Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why I'm Catholic - A Look at some Solas

At the request of a variety of Bibliobloggers, I'm going to post a few short posts on why I up and decided to become Catholic. I will say from the beginning that this is in no way an offensive on all things not Catholic. I'm not looking to be an Apologist for the Catholic Church (we have plenty already). I am, however, willing to explain why I went from a very staunch Southern Baptist to a Catholic.

I took a class on Reformation Theology/History at Southeastern. We, of course, learned about all of the Solas upon which the Reformation was founded. However, early on I found myself disagreeing with some of them. For instance, Sola Scriptura itself is found nowhere within Scripture. I found this troubling. One can amass a variety of proof-texts, but they really only ever amount to a high view of Scripture and never Scripture alone.

Because I like to think in historical terms (I'm terrible with systematic theology, but I've really begun to appreciate historical theology) rather than abstract ideas not grounded in a specific movement, I thought about the history of the things written in the Bible, particularly the words of the Prophets or the sermons in the book of Acts. If I believed in Sola Scriptura I felt as if I had to believe that the words of those Prophets and the Apostles in Acts only became true after being set down on papyri.

Thirdly, I began to find texts that pointed me in different directions, away from Sola Scriptura. For instance, I read in 2 Thess 2:15 that Paul encouraged those at Thessalonika to continue in what they had received, both by word and what was written. This seemed to prove to me that one of the earliest Churches could not themselves have maintained Sola Scriptura. Or, Jesus' mentioning of the "chair of Moses" as authoritative in Matt 23, or Paul mentioning the names of the men who opposed Moses in 2 Tim 3:8 - both of these are found nowhere in the OT, and that's because they were part of Israel's Tradition. Now, did it only become historical fact that Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses at the moment of Paul's penning 2 Timothy, or could that bit of historical truth have been just as God-breathed as others?

Particularly in Southern Baptist circles, the Church universal's role is downgraded or over-spiritualized. However, when I came across 1 Timothy 3:15 and read that Paul wrote that the Church is the "pillar and foundation of truth", something really shook me. What Church is the pillar? Why, if sola scriptura were true, would something outside of Scripture be considered the "pillar and foundation of truth"? I knew that if I had a text that read, "and Scripture is the pillar and foundation of truth", I wouldn't hesitate one bit to use that as proof of sola scriptura - so what do I do with a text that points me to something else?


Chris Tilling said...

Interesting stuff.

You read the 1 Tim passage and asked: "What Church is the pillar?" I can't help but wonder if that is asking an innapropriate question of the text - the church, simply, is the pillar.

So glad you are writing this series.

Josh McManaway said...

Hey Chris, thanks for commenting.

I'm not so sure that's the wrong question. Paul uses the imagery of "body" to describe the Church. If he were talking about something unseen, I can't help but imagine he'd use the more appropriate metaphor of "soul of Christ." The unseen also seems to go against what Jesus says about a city on a hill, lights to be seen, etc.

Chris Tilling said...

Hi Josh, thanks for your response. I didn't mean to suggest that a visible church was beyond Paul's horizon, surely not, but today when we ask this question, as your post implies, there are immediate and anachronistic "denominational oneness" overtones. And when the text is taken in this direction I struggle. Like Küng, I think the title "church" and its unity, while certainly visible, "has nothing to do with the mythological magic of the number one" (Küng, Die Kirche, 325).

For sure, though, my comment(whether right or wrong) was not meant to detract from your main points - it was just a stray thought I had while reading. I think you make important points. I also am not sure about (at least) modern interpretations of sola scriptura (although possibly I can accept it as a practice - Vanhoozer, and ecclesial posture). However, I cannot but feel a bit uneasy when the "pillar of truth" is, later down the road of argument, equated with the RC church. But I know, I'm running too far ahead now!

Josh S said...

I'm not sure how you deduce that the Vatican II concept of Tradition must be true from some deciding that the Baptist interpretation of the Reformation "sola scriptura" is false. Perhaps one does not find Scripture divorced from the Church in Paul's letters, but one also does not find Newman's theory of Tradition in either Scripture or Roman Catholic theology prior to the late 19th century, nor does one find papal infallibility.

It seems like you have set up an untenable either-or, much like the either-or that says "Luther was wrong on justification, therefore the complicated metaphysical system of salvation outlined in Trent must be true," as though there were only two possible doctrines.

Josh McManaway said...


Thanks for commenting. I wasn't aware that I had done all those things. I didn't cite either Vatican II or Newman.

On the subject of Tradition (which is too long for me to explain, I think, in a single blog comment) I suggest reading Yves Congar's, "Tradition and traditions." And there's no "perhaps" about it - Scripture isn't divorced from the Church ever in Paul's letters. There are several early Church Fathers who saw the Church as equally as divinely inspired as Scripture as well.

And I'm not sure that I've set up this either-or. I would say most Catholic theology is actually characterized by "both-and".

Whether or not Trent's view of Justification is "complicated" or not is pretty relative (complicated as opposed to what? Overly-simplistic soteriologies?). Also, do you think that salvation is not somehow metaphysical? I think one of the best explanations of Catholic soteriology is a paper written by Richard White for a class on Historical Theology at Trinity Evangelical in the 80's titled Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification (available here:

Thanks again!

Josh McManaway said...

Hey Chris,

I think "denominational oneness" is definitely an oxymoron. Catholic is precisely the opposite of denomination.

Quoting Scott Hahn, "Repeatedly, he [Paul] described the Church as 'one body', identified with the integrity and uniqueness of Jesus' own body (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 10:17, 12:12-13; Eph 2:16, 4:4; Col 3:15). " He goes on to say, "If body has any meaning whatsoever as a metaphor, it must indicate a visible unity." (Reasons to Believe, 78-79)

Denominations are created out of people who are not likeminded, yet Paul tells the Corinthians that they should be of the "same mind and same judgment" (1 Cor 1:10). I have a hard time reconciling the 30,000+ "Scripture alone" denominations with this verse. They certainly can't all be of the same mind and same judgment.

Hahn rightly points out that the Churches in the New Testament were divided geographically, not doctrinally. The only other Church mentioned in the NT is the Nicolatians, who are not exactly given a warm review by John - all due to their doctrinal differences. (Ibid. 80)I don't think there's "one faith, one baptism" housed in a variety of denominations all teaching mutually exclusive things.

If the Church is visible, where is it? Where can I take my sinning brother a la Matt 18? And what would it matter if a Baptist took his Methodist brother to the Baptist church and the Baptists treated the Methodist as a "tax-collector" for not turning away from his sin?

Thanks again for commenting!