‘What’s the Time?’ Is a Christian Question

‘What’s the Time?’ Is a Christian Question

A poet or prophet or politician who holds an eschatological vision of history believes that history isn’t random or haphazard but has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

While agreeing with apologists on the importance of knowing and critiquing the worldview of those we’re trying to reach, Wax maintains that our critiques lack an understanding of the eschatological underpinnings of modern and postmodern worldviews that have drawn people away from the gospel.

In addition to championing reason over revelation and logical thinking over religious devotion, the Enlightenment ushered the West into a world that looks forward not to the promised New Jerusalem, but to a man-made utopia. In order to emphasize the coming light, Enlightenment eschatology demonizes the past as dark, ignorant, and backward.

In keeping with the progressivism of the 18th-century Enlightenment, the 20th-century sexual revolution also heralded the decay of revelation-based religion and the rise of reason-based science. However, in keeping with its 19th-century Romantic roots, the sexual revolution sought a new kind of mysticism that promised to free the disenchanted modern from the materialism and naturalism of the dour Age of Reason. Forsaking both repressive “medieval” moral codes and any form of scientism that would reduce man to a cog in the machine, the sexual revolution sought “transcendence through self-discovery and expression” (140).

As for the third rival worldview, consumerism, Wax effectively exposes it is as the most subtle and insidious of the three. If, for the architects of the sexual revolution, marriage is merely a vehicle for aiding our search for sexual self-fulfillment and expression, then for the high priests of consumerism, it’s nothing more than a commodity without intrinsic value.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Links 3/11/18

 

Note that I am getting married on Friday, and will be on my honeymoon for a few weeks. So don’t expect much activity from me. Also sorry about an earlier version of this post where the link to the Oppy page was broken.

Acts 17: Paul’s Apologetic Methodology

My church is currently preaching through Acts, and the week before last we covered Acts 17. I think this is quite an important passage for aspiring apologists, as we are given a record of how Paul engaged with pagan philosophers in the preaching of the Gospel. Clearly what’s given to us is a summary of his time in the aeropagus, and I think it is worthwhile spending some time “filling in the gaps” so to speak: trying to reconstruct some of the flow of his no doubt detailed and nuanced argument from the summary that the Spirit has delivered to us via Luke.

Here is the section in question, Acts 17:22-31:

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Here are the stages of argumentation and rhetoric that I see present here:

  1. Altar to an unknown god. Paul appeals to the place of God in their own worldview. In a sense, they already know there is a God.
  2. Paul proclaims that there is a God who created and sustains all things, something like a cosmological argument (which had already been invented and used)
  3. Paul proclaims that God created all people specifically, and appeals to existing Greek belief here
  4. Paul argues that it cannot be any of the Greek Gods that did this. If God created us, then we cannot create temples and idols for that God.
  5. This belief was unknown, but now God is doing something new, and calling all to repent and believe
  6. God will judge all those who refuse and all those who sin via one Man
  7. God proves Himself through the resurrection of this Man

 

Calvin’s commentaries are helpful here. Calvin rightly points out that quoting scripture at the Greeks would be useless, since they do not accept it. Instead, Paul proves the nature of God through natural theology, through reasoning about the world and about God. To all those who say that this is not a valid apologetic methodology, it seems that Paul does make use of it here. This is the second time we’ve seen Paul do something like this, he also does so in Romans 1.

In fact, two of Paul’s primary arguments are also two of my primary arguments. First, proving via reason that there is a creator God who desires worship. This is precisely what we do with the various cosmological arguments we deploy. Second, appealing to the resurrection of Jesus to demonstrate that God is in some way connected with Christ. Paul uses it to demonstrate that it is via Christ that God will judge the world. Today, we use it to demonstrate that Christianity is the correct monotheistic practice, since cosmological arguments could equally demonstrate the truth of other monotheistic practices. But Paul shows us that the use of the resurrection as an apologetic argument is valid.

There is of course far more in this passage here that the modern apologist can learn from. I just wanted to point out the use of these two arguments, and encourage us to think carefully about Paul has engaged in his apologetics.

 

Contingency Argument Stage 2: Perfection-based Argument

In our posts on Leibniz’ Cosmological Argument, we have what Rasmussen identifies as two stages. Stage 1 argues for the existence of some necessary explanation of the conjunctive contingent fact. Stage 2 argues that this necessary explanation has all the properties we normally attribute to God, such as omniscience or omnipotence or moral perfection.

Here I will present an alternative to some of our stage 2 arguments. Here we will argue that the necessary explanation of the conjunctive fact (called “God” from now on, since that’s a lot shorter. We will retroactively justify it) holds all properties perfectly. Perfection here meaning something like “completely” or “fully”. Not necessarily in the sense of moral perfection.

Suppose for contradiction that there is some perfection that God lacks. That is, suppose there is some property that it is possible to have in a perfect sense, which God does not have perfectly. Either God holds the property in an imperfect capacity, or God does not hold that property at all.

Is this imperfection contingent or necessary? If it is contingent, then the necessary explanation of contingent things holds a property contingently. But if it holds a property contingently, it is not necessary. So God cannot hold any properties contingently. Therefore if God has an imperfection, it must have this imperfection necessarily.

But suppose it does have this imperfection necessarily. That is, suppose that necessarily God holds a property that God could have held perfectly. This seems incoherent: if God necessarily lacks this property, then that property wasn’t a perfection in the first place since it couldn’t have been held perfectly.

Therefore it seems that God must hold every perfection. For every property that can be fully or completely or perfectly held, God holds it perfectly.

Precisely which properties does this argument work for? It is not obvious that it works for all of them. Further work must be done on demonstrating that knowledge and power, for example, are actually perfections (though I think this is relatively obvious). We must also respond to the objection that there might be symmetrical “anti-perfections”, such as being perfectly powerless or perfectly ignorant. We certainly want to avoid claiming that God holds these.

More worryingly, perhaps evil or malevolence is in a technical sense a “perfection”. I think we can argue against this, but it will have to wait for another post. For now, this is another method of approaching stage 2 of contingency arguments.

TGC: Now is the Time for Evangelism (in Australia)

Rory Shiner thinks that 2018 is the time for evangelism. I agree.

Talk to student workers in AFES, for example. They are the ones on the front line, sharing the gospel with the very generation who have been raised on intersectionality and gender fluidity and the whole bit. And yet, again and again, from campus to campus, these student workers are saying that this is the best and the freshest evangelistic environment they’ve seen in their life time.

People are so post-Christian that the gospel is fresh and interesting. They know so little that there’s less prejudice. And if they have an impression of Christians at all, it’s so outrageously negative that all you have to do is offer them a cup of tea and not punch them in the face and you seem like Mother Theresa.

Think about this, and it makes plenty of sense. People in the last 60 years or so have felt, in rejecting Christianity, that it is old and outdated and childish. That they already understand it, and can dismiss it as false. But now they might still have some of that attitude, but in reality they know nothing about Christianity. It’s easy to get someone intellectually curious about Christianity now, or surprise them with how little they know. And this leads to critical engagement. And critical engagement with Christianity leads to Christians.

The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Go on the offensive, fight the good fight, and win souls for Christ.

Guest Post: Is Jesus Jehovah?

For many of us, the deity of Christ is simply a given. We hear Him making claims that no human being could possibly make. He claims to be the only true way (John 14:6) and gate (John 10:9) into God’s kingdom. He claims to be the Lord of the sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and the fulfillment of all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). These are no mere figures of speech, and we have to take them seriously.

If those claims aren’t enough, the New Testament epistles testify to the deity of Christ. Trinitarian creeds are tucked into the very fabric of Peter (1 Peter 1:2) and Paul (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). What’s more, the word “God” (Greek theos) is used of Jesus explicitly.

But this little Greek word is the source of more controversy than perhaps any other in the New Testament, especially when dealing with Jehova’s Witnesses and those in the LDS church. With lengthy exegetical gymnastics, those who deny the deity of Christ usually bring prepared answers to respond to the famous texts like John 1, Colossians 1 and 2, and so on. They claim that “[Jesus] is not the one-and-only God, but is a god, or divine being”. Under such statements, theos becomes a lost pointer to the deity of Christ in the bible. In order to respond to these views, we must develop a more fundamental apologetic. The real question is, “Did the Biblical authors consider Jesus to be Jehovah God himself?” If we can show that the name of the one true God, “Jehovah”, can be biblically applied to Christ, then the centre of the debate shifts away from prepared answers and towards edifying dialogue. We will now examine a few texts to answer this question.

Who did Isaiah see?

In the most well-known chapter of Isaiah, chapter 6, the prophet is given a vision of God in his temple.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The Earth is full of his glory!'”

Isaiah sees what could only be described as the very throne of God himself, and the one seated on it. He sees the Lord (“Jehovah” in the New World Translation) lifted up, and sitting in GLORY. There is a particular emphasis on the glory, splendour and majesty of God, and so Isaiah is undone: “Woe to me, I am as good as dead”. After Isaiah’s sins are forgiven and atoned for, the focus shifts to his prophetic commission:

“Then I heard the voice of Jehovah saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said: ‘Here I am! Send me!’ And he replied, ‘Go, and say to this people: ‘You will hear again and again, But you will not understand; You will see again and again, But you will not get any knowledge””

After Isaiah sees the Lord, he is commissioned to preach to an unrepentant nation, who (we are told) will “hear but never understand”. In other words, the chapter can be summarised like this: Isaiah sees the glory of Jehovah, and is commissioned to speak for him amongst an unbelieving people.

Fast-forward several hundred years, and Jesus is preaching to a hard-hearted crowd in Jerusalem, the capital city of faithless Israel. In John 12:37, we are told that Jesus had performed many signs, and yet they still didn’t believe him. We are told that this took place in order to fulfil the words of Isaiah: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.”

So John directly connects this event with the prophecy of Isaiah 6. But the next statement is absolutely critical:

“These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing him”.

Let that soak in for a minute. Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory, and spoke of Him. Who is “he”? There can be no doubt in the text. The one who was preaching, the one who the pharisees were rejecting, the one about whom the whole story is written (John 20:31), is the one Isaiah saw and spoke of. Remember our summary of Isaiah 6? Isaiah sees Jehovah and is commissioned to speak. Here in John 12, the apostle is clearly (though implicitly) saying “Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus, lofty and lifted up”. For John, there is no doubt. Jesus is Jehovah himself.

Who laid the foundations of the earth?

Psalm 102 is a beautiful prayer of confession from a helpless and languishing saint. He offers himself to God in a desperate time of weakness and trial. As an antidote to his distress, the psalmist remembers the character and Sovereignty of God, his refuge:

“My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations… In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain;  they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

How beautiful! But we must not ignore the hidden gold nugget of theology shining through the lyrics. Let us be clear: this is a song to Jehovah. His name is used several times explicitly (v.1, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22), and surely Jehovah alone is the craftsman of the heavens.

But the book of Hebrews has more to say. In the first chapter, the author intends to show that Jesus is no mere angel “For to which of the angels did he ever say ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you’?”

Jesus is not just an angel. He is the divine Son of God. Once again, verses 9-12 give the kicker:

“But of the Son he says… “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; And they all will become old like a garment, And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.”

In other words, Psalm 102 is directly applied to Jesus. God the Father said these things “Of the Son”. It was Jesus who laid the foundation of the world. In the mind of the author of Hebrews, Jesus is Jehovah himself, God the Son.

Who ascended?

Let’s take another Psalm. In Psalm 68, David reflects on the saving characteristics of God, with a particular emphasis on the redemptive acts of God in Israel’s history (like the exodus from Egypt):

“When you, God, went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.”

Verse 18 describes none other than Jehovah:

“When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious—that you, Lord [Jehovah] God, might dwell there.”

That is, God led forth a procession of captive Israelites to the promised land, and to his sanctuary.

Paul, however, adds another layer to this exceptional verse. To the Ephesians, Paul writes:

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’ (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions. He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Notice who gives the gifts. We have each been given a gift as Christ apportioned it. Paul then goes on the quote Psalm 68:18 (a verse which itself contains the name of Jehovah) and applies it directly to Christ. Not only does he apply it to Christ, but he actually makes an argument. He argues that the reference to “ascension” can only make sense if it refers to the resurrection of Christ. ‘What else could it mean?’ he asks. And he is right. The truth is, Psalm 68:18 is a verse about Jesus. If our theology is to align with Paul’s, then we should be able to read Psalm 68:18, and indeed the whole Psalm, and see Jesus. The Psalm is about Christ, including the word “Jehovah”.

So we have John, Paul and the author of Hebrews all referring, however subtly, to Jesus as Jehovah. Many such references exist in the New Testament, and we cannot simply pass over them lightly. Before we bring them to the debating scene, let us soak ourselves in the rich truth that a crucified Galilean was none other than our Creator. The one who made a way for us on the cross was the same one who touched the lips of Isaiah, and led the Israelites through the desert. He spoke with Moses, He was the delight of David, and He was fully revealed on the dark day of Calvary.

 

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church

Given that I am Reformed, I hold to Sola Scriptura. The Westminster Confession defines it well:

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

I believe this, as do all who are Reformed. However, occasionally, people who lean more towards the Roman Catholic Church will tell me that Sola Scripture is an innovation in the 16th century and cannot be found in the early Church, in the writings of the Church Fathers. Here are some Church Fathers, and some things that they have said that are relevant to this discussion. For the moment I will limit myself to the thesis: Sola Scriptura is defensible from the Church Fathers. For the moment, I do not intend to argue that it is the only defensible position from them.

When available online, I have produced links to the sources. Sadly not all the writings of the church fathers are available online, or at least not that I could find. If you can find a reference I’ve missed, please let me know.

Irenaeus (130 – 202)

“Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures” – Against Heresies 1.8.1

“We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed ‘perfect knowledge,’ as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles” – Against Heresies 3.1.1

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce” – Against Heresies 3.2.1

Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215)

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves” – Stromata 7.16

Hippolytus (170 – 235)

“There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. . . . So all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatever things they teach, these let us learn” – Against Noetus 9

Cyprian of Carthage (210 – 258)

“Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the Son of Nun: The book of this law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein”” – Epistle 73

“If, therefore, it is either prescribed in the Gospel, or contained in the epistles or Acts of the Apostles, that those who come from any heresy should not be baptized, but only hands laid upon them to repentance, let this divine and holy tradition be observed” – Epistle 73

Athanasius (296–298)

“Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture” – Letter, De Synodis

“These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me’” – 39th Festal Letter.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313 – 386)

“Have thou ever in your mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures” – Catechetical Lecture 4.17

“Now mind not my argumentations, for perhaps you may be misled but unless thou receive testimony of the Prophets on each matter, believe not what I say: unless thou learn from the Holy Scriptures concerning the Virgin, and the place, the time, and the manner, receive not testimony from man. For one who at present thus teaches may possibly be suspected: but what man of sense will suspect one that prophesied a thousand and more years beforehand? If then you seek the cause of Christ’s coming, go back to the first book of the Scriptures” – Catechetical Lecture 12.5

Basil the Great (330 – 379)

“What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” – Moralia

“The hear­ers taught in the Scrip­tures ought to test what is said by teach­ers and accept that which agrees with the Scrip­tures but reject that which is for­eign” – Moralia

“Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth” – Letter 189

“Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right” – Letter 283

Gregory of Nyssa (335 – 394)

“Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.” – On the Holy Trinity

“We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize vvith the intention  of those writings.”- On the Soul and the Resurrection

Ambrose (340 – 397)

“For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” – On the Duties of the Clergy

Theophilus of Alexandria (? – 412)

“It would be the instigation of a demonical spirit to follow the conceits of the human mind, and to think anything divine, beyond what has the authority of the Scriptures” – Epistola 96

Jerome (347 – 420)

“But as we do not deny what is written, so we do reject what is not written” – Against Helvidius 21

“Those things which they make and find, as it were, by apostolical tradition, without the authority and testimony of Scripture, the word of God smites” – on Aggai 1

John Chrysostom (349 – 407)

“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” – Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church

“There comes a heathen and says, “I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction  among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?” How shall we answer  him? “Each of you” (says he) “asserts, ‘I speak the truth.”‘  No doubt:  this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.”  – Homily 33 in Acts of the Apostles

“Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things” – Homily 13 On Second Corinthians

Augustine (354 – 430)

“What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostles? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher” – Of the Good of Widowhood 2.

“It is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place” – Letter 82

“For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics, and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine” – Letter 148

“You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?” – On Baptism, Against the Donatists

“Especially as in writings of such authors I feel myself free to use my own judgment (owing unhesitating assent to nothing but the canonical Scriptures), whilst in fact there is not a passage which he has quoted from the works of this anonymous author that disturbs me” –On Nature and Grace

“This shows that the established authority of Scripture must outweigh every other; for it derives new confirmation from the progress of events which happen, as Scripture proves, in fulfillment of the predictions made so long before their occurrence” – Reply to Faustus the Manichaean

“In the matters of which we are now treating, only the canonical writings have any weight with us” – Reply to Faustus the Manichaean

Theodoret of Cyrus (393 – 458)

“Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone” – Dialogue 1

St John of Damascus (675 – 749)

It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.” – The Fountain of Knowledge

SAINT THOMAS “THE MAN” AQUINAS (1225 – 1274)

“Nevertheless, sacred  doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly  uses the authority of the canonical  Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that  may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith  rests upon the revelation  made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.  Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor  as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them.  But other  authors I so read as not to deem everything in their  works to be true,  merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever  may have been their  holiness and learning.” – Summa Theologia, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8

“The canonical scriptures alone are the rule of faith” – Commentary on John XXI. 24-25, paragraph 2656.

More arguments need to be made here, including dealing with the distinction between formal and material sufficiency of scripture. These will come one day. But for today, I don’t think we can say that treating scripture as the highest and only infallible standard is a Reformation idea.

Now my Catholic friends might say something along the lines of “You’ve just found a bunch of people who said something nice about scripture, that doesn’t entail Sola Scriptura”. In this case, I’d suggest we compare my support for Sola Scriptura with their support for the doctrine of the Papacy. See if they have anything more than someone saying something nice about Peter. There won’t be anything even close to what we have here. And in fact, many of our quotes here not only affirm the inerrancy of scripture but explicitly say that it is the highest authority, or the only source of doctrine.

Did I miss any important references? Did I take someone out of context? Let me know in the comments.

Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age

Many of you will have noticed that I reference the book A Secular Age by Charles Taylor quite regularly. Outside of scripture, no other book has been more influential in shaping my thinking about the Western world. Where we are, how we got here, what it means, and where we’re going.

If for some reason you don’t feel like spending 4 months digging through this 900 page tome, then there is an alternative that I haven’t read myself, but some of my friends recommend. From James Smith, the author of You Are What you Love, it is a summary of Taylor, containing many of his most important ideas, and it seems to attempt to make them explicitly and directly relevant to the Christian apologist. I also believe that Smith is Reformed, which always wins points in my book.

If those are too hard (and I strongly encourage you to take one of those two options, even as audiobooks or something) then I have found a reasonably good series of YouTube videos, they seem to be recordings of a philosophy class at a university discussing the book. They are not an alternative, but they may be helpful.