Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The ultimate arbiter

Bryan Cross is fond of objecting to sola Scriptura on the grounds that sola Scriptura makes the individual Christian the “ultimate arbiter.”

But the problems with this allegation are numerous:

1.He hasn’t show that this is inconsistent with the Protestant or Reformed understanding of sola Scriptura. So even if his characterization were accurate, so what? How does that disprove what Protestants in general or Calvinists in particular mean by sola scriptura?

2.He hasn’t shown that Catholicism supplies a viable alternative. Therefore, he has failed to solve the problem he posed for himself.

3.”Ultimate arbiter is vague. It could either mean (a) ultimate source or (b) ultimate standard.

i) For example, Greenwich Mean Time is the ultimate standard for time zones. Suppose I have a very accurate watch. The watch is set to GMT.

Still, to tell the time, I have to look at my watch. Does that make me the ultimate arbiter of time? Isn’t that a rather silly way of putting things?

ii) Moreover, how can Bryan avoid this consequence? Perhaps he’d say (to continue with our metaphor) that someone can tell me the time. An infallible speaker can tell me the time.

Unfortunately for Bryan, that simply relocates the problem. Instead of looking at my watch for myself, I listen to what someone tells me. But I’m still using my own senses. I’ve simply shifted from the sense of sight to the sense of hearing. But I’m still the ultimate arbiter (if you will) of what I hear–or think I hear.

Dropping the metaphor, that’s no different whether the text is Scripture, a church father, a papal encyclical, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

4.And from a Reformed standpoint, it’s not even true that I’m the ultimate source. Indeed, it’s very odd to read someone attack Calvinism because Calvinism allegedly makes the individual Christian the ultimate source of what he understands. Normally, critics attack Calvinism because, according to Calvinism, the human agent, whether believer or unbeliever, is not the ultimate source of his thoughts and actions. Rather, his understanding is whatever God willed him to understand–for better or worse.


  1. "that’s no different whether the text is Scripture, a church father, a papal encyclical, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

    Their response is usually that the text of scripture cannot further clarify itself, whereas the pope can. There is something to that claim, I think.

    The bigger problem for them is the fact that they have to use their "private judgement" in determing the true church in the first instance. For some reason they don't think that's a problem, but it's a huge one.


    "Their response is usually that the text of scripture cannot further clarify itself, whereas the pope can. There is something to that claim, I think."

    Except that under the theory of development, what already seemed perfectly clear to a 13C Catholic or 17C Catholic or 19C Catholic may be clarified for a 21C Catholic in a way unrecognizable to his theological forebears. Clarity becomes very elusive and fluid. Open to endless revision.

  3. Besides, when does the Magisterium ever answer anythg of substance? It's rare.

  4. "Besides, when does the Magisterium ever answer anythg of substance? It's rare."

    For starters...

  5. Very Good.

    I wish that you and Dr. White and Turretinfan (they have made some good points on smaller issues; but I would like to see a full response) would combine your thoughts and write a detailed response to Bryan's Cross' article, on Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura ( Critique of Keith Matthison's book, The Shape of Sola Scriptura)

    The comboxes are getting close to 400 and I am having trouble understanding/assimilating it all; and answering this in my own mind.

    Furthermore, I have posted about 10 times and they just unilaterally reject my posts.

  6. Hi Ken,

    Always nice to hear from you!

    Bryan is recycling arguments he used over at Green Baggins. I responded to those at length a few months ago:

  7. Ken,

    I just went through all of your unapproved comments and did not see that any of your comments weren't approved.

    Your last substantial comment was 2009/11/18 at 3:32pm and it was published.

    Maybe there is some kind of issue with wordpress or your browser? As long as comments follow the posting guidelines they are typically approved.

  8. Sean and Stephanie,
    Are you a blog administrator at "Called to Communion" ?

    The one you mention is one that I see now has been approved.(thanks, either it has recently been approved after almost a week or I did not notice it).

    I posted several after that and they were not approved, so I give up. One cannot join the conversation/discussion/debate when their comment gets approved 3-4 days later. ( I assume they are not approved because it showed up on my computer for a few days as "awaiting approval" or "awaiting moderation", etc. and then after a few days it was not there.)

    The moderators are too restrictive and too subjective in that they say "that is not on topic" just because a Protestant blogger mentions the Papacy or indulgences or Mary, etc.

    But thanks for pointing me to one of the few that was approved; I honestly did not see that and thought that is was also not approved; because it took several days.

  9. Thanks Steve,
    When I get time I want to read your article.

    Do you think there is any essential/substantial/foundational difference between SolO and SolA as they at Called to Communion are asserting, that there is no difference?

    I think there is; but they just say, "no, you are off topic" and "you didn't answer the question" and "you didn't demonstrate it", etc.

    a. SolO does not follow SolA because they do not follow Toto (Total) Scriptura (all of Scripture).

    b. SolO claims "SolA" but ignores secondary authorities like creeds, doctrinal standards, Biblical councils, local church authority.

    c. the CTC folks accuse SolO as inherently coming out of SolA; but they don't see that SolA came out of RCC (Sola Ecclesia) as a reaction to the false gospel they promoted and the abandonment of Scriptural authority.

    d. RC groups that disagree with the Magisterium (Catholics for choice, Society of Pius V, Traditionalists, Latin Mass, Sedevecantists, Mattatics, Nancy Pelosi, Kennedy family, etc.) do what the SolO groups do. The standard does not stop disobedience and wrong application of the standards.