Why I Don’t Affirm Sola Scriptura, and Why Thomas Merton Saves The Day (Part One)

Who’s ready for a controversial blog post? Not me. I hate confrontation, even over the internet, let alone in person. But here’s a challenge for myself. If you read this blog post and you wanna talk to me about it come visit me if you live in the area (granted I actually know you already) and talk to me not like you’re my enemy, but like a friend. Accept me even if you disagree with me. Love me even if you hate this post.
Here at The Misfits Theology Club our vision isn’t simply to create heated arguments (in fact thats not out goal at all!) but to create conversations. We’re here to learn how to love and accept one another even if we differ on Theology, Doctrine, even politics! As I have stated before, loving and accepting a person does not mean you believe what they believe, agree with what they agree, or more negatively put, disagree with what they disagree with. I do hope here at the Misfits Theology Club we will have radical positions on issues (by radical I simply mean what isn’t considered mainstream in one’s particular group, and as were an ecumenical blog there’s bound to be plenty of that), But I hope we’re not known for our radical theology that goes against the grain of either our own tradition or another, rather I hope what we’re known for is Our Love For One Another. If people do not know us by our love for one another then we have failed. Then I have failed. 
So how does one write a blog post on such a hot topic issue while at the same time not identifying that issue with the people who hold that position and thereby choosing to write the post in such a way that conveys love and acceptance of the people who’s doctrine you’re critiquing? I have no idea. But I want to learn how. And that takes practice. Inevitably I will make mistakes, and sometimes I’ll do better. So please give me grace as I learn how to do what seems impossible.
As the church I think this is really our only viable way forward. For much of our history (2,000 years worth) we have handled disagreement with hatred, anger, and violence. This surprisingly hasn’t actually worked in keeping the church pure, or advancing the Kingdom of God (Calvin burned a heretic at the stake, and that hasn’t prevented heresy. Also killing a heretic is probably the worse heresy). So as I see it the only way forward is to take seriously what Jesus has said about loving one another. After 2,000 years of doing it the wrong way, maybe perhaps we’ve had time to learn from our mistakes.  So let’s try. After all, the dude that told us the world would know us by our love for one another (and that the greatest commands were Love God, and Love People) is the one we profess to be the God of the Universe, so we should probably listen to the architect of reality itself, and not fight against the stream of Love.
With all that said I want to say one more thing. I could be wrong. If I didn’t admit this, I’d be placing myself in the position of God. That would be fairly arrogant. (my sense of humor, go ahead, this is your cue to laugh). For only God knows all things with certainty.
So what is Sola Scriptura? I think defining terms is important for a number of reasons. One being that oftentimes the people that profess a particular doctrine don’t actually hold to the historical understanding of that doctrine, as is the case for this doctrine.
There is a level of thinking among many Evangelicals at the popular level that Sola Scriptura means Scripture is our only source for faith, doctrine, and practice. With this understanding the Latin is translated as “By Scripture alone”. Whereas the reformers who came up with the doctrine understood it to mean “Scripture Supreme.” In other words, for the founders of Protestantism SS (as I’ll call Sola Scriptura from now on, not to be confused with the Nazis paramilitary organization, big difference) didn’t mean that Scripture was our only source of faith and practice, only that it was our supreme source of faith and practice by which we compared all other sources. It served as a touchstone so to speak. So tradition, experience, and reason still have a role to play, its just a subservient role to Scripture itself. So, for example, Tradition has a say in shaping our thoughts, but if it contradicts scripture then we by default must hold to Scripture’s view rather than Tradition’s. This, of course, is probably an oversimplification, but I hope it gives you somewhat of an idea of what The historical understanding of SS is.
Now here comes the controversial part that I’m gonna need to flesh out. I think SS is inherently idolatrous. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that if you affirm SS you aren’t a follower of Jesus, or that you’re going to Hell. At first glance when we think about the claim I just made it certainly seems that way. I think the logic flows that if we’re worshipping and following the Bible that we’re not following and worshipping Jesus. Or so it seems. And this I think is where Thomas Merton saves the day.
Back during a difficult time in his life he wrote this prayer which I think is helpful for how we think about Idolatry. I’ll italicize the parts I think are helpful for our conversation here.

O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.

So let me explain how I think this helps. We all have idols in our lives. Even me, I know that’s so hard to believe (again humor). So are we actually following Jesus? Am I actually following Jesus? I think the answer is No, and Yes. No because I have replaced God with an Idol that I have unknowingly begun to follow instead of Jesus. I say probably unknowingly because I think most of our idols remain hidden in the shadows, our minds blissfully unaware of their lurking presence. Or taking from what Merton said,

the fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so”

There are certainly times when we think we’re following God that we’re indeed not.
And Yes, because

“I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.”

God is truly followed when we desire to follow God’s-Self, not simply when we think we’re following Jesus. And this is so even when we have Idols in our life. So its very possible (I think this is what’s actually happening) that those brothers and sisters of mine who hold to Sola Scriptura, although I am convinced this doctrine is idolatrous, are doing so only because they are convinced this is the most faithful way to follow Jesus. I believe they’re doing this out of a genuine desire to please and love God. Thereby doing so, they are indeed actually Following Jesus. Crazy right! It’s a paradox/mystery. But I think it best explains our experiences. I think this fits into an overall scheme of Inclusvism though, and I try to be consistent in my worldview. If you haven’t read my post on said topic click the link here: Pluralism, Christian Universalism, And Christian Inclusivism.
So why even bother removing Idols from our lives if we’re actually following God when we truly desire to please God thereby actually pleasing God’s-Self? It would seem to be counter intuitive no? This may not be an easy question, but I think the answer is somewhat along the lines of this.
Those who truly desire to please God also truly desire to find and remove the idols lurking in the shadows of our lives.
If you aren’t desiring to become less idolatrous then are you actually desiring to please God? Or are you merely using God as a coverup and excuse for your idols? So although our desire to please God in fact pleases God that desire also seeks to remove those idols which grieve God, thereby pleasing God more! So this is not an excuse to hold on to our idols. Rather this immense Incarnational Grace and Love that is rooted in the very nature of God gives us opportunity to respond with love and thankfulness to God for who God is. All that to say I think that there are those who affirm SS that actually Love Jesus, and are Indeed My Brothers And Sisters!
But Gabe, Why don’t you affirm Sola Scriptura?? 
That boys in girls you’ll have to wait for part two!

3 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Affirm Sola Scriptura, and Why Thomas Merton Saves The Day (Part One)

  1. “I think SS is inherently idolatrous.”
    The way I formulate it is like this: Did Jesus believe in Sola Scriptura? Did he teach it to the Church? If not, then it’s not true. Period. My understanding is that Jesus did not teach Sola Scriptura. Therefore it cannot be true. That’s how I’d say it.

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