Skip to comments.LOGIC AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF PROTESTANTISM
Posted on 03/24/2008 3:36:37 PM PDT by annalex
LOGIC AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF PROTESTANTISM
by Brian W. Harrison
As an active Protestant in my mid-twenties I began to feel that I might have a vocation to become a minister. The trouble was that while I had quite definite convictions about the things that most Christians have traditionally held in commonthe sort of thing C.S. Lewis termed "mere Christianity."
I had had some firsthand experience with several denominations (Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist) and was far from certain as to which of them (if any) had an overall advantage over the others. So I began to think, study, search, and pray. Was there a true Church? If so, how was one to decide which?
The more I studied, the more perplexed I became. At one stage my elder sister, a very committed evangelical with somewhat flexible denominational affiliations, chided me with becoming "obsessed" with trying to find a "true Church." "Does it really matter?" she would ask. Well, yes it did. It was all very well for a lay Protestant to relegate the denominational issue to a fairly low priority amongst religious questions: lay people can go to one Protestant Church one week and another the next week and nobody really worries too much. But an ordained minister obviously cannot do that. He must make a very serious commitment to a definite Church community, and under normal circumstances that commitment will be expected to last a lifetime. So clearly that choice had to be made with a deep sense of responsibility; and the time to make it was before, not after, ordination.
As matters turned out, my search lasted several years, and eventually led me to where I never suspected it would at first. I shall not attempt to relate the full story, but will focus on just one aspect of the question as it developed for mean aspect which seems quite fundamental.
As I groped and prayed my way towards a decision, I came close to despair and agnosticism at times, as I contemplated the mountains of erudition, the vast labyrinth of conflicting interpretations of Christianity (not to mention other faiths) which lined the shelves of religious bookshops and libraries. If all the "experts" on Truththe great theologians, historians, philosophersdisagreed interminably with each other, then how did God, if He was really there, expect me, an ordinary Joe Blow, to work out what was true?
The more I became enmeshed in specific questions of Biblical interpretationof who had the right understanding of justification, of the Eucharist, Baptism, grace, Christology, Church government and discipline, and so onthe more I came to feel that this whole-line of approach was a hopeless quest, a blind alley. These were all questions that required a great deal of erudition, learning, competence in Biblical exegesis, patristics, history, metaphysics, ancient languagesin short, scholarly research. But was it really credible (I began to ask myself) that God, if He were to reveal the truth about these disputed questions at all, would make this truth so inaccessible that only a small scholarly elite had even the faintest chance of reaching it? Wasnt that a kind of gnosticism? Where did it leave the nonscholarly bulk of the human race? It didnt seem to make sense. If, as they say, war is too important to be left to the generals, then revealed truth seemed too important to be left to the Biblical scholars. It was no use saying that perhaps God simply expected the non-scholars to trust the scholars. How were they to know which scholars to trust, given that the scholars all contradicted each other?
Therefore, in my efforts to break out of the dense exegetical undergrowth where I could not see the wood for the trees, I shifted towards a new emphasis in my truth-seeking criteria: I tried to get beyond the bewildering mass of contingent historical and linguistic data upon which the rival exegetes and theologians constructed their doctrinal castles, in order to concentrate on those elemental, necessary principles of human thought which are accessible to all of us, learned and unlearned alike. In a word, I began to suspect that an emphasis on logic, rather than on research, might expedite an answer to my prayers for guidance.
The advantage was that you dont need to be learned to be logical. You need not have spent years amassing mountains of information in libraries in order to apply the first principles of reason. You can apply them from the comfort of your armchair, so to speak, in order to test the claims of any body of doctrine, on any subject whatsoever, that comes claiming your acceptance. Moreover logic, like mathematics, yields firm certitude, not mere changeable opinions and provisional hypotheses. Logic is the first natural "beacon of light" with which God has provided us as intelligent beings living in a world darkened by the confusion of countless conflicting attitudes, doctrines and world-views, all telling us how to live our lives during this brief time that is given to us here on earth.
Logic of course has its limits. Pure "armchair" reasoning alone will never be able to tell you the meaning of your life and how you should live it. But as far as it goes, logic is an indispensable tool, and I even suspect that you sin against God, the first Truth, if you knowingly flout or ignore it in your thinking. "Thou shalt not contradict thyself" seems to me an important precept of the natural moral law. Be that as it may, I found that the main use of logic, in my quest for religious truth, turned out to be in deciding not what was true, but what was false. If someone presents you with a system of ideas or doctrines which logical analysis reveals to be coherentthat is, free from internal contradictions and meaningless absurditiesthen you can conclude, "This set of ideas may be true. It has at least passed the first test of truththe coherence test." To find out if it actually is true you will then have to leave your logicians armchair and seek further information. But if it fails this most elementary test of truth, it can safely be eliminated without further ado from the ideological competition, no matter how many impressive-looking volumes of erudition may have been written in support of it, and no matter how attractive and appealing many of its features (or many of its proponents) may appear.
Some readers may wonder why I am laboring the point about logic. Isnt all this perfectly obvious? Well, it ought to be obvious to everyone, and is indeed obvious to many, including those who have had the good fortune of receiving a classical Catholic education. Catholicism, as I came to discover, has a quite positive approach to our natural reasoning powers, and traditionally has its future priests study philosophy for years before they even begin theology. But I came from a religious milieu where this outlook was not encouraged, and was often even discouraged. The Protestant Reformers taught that original sin has so weakened the human intellect that we must be extremely cautious about the claims of "proud reason." Luther called reason the "devils whore"a siren which seduced men into grievous error. "Dont trust your reason, just bow humbly before Gods truth revealed to you in His holy Word, the Bible!"this was pretty much the message that came through to me from the Calvinist and Lutheran circles that influenced me most in the first few years after I made my "decision for Christ" at the age of 18. The Reformers themselves were forced to employ reason even while denouncing it, in their efforts to rebut the Biblical arguments of their "Papist" foes. And that, it seemed to me, was rather illogical on their part.
LOGIC AND THE "SOLA SCRIPTURA" PRINCIPLE
Thus, with my awakening interest in logical analysis as a test of religious truth, I was naturally led to ask whether this illogicality in the practice of the Reformers was, perhaps, accompanied by illogicality at the more fundamental level of their theory. As a good Protestant I had been brought up to hold as sacred the basic methodological principle of the Reformation: that the Bible alone contains all the truth that God has revealed for our salvation. Churches that held to that principle were at least "respectable," one was given to understand, even though they might differ considerably from each other in regard to the interpretation of Scripture. But as for Roman Catholicism and other Churches which unashamedly added their own traditions to the Word of Godwere they not self-evidently outside the pale? Were they not condemned out of their own mouths?
But when I got down to making a serious attempt to explore the implications of this rock-bottom dogma of the Reformers, I could not avoid the conclusion that it was rationally indefensible. This is demonstrated in the following eight steps, which embody nothing more than simple, commonsense logic, and a couple of indisputable, empirically observable facts about the Bible:
1. The Reformers asserted Proposition A: "All revealed truth is to be found in the inspired Scriptures." However, this is quite useless unless we know which books are meant by the "inspired Scriptures." After all, many different sects and religions have many different books, which they call "inspired Scriptures."
2. The theory we are considering, when it talks of "inspired Scriptures," means in fact those 66 books, which are bound and published in Protestant Bibles. For convenience we shall refer to them from now on simply as "the 66 books."
3. The precise statement of the theory we are examining thus becomes Proposition B: "All revealed truth is to be found in the 66 books."
4. It is a fact that nowhere in the 66 books themselves can we find any statements telling us which books make up the entire corpus of inspired Scripture. There is no complete list of inspired books anywhere within their own pages, nor can such a list be compiled by putting isolated verses together. (This would be the case: (a) if you could find verses like "Esther is the Word of God," "This Gospel is inspired by God," "The Second Letter of Peter is inspired Scripture," etc., for all of the 66 books; and (b) if you could also find a Biblical passage stating that no books other than these 66 were to be held as inspired. Obviously, nobody could even pretend to find all this information about the canon of Scripture in the Bible itself.)
5. It follows that Proposition Bthe very foundation of all Protestant Christianityis neither found in Scripture nor can be deduced from Scripture in any way. Since the 66 books are not even identified in Scripture, much less can any further information about them (e.g., that all revealed truth is contained in them) be found there. In short, we must affirm Proposition C: "Proposition B is an addition to the 66 books. "
6. It follows immediately from the truth of Proposition C that Proposition B cannot itself be revealed truth. To assert that it is would involve a self-contradictory statement: "All revealed truth is to be found in the 66 books, but this revealed truth itself is not found there."
7. Could it be the case that Proposition B is true, but is not revealed truth? If that is the case, then it must be either something which can be deduced from revealed truth or something which natural human reason alone can discover, without any help from revelation. The first possibility is ruled out because, as we saw in steps 4 and 5, B cannot be deduced from Scripture, and to postulate some other revealed extra-Scriptural premise from which B might be deduced would contradict B itself. The second possibility involves no self-contradiction, but it is factually preposterous, and I doubt whether any Protestant has seriously tried to defend itleast of all those traditional Protestants who strongly emphasize the corruption of mans natural intellectual powers as a result of the Fall. Human reason might well be able to conclude prudently and responsibly that an authority which itself claimed to possess the totality of revealed truth was in fact justified in making that claim, provided that this authority backed up the claim by some very striking evidence. (Catholics, in fact, believe that their Church is precisely such an authority.) But how could reason alone reach that same well-founded certitude about a collection of 66 books which do not even lay claim to what is attributed to them? (The point is reinforced when we remember that those who attribute the totality of revealed truth to the 66 books, namely Protestant Church members, are very ready to acknowledge their own fallibilitywhether individually or collectivelyin matters of religious doctrine. All Protestant Churches deny their own infallibility as much as they deny the Popes.)
8. Since Proposition B is not revealed truth, nor a truth which can be deduced from revelation, nor a naturally-knowable truth, it is not true at all. Therefore, the basic doctrine for which the Reformers fought is simply false.
CALVINS ATTEMPTED SOLUTION
How did the Reformers try to cope with this fundamental weakness in the logical structure of their own first principles? John Calvin, usually credited with being the most systematic and coherent thinker of the Reformation, tried to justify belief in the divine authorship of the 66 books by dogmatically postulating a direct communication of this knowledge from God to the individual believer. Calvin makes it clear that in saying Scripture is "self-authenticated," he does not mean to be taken literally and absolutely. He does not mean that some Bible text or other affirms that the 66 books, and they alone, are divinely inspired. As we observed in step 4 above, nobody ever could claim anything so patently false. Calvin simply means that no extra-Biblical human testimony, such as that of Church tradition, is needed in order for individuals to know that these books are inspired. We can summarize his view as Proposition D: "The Holy Spirit teaches Christians individually, by a direct inward testimony, that the 66 books are inspired by God. "
The trouble is that the Holy Spirit Himself is an extra-Biblical authority as much as a Pope or Council. The third Person of the Trinity is clearly not identical with the truths He has expressed, through human authors, in the Bible. It follows that even if Calvins Proposition D is true, it contradicts Proposition B, for "if all revealed truth is to be found in the 66 books," then that leaves no room for the Holy Spirit to reveal directly and non-verbally one truth which cannot be found in any passage of those books, namely, the fact that each one of them is inspired.
In any case, even if Calvin could somehow show that D did not itself contradict B, he would still not have succeeded in showing that B is true. Even if we were to accept the extremely implausible view represented by Proposition D, that would not prove that no other writings are inspired, and much less would it prove that there are no revealed truths that come to us through tradition rather than through inspired writings. In short, Calvins defense of Biblical inspiration in no way overthrows our eight-step disproof of the sola Scriptura principle. Indeed, it does not even attempt to establish that principle as a whole, but only one aspect of itthat is, which books are to be understood by the term "Scriptura."
The schizoid history of Protestantism itself bears witness to the original inner contradiction which marked its conception and birth. Conservative Protestants have maintained the original insistence on the Bible as the unique infallible source of revealed truth, at the price of logical incoherence. Liberals on the other hand have escaped the incoherence while maintaining the claim to "private interpretation" over against that of Popes and Councils, but at the price of abandoning the Reformers insistence on an infallible Bible. They thereby effectively replace revealed truth by human opinion, and faith by an autonomous reason. Thus, in the liberal/evangelical split within Protestantism since the 18th century, we see both sides teaching radically opposed doctrines, even while each claims to be the authentic heir of the Reformation. The irony is that both sides are right: their conflicting beliefs are simply the two horns of a dilemma, which has been tearing at the inner fabric of Protestantism ever since its turbulent beginnings.
Reflections such as these from a Catholic onlooker may seem a little hard or unyielding to someill-suited, perhaps, to a climate of ecumenical dialogue in which gentle suggestion, rather than blunt affirmation, is the preferred mode of discourse. But logic is of its very nature hard and unyielding; and insofar as truth and honesty are to be the hallmarks of true ecumenism, the claims of logic will have to be squarely faced, not politely avoided.
Fr. Brian Harrison is currently teaching at the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico in Ponce.
Myself included in this case. You misspoke and I understood your misstatement to be accurate.
My apologies for taking your words at face value.
Traditions of Men. Sola Cauvin
2Pe 3:1 Beloved, I now write this second letter to you, in which I stir up your pure mind by reminder
2Pe 3:2 to remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of the Lord and Savior by us, the apostles.
“I will ignore your blatant denial of my own experience (and the fact that you are implicitly calling me a liar).”
Deny it, take it to heart, I’m not worried in either case. Again, my past experiences with you - and you’re free to deny those all you like - don’t show you to be very knowledgeable about the Catholic faith.
“Dei Verbum is of no use because it can be interpreted any way the reader wishes to interpret it (just as Protestants interpret the Bible).”
Clearly untrue. It can be interpreted in one of several ways perhaps, but not in “any way the reader wishes”.
“Inerrantists insist it teaches total inerrancy; anti-inerrantists insist it teaches partial inerrancy (”those truths for the sake of our salvation”). Anti-inerrantists invoke Dei Verbum the same as inerrantists do.”
Interesting, but irrelevant. Remember your point was this: “Well, considering that almost every Catholic FReeper who comments on these issues loudly endorses evolution, denies total Biblical inerrancy, or else never says a word on these subjects I think I can be forgiven for not knowing this.”
So far you haven’t demonstrated any of that. None of it.
I'm supposed to take this seriously...from a bible code/ufologist?
As I explained to the RM, the picture I posted was of "rubber" belonging to people spouting the same things you do.
Here’s what immediately comes to mind:
(KJV) Luke 22:24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
(Message paraphrase) Luke 22:24-26 Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.
Then there’s the Nicolaitan heresy-
Nico- to rule over
laity- the common people
Jesus said in the Revelation that He hates it.
There are other examples, but I just thought of these two.
Any division which sets one class of believer above another is heresy. Even Paul and Banabas were separated unto apostleship- not placed in rulership over the Body, but rather constrained by love and enslaved to the service of God, as it were.
Typical Protestant fudge on the issue of the Deuterocanon.
Of course. What it means is that one has to live out the commandments in obedience of the Gospel, just like Christ told the rich young man. What it does not mean is that a proclamation of faith makes one saved forever regardless of his works.
That wasn't the point of my post you responded to: apostasy was.
Do you not understand the difference, or are you just avoiding?
Discuss the issues all you want, but do NOT make it personal.
Much appreciate a vivid
of how the RC edifice’s nutty cult magicsterical rationalizes and justifies
such outrageous things as
The Inquisition . . .
Were the assertion to be an accurate one,
seems solidly logical to me . . . that a long list of
DIFFERENT pictures of Nikes could have been picked . . . even DIFFERENT
pics of Nikes on NON-successful suiciders.
But who am I to suggest that reality and accuracy-in-posting should intrude on a nutty-cult-RC-edifice thread! LOL.
Ever heard of something called an Elder?
Oh, but several already exist!
I think this last one is probably the most relevant.
And that would get across the point of where mixing religion and ufo preoccupation lead, how?
spouting the same things you do.
= = =
Reality check here . . . seems to me that the above is more of a clueless perspective . . . evidently from folks who really pay absolutely no attention to any UFO data, AT ALL.
So, they must concoct fantasies to deride folks with. Fascinating. Of course, all in the name of brotherly love.
Which—if that were the focus—even though misguided and 180 degrees wrong . . . I’d still think some of the caring would show through.
But, I guess I shouldn’t be too tough on folks who have a
TERRIBLY HORRIBLE TIME
They have a dreadfully difficult time distinguishing between the first century and the 2nd; between the 1st century and the 3rd; between the 2nd century and the 3rd and 4th etc. etc.
They have an absolutely horrible time distinguishing between Scripture and arrogant pontifications of political power mongers—tending to call it all more or less equal, or the same.
They have an absolutely off the wall horrible time distinguishing between their nutty little cult overblown and The Church of Christ Universal.
They have an unimaginably difficult time distinguishing between a humble Godly mother and her 30 years of behind the scenes 15 minutes of fame. . . vs
the Magnificent Magical Earth-Mother Mighty Mary acclaimed in idol worship the world over.
Clearly, distinguishing between the Hale Bop idiocies and serious UFO research is at least a galactic cluster or 3 beyond their skill levels.
Ah well. The truth will out in due course.
But they sure have my sympathies. Such horrid troubles distinguishing between DIFFERENT VS SAME can be a REAL handicap.
Interesting, Dr. E. On the vast web . . . it appears that one is supposed to believe that there are no other examples available of folks mixing religion and UFO issues. Actually, the opposite is true!
There’s pleny of religion and UFO folk around who had nothing to do with successful suicide.
One is left with the conclusion yet again, that the suicide aspect was selected for a specific purpose . . . mysterious as that may be.
Let us quote a bit above what you quote:
Paul testifies that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, (Eph. 2:20). If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist. Nor is there any room for the cavil, that though the Church derives her first beginning from thence, it still remains doubtful what writings are to be attributed to the apostles and prophets, until her Judgment is interposed. For if the Christian Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have existed. Nothings therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends.So, the Church is built on the foundation of prophets and apostles and for that reason she authenticates the scripture. Very well. That is the Catholic teaching. Conveniently, you posted in 58 form 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; you might have added the stronger lagnuage St. Paul employs later, "But we have the mind of Christ". With this scriptural foundation in mind, we are equipped to answer the question, who is that royal, Christ-minded "we", who "have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God; that we may know the things that are given us from God"? You, "doctor"? Mr. Calvin? Rev. Huckster?
St. Paul gives a direct answer:
the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined. 15 But the spiritual man judgeth all things; and he himself is judged of no man. [...] 1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto little ones in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not meat; for you were not able as yet. But neither indeed are you now able; for you are yet carnal.Christianity consists of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, who speaks the mind of Christ, and it consists of "the little ones in Christ", the laity. So how is it then that Mr. Calvin proceeds in his book "Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their colour"? Who made that man an apostle? This, "doctor" is ugly, lying arrogance that permeates the Institutes, in all its rabid empty froth.
I should probably give this thread a rest and get to pottery . . . at least attend to other priorities! LOL.
But your examples are interesting . . .
Evidently being Roman is much more important than being Christian. Sigh.
And in your statement we see the fundamental error of Rome: the confusion of the law and the Gospel.
The rich young ruler was under the mistaken impression that he had fulfilled the law. What we see Christ doing in this passage is taking the law and cranking it up to the nth degree, to the point where the rich young ruler realized he could not keep the law.
The Apostles got it clear when they asked Christ who then can be saved. Christ answered with the obvious: With god all things are possible. We can't save ourselves, only God can.
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