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Facts are stubborn things. So is Holy Scripture.

The Reformation slogan sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is routinely misunderstood by Roman Catholics, who think it means that there is no source of legitimate authority in the Church besides Scripture. Actually, it means that there is no source of legitimate authority of comparable stature with Scripture, and unnormed by it. The teachings of Jesus and the Apostles trump those of anybody and everybody else.

So-called "Evangelicals," whose doctrine of justification often more closely resembles that of Rome than that of the Reformation in any case, are often equally confused about the concept. For them, though, sola Scriptura too frequently means that I get to interpret Scripture all by myself, and that my interpretation is by definition as good as anybody else's.

As is so often the case, a better acquaintance with Scripture itself might help. 2 Peter 1:20-21 clearly states,

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

The Modernist and Post-Modernist nonsense about truth being either unknowable or non-existent (thus making literally everything a matter of personal preference or opinion) has savaged the Christian mind as much as the secular, it seems. Truth is truth- and, as Albert Einstein once observed, "I have noticed that the universe is remarkably indifferent to my likes and dislikes."

Or, as John Adams put it, "Facts are stubborn things." Scripture means what God means, not what we want Him to mean. We are not in the position of contemporary Federal courts, rendering judgments on the basis of what we would like the law to say rather than on what it actually says. Like the universe He created, God is remarkably indifferent to what we want to be the truth. And so, we are obligated to study the Scriptures in such a way as to discover what He means to say, and not what we mean to hear. Neither is it all that difficult; God, as Paul observed, is not the Author of confusion. Where confusion arises as to the meaning of a text, it's apt to be confusion caused by our own desire to interpret it according to our own preferences rather than to any inherent lack of clarity in the text itself.

I'm currently engaged in a debate over at Facebook with a group of Arminians on one hand and Calvinists on the other about something which shouldn't really be controversial. Arminians argue- quite rightly- that God is not willing that any should perish, and has predestined nobody to hell. Calvinists, on the other hand, reply quite correctly that salvation is by grace alone- which means that it is God's election, and not our choice, decision, good works, or other merits, which form the basis of our salvation.

There seems, at first glance, to be a logical problem here. It vanishes when one takes into account Isaiah 55:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts (ESV).

God is not obligated to make logical sense to us. He is, after all, a great deal smarter than we are, and not subject to the limitations of human intellect. Perhaps He may condescend some day to explain this paradox to us; Luther believed that He undoubtedly would. In fact, if everything in Scripture did fit with obvious logical precision, that would be strong evidence that it was the work of mere humans who are no smarter than you or me. As it is, there was apparently Someone Whose thought processes are not identical with ours and whose capacity for thought much greater at work here.

But human pride wants to have all the answers. And so it is that Arminians and Calvinists alike- each unwilling to accept God's Word on its own terms- try to shoehorn it into an obviously consistent logical pattern accessible to their own puny human minds, and thus end up denying either that "by the works of the Law is no one justified," in the case of the Arminians, or that "God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son" in the case of the Calvinists.

Yes, facts are stubborn things. But human pride is stubborn, too.

Canadian Lutheran Matthew Block ponders the matter in First Things, and American Lutheran writer and professor Gene Veith comments.

Interestingly, Block gets sloppy and defines the sola Scriptura as Roman Catholics tend to misunderstand it. Maybe lack of precision on our part is as great as source of confusion when it comes to interpreting Scripture and expressing its doctrines as our own pride and presumption in trying to mold those doctrines to suit our own personal likes and dislikes.


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