Friday, June 15, 2007

Tilling's Statement on Scripture

Chris Tilling's blog Chrisendom continues to fascinate. Tilling is now writing some excellent posts in which he is trying to write a statement on the "inerrancy of Scripture" (part 1; part 2). Of course, his project has turned out to be a little more than just that. The proposed statement he has come up with has offered a concise summary of the biblical witness regarding the authority and role of Scripture.

I don't agree with everything he says necessarily. My preferred statement would still be the one so beautifully laid out in Dei Verbum. In fact, I know a number of non-Catholics who secretly agree with me--this document is a real work of art.

But that's not to ignore the merits of what Tilling is doing. What he is doing is very interesting. Speaking about the importance of testifying to the truth of Scripture by our lives is especially important and I appreciate that tremendously.

There are a number of issues his statement raises that I find especially fascinating as a Catholic.

Of course, the recent conversion of Francis Beckwith has highlighted the common ground and differences between Catholics and Evangelicals on Scripture. In particular, many in the Evangelical Theological Society insist that Beckwith's conversion means that he can no longer hold to their statement of faith, which holds that “the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written..." Beckwith (and I agree with him) holds that there is no contradiction here with official Catholic teaching.

The sticky issue here is that clearly Beckwith no longer holds to sola scriptura--something never explicitly articulated by the ETS statement. While Catholics do not hold to sola scriptura they do believe that the Bible alone is the inspired Word of God written. No Catholic who knows his theology would EVER call a papal encyclical or even a Church Council's documents inspired. The Bible alone is the inspired Word of God for Catholics. That's why you can never read anything--even something written by Pope Benedict himself--other than Scripture at Mass during the "Liturgy of the Word". The readings are taken from the Bible--not Church documents or papal encyclicals--for a reason. But I digress...

To me, as a Catholic, one of the things that is truly striking about Chris Tilling's statement is the absence of sola Scriptura language. For sake of argument, if his statement became the official statement of a group like the ETS or a school, I'm not sure I would have any problem, as a Catholic, joining.

I would love to ask Chris therefore, Is that an oversight you made? Or is that a recognition that Scripture doesn't specifically teach that it is our only authority? Or is that a combination of both--in other words, you pulled together all the various witnesses you could find and, since Scripture never includes such a dogmatic statement, it never found its way into you statement.

By the way, ETS members began to recognize that their own statement is a bit unclear on the matter of sola scriptura (though some still, wrongly insist that it contradicts Catholic teaching!). The more well-read members and are now insisting that Catholics cannot affirm the statement because what the statement means by Scripture is the Protestant canon, not the Catholic one. However, it should be pointed out, this is never stated in their own statement. (For more on the canon debate see my series of posts "Loose Canons".)

And, I should point out, what constitutes the "canon" is not spelled out in Tilling's statement either. That's appropriate, of course, since Tilling is trying to stay so close to the witness of Scripture and there is no list of the canonical books in Scripture. Making that observation is, clearly, an implicit recognition of the limitation of sola Scriptura--for clearly some other authority is needed simply to establish what Scripture is. But again, I digress...

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