Solo Scriptura and the unique inspiration of the Protestant Canon

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser wrote a series of posts defending the Bible against an anti-theist advocating its burning.


Here is what he wrote about challenges formulated by nice atheistic philosopher Jason Thibodeau:

“Perhaps most revealing are Jason Thibodeau‘s comments for they reveal a person who seems to be fundamentally confused on the parameters of the discussion. Jason quotes me:

“that is a good illustration of Jason’s overall objection to the Bible. He starts out with bold, magisterial claims about what any author or editor would or would not do as alleged grounds to reject the Bible. “

And then he retorts:

“And what does Randal’s argument for the magisterial claim that the Bible is sacred literature consist of? I have no idea, he has never provided one.”

The problem here is that I never set out to provide an evidential argument that the Bible is in some sense revelation (or as Thibodeau puts it, “sacred literature”). Rather, from the beginning I have simply been rebutting putative defeaters to the Bible’s being in some sense revelation. Jason’s apparent complaint that I have failed to meet a demand I never set out to meet in the first place appears to be either a desperate attempt to redraw the parameters of the debate based on his failed arguments or a more basic confusion about what was being debated in the first place.

Jason’s confusion deepens in an additional comment. He starts off quoting me:

“At this point the weight of Jason’s rebuttal consists of his observation that he finds it difficult to believe Jones would do this. That’s it. But that’s not a serious rebuttal. It is simply a statement of personal incredulity.”

And then he wryly comments “Pot, meet kettle” and quotes my own statement of “personal incredulity”:

“This claim about the moral obligation of the author or editor strikes me as completely ridiculous.”

Yes, Jason thinks he’s being clever here. But in fact he is simply placing his own confusion into broader relief. You see, as I have noted our entire discussion is predicated on Jason’s alleged ability to provide defeaters that should rationally persuade Christians that the Bible cannot be in some sense revelation. That’s what he aims to do with J-MAP. Thus the Christian believes p and Jason is aiming to show that the Christian ought not believe p. The way one does this is by presenting a logically valid argument with plausible premises. Thus, the fact that Jason’s premises rest on nothing more than his own personal incredulity is devastating for the success of his argument. For Jason to reply “Pot, meet kettle” suggests that he doesn’t even understand he has shouldered a burden of proof with J-MAP and has utterly failed to meet that burden of proof.”


And here is my response.


Hello Randal.

I think you make some good points, such as asking what Jason means by “sacred scripture”.

However I was truly put off by your dismissive and haughty tone.

Jason is not being absurd or confused at all and most people who don’t share your Evangelical convictions are much more inclined towards his side rather yours.
He is a very kind, respectful and humble person and clearly deserves our own respect in return.
You generally produce writings of excellent quality so that it is a true pity you resorted to such a language.

I personally find it problematic to believe that God was directly responsible  for the Protestant Canon as His unique revelation while desiring the presence of erroneous terror texts whose most likely and straightforward interpretation is that He directly commanded atrocities.

I take a view similar to that of Thom Stark and believe that God did not  cause  the formation of the current Canon but rather appropriates it in the same way He appropriates writings of C.S. Lewis despite his mistakes and those of Martin Luther in spite of his egregious statements about the Jews.

I know that this must seem utterly repugnant for every kind of Evangelical. But since the Protestant Canon cannot set his unique authority by itself, an Evangelical could only appeal to the tradition of the Church. And he cannot take this way since Apocryphal books, infant baptism and the adoration of saints were widely (if not universally) accepted during a great part of the Church’s history.

To my mind and that of many non-Evangelical progressive Christians, viewing the Bible in the manner I described above is the only way to be honest to the text and honest to the Almighty Himself.





10 thoughts on “Solo Scriptura and the unique inspiration of the Protestant Canon

  1. Lotharson, suppose we establish a “trustworthiness” index of books in the Bible or even sections of those books. What non-Protestant-canonized books do you think rank along with the books of the Bible?

    P.S. It’s sola scriptura.

  2. Lotharson,
    Thank you very much for your kind words. I appreciate them.

    I am not very familiar with Thom Stark’s views. I will need to fix that. I’m not sure that I understand what it means for God to appropriate a text. Does he appropriate the whole text? Only parts? Take C.S. Lewis; In appropriating his texts, God cannot be approving of the fallacious arguments right? But, if it is only parts of the texts, how can we know which parts God appropriates?

    So, I suppose I need to learn more about Stark’s view, and yours.

    As for what I mean by “sacred scripture,” I did offer the following definition at one point during the long discussion:

    something is sacred if it deserves respect/veneration because of its association with God (or, more generally, with the divine).

    A text is venerated to the extent that we regard it as containing significant and/or transcendent truths and that we believe the “truths” in it because of our respect for it.

    If you are interested, I wrote a kind of summary of the discussion with Randal here.

    • Dear Jason, thanks for your answer!

      Again I am sorry for the way Randal treated you.

      It is a pity that his (sometimes) arrogant tone reduces the quality of his otherwise excellent blog.

      If God is perfectly loving and just, appropriating a text means using it to morally and spiritually edify and enlighten people.

      While reading the Bible, I (try to) always consider the cultural and historical background of the authors before judging them and their morality.

      In the same way it would be wrong to mock them for being scientifically extremely ill-informed, it would be wrong to disdain them for their primitive theology and morality if they did not know better.
      I view steps towards moral improvement as steps towards the Almighty Himself.
      This (of course) also holds true for Pagan Religions and I am in good company here since the apostle Paul approvingly quoted Greek poets writing about Zeus.

      Of course,this raises lots of questions.

      I am writing a response to the email of a struggling Christian where I will deal with all of this.

      ” something is sacred if it deserves respect/veneration because of its association with God (or, more generally, with the divine).”

      I don’t think I view the whole Bible in that way but rather the revelation of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

      ” A text is venerated to the extent that we regard it as containing significant and/or transcendent truths and that we believe the “truths” in it because of our respect for it.”

      Well it can be the other way around: one can see a text as sacred BECAUSE it is so awesome.
      Actually I think there is a secular sacredness too.

      Lovely greetings from the sunny England / Liebe Gruesse aus dem sonnigen England

  3. Thanks for the post Lotharson. Here’s some more ramblings;

    I had been following some of this debate, but gave up in the end. I personally thought Randall was actually going a bit far in his criticism of some of the “atheist” postings and was writing about what he thought the writers meant, or going beyond what was actually said, to critical conclusions of where he thought their arguments would lead.

    I’m aware of a few aspects of these arguments, having spent a fair amount of time in Evangelical circles here in the UK. My current conclusions, held for a good few years now, are that there is too much tradition in Protestantism, masquerading as the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

    In my mind there is a weighted reliance on the major “Reformers”, having got their theology “right”. I get a feeling that a good few protestants seem to be still fighting the battles of the 16th Century and hang on to an anti-Catholic anti-Orthodox anti-anything-which-isn’t-like-us mentality, which doesn’t seem to have paid much attention to how things have changed over the intervening 500 years.

    Speaking as a Brit, I see a lot of this battling and arguing as being a predominantly and almost exclusively American phenomena which to me is alien. I think it’s to do with the formulation of the “American mind and culture” which has strong roots in America being founded as a new entity based very strongly on protestantism without the history and memory of anything different. This has lead to the two major Myths, one being American exceptionalism and the other being the idea of Christian Civilisation, as it is in the American experience. Both of which seem very resistant to an objective critical re-evaluation.

    Over here in the UK (I can’t speak so much for the Europeans!), having lost the sense of World domination and self confidence in being the best and correct. I think we are much more self critical and more likely to look back historically and see problems within the Protestant tradition along with other more secular views on aspects of our culture. It is therefore easier to recognise that we have more in common with other Christian traditions and that maybe there is a lot more wrong with how we got here, and more right with other traditions than we previously thought.

    Due to this we can probably easier see mystery in God’s revelation and nature and be more thoughtful about scripture and tradition. A fair proportion of American “Christianity” sees Christianity as Protestant Christianity and has a very strong need to feel assured that it is correct. This has resulted in the doctrine of “Inerrancy”, which to my mind is just a desperate attempt to be right about faith. As I said further up, this strong desire to be “right” is more about Luther and Calvin being right, with an appeal to scripture to authenticate their “right conclusions”, because scripture is “right” (and they interpret it “right”).

    Once again I am using sweeping generalisations, which don’t really describe individuals, but I feel it gives some kind of “feel” to what I see going on.

    In terms as to what “Scripture” is, I’ve never really thought it was an “inerrant” completely authoritative set of instructions dictated by God to man. It seems much more like a collaboration between God and broken man. I can’t see that he would over-ride who the writers were, but would join with them in producing something which man alone could not. Peter Enns’ “Inspiration and Incarnation” puts this view quite well.

    I wouldn’t go as far as you (Lotharson), in equalising the biblical canon with a lot of other “religious writings”, but I would recognise that there is more in common with “the canon” and non-canonical writings. Probably by blurring the distinctions and making some hierarchy of “inspired writing”.

    To our atheist friends and foes I would say that God will not be seen by looking at “inerrant God produced writings” or by looking at “Christian Civilisation”, because these are actually all tainted by the errancy, brokenness and sinfulness of man himself. The “great heroes of the faith” such as Luther and Calvin, are not in my mind the best examples to look at for evidence of God. This is in all the “little people” who have struggled with their faith, oppression, the brokenness of the World and their own lives. As to the manner with which scripture has helped them in that, will you find the value of scripture. (unfortunately historians pay a lot less attention to the “bit-players” so they probably leave a lot less evidence than the “major stars”).

    There seems to me to be no mention by Jesus of a dominant God-led Civilisation, or the World being completely sorted out by following “His Instruction Manual”. All he asked was to follow him in humility and probably suffer, rather than become triumphal dictators and run all the crime out of Dodge City.

    • “Speaking as a Brit, I see a lot of this battling and arguing as being a predominantly and almost exclusively American phenomena which to me is alien. I think it’s to do with the formulation of the “American mind and culture” which has strong roots in America being founded as a new entity based very strongly on protestantism without the history and memory of anything different”

      Speaking as an American Catholic convert, I agree with you. I left Protestantism partly because of this uniquely American mindset. I believe that some of my Protestant friends and family mistake Jesus for Uncle Sam. As you say, our history is very young, and our memories are lacking. Thanks for your great addition to this blog.

    • “Over here in the UK (I can’t speak so much for the Europeans!), h”

      Hey you’re Europeans too 🙂

      While wandering though the UK I find a strong Germanic, French and to a lesser extent Celtic background.
      Being a Germanic Frenchman, I feel good (sometimes almost at home) in many places as a consequence.

      I still feel extremely shocked by Brits speaking of us as “Europeans” as if they did not themselves belong to this group.

      To my mind this is a form of self-denial whose origin remains extremely mysterious.

      So I wish that British people would rather employ the expressions “Européens continentales” or “Fest Land Europäer” while speaking about us 🙂

      • Hope I wasn’t offensive Lotharson :-). I put an exclamation mark in to try and show I was joking.

        Although everyone here came from Somewhere else and the Angles, Saxons, Norse and Normans etc have been very influential, we have a peculiar view of ourselves which I think is due to being an island nation. In many respects we are as European as anyone else, but the isolationist fact of not wanting to get our feet wet has given us this very strong view. I don’t know if our differences are greater than any other culture’s differences.When I was younger, everyone said they were going to Europe if we crossed the channel.

        Additionally, as we’ve had wars with virtually everyone on the continent (not sure about Portugal) and developed a large empire, mainly far away, we feel quite different from our near neighbours. It may just be due to us being too lazy to learn anyone else’e language.

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