Sola Scriptura 6 – Utilitarian

In a way, this thread I’ve observed seems a little odd. For some reason, the attempt to place the Bible in a place where it does not naturally fit distorts the manner in which it is perceived and the practices surrounding it. At first blush, it would seem that the elevation of the Bible to the preeminent place in Christian life (which is what sola scriptura tends to assert it does) would cause it to be treated with increased reverence. We do see that, for instance, in Islam. But that’s not the case at all.

Instead, the Bible comes to be treated in a very utilitarian manner. It becomes a resource that the individual can and should mine on a regular basis. Oddly, it becomes a tool for you as an individual. Earlier in his series on evangelical liturgy, the Internet Monk unconsciously and I’m sure unintentionally reflected this perspective. He developed a “toolbox” and one of the “tools” in it was the Bible. Now, Michael holds the Holy Scriptures in great esteem and would never deliberately do anything less than honor their place in Christian life. I’ve read his blog for a long while and I definitely believe that to be true. And yet even for him the utilitarian language of tools and toolbox informs his perception of reality.

I think, in large part, that’s because sola scriptura does not, in reality, elevate Scripture itself. Rather, it elevates our individual rational ability to interpret and use Scripture to the highest point. Scripture becomes subject to our intellect. It becomes a tool for the individual to use.

I compare that to the way the Holy Scriptures are treated in the ancient liturgies and their modern expressions. The liturgies themselves are filled with more Scripture than is often encountered in non-liturgical settings even before the liturgical readings are considered. (And the readings alone tend to cover more scripture than a typical evangelical sermon ever does.) People stand when the Gospels are read. (Of course, in Eastern liturgies, people stand for essentially the entire liturgy unless old or infirm.) In some liturgical settings, there is a procession of the Gospels. The Holy Scriptures may be many things in those settings, but they are never merely utilitarian.

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4 Comments

  1. mike
    Posted August 22, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    “I think, in large part, that’s because sola scriptura does not, in reality, elevate Scripture itself. Rather, it elevates our individual rational ability to interpret and use Scripture to the highest point.” …….rabbi..i need help understanding what your saying here..could you re-phrase it in simplier terms please..thank you

  2. Posted August 22, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I just mean that ‘Sola Scripture’ asserts that Scripture has the place of sole authority over individual Christians and the Church. However, the reality is that Scripture is a text and no text interprets itself. No text actually ‘acts’. Every text, even Scripture, must be interpreted, and requires an ‘actor’ to engage it. So the reality is that instead of placing Scripture in the center seat of authority, we are actually placing our own rational intellect in that seat and turning Scripture into the tool that buttresses our place of primacy.

  3. mike
    Posted August 22, 2009 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    ….wow…ok…i see what your saying now….i’ve never thought it (sola scripture)in that way before….thank you for explaining that…

  4. Posted August 22, 2009 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that I can really take any credit for the thought. It’s the blessing and the curse of postmodern cultural formation that those so shaped see the true placement of power. We see how overarching narratives are abused. We are sensitive to power games. The negative side is that it’s difficult to place our confidence in any metanarrative. Even God’s.

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