Theology Trumping Texts

May 16, 2016
Written by: Brian

From time to time I find myself exchanging short posts with someone on-line. Obviously, these are not deep theological discussions; but there can be something instructive in even these minimalistic dialogues. One recent back-and-forth exchange illustrates how, at times, one’s theological perspective ends up trumping an honest reading of Scripture. Here’s a transcript of the exchange:

Blogger (the initial post): If you want to hear the Holy Spirit, open your Bible.

Me: The Spirit does speak in Scripture–but only there? Would Peter, Philip, and Paul agree? (See Acts 8:29; 10:19; 13:1-4; 16:6)

Blogger: Unless you think that we’re all walking Bibles, or you accept some sort of papacy, there are no more apostles.

Me: Agreed, regarding the apostleship of the 11; but Philip wasn’t one. In Acts, the Spirit didn’t always speak to reveal Scripture.

Blogger: It was the apostolic age.

Me: And your point is? Did the Spirit of God take a vow of silence once the last apostle died? If so, why?

Blogger: It’s a matter of authority. If God is speaking, we must submit to his will.

Me: Peter (in Acts 2) says during the last days (from Pentecost to Christ’s return) the Spirit will speak to believers.

Blogger: But the normative function of the church is that Scripture would be the sole infallible rule of faith.

Me: Agreed. But the Scriptures do not make the case that God never “speaks” outside the pages of Scripture.

Blogger: Okay, so you do not believe in sola Scripture?

Me: Believe it. Proclaim it. Teach it. Live by it. Interesting that in championing sola Scriptura you offer no texts in support of the Spirit no longer speaking.

I don’t share this example primarily because of the point of theology being addressed. The example illustrates how a particular theological perspective can interfere with one’s ability to honestly read Scripture.

All of us (including me!) are theologians–we all assemble an overall theological framework that helps us understand what (we think) the Scriptures teach. That’s actually a good thing; we need to assimilate what we read into a cohesive whole. The problem comes when we allow our already established theology get in the way of paying attention to the words of Scripture themselves.

What is illustrated by this example? The blogger’s theological perspective that “sola Scriptura” must mean that the Spirit cannot and must not “speak” except in the words of the text of Scripture insulates him from reading well. He ends up dismissing any number of texts (in Scripture!) that tells us that there is a way the Spirit speaks that doesn’t threaten the truth of Scripture being the sole infallible rule of faith. It is not his affirmation of sola Scriptura is true that is the problem–it is his theological perspective that has been built on that idea that leaves him reading Scripture selectively.

It is fascinating (and a bit sad) that someone who wants to assert the authority of Scripture for our lives did not seem to see the need to respond, in some way, to what Acts 2, 8:29; 10:19; 13:1-4; and 16:6 all underscore. In the end, when I affirmed my belief in the finality and authority of Scripture (while also offering some starting points for thinking that the Spirit might not be mute in this age), the conversation stopped.

I am willing to admit that I, too, have theological biases; I have a theological grid through which my thoughts run. But I would have liked to continue the conversation . . . so long as we could keep coming back to texts, reading them honestly, and allowing those words to reshape and develop our theology.