I am writing this interlude post to expand on a comment I made at SSMs, where I did not want to be overtly sectarian more than seemed needed, out of respect for her and HHG’s perspectives, and because it is generally rude to come to another person’s party and piss in the soup. Yet, regrettably, these same perspectives are wrong, and do much more harm than good, in my opinion, as I feel compelled to explain below.
In the Christian-Manosphere (the “CMS”), we seem to have endless debates about what this or that scripture passage means and so on, specifically when it comes to relations between men and women. This can seem innocuous at first blush, precisely because this kind of values or hermeneutic difference is endemic in our culture. And, in some ways, it seems inevitable because we are all products and inhabitants of this specific culture, which is wildly, extremely pluralistic. We can’t agree on jack all when it comes to anything much above the lowest common denominator — and that applies equally to morals, ethics, religion, philosophy, politics and so on. There seems to be no uniting force, and we scratch our heads and wonder why, how could this possibly be.
Okay, you might say, but what does that problem have to do with sola scriptura, and what would that, even if problematic, have to do with the CMS?
Well, the problem with sola scriptura, for our CMS, is that it provides no real and binding authority by which such scriptura may be definitively read, understood, digested, interpreted and lived. Instead, individuals are left to discover the meaning of the text, inspired by the Spirit (they hope or, in some bad cases, presume) to the proper understanding — and basically ignore that other people who also hope and claim similar Spiritual inspiration nevertheless have a diametrically opposed reading of the text, and perhaps also that some who may have a similar reading of the text are not really seeming to be inspired by the Spirit. And, when conflicts arise, argue and argue and argue and argue and argue and argue and argue and argue and …. go to a new church (or none).
This is, of course, not a new problem.
The problem emerged quickly on the heels of the well-meant but ultimately misguided concept of sola scriptura, with the bitter battles between the followers of Luther, Zwingli, and later Calvin. All agreed on the concept of sola scriptura, but they also all disagreed on what the meaning of that “scriptura” was, which, in practice, led to an exponentially greater degree of division among Christians than was ever the case prior to the adoption of the idea — and certainly exponentially greater than any divisions among the early Christians, whom many of the Reformers earnestly and well-meaningly sought to emulate. It was very soon that an extremely pluralistic proliferation of ideas about scripture was the de facto new norm, and a new norm it was, as compared to the differences of opinion that existed in the first five centuries AD, and which were resolved ultimately by Church councils.
The impact of this was huge, for everything from politics and education, to philosophy, theology, religious practice and worldview. The reason for this is that the source of authority devolved almost instantly from the church as the collective, traditional and hierarchical Body of Christ to the individual — either as a pastor divining the meaning of the text himself, “in the Spirit” of course, or as a follower of such a one, also “in the Spirit”, even though others with contrary views were also seeing themselves as acting and understanding “in the Spirit”. As a result of this devolution of authority ultimately to the individual (which is an authority every remaining Christian in the West seems to exercise when he or she elects to “change churches”), the concept of a higher authority beyond the individual is degraded and, ultimately, as we can see in the 21st Century, destroyed in a moral sense while being retained in a strictly political sense.
For CMS participants, this is a fatal flaw — a mortal wound.
The reason for this is that there is no way at all that a majority will ever be convinced of certain interpretations of the Bible (this is an empirical fact from a historical perspective), precisely because there are other ones they may opt for which are both more appealing to them and supported by others who claim belief. Your Pastor Bob, or Church of the X, or something, doesn’t have any inherent authority beyond the text and the authority individuals choose to give, in many cases temporarily, to the interpreter-in-chief. And everyone can read the text, including people who disagree with you who read it in a directly contrary manner to your reading. Yes, you can seek refuge in the community of like-minded people, but that is precisely a refuge. It is not a world-changing thing. And, yes, you can stick to your guns and scream your scripture interpretation from the highest heights (Pastor approved, we hope), and feel you have done your best and that those who don’t have ears simply won’t hear. Just like people have been doing, to no particularly great avail in terms of unifying any great group of people under a particular hermeneutical banner apart from political and state enforcement of the same, for the last 500 years. Well done!
No, if you are interested in change in the culture, you need to be against sola scriptura as one of its main bases (at least in the NA Christian world). Sola scriptura itself leads to the proliferation of alien viewpoints, the alienation of believers from one another, and the idea that belief is personal — all of which contradicts the clear history of Christianity where belief was collective, enforced (in terms of boundaries, and allowing considerable diversity within these bounds), and taught, and where the journey with the Spirit was not principally a hermeneutical one, but rather more a sanctifying one through synergistic praxis.
A steadfast belief in sola scriptura essentially endorses the plurality of Biblical hermeneutics we have seen for the last five centuries, precisely because this has been a constant feature since the invocation of the idea, as well-meaning and intended as it may have initially been. This leads directly to more or less directly to religious relativism, because an outside observer will easily conclude that if there are 5k-10k different interpretations of the Bible available, there clearly is no real absolute truth to the matter — as millions have already concluded, thanks to the fallout and impact of sola scriptura. If you are a CMSer, or a trad, or what have you, you cannot possibly have any truck with sola scriptura, because if you do, you are essentially just another pluralistic modernist, in effect, to be honest, and your opinion is simply one among many, even among Christians, lacking any authority other than your own persuasiveness (or that of your pastor or church).
Note that this post is NOT intended as an outright attack on SSM, HHG, or other Protestant Christians who may be reading this or with whom I have interacted, blogospherically, or anyone else for that matter. This is a perspective editorial, intended to confront views but not attack personally.
There will be follow-ups as well. 🙂