In response to this post on sola scriptura Bryan (a recent convert to Rome) writes, “I understand the desire to give God all the glory. But the problem with the idea that “we have no part, not in this story” is that it removes any reason for our being here in this life….”
In De gratia et libero arbitrio an interlocutor raises the question to Bernard (paraphrasing): “If it’s all of grace, what place is there for merit?” Bernard answered, in effect, “We all know that there must be a place for merit so…” and off he went.
This is the fundamental problem you raise. Your post here (I’ve not read your blog post) assumes an a priori I do not: “We all know that in order for God to be just” or “We know that in order for human life to have significance” (it doesn’t really matter which it is) x must be the case.
Then you impute to me an a priori from which you assume I must be deducing my conclusion. I am not. It’s true that I am committed to soli Deo gloria and unapologetically but I do not begin with that a priori. It’s the consequence of the process of beginning with the perspicuous Word of God.
One of the great breakthroughs of the Reformation was that it was able to challenge the stifling a priori that had dominated W. theology since at least the 9th century: “We all know how things have to be” namely, “We all know that God can only say what he says about us because it corresponds to an intrinsic reality within us, i.e. he can only declare us righteous if we are actually intrinsically righteous and we can only be so by grace and cooperation with grace.”
For reasons that defy description in a blog post (the reader is welcome to enroll and attend ch602 Medieval and Reformation Church in the Spring semester) the Protestants were able to see this assumption for what it was: a rationalist a priori that placed both God’s Word and the gospel in a Babylonian Captivity of sorts.
The key that unlocks the chains of this captivity is the perspicuity of Scripture. I realize that it is unfashionable in our subjectivist (late modern or most modern) age to assert and affirm the perspicuity of any text, let alone that of holy Scripture, but it must be done because Scripture itself demands it. Yes, Scripture must be read by people, in a time and in a place, in a community. Amen. But Scripture is not just any text! It is the Word of God and it is not bound by this time or that time or this place or that place.
The great (late) modernist error is that we make Scripture the victim (or that which is acted upon) instead of the actor. This error is not new. It was one of the great errors of the medieval church as she over-reacted to the Cathars and it is one of the greatest errors of Trent.
Scripture is not passive. Scripture does not wait for us to unlock it. Scripture is not formed by the church and it isn’t formed by our reception of it. Scripture is the actor. Scripture forms us and the church. Scripture is the creative, justifying, and regenerating Word of God.
This is the pattern throughout the history of creation and redemption. God speaks into nothing and creation appears. Neither God nor the Word, who was in the beginning, through whom all things came into being, without whom nothing came into being that has come into being, needs us to bring creation and created reality into being.
So it is with redemption and righteousness. Just as Yahweh speaks and by his powerful, saving Word redeems Israel from Pharaoh’s clutches so the Word in all ages comes with its own power. That power is the Spirit of God who hovered over the face of the deep, who overshadowed the Israel of God, who hovers over the people of God today, who leads us as he led them through the wilderness as a pillar of fire and cloud. The powerful, creative, renewing Spirit acts on the readers and hearers and speakers of God’s Word. That same Spirit makes God’s Word clear in its essential doctrines of creation and redemption.
This is why I continue to confess the perspicuity (i.e. the essential clarify on matters of faith and the Christian life) of Scripture. This is why I continue to assert and affirm the Reformation solas, beginning with sola scriptura. This is ultimately an affirmation (and not a denial) of our humanity because it is an affirmation of our createdness, our status as image bearers, who are constituted to hear and understand and receive (not create) the Word. The Spirit must open our eyes and illumine our minds and hearts, but as he breathed life into Adam, so he is more than capable and willing to breathe life into the readers and hearers of Scripture now.