable, and it needed to be tried, if only to show that the last hope of Sola Scriptura was definitively deceased.

  • Martial Artist

    …there is no difference between theory and practice. However, in practice there is a difference.

    Sola scriptura inherently tends toward everyone his own exegete and everyone his own authority.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  • Iron Donkey

    Leronardo says “When I say the right [and duty] of private judgment, I mean that every individual Christian has a right to judge for himself by the Word of God, whether that which is put before him as religious truth, is God’s truth, or is not.”

    No. This is false. A thing is true or it is not. If I judge that it is not true and it is, then it still is true and I am just wrong. If I judge that sola fides is true, and it’s not, I could very well be in deep poopoo.

    God would not leave us here in such a way that our imperfect and fallen intellect would necessarily put those of us whose talents lie elsewhere in deep poopoo. There must be an interpreter. Some entity that can slap us upside the head and say “stop being an idiot, this is what it means.” A St. Nicholas to our Arius, if you will.

  • Nixon is Lord

    WHY can’t normal people live in the Reformed universe? What make it impossible? Why do you think some people/places didn’t adopt this simply because they either never heard it or were prevented from hearing it by their governments?

  • William

    Great article, making clear some tendencies I’ve seen in my journey away from and back to the Church.

    I had read a Christianity Today article about how this type of thinking is becoming very appealing to the young. That makes real sense since I remember my youth and my longing for a way to understand the world that was clear, logical, black and white, had plenty of diagrams and would cover Everything (my first try was Objectivism). Didn’t want to wrestle with a real, messy and all-to-physical world. But of course, the Incarnation left me no choice.

    Thanks for a fine article.

  • Timothy

    This article makes me squirm. It seems rude to the type of person who likes “diagrams, neat handwriting, little lists of facts, mathematical formulae, and a certain kind of precision”. And again: “…the 16th-century mood for abstraction, systematizing, and disincarnation is past.”

    But St Paul says in 1 Cor 12: “God has set the members, every one of them, in the body as it has pleased him”. It would have been better if you had made it clear that the Church welcomes all types of people. I know abstract, systematizing people who are very sincere in their search for God. I think it’s unhelpful suggesting that the Church will change them into something else.

    I think it’s better to emphasise that the Church is a home for all types of people and that all can use their gifts for building up the body.