Christopher Benson—a Mere-O reader and verbal ombudsman—has an excellent post up at his blog where he replies to Jonathan Fitzgerald’s insistence that ambiguity ought to be our reply when asked about making a moral pronouncement about homosexuality. Benson states,

Where the Bible leaves him [Fitzgerald] uncertain about the moral status of homosexuality, it inspires enough confidence in me to make a pronouncement. Notice my word choice: confidence. Moral judgments only require confidence; they don’t need to satisfy Immanuel Kant’s condition for apodictic certainty, i.e., certainty beyond dispute.

[…]

My concern is that Fitzgerald and other progressive evangelicals have adopted postures of uncertainty because they’re relying on their own reason to shore up their doubts rather than permitting the Spirit to vouchsafe “the unassailable truth” of Scripture. Calvin supplies us with a test for the proper reading of Scripture: Do we subject Scripture to our judgment and wit or do we subject our judgment and wit to Scripture? To use spatial language, it’s the difference between lording ourselves over the text versus lowering ourselves under the text.

[…]

Fitzgerald’s “I don’t know” often becomes an excuse for relinquishing trust in the Word of God when its judgments areleast like ours. By contrast, Helm’s “I don’t know” is a cause for deepening trust when mistrust tempts us to conform Scripture to our judgments rather than conform our judgments to Scripture.

[…]

Our postmodern society is characterized by its ironic judgment against all judgments. In that setting, what strategy is easier: to choose silence when the apostle Paul says homosexual practice is “contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:8-11) or to persist in believing that what was entrusted to Paul and the early church is also entrusted to us – however puzzling or offensive? Trust builds confidence in our moral judgments. This confidence is not internally produced but externally conferred by the Spirit who attests to the perdurable truths of Scripture.

I’d point you to the full article for further review.

Posted by Andrew Walker

  • cmeyer

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention Andrew. Yes, CB, I really shouldn’t have needed anyone to bring it to my attention because I already read your blog. But since I’ve been traveling this is the first I’ve heard of it. And, man, in contrast to the other conversations I’ve been seeing online lately (Rob Bell’s recent media firestorm, to name one example) this conversation is serious without being salacious.

    Oh, and it’s orthodox to boot.

    Sweet action Christopher – cheers.

  • Christof: Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad to hear you’re reading my blog. As of late, I’ve gently but firmly pressed Mr. Fitzgerald when his provocation and rhetoric trump argumentation. I hope he’ll respond.

  • Bill Cobbett

    Andrew,

    You say, “This confidence is not internally produced but externally conferred by the Spirit who attests to the perdurable truths of Scripture.”

    The problem with this interpretive paradigm is that it is radically subjective. And this manifestly so. Every sincere Protestant, Bible in hand, claims the affirming witness of the Spirit in order to justify his own particular reading of Scripture.

    And there are thousands of different denominations all claiming the proper interepretation of Scripture and all claiming the leading of the Spirit. So this principle is not sufficient to do the work that is claimed. It is a bankrupt approach, just look around you.

    The fact is that you (or Alber Mohler) have absolutely no more authority to claim an authentic interpretation of Scripture than the next Protestant.

    And the problem with this approach is that it is grounded in a principle that is not taught in Scripture. Sola Scriptura is the foundation principle of all of Protestantism and it cannot be found in Scripture.

    So how do you know you should follow sola scriptura?

    Until you honestly address this presumption you will never find a solution to the doctrinal chaos that characterizes the Protestant movement.

    I direct you to the fine discussion at Called to Communion:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

    Cheers

    • Andrew Walker

      Bill,

      Those were not my words, but Christophers. I merely quoted him. Please direct your concerns towards him, please.

      Andrew

    • Bill:

      Thanks for your engagement with my article. I hope you have visited the link to read the excerpts in context.

      (1) Clarification: I invoked the self-attestation of Scripture and not sola Scriptura, although there is some overlap between these principles.

      (2) “Yes or no” question: Do you believe Scripture has the capacity to testify to itself by the testimony of the Spirit?

      (3) The self-attestation of Scripture isn’t “radically subjective,” as you claim, because you’re only focusing on the subjective pole (the reader’s interpretation) and not on the objective pole (the testimony of the Spirit). The weight must rest on the objective pole, in which the Spirit inspires confidence (not apodictic certainty) in the reader that the Word of God “has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men” (John Calvin).

      A plurality of interpretations doesn’t negate the self-attestation of Scripture. I affirm that the Bible contains the fullness of truth but that doesn’t entail the univocity of truth. The Spirit chooses to work through plurivocity (multiple voices), both in terms of the biblical writers and readers. We needn’t fear an “anything-goes” relativism because, as philosopher Merold Westphal puts it, the text has “a rather remarkable recalcitrance in the presence of arbitrariness.” In the case of Jonathan Fitzgerald’s reluctance to make pronouncements about homosexuality, I fear that he’s being rather arbitrary when the texts on homosexuality are exegetically clear in their judgment about its sinfulness. (I’ll concede there might be some hermeneutical ambiguity, but not as much as some would claim.) In conclusion, how do I know I should affirm the self-attestation of Scripture (or sola Scriptura)? The answer is easy: what the Bible attests to, first and foremost, is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Convinced of this, I can be confident that it contains “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

  • Bill

    Christopher,

    You ask, “”Yes or no” question: Do you believe Scripture has the capacity to testify to itself by the testimony of the Spirit?”

    This simply isn’t a “yes or no” question, or at least it isn’t helpful in dealing with the subject at hand. The question is “What provision did God make to secure the meaning of the Revelation he gave to man?” You say sola scriptura, I think this has been manifestly insufficient. And a casual glance at the doctrinal chaos of Protestantism ought to at least demand a careful consideration of that judgment.

    You say, “In conclusion, how do I know I should affirm the self-attestation of Scripture (or sola Scriptura)? The answer is easy: what the Bible attests to, first and foremost, is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Convinced of this, I can be confident that it contains “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).”

    This is evasive. No one disputes that the Scriptures contain “the words of eternal life” so you have made a distinction without a difference. The “self-attestation of Scripture” is not equivalent to the principle of sola scriptura (which is a clearly defined principle). Besides to whom is the Scripture “self-attesting”? When I read Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli (to go back to the beginning) I see wildly different interpretations of critical aspects of Christian teaching (the Priesthood, apostolic succession, the Eucharist, Baptism, etc.) How is this “self-attesting”?

    My questions are very specific: 1) Where does the New Testament teach that those who follow Christ should adhere to the principle of sola scriptura? and 2) since this was impossible for the first generation of Christians (since the New Testament hadn’t been written and yet the Church existed) at what point does God direct his people to transition from following the authority of the Apostles to following sola scriptura and exactly how did they know this?

    • Bill:

      This is wandering from the subject at hand: the reluctance among progressive evangelicals to make pronouncements on homosexuality due to uncertainty about the biblical witness. The self-attestation of Scripture is the relevant principle to invoke. For purpose of my blog post, I’m not interested in going down the rabbit hole to explore Sola Scriptura. Your questions might be answered from reading the November/December 2010 issue of Modern Reformation which was devoted to Sola Scriptura, especially these essays:

      * The Gospel and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Church of the Word or Word of the Church? By Michael S. Horton
      * The Formation of the Christian Bible By L. W. Hurtado
      * Responding to Objections to Sola Scriptura By Kenneth Richard Samples
      * Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross

  • Bill

    Hi Christopher,

    I am familiar with the literature. I have studied it very carefully. But not only have I studied the Protestant perspective (seeing as Modern Reformation is a Protestant journal and not likely to publish something where they think they come out poorly) I have read all of the articles on Called to Communion (written in large part by former advocates of sola scriptura). I have tried to approach the controversy without prior commitments.

    I brought up sola scriptura because it is at the heart of your interpretive paradigm and not down a rabbit hole (it is always first principles that are determinative). And I think it is an untenable principle, as do many others who have examined the literature.

    Nevertheless, I am willing to start where you desire on the issue. First I will need to clearly understand what you mean by the above statement that the “self-attestation of Scripture is the relevant principle to invoke”. I presume you are invoking Calvin’s classic position on Scripture being self attesting but if you could clearly state what you mean it would be helpful.

    Cheers