Saturday, November 1, 2008

Answer 2 from Affirmative

I had written: “(VII) Not all of the teachings of Scripture are equally clear, but the things necessary to be known for salvation are clearly taught, so that even uneducated people can understand them.”

MB asked: “My question is, why should anyone believe that your interpretation of Sacred Scripture or any other Protestant group's interpretation is the correct one, and why should anyone believe that you or they can determine what is necessary and what is not?”

That’s (at least) two questions already (more below). The answer to the first should be obvious: compare my interpretation to the infallible rule of faith (Scripture), pray to God for wisdom, use the fallible tools that you have (whether that be lexicons, church teachings, etc.), and see whether my interpretations are correct. As Augustine put it, in his letter (147) to Paulina: “I do not want you to depend on my authority, so as to think that you must believe something because it is said by me; you should rest your belief either on the canonical Scriptures, if you do not yet see how true something is, or on the truth made manifest to you interiorly, so that you may see clearly.”

The answer to the second is two-fold. First, knowing what is necessary (or not) to salvation is not itself necessary to salvation. Second, one must believe that the Scripture is able to make us wise unto salvation. I don’t insist that people have to delineate precisely what is necessary (versus unnecessary) to know to be saved for themselves to be saved. I wonder whether MB simply has misunderstood the WCF and me. We are not claiming that Scripture clearly delineates each of the necessary from all the unnecessary, but that Scripture clearly teaches those things that are themselves necessary (such as, for example, theism).

MB also asked (third question, for those counting): “Why do so many “necessary” teachings regarding salvation differ from each other, when all of these “denominations” are using the same method that you are using, all claiming that these “necessary” doctrines are so easy to arrive at from Sacred Scripture?”

MB cited a seminary web site that identified 9000 denominations. Although MB thinks “they all profess a belief that everything we need to know about salvation is clear in Sacred Scripture,” MB is mistaken. That 9000 number includes plenty of denominations that don’t profess such a belief. I wish that they all did. I’ll further answer this question with the next.

MB asked (fourthly): “If they are so easy to understand then why isn't something such as salvation and justification agreed upon?

In broad terms there is wide agreement on things like salvation and justification. The more detail you introduce, the less agreement you see. A simple explanation is that a very detailed understanding is not something necessary for a person to know to be saved. That’s something even most of Rome’s own apologists would admit.

a) There are many things that prevent people from seeing clear truths. Sometimes it is hardness of heart – sometimes it is blind guides. (See, for example, Matthew 15:14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.)

b) More importantly, there is a difference between knowing the things that are necessary for salvation and knowing which things are necessary for salvation. A simple faith may be unable to explain theology well, but it does not mean that the necessary things are unknown to that person. In other words, one can know the necessary things for salvation without being able clearly to distinguish the necessary things from the remaining things.

c) In broad terms there is wide agreement on things like salvation and justification. The more detail you introduce, the less agreement you see. A simple explanation is that a high level of detail is not something necessary for a person to know in order to be saved. That’s something that would even be admitted by your own church. It is not necessary fully to understand Trent’s doctrine of justification in order to be saved according to most of Catholicism’s spokesmen.

MB brought up the issue of perseverance; I don’t know very many Christians who would consider that knowing whether people can lose their salvation is something that is necessary for salvation. In fact, we also not saved by knowing how we are saved – we are saved by trusting in the finished work of Christ alone for our salvation. MB also brings up predestination, but Catholicism itself permits differences of opinion between Molinists and Thomists on that issue. MB mentions baptism too, but interestingly virtually all the 9000 denominations he identified would practice baptism in some form.

MB claimed, “… among these denominations that hold to Sola Scriptura, many disagree with each other as to what is and what is not, "necessary".” They may indeed disagree about that. I cannot think of any, however, who would say one has to know which things are necessary, in order to be saved.

For the purposes of this debate, though, one wonders why MB does not direct this criticism toward Chrysostom, who (making the same point the WCF and I make) declared, “All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; all things that are necessary are plain.” Meanwhile, dear reader, keep in mind, as Augustine said (same letter as above): “My reason for inserting these opinions of such great men on such a great subject was not to make you think that anyone's interpretation should be accepted with the authority due to the canonical Scripture, but that those who are otherwise minded may try to see with their mind what is true, and to seek God in the simplicity of their heart, and cease to find fault so rashly with the learned expounders of the divine words.”

- TurretinFan

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