Unpublished: Being Biblical Means Being Doctrinally Tolerant

People who claim to literally interpret the inspired and inerrant Word of God do not agree on what the bible says.

Christian Smith calls this "pervasive interpretive pluralism." And this pervasive interpretive pluralism isn't just found among progressives and liberals. It is found among evangelicals and fundamentalists, among the very people who claim that they are reading the bible very, very literally. Pervasive interpretive pluralism exists among biblical literalists.

Which brings us to the problem at the heart of Protestantism.

The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn't a theological claim. This is an empirical fact.

Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The "bible alone" creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.

And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A.

The only way to get a single, unified church, as the Catholics will tell you, isn't the bible. What you need, rather, is a magisterium, a teaching authority that says, for everyone, "this is what the bible says."

And that's why there is one Catholic church and tens, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Protestant churches (depending upon how you count them).

A magisterium gets you one church. A literal reading of the inspired and inerrant Word of God gets you many, many churches.

That's a fact with an important moral implication.

Which is this: If your are going to accept the burden of being of Protestant, of living with sola scriptura, then you are going to have to learn to welcome doctrinal diversity.

If you want to be biblical you're going to have to reconcile yourself to pervasive interpretative pluralism. That's life being biblical. Being biblical requires a fair amount of tolerance for doctrinal diversity. Being biblical means creating a big tent.

So if you want to be biblical--if you want to go sola scriptura and drop the magisterium--then you are morally obligated to assume the burden and responsibility of welcoming the doctrinal diversity you will create.

The alternative is to be delusional, pretending that opening the bible brings everyone to a consensus. Unfortunately, that just doesn't happen. And pretending otherwise just sets you up to be judgemental and condemnatory. It tempts you into using the word "biblical" as a weapon.

In the end, if you're going to be biblical you're going to have to learn to be tolerant.

--from an unpublished post ranting about the delusional nature of doctrinal gate-keeping within conservative, fundamentalist and evangelical churches

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99 thoughts on “Unpublished: Being Biblical Means Being Doctrinally Tolerant”

  1. Do Protestants still have the authority to name heresies? For example, the rampant Pelagianism that constitutes American society has been heretical since long before the Protestant Reformations. Are we Protestants neutered entirely, so long as an argument can be found in scripture? Surely we can set parameters for what right reading entails, namely, coherence with Orthodoxy, even if we can't go much beyond this.

  2. Protestantism seems to me to equal either Calvinism-God could save all but doesn't want to, or Arminianism-God wants to save all but can't. It seems to me that Christian Universalism-God wants and can save everyone would allow us to function without a magisterium and yet hold on to our biblical differences. I'm a pretty simple guy though.

  3. I don't think they have any authority. I do, however, think Protestants can make historically descriptive statements as they debate amongst themselves like, "According to the Catholic magisterium such and such is a heresy." But such descriptive statements don't have any authority. Or, rather, they only have authority to the degree that a particular Protestant conscience feels compelled to conform to some historical standard of orthodoxy. As with all things in Protestantism the only authority is the individual's conscience. It's Martin Luther's maxim: "to go against conscience is neither right or safe, here I stand, I can do no other."

  4. In observing the problem in today's context created by those who literally interpret the Bible, I see the wide spread, yet quiet, notion, that the master/slave passages of the New Testament AUTHORITATIVELY INFER that slavery does not necessarily have to be an evil. That if a nation, either through war or other upheavals, found itself a slave holding society, Christians could own slaves as long as they followed the Biblical command to be gentle and kind to their slaves.

    This way of thinking helps feed a baptized racism among whites who believe that as long as they accept people of color as brothers and sisters in Christ, as long as people of color are accepted as "one with us in Christ", then the belief that whites are superior in leadership roles within politics and business, that the country was better off when whites held all power, cannot be labeled as racist. In other words, the doctrine of unity is found only within a religious context which has nothing to do with society. Thus, we see and hear the thinking that religious freedom trumps civil rights; a foul, slow killing poison squeezed from a literal view of scripture.

  5. Anglicans/Episcopalians have a kind of quasi-magisterium with more distributed, more local authority and more open-ended conversation among the People of God. Doesn't work perfecrly but it's honest and it does contain differences that would split most other branches of the Body apart, without falling into simple suppression of dissent. I think Roman Catholicism is also far less monolithic than would appear from outside, but the way the magisterium works for them forces some, not all significant disagreements underground.

  6. I think that's the balancing act, the unity in diversity. There is a some sort of binding agent--the sacraments, the Book of Common Prayer--but room for diversity.

    A genius within the Catholic tradition are the revivals and renewals from lay and monastic movements creating distinctive missions and spiritualities yet remain--some quite precariously--under the umbrella the church. The trouble with Protestant revival movements is that when the schism they don't remain mutually "under" a similar umbrella.

  7. Almost serendipitous thoughts for me to come across this morning on a long overdue return visit to your blog. The disunity of protestantism on doctrinal and biblical understanding has been something I've been chewing on for some time now. What's incredibly sad and irritating, is that for Protestants, the solution for doctrinal/biblical interpretive dilemmas seems to be schism. We either break away and start another church or we break away and join an already existing church. It's great and tragic irony - Protestantism was birthed in a split and has continued splitting ever since. In my own PC(USA) denomination, there are so many opposing views, and schisms, on several key issues - and all sides are claiming direction from the Holy Spirit. Hmmmm... I have grave doubts that the Holy Spirit contradicts himself. I've been thinking that maybe, just maybe "sola scriptura" and conscience are not enough. All of Protestantism's witness to the world is incredibly fractured by virtue of there even being thousands of different churches (many with competing doctrines) in existence. The Magisterium is starting to look pretty good.

  8. I think that's the reason why a lot of evangelicals convert to Catholicism. I've been tempted. Basically, if you are a foundationalist, epistemological speaking, when the bible turns to sand your other opinion is the tradition. A road that heads back to Rome.

    The other option is what I gesture toward in the post, the Protestant option:

    1) "Bind and loose" in your local congregational context (decide, locally, what is orthodoxy).
    2) Make a commitment of stability and solidarity with that group.
    3) Joyfully extend the right hand of fellowship to all the other churches in your town (allow them to bind and loose as you do).

    That last goes to what I'm talking about. Schism doesn't have to be a tragedy. It can be creative, freeing and liberating. The issue is how we love and treat each other. It's schism + assholism that's the problem. :-)

  9. One sad co-morbid trait is the total abandonment of communal interpretation under the guise of guarding the flock and a fierce defense of congregational autonomy. In my protestant tradition, "error" (i.e., anything that differs from the status quo) is typically introduced into a local congregation by an individual or small group, and combat of that error is left up to the minister, eldership, or other leadership. That effectively keeps interpretation in the hands of a select few within a congregation solely for that congregation. Thankfully, my tradition is being weaned off of the even worse strategy of all Biblical interpretation being housed in specific national theological publications. Under that system your congregation's standing within the group depended on to which publication you ascribed, and their conclusions became 1-for-1 your congregational leadership's conclusions and therefor, your conclusions. It's simply heological elitism in the extreme.

  10. Yep.
    For a lucid and readable, faithfully Christian, proudly Reformed, soundly theological, utterly persuasive, and finally quite inspiring appraisal and embrace of diversity in the Bible, in tradition, indeed in truth itself (due to its inescapably cultural mediation) -- and, needless to say, without capitulation to a toxic hermeneutical relativism -- see John R. Franke, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth (2009).

  11. Or Orthodoxy. They've been able to maintain doctrinal unity without a magisterium through their conciliar communion of bishops. Hardly free of problems, but they tend to expect them from what I can tell. You'll always find sick people in the hospital.

  12. I think lots of doctrines are heretical and anathema. And I'm happy to pronounce them so. And I think its okay for any Protestant group to name and reject doctrines they think are heretical. The issue isn't having a robust and clear vision of heresy. You almost need that. It has to do with the tolerance of doctrinal diversity.

    I think of it this way. Christians can have respectful interfaith dialogues with members of other world religions where the doctrinal difference are well past heresy. I think Protestant churches should have the same sort of respectful "interfaith" conversations between themselves.

    If Christians can be respectful of, say, Jewish persons, who deny the divinity of Jesus, they should be able to get along with the heretics down the street.

  13. Perhaps blanket tolerance of all interpretations is not the right thing to do.

    Quote from Derek Flood's new book, Disarming Scripture:
    "As I have argued in this book, the problem is not simply that people cannot agree on what the Bible says, but that the Bible -when it is interpreted in an unquestioning way-inevitably leads to violence and abuse. In other words, when there are no means by which to evaluate which interpretations are good and which are hurtful because of an a priori assumption that the Bible overrides conscience, the inevitable result of pervasive interpretive pluralism is that some of those interpretations will be abusive.

    Just as it is an empirical fact that evangelicals can't seem to agree on what the "clear meaning" of Scripture is, it is equally an empirical historical fact that an unquestioning reading of the Bible has a long history of people endorsing things like slavery, child abuse, and genocide - all in the name of an "infallible" Bible."

  14. When doctrines start bumping up against morality things do get stickier. The distinction between orthodoxy and morality bleeds together here.

    But I do think a crude line can be drawn between Christian doctrine and Christian ethics. Though the two overlap, considerably in certain places, I think we can be very tolerant of doctrinal diversity while having a much more contested and sharp conversation about Christian ethics. In fact, I'd argue that is exactly what needs to happen. Rather than fighting over doctrine we should fight more about ethics and morality.

  15. Richard, I believe in tolerance of doctrinal diversity, say within bounds of something like the Apostles' Creed. I was just being sarcastic (by nature) and cynical (from my many years as a cradle Roman Catholic). I regard the Roman Catholic church's appeal to protestants as separated brethren as disingenuous while the proclamations of the Council of Trent remain part of their doctrine.

  16. Thanks for clarifying. And that's important to bring up as it turns the Protestant "bug" into a feature. Plus, I'm playing fast and loose with the word anathema.

    If by anathema we mean "something intensely disliked or loathed" then we all have anathema doctrines. That's the way I was using the term. But your point is about the Counsel of Trent usage, to pronounce an ecclesiastical curse upon the heretic, separating them from the sacraments/church/salvation. As you rightly point out, that's not very tolerant. In short, yes, a magisterium might create unity but it also involves ecclesiasical curses to protect the integrity of the teaching authority.

    Protestants, by contrast, have the opposite suite of problems. No way to maintain unity but the freedom and capacity to come to different doctrine understandings. Feature or bug?

    I think it's a feature...if.

    If we learn to tolerate the diversity and stop with the curses.

  17. I am one of those temperamentally oriented toward a need for certainty. This is the locus of my wresting with God. My salvation has been to accept the necessity and blessing of ambiguity. Which is an acceptance of reality. Every time I feel myself beginning to reject ambiguity I identify that feeling as the desire to return to Egypt. To believe in a Bible or a Pope that can give me The Answer is to believe in an illusion. To accept the ambiguity of truth is to accept my humanity. It is not about certainty. It is about grace and humility.

  18. Yes, respectful dialogue between faiths--and within Christian thought--is absolutely necessary. But in order to have that type of dialogue, is it possible to still cling to a notion of "heresy?" The term "heresy" carries with it heavy emotional and moral baggage that makes it easy for Christians to see views they don't like, denounce them as "heresy" and use that as an excuse to do the exact opposite of what you say, engage in honest, respectful dialogue with those with whom they disagree. I think one pre-requisite of having such a dialogue is being able to, to paraphrase Aristotle, entertain a thought without accepting it. I think the heavy moralistic and dismissive connotations of the term "heresy" get in the way of being able to do that. So is it possible to reclaim the concept of heresy from its past, or does it need to be scrapped in order to have honest dialogue?

  19. I wonder how much of this is feeling the need to classify everything? If I don't have the need to sort everyone into heaven and hell then maybe I can "let it go" (yes I have 3 young daughters....) but if I have to classify everyone into heaven or hell, then yes, we must all agree with me, because of course clearly I am always correct.
    Just don't compare anything I said or wrote 10-15 years ago with what I am saying now, because, you know, uhhh, yeah.
    Nice work as always sir.

  20. ...honestly, speaking as an Episcopalian? I'm not sure the Anglican Communion has a magisterium. The single biggest reason that we're still together is because we haven't figured out how to expel each other yet.

  21. I wonder where that leaves me? Despite my somewhat fundamentalist-conservative-baptist-evangelical-charismatic upbringing that I am recovering from for a while now, I have some real issues with sola scriptura and I have been draw to the Catholics for a number of reasons (their spirituality, beauty, the Franciscan's humility, etc.), but... I can not accept the magisterium either, that's the other extreme for me.

    (Does that make me a closet Episcopal?)

  22. I don't think Christians should be using the term "heresy" in interreligious dialogue anyway. Heresy is a specific term. And it has to do with turning away from orthodox Christian belief. As those of other religions have (generally) never had Christian belief, they cannot properly be called "heretics." One must first be Christian for the label to have any kind of application.

    Whether and how we use the term in interdenominational dialogue is a whole other can of worms.

  23. I think the magisterium has similar problems. They also produce texts in their effort to say "everyone should believe this." But those texts and their statements are just as open to diversity and interpretation as the Bible is. That's why you have Catholic Anarchists like Dorothy Day, on the one hand, and Catholics who love Ayn Rand on the other. Catholicism is a big tent with a wide variety of, often conflicting, views.

    Also, there's another wrench in Dr. Beck's "one Catholic Church" claim. There are multiple Catholic churches. Not just the Catholic Church and Protestants who split off. Take the Old Catholic Church, for instance. They split off in the 19th century over the Council that codified Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

    I mean, I guess you could still say that there's "one Catholic Church" and these other groups are crypto-Protestant or whatever. But then you might as well just say that there's one Protestant Church and everyone else has split off from them. Or just one interpretation of the Bible and everyone else has split off from that. I guess my point is that, even including Catholicism, it's still really hard to claim that there is one of anything when it comes to Christianity.

  24. I think within the Catholic tradition, as you have pointed out, the division just happens elsewhere.

    There are plenty of people (and I even met one) who reject Vatican II and think that the mass should still be in Latin, for example.

  25. "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?" (Gal. 4:9).

    Well, I'll tell you why, Paul. I'm afraid of being known by God. I fear the radicalism of the God I've come to know in Jesus, not the way of eccentric life he chose for himself--to each his own--but that he gave himself as our example, that we should follow him? I'm afraid of what Jesus must have meant by "the church"--not what goes for "Church" in common coin, but the ekklesia of his pierced body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. I'm happy adoring him, but following him? I'd prefer the Story was only an episode of history, a once off thing, and not an ongoing epoch, a growing gospel, a narrative of the God becoming all in all that I'm actually expected to, like, obey? I'd rather worship the old rugged cross than carry my electric chair through the crowd. So you understand, Paul, why I want the church to become a church-machine, another version of the kingdom of the world with the cross emblazoned on our flag. It's for my own protection. I want to be a cog, a mass-produced little spinning thing that's replaceable as soon as its teeth wear down, inside an ancient, slow moving iron-scaled behemoth. Let the hull take the beating from the underworld gates while I'm safe within. I'm a true believer some version of Christ's cause, the philosophy of the thing, the better home and garden inspirational stuff. Soldier of Christ? Yes, I'll volunteer to be a junior officer in a hierarchy that will give me the Nuremberg Defense on the Day, to believe that my personal exculpation by participation in a system is more than a damned myth.

  26. Here's my two cents. This is good as far as it goes but to me it doesn't go far enough. What about those Christians, such as myself, who no longer accept the traditional canon of books as the exclusive scriptures conveying the Gospel? Couldn't there be some tolerance for us? I consider myself a Thomas Christian, because the Gospel of Thomas, one of the earliest gospels written, btw, speaks to me most deeply of all the Gospels. I do not reject the four canonical gospels -- I love them. But the discoveries at Nag Hammadi and elsewhere speak to those of us hungering for a less dualistic, more experiential Christianity. I also believe The Gospel of Mary Magdelene, which in many ways complements The Gospel of Thomas, is further evidence for the claim that the feminine, along with the record of Mary M's apostolic role as apostle to the apostles, was purposely rejected and blotted out by the early church.
    I am fortunate that I can attend a church occasionally (it is several hours' drive away from my town) where this kind of diversity of thought and belief is accepted. All are welcome there, even those who do not accept the biblical canon as the exclusive revelation of Jesus' gospel.
    There are legions of Christians now who are seeking greater tolerance and respect for diversity in Protestantism regarding which scriptures are legitimate. The canon was first organized in order to unify Christians and guard against "error," read "departure from the institutional church with its priests, bishops and Popes." As you have so ably pointed out, Richard, this has not solved the "problem" of diversity-- it has only caused more schism. Why not acknowledge the failed experiment of exclusion of other ways of understanding the meaning of the incarnation, and say that we have much to learn from newer discoveries about the early church? The canon can remain as it is, IMO, but respect for other ancient sources can still be allowed and tolerated.
    Please don't leave those of us who accept other scriptures as legitimate out of the fold in your laudable campaign for more plurality in Christianity.

  27. Hi Carolyn, thanks for this.

    A bit off topic, but as a psychologist I am curious about this. What do you mean by a more experiential Christianity? For example, a Catholic Mass, a Quaker service, an evangelical praise service, snake handling in the Appalachian holiness churches, speaking in tongues with the Pentecostals, kissing icons with the Orthodox or communing with God alone in nature all seem to me to be extraordinarily experiential. In fact, I don't think anything in Christianity could be "more" or "less" experiential as, well, everything is 100% experiential.

    So, any clarity on that, what a "more experiential" Christianity is supposed to look like?

  28. Even modern writings on any subject produce pluralism, such is the imperfect nature of human communication: http://alistair.cockburn.us/ASD+book+extract,+Unknowable+and+incommunicable

  29. I'm a cradle Lutheran but I reject sola scriptura because everyone interprets the Bible in light of what they already know and believe from their education and life experience and no one relies only on the scripyures to determine what they believe.....

  30. Good post and I like your conclusion. Hope you do not mind a hyperlink, but this is the first of a series of critiques of Smith's book by Roger Olson. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/09/first-installment-of-review-of-smith-the-bible-made-impossible/

  31. worms? i know ppl who inherit tics from the brand of christianity their families have chosen.

  32. i think 'it' funtions no matter what i say i believe or who i include or exclude. the arrow of god's love is taking the time in a slow arc that will eventually reach its target: our hearts.

  33. the problem with the above type of thinking, is the question: who is going to be in charge? if different people do not like the new magisterium, then they will split from the church and form their own just like they did with the RCC back in the day.

    we would be left with the same problem we have today.

  34. This is a fair point, but I don't think the distinction between accusation of heresy and historically-descriptive claims about what would be heresy if we were Catholic is a meaningful one. Protestants are no less inheritors of the Catholic faith than Catholic. To claim, for example, that Jesus is created and not coeternal and consubstantial with the Father is a heresy. Such as it is then, those who hold to this cannot be said in any historical sense, to be Christian at all..

    The name "Christian" entails much. There are parameters, of course, and ways in which expectations might not be met that are not contrary to the faith. But this has always been the case. Heresy has been reserved for those claims so inimical to the Gospel that to hold to them renders one thoroughly un-Christian. We don't have to kill them anymore of course, but we do need to have a clear grasp of what's at stake in claims of heresy.

  35. I don’t know how should I give you thanks! I am totally stunned by your article. You saved my time. Thanks a million for sharing this article.

  36. I imagine this post as being quite pertinent for many. Can you not feel it all coming to a head? I think it is very true that the “bible alone” leads to "pervasive interpretive pluralism." I agree with this 100%. Previous generations missed (or appeared to miss) the inherent subjectivity involved when looking at the objective scriptures (not to mention the history of how we received these texts). We used to appeal to a ‘common sense’, some common understanding that should remove the interpretive differences—but this was just a fiction. Forced to reconcile with subjectivity, we are left with only a few options. So, I agree: we’re either stuck going back to Rome, or embracing tolerance.

    I’ve flirted with the later, but it all seems so aimless. What’s the point of this tolerance? So I’ve made up my mind against, say, Calvinism, but now I need to be tolerant of it? Is this to be that kind of condescending tolerance, like the way you tolerate an annoying younger sibling? Or is this the type of tolerance where we actually try to get inside the heart and mind of these ideas where we disagree? I guess I wonder is this kind of tolerance where we engage one another and wrestle with differences—not necessarily with the hope of ‘winning’ or ‘converting’ but in the hopes of better understanding—or are we tolerating in the sense of ‘live and let live’?

    Interestingly, I think many who want tolerance today do not actually want to understand differences; and I think some of these same people are quick to judge others as being judgmental when those they judge are really wrestling in an effort to seek understanding. So we’re sure we’ve studied the issues and we know where stand on such and such, how difficult it is then when sincere people take the opposing view with just as much study and composure—maybe more so. But in our cries for tolerance I don’t see the deep personal stress and anguish that comes from actually trying to push two different ideas close together—like fighting to magnets together of the same pole. Now we usually skip past people who speak clearly and with composure and instead fixate on this or that sufferer of ‘assholism’ and then write off that entire stream of thought. So much for tolerance, let alone Christian charity and suffering.

    Again, is it not interesting that if you cut a line down between progressives and conservatives (whatever these terms actual mean) that it is the progressives that want tolerance (or the relatively progressive in an otherwise conservative group). Why is this? And what does this say about the quality of the tolerance we seek? Progressives by and large want to open up to the new, novel expressions of spirituality. It is about freedom and exploration, away from the strict days of their youth. We see that there is more out there than just the small island we were born into. With the conservatives, however, I assume much of the problem is the knee jerk reactions given to the pressures of this same type of tolerance. Conservatives want to hold the fort on old battle lines. While some might be afraid to ask questions, I think most are simply zealous to protect the good things that are lost in these changes under the auspices of ‘tolerance’, whether that be a community or a doctrine or what have you.

    I guess my question is: since it seems progressives are pushing tolerance, how far will this tolerance go to actually integrate the views and concerns—the worldview and intentions of the conservatives and traditionalists???

  37. Great post and discussion.

    Brings to mind lines attributed to Edwin Markham which I first encountered in the writings of Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett:

    He drew a circle that shut me out—
    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win;
    We drew a circle that took him in.

    I can't say I've achieved this approach myself, but I love it when I see it, On this blog, for instance.

  38. This is rattling my brain. How do we then preach to a congregation that has firmly established themselves within the authority of the doctrine of the church of Christ? Any threat to that unwritten and un-acknowledgeable magisterium is received defensively and the bringer of the questions is pushed away as a heretic (although I'm still hiding in plain sight behind a pulpit). How do we challenge the entrenched to take a peek above ground level and assure them they wont get their head blown off?

  39. ...or you have a third option: Join the 300 million of us who are Orthodox. We are the original Church whose Holy Tradition has safeguarded right Christian doctrine from the time of the Apostles. This is done not through a magisterium, but through our unbroken communion of belief with the Apostles and their appointed Bishops in succession. We don't believe the Bishop of Rome has "special keys" to decide doctrine. We discern it as the Apostles did in Acts: Together as the whole Church, by Councils and by holding to what has been believed "always, and everywhere, by all".

  40. Speaking as someone who was raised Christian but is now Jewish, I can't help noticing that Jews have been able to read the Bible for thousands of years with neither a magisterium nor unstoppable schism.

    The Protestant problem isn't really sola scriptura, it's Calvin's doctrine of scriptural simplicity or clarity. Jews are not less devoted to scripture than the most "biblical" Protestants, but no Jew expects scripture to be simple. On the contrary! Jews do not speak of "reading" scripture (or Talmud), but of studying -- implying that the task is expected to be complex and indeed life-long. In Jewish hermaneutics, we don't read scripture to get a guide to life, we study scripture because the studying itself is kind of sacrament, a transformative practice.

    In practice, Jewish scriptural study is neither passive reception of an approved interpretation (as in Catholic tradition), nor does it come from individual reading & contemplation. We study in groups -- commonly in pairs -- and the material itself, as presented in the Talmud, is organized to expose the student to multiple points of view.

    It's interpretative pluralism, all right -- there's a reason for the expression "two Jews, three opinions -- but it doesn't have to be schismatic. Comparing, contrasting, discussing, and arguing about interpretations can bring a community *together*, if you learn to respect the text -- and each other -- as complex, difficult, many-layered, and worth struggling with.

  41. I'm not totally sure i agree with this. It seems a bit simplistic. You're right, there is one Catholic Church, but the only reason there is one Catholic Church is because throughout history they have expelled those who have disagreed with the magisterium on a variety of issues, particularly doctrine. Perhaps no church has been more successful (albeit unintentionally) at creating more churches than the Catholic Church. Martin Luther was not looking to begin a new church; he was looking to reform the One Church. However, the magisterium would not listen to Luther (even in matters which the Catholic Church might listen to him today) and thus was born the Reformation. So to say that a Magisterium is the only way to have a unified church is a fallacy. It's like saying, "The only way to have a unified company is to fire everyone that disagrees with you." Sure, that might create a unified company, but it also may create a lot of other companies too. I've been in church ministry now for over ten years, and I've got to say, the majority of people who come to our Protestant church have a Catholic upbringing.

  42. I've read some of Olson's critique. Essentially, his objections boil down (imo) to definition and taking exception to what he calls "generalities". Olson is often saying, "Not all the Evangelicals I know think/believe that way."

  43. When it's all said and done isn't our mandate to simply be "hospitable"? Haven't we of habit misread II Cor. 5:20 as "...we implore you in Christ’s name, be RIGHT..."?

  44. Restoration implies something was lost. We've been the same the whole time, with the same beliefs, in an unbroken chain of orthodoxy back to the Apostles themselves.

  45. At the risk of sounding sarcastic, when your whole Scripture reveals Christ the Messiah, and Jesus of Nazareth as that Christ, I'm sure there are a vast plurality of ways of ignoring that, and all of them are equally valid.

  46. The Church did "listen" in the form of a counter-reformation, resulting in the Council of Trent. The bottom line is - did Christ leave behind a book to guide his followers, or a Church?

  47. I would propose to you that the vast majority of Protestants have not given up Magisterium, they have simply shifted it from Rome to some other person, Whether it be Luther or Calvin or their local pastor or some new hotshot celebrity Preacher/Author/Travelling Salesman. I think it is a fair generalization that the mass of humanity wants to be told what to do/think/believe. They find someone who will do that for them. We now just have a marketplace of Magisteria to choose from.

  48. You should read the Catechism. The question this comes down to is authority. You have correctly discerned that the Bible alone cannot be an authority for an entire religion. You should read Mark Shea, By What Authority.

  49. Though I really like Olson, I think he is nitpicking and I think Smith's empirical evidence is insurmountable. One, Olson argues that there really isn't disagreement on "core" areas (at least not among academics). He says, "I know many evangelical scholars and some evangelical lay people who have NEVER believed in biblicism in Smith’s sense. ALL OR MOST OF THEM would deny that Scripture speaks with many voices on matters pertaining to basic Christian orthodoxy." Yet, there isn't even agreement on what is "basic Christian orthodoxy" that we must agree on to have fellowship even among scholars and certainly among the vast majority of lay people. This is the reality. Is atonement theology essential to "orthodoxy?" Ask John Piper (I bet he'd disagree and he's a major evangelical voice). People in Reformed circles are terrified of N.T. Wright and see him as a great danger - because of folks like Wright. On the ground - which should be the ultimate concern - Smith is dead on and Olson's evidence doesn't hold up in reality. Or ask Al Mohler about how he regards Pete Enns. This is the problem that Olson obfuscates - there is not a generous orthodoxy - tolerance is not present in the Evangelical world. There is not agreement really on core orthodoxy. Who, in fact, defines what is "basic Christian orthodoxy?" Olson has to really define this in detail. And, I would say that if he tried to do so - there would be push back from many scholars and certainly many believers. But, folks like Piper, and others Evangelical voices don't seem to be saying, "Hey, slight disagreement here, but we're good!" On the other hand, Olson argues essentially, "everyone knows there are differences and that's okay" (which is basically where the above piece ends; and I think something Smith would have been okay with in the past). I am in agreement as well. But, in reality, this is not the case - 'boots on the ground'. People leave churches and preachers are fired when all involved are in full agreement in Jesus as the Son of God, risen from the dead, etc. They just disagree on other areas (role of women; exactly how the Bible is inspired; the exact requirements for salvation). So, Olson is arguing against reality, it seems to me. What Smith is arguing about is true for 90-95-98% of the evangelical world (otherwise there would not be such pervasive divisiveness). There would be no resonance of the above article or with Smith's book among thousands - if Smith were wrong. But, Smith resonates with too many (which actually makes his point and undermines Olson's arguments ultimately - in other words, if scholars or lay people agree with Smith's argument that makes the case because Smith is largely arguing based on empirical data). That there are some who resonate with the above piece is a positive sign but that's the point.

  50. Every Protestant believes in a "Pope" - someone who interprets the Bible infallibly. It could be their pastor, their theology (from Luther, Calvin, etc.), or themselves (lead by the "holy Spirit.") This article is spot on. To be Protestant means to accept relativism. To make the Bible the supreme authority, when it was never meant to be such, is a disservice to our faith and to the Bible itself. Christ never asked someone to "write down" what he did or preached, but instead, passed on his authority and promised that it would be led by the Holy Spirit. The unbiblical, circular claim of Sola Scriptura is precisely what led me to the Catholic Church.

  51. I agree here, Richard. And I loved your above post. But, as doctrine is tied to morality (morality flows from one's 'doctrine') then it often does become a debate over doctrine. That's just what went on in the debates over slavery in the 1800's. It was a doctrinal discussion.

  52. One thing I'd say about the last part from Flood. I don't agree that it's always an "unquestioning reading of the Bible" or belief in an "infallible Bible" that leads to those things - rather it is human immorality. Richard Bauckham's piece on The Bible as History gets to this point. Human beings fail and Christians fail - like Israel failed - in choosing to oppress their opponents. This is a resolutely human failure. But, many Jews in Israel who viewed Scripture (what they had of it) as infallible did not oppress or abuse, etc.

  53. He neither gave a book (the Scripture already existed), nor did he give a church. He gave the Holy Spirit - Acts 1:8. The Holy Spirit led to the empowering and organization of the Church as well as to the inspiration of the Gospel accounts and Epistles.

    Either way, my point is that all of these things can be abused. The influence of sin will affect one's interpretation of Scripture, it will affect the magisterium, and it will affect how I perceive the Holy Spirit to be speaking.

  54. We are the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Latin Patriarch apostasized in 1014AD, and his successors and magisterium have been teaching innovations ever since, including the false doctrines of purgatory and indulgences that sparked the Reformation. Meanwhile, we're still here, saying the same things we've always said. Your Bishop, however, is welcome to return to orthodoxy at any time. We miss him ;-)

  55. You don't sound sarcastic, you sound like someone who doesn't get the basic point of the OP. Ignorant or bigoted? Don't make me choose.

  56. Neither. But this is a thread discussing Christian theology. Whatever a false religion does has absolutely no application to it. You don't accept Jesus of Nazareth and we do, so how can your methods of dealing with the Tanakh possibly lead us to a closer experience of Christ? I am sorry to be blunt about it, but that's more for my fellow Christians than you. Many of them seem to think that Judaism without Jesus is a valid path to God within the Christian tradition, and of course it is not.

  57. Excuse me, but this is a circular argument. You are the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. How do you know? Because you as the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church say so.

  58. What? No, that's the good thing about the Church - she doesn't dictate every single thing you have to believe. There's a TON of grey area because she takes her responsibility very seriously.

    The actual stuff that is handed down is tiny compared to all that we are left to wrestle with as sincere believers. Being Catholic doesn't allow you to check your brain or conscience at the door, either.

    And yes, there is one Catholic Church. We're pretty huge, our Pope lives at the Vatican, our beliefs are laid out in the Catechism. We're hard to miss - and everyone else that is Catholic with add-ons or detractions is, in fact, not Catholic. It's not that hard to figure out.

  59. “Being biblical means creating a big tent.”

    I am beginning to think that this “big tent” message may well be closer to the true heart of the gospel than I ever imagined in a lifetime of seeking to discern the unadulterated, doctrinally pure gospel. Although it makes my black and white brain cringe at the thought of it, perhaps all of this diversity of opinion on doctrine is God’s intent. (Please put away the torches, I swear I’m not a heretic.) We act as though the Christian life is about being able to recite, at a moment’s notice, the “right” doctrine. A middle school catechist can do that. But salvation is not about getting a gold star for a recitation. The gospel is spread and the healing blood of Christ flows in the give and take of sharing our insights and listening to others’ insights, even when they don’t line up with ours.

    My experience with a small group of men who, for over 20 years, have met once a week has shown me that it is the process of meeting together and sharing the Word, often in serious disagreement, that fosters genuine communion. That is breaking bread together. That is sharing the Bread of Life. And that is the tent we should be seeking to enlarge, not one that rigidly demands creedal adherence for admission. What I would not have believed a few years ago is that this is not a lowering of standards regarding biblical truth. There is an objective reality to that truth, but we must not forget that we are subjects of that reality who must seek to discern it, not define it. And we can only do that along with others in the Body.

    I promise I am not trying to self-promote. I don’t really write that much to have anything to promote, but if you want to read it, you are welcome to. It is called Sympathy for Zebras, Skeptics and Reprobates as a Clue to Understanding Scripture and can be found at www.devo140.com.

  60. I wonder how the Protestant option that you give is really comforting to people who are searching for universal Truth - not just consensus.

    When it boils down to it, isn't any other option besides the Magisterium, admitting Truth is relative - or that you might not have the tools to discover what it is, if it isn't? You either accept the Pope, or nominate yourself as he. Obviously, this was a huge reason for my conversion.

  61. If we're the oldest, the only church that has kept the same beliefs, the only church that has not apostasized from orthodox beliefs, and one with a direct leadership succession from the Apostles, what other conclusion could you draw?

  62. Wow. I came here through a link from slacktivist, where calling Judaism (or anything else) "a false religion" is beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse. I'll think I'll just step back and observe what the standards around here are like.

  63. "Are we Protestants neutered entirely, so long as an argument can be found in scripture?"

    I would tend to say yes. Ever since Jesus and the apostles passed off the scene, all we have to go by, in terms of anything with any real authority, are the scriptures that have been left behind. If, in fact, someone presents a biblical argument for a particular view or doctrinal position that they hold, it seems to me that, as Christian individuals, we have no right to call someone else a heretic, just because they hold views that seem strange to us or that may be contrary to our own interpretation of particular passages.

    This is not to discount 'orthodoxy', since it would be unwise to reject, out of hand, what a majority of Christians have believed and taught throughout, perhaps, many centuries. But it is to say, as the article above points out, I think, that if you're going to hold to sola scriptura (something that I would affirm, btw), then orthodoxy loses any authoritative weight, if, in fact, it ever held any, since orthodoxy relies so heavily on the opinions of men.

    So, yes, I think we should even neuter ourselves, if we must, in order not to go beyond what the scriptures call heresy, in our endeavor to promote purity in the church.

  64. My friend, I was discussing ideas, while your comment personally attacked me. I don't know why you think you can call me a bigot, but I can't disagree with a set of beliefs in what is a fairly mild statement about them. But oh well, blessings to you, I hope you do encounter the Living God in your pursuits.

  65. LOL, well I think there is very little that the Orientals dispute about Chalcedon these days, save the language used, so if we're narrowed down to that debate, I can rest easy!

  66. Is there really such a thing as sola scriptura? I mean, is it even possible to follow scripture alone, apart from SOMEONE's interpretation?

  67. Olson is clearly more irenic and gracious toward those who do not share is generous orthodoxy, if his can be so characterized, than they would be to him.

  68. I don't think that all or even most Protestants have a magisterium at all. There are plenty of us who are able to accept that we can't possibly know or interpret the whole of God's word infallibly or that the written Bible is in fact the whole of God's word. We're just not annoying or judgmental or intolerant or absolutely certain we are the only ones who have it right so we tend to get lost in the shuffle. I know God doesn't intend us to have that kind of certainty about everything and maybe I am a heretic, but I'm in good company. (Just ask Jesus when He's coming back.) I know whom I have believed and that's enough.

  69. Everything that Martin Luther came up with was based on getting rid of the Catholic church, devoid of reasoning and with no long term consideratioins.

    Sola Scriptura was a rejection of the Catholic church's belief in the authority of Apostolic tradition.

    To make people believe that they needed no authority (like a church) and prove that anybody can interpret scripture he had to reject all other methods of intertpretation except the most simple - the literal. (Then he went on an created his own authority Lutheranism.)

    Plus, the man had black and white thinking and was devoid of the spiritual.

    Biblical literalism doesn't work, because it is a false doctrine. It was never meant to be taken literally. When done so its truths are unrecognizable.

  70. Growing up in the Catholic church, I want to say that I admire that so much about the Jewish faith. Whever I truly want to understand a difficult Old Testament story I ALWAYS search for and rely on the Jewish interpretation of it. Christians of most denominations seem to dumb down issues and interpretations of scripture. Also, when I read spiritually based articles about current events written by rabbis they are deeper, and provide much more meaning and are more thought provoking than the christian counterparts.

    I long for the opportunity to be part of a small group of scripture studying such as that you mention!

  71. Perhaps the real joy of religion is the pursuit of God; the seeking -- not the infallible grasp of every facet of His nature or our doctrine. As nearly as I can tell, that leads to arrogance and division.

    Then again, beyond that, perhaps the real joy of religion is the pursuit of God by doing -- not to save oneself, but to express His love for others; to do His work in this world; to shine His nature among His creation with wild abandon and little thought for boundaries drawn by people.

    The Bible reveals His work and nature. Maybe it's not perfectly clear to imperfect thinkers, infallibly visible to flawed eyes, or unquestionably distinct to infallible listeners. But it's there. It's worth pursuing, thinking about, discussing, but most of all, doing and becoming.

  72. As to my earlier quip about the similarity between the "restorationist" like attitude sharedo between some EO and some CofC'ers...you are providing evidence for my quip.

    I have a genuine appreciation of EO Christology/theology. I have observed that when Evangelicals convert to EO they often become more orthodox than the Orthodox.

  73. ".. a Thomas Christian. .."

    For a couple secs there I thought you were claiming to follow me...;0)

  74. Check out Anglican \ Episcopal-ism. It may be a good home for you, at least temporarily. American Anglicanism tends to be fundamentalistic in my experience but the Liturgy is 1929 BCP traditional.

  75. (context: I live in Sweden)

    I'm at a very weird place in my life where my "regular" church/churc-family-community is a very much sola-scriptura baptist-evangelical-somewhat charismatic church, and it has been for 2 years now. But the last few months I have started attending the local Catholic mass and not long after that I have found a TOR/TOS Franciscan Monastery not far from where I live and I ended up spending almost 5 days there in October after breaking my leg, and with that, having a bit of a spiritual breakdown (which was very much needed). That experience transformed me in a myriad wonderful ways and I have been in love with the Franciscans and the Catholics ever since, despite my severe theological concerns. I go there for their values (especially the humility, gratitude and beauty I saw and found at the Franciscans), spirituality and God's presence.

    And God's presence trumps theology in my book, at this point in time.

    I did visit the only local Anglican church here, a nice small parish. It was good, and there I could take the Eucharist (I am not quite at the point of formally converting to Catholicism, but who knows, might get there sooner than I think), but... it seems like that for now, the Catholics and the Franciscans stole my heart.

  76. There you have it Tamas. I suggest that the Goodness of Father has been revealed among the Franciscans.

  77. (and through this blog and Richard's The Slavery of Death, and Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, and Brene Brown's books and... it's a long list. But it all came together and sunk into my heart from my brain at the Franciscans. Lately I've been reading Richard Rohr's books and those are life-changing, too, so far.)

  78. Sorry for writing so late . . . I love this post. LOVE. "In the end, if you're going to be biblical you're going to have to learn to be tolerant." And . . . I would add . . . if you're going to be biblical you're going to have learn to see the diversity (argument/tension) within the confines of the Bible itself not only the diversity/tension of the interpreters of said Bible. The Bible is a symphony (many parts, many players, many perspectives) . . . not a solo act. Thanks for writing, Richard. Your writing is making a difference.

    Josh Graves

  79. It's interesting to see people using this article as an argument FOR doctrinal pluralism rather than one AGAINST sola scriptura and seeking an alternative to it. To be sure, tolerance is a great value, but Christianity is, if nothing else, a revelation of God to mankind of Himself and His saving acts (or as the ancients called it, a gospel). When God reveals Himself, He can't be of two opposing natures simultaneously. He doesn't reveal Himself one way to one person, and the opposite way to another.

    There are, as I note in this thread, plenty of those who say it doesn't matter about the specifics as long as we are pious, moral, giving and show "Christian values", which is all very well, but that's not the (only) goal of Christian faith. The ultimate goal is to know God, the real, true God, and unite ourselves to Him in a communing relationship with Him. We can only go so far toward that goal if we believe things about Him that are false.

    We know this to be true in our earthly relationships. How close can you get to someone if they believe some fact about you that is just plain wrong, and won't hear evidence to the contrary? It doesn't deepen the friendship. So there is a vital need to "be right" about God, or at least to seek the truths that have already been revealed, since God is ultimately mysterious.

    I continue to believe that St Vincent of Lerins had it right in how we discern that truth. He said:

    “I HAVE often then inquired… how and by what sure and so
    to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of
    catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have
    always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect:
    That… we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways;
    first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of
    the catholic Church.

    “But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is
    complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than
    sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the
    Church’s interpretation? For this reason, – because, owing to the depth
    of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but
    one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it
    seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are

    “For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus
    another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris,
    Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly,
    Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so
    great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right
    understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in
    accordance with the standard of ecclesiastical and catholic

    “Moreover, in the catholic Church itself, all possible care must be
    taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere,
    always, by all. …This rule we shall observe if we follow universality,
    antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one
    faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses;
    antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it
    is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers;
    consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the
    consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of
    almost all priests and doctors.”

  80. the person in charge is the same today as it was 2000 years ago--Jesus. he said to follow the HS to the truth and that is what the church should be doing instead of pursuing secular ideology, personal interpretation and fads.

  81. "To be Protestant means to accept relativism." the statement is ridiculous. God alone holds the truth without corruption. No pope, council, magisterium, scholar, or lay person is going to get it right. We must hold to what has been clearly revealed to us and be comfortable with the ambiguity faith in God sometimes requires.

  82. It is true in that to the extent that we use Scripture, or ignore it, to further our own ideals, we create division... on the other hand... it seems the problem with the narrow-minded scribes and Pharisees, et al, was not merely that they were seeking the Christ in the Scriptures (at least not as, for example, the Berean Jews found themselves admirably accepting Christ as verified by Scripture), but that despite their pride-clouded analysis of Scripture (clouded, as ours is tempted to be), they were unable to recognize Him when He came in the flesh. Perhaps our problem today is the same... we fail let to acknowledge the Body as well as we can through grace, embracing the wisdom of the Scripture, but without pride.

  83. I should have clarified what I meant by experience, in the context of the Gospel of Thomas. According to Jesus, in this gospel, the goal of seeking is a constant experience of our true nature, which lies in every heart. It is described variously as a state of wholeness, of unity with all, of our very own Self. Here is Jesus, explaining the Kingdom of God and describing what he is referring to:
    Logion 3: ...Only when you come to know your true Self will you become fully known...
    Logion 48: Should two make peace in one house, they could speak the word, "Move! " to a mountain, and it would obey them.
    Logion 49: Jesus says, Blessed are those chosen and unified. The realm of the Kingdom is theirs...
    Logion 61: ... "I am he who has appeared to you out of the realm of Unity, having been granted that which belongs to my Father, its Source....if you become whole you will be full of Light. If you remain fragmented darkness will fill you.
    Logion 111: ...Jesus says, "The cosmos is not worthy of the one who discovers the Self."

    Translated by Lynn Bauman from the Gospel of Thomas

  84. I have read this comment now a dozens of times; I’m transfixed. At once it seems to capture the contemporary zeitgeist and to resonant with so many others, yet also it seems to lack something important, something just out of view.

    Perhaps it’s because I am temperamentally oriented towards chaos that I take such issue with the sentiment of this comment. Or maybe it’s just that I find the certainty in ambiguity here to be too self-referentially incoherent. I don’t know.

    For no one believes that they have access to absolute certainty! And no one thinks they cannot know anything. We all wrestle somewhere in between. So I see people reacting to this and to that extreme—moving this way and that way.

    Some have been burnt by ambiguity, tossed this way and that by ‘words of knowledge’ and prophecy. Others have been crushed by the intolerance of tolerance or the legalism of what’s cool. Some are simply tired of the myriad of incongruent truth claims all asking for an equal place at the table of reason. These people shift, however slowly, toward more rigorous and narrow answers, choosing to come down out of the clouds of indecision and exist in a particular community with clear and distinct boundaries, more robust notions of truth and authority. (whether right or wrong)

    Others, though, feel burnt by how small their view once was of the world, of how disturbing their view was of the ‘Other’. They've been shown how myopic their theology and practice has been. And so now they feel chastened in their opinions of what is true. With new forms of communication it is impossible to stay ignorant of the views of others. Through movies and song, by the internet or just a trip to the mall we get a better glimpse into the worldview and lives of our neighbors, and so we know longer feel so quick to judge. To this group I think there is a real feeling of joining in on an adventure and in of gaining humility and grace, which is synonymous with openness—of interpreting through the lens of love. There is a cosmopolitan resonance here, a growing towards unity in contradistinction to the small dark bastions of fundamentalism around the world. (whether right or wrong)

    Maybe I’m messed, I just find these two groups fascinating as they pass one another in the dark…

  85. Looking at it from the other side, what convinced you? I'm honestly interested as a possibly-maybe-could be-we'll see Catholic convert. I am past the "oh those crazy Catholics are worshiping idols" idea I grew up with, and I think I grasp the basics of the theology around Mary and her being an intercessor and everything but it's still a tough pill to swallow somewhat and it just makes me a bit... uneasy which in no doubt is related to my upbringing mentioned above.

  86. Ya' know, that's a good question and I'm not entirely sure myself, although I can point to a few things that have certainly played a role.

    The first is I've realized Catholicism already knows much of what I've recently been learning about the breadth and depth of Christian thought. Like many, I was raised to believe that Christianity was contained within the conservative Evangelical box and that anything outside that box was more or less faux-Christian. I've spent the last few years - which was preceded by completely falling away from faith for a decade and a half or so - trying to immerse myself in as much and as diverse theology as I could find (including this blog). This process has led me to discover people like Peter Enns, N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, etc., who are trying to encourage Evangelicals to embrace "new" ideas that Catholics already accept. I know many have found N.T. Wright's work, especially, to point them to Catholicism.

    The second is that I've found it difficult in the Protestant world (speaking of my local churches) to find a middle ground between the extremes of fundamentalism and liberal theology. So, as I move away from churches that insist on a young earth, I move toward churches that openly support abortion. It's not easy to find a place where I can be pro-life, pro-sacrament, pro-environment, pro-immigration, pro-social justice, and pro-Harry Potter. I have found the Catholic church to represent not so much a moderate set of doctrines, but more a hybrid of positions that I feel are most consistent with a Christian worldview.

    Like you, though, I am not completely comfortable. I have a lot of questions. But so far I find Catholicism to be the most reliable expression of the Christian faith.

    Given your background, I think you'd enjoy Jim Tonkowich's "How NOT to Become a Catholic." He's a former Presbyterian minister who converted to Catholicism, so I think you'll find his essay to include great advice. I'd also recommend listening to the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast. While not exactly scholarly, it's a great place to start to make sense of some Catholic.... er.... stuff that is utterly foreign to many Protestants, and the hosts recommend a lot of great books to read.

  87. Thanks for the recommendation, I read through Tonkowich's essay, an he has some interesting points.

    I understand your point about Enns/Wright/McKnight... but, I am sort of a "small-c catholic" on this one, What I mean is, yeah, sure, maybe the Catholics figured it already, but that is not really the point, in my humble view: the point is, they are all talking about the same thing, just with different vocabulary.

    I can very much see why you feel that "Catholicism to be the most reliable expression of the Christian faith" and I would say that in certain things, that may be right: I am just very averse of anything that leans towards the expression "We know it best".

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