Sola Scriptura Isn’t Tribalistic

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

(Acts 17:10–11 ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile has weighed in on Aimee Byrd’s critique of Grudem and Piper’s work on biblical manhood and womanhood, and he appears to be in full support of her critique.

I voiced some concerns on whether or not her most recent critique was consistent with the principles of the reformation to which I received a most stern rebuke by Pastor Anyabwile.

First, let me say that I have appreciated Thabiti’s books.  His book on Elders was a resource used by our team of Elders in years past.  I have also appreciated Thabiti’s humor and congeniality in other contexts, I am hoping this response is out of character for him.  It was a harsh response to an honest attempt to discuss Mrs. Byrd’s critique.

Rather than getting weighed down in a pile of 250 character long posts on Twitter, I’ve decided to answer Thabiti’s challenges to my reflections here on my blog.

Thabiti, who has no shortage of online outlets from which to choose from, can choose to respond if he wishes.

I don’t anticipate he will, I realize that I am a very small fish in a very large pond.

First, a little context is helpful.  Aimee Byrd has taken aim at the work of Piper and Grudem in their own critique of egalitarianism.  She has authored a book entitled, “Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.”  This book has caused quite the ruckus.  She has been unceremoniously removed as a member of the Mortification of Spin podcast (which was likely inevitable due to doctrinal differences) and has been the object of some very undeserved derision on Facebook groups.  My stated goal was not to add to this derision but to engage the ideas she presents.  Especially given that they are, presumably, designed to influence the church theologically.

However, I have noticed that among the evangelical elites, there is an unofficial “off-limits” list of people that you aren’t allowed to critique.  The message is something along the lines of, “how dare you critique her while she critiques them!”

 I don’t personally think this practice projects well on the person that is being shielded from honest and respectful criticism. Presumably, Mrs. Byrd, who is writing critiques of books and articles written by others, is capable of handling critique of her books and articles.

My reflections on her article were as follows.

First, Aimee Byrd’s appeal to the theology of Pope John Paul II in critiquing an evangelical movement is a strange form of polemic.  No evangelical Christians are obligated to give any weight to the late Pope’s arguments if those arguments cannot be otherwise grounded in Scripture.

Second, I am unconvinced, and admittedly skeptical of papal teaching, given that the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church refuses to bind itself to the principle of Sola Scriptura.

I am fairly sure I am not the first Protestant to take this stance.

Third, Byrd’s position appears to be very egalitarian, which I find somewhat odd given her appeal to Pope John Paul II.  This doesn’t get much attention from Pastor Anyabwile.

To my first two arguments, Thabiti tersely responded as follows:

First, Thabiti has completely misrepresented my argument. 

My claim isn’t some form of evangelical “tribalism” as Thabiti overstates. My argument is that Pope John Paul’s thoughts aren’t grounded in the theological principle of Sola Scriptura. Pope John Paul would have agreed as much.  I am hoping that this vital difference in Catholic and Protestant theology still makes a difference to Protestants.

John Paul may well have been right in some of his teachings, but I am going to need more than the weight of his ecclesiastical office to convince me of the rightness of his teachings.  Frankly, as a Protestant, the fact that Pope John Paul thinks anything about the theology of the body is inconsequential and does not give me sufficient reason to accept his opinion as accurate.  Therefore, it is similarly an insufficient reason to accept Byrd’s argument.

Which leads me to Thabiti’s own logical fallacy, an appeal to his own authority.

If I’m not going to be convinced by Byrd’s appeal to the Pope’s authority, I’m not going to consider Thabiti’s word as sufficient either. Thabiti’s approval of West’s summary of Pope John Paul’s teaching isn’t an argument for anyone who seeks to emulate the noble practice of the Bereans in Acts 17.

This does illustrate my concern, however.  My argument was that Byrd’s reflections on Pope John Paul’s opinions aren’t a reason for me to change my mind.  In the same way, Thabiti’s opinion of West’s opinion of Pope John Paul’s opinion certainly isn’t going to be enough for me to discard the exegesis of Grudem and Piper.  To be frank, if one won’t substantiate his or her theological claims on the basis of Scriptural exegesis, no one is obliged to take those claims seriously.

 It doesn’t matter how many books you sell, how many followers you have, or how many “likes” you get.

Interestingly, Thabiti claims to be resisting tribalism by employing his own form of tribalism.  Mrs. Byrd is a member of his tribe, therefore her ideas are off-limits to criticism.

Second, Thabiti misunderstands the nature of an ad hominem in his charge that my critique is a “mild anti-RCC ad hominem.”  My argument cannot be accurately characterized as an ad hominem for two reasons.

One, my argument wasn’t an attempt to besmirch the character of the late Pope or the RCC in general.  I am not arguing that Mrs. Byrd is wrong because:

(A) she is citing the Pope, and
(B) everyone knows that the Pope is always wrong. 

That would be a “mild anti-RCC ad hominem.”

 Rather, my argument is as follows.

Because I am:

(A) an evangelical Christian committed to the very protestant ideals of the sufficiency of Scripture and Sola Scriptura, therefore
(B) I am unconvinced by the argument that what seems right to Pope John Paul, and also seems right to Mrs. Byrd, should consequently seem right to me.

Stated differently, my argument is that what seems right to Pope John Paul, what seems right to Mrs. Byrd and, incidentally, what seems right to Thabiti isn’t enough to provide a substantive critique of a doctrine that has strong exegetical support.

Whether or not Thabiti finds West’s or Byrd’s reflections on Pope John Paul’s theology solid, useful, true (in his estimation) or (a buzzword recently) beautiful, is unconvincing.

Solid in what way?  Where is the biblical support for this assertion?

Useful to whom and why?

True, according to what source of wisdom?

Beautiful in the eyes of which beholders?

Thabiti, where can I find these ideas that Mrs. Byrd espouses, that you are defending, communicated clearly in my Bible?

The fact that someone may find it useful, helpful or beautiful, doesn’t pass the Acts 17:10-11 test for me.  If the Berean’s needed substantiation from the scriptures to ratify the words of Paul, then I’m not going to just take someone’s word for it, and neither should anyone else who holds to Sola Scriptura.

Two, Thabiti’s charge that I am lobbing an ad hominem at Mrs. Byrd is misplaced because claiming that the Pope doesn’t accept Sola Scriptura isn’t an insult, it is an accurate reflection of Roman Catholic theology.  For a Roman Catholic, the statement that they don’t accept the principle of Sola Scriptura isn’t an insult, it’s an observation.  If Mrs. Byrd’s arguments were intended to correct Roman Catholic theology, then no one would expect her to meet the burdens of Sola Scriptura.  But Mrs. Byrd isn’t drawing from Papal teaching to critique Roman Catholic theology, she is drawing from Papal teaching to critique Protestant, Evangelical theology.

Mrs. Byrd is critiquing an evangelical doctrine by applying teaching from an ecclesiastical authority that Protestants don’t acknowledge. She is reflecting the theology of an authority who grounds his teaching in theological assumptions that protestants have historically rejected. 

This isn’t controversial.

 If you accept the authority of the Pope and reject the principle of Sola Scriptura, you aren’t a Protestant anymore.

That’s not an insult to either Catholics or Protestants, its an observation of the doctrinal differences, which I am hoping still matter when it comes to how we do theology in protestant churches.

As such, when Mrs. Byrd wants to make a cross contextual critique (drawing from Catholic theological authorities to critique Protestant, Evangelical doctrines), I am hoping Protestants will want some exegetical support to accompany the late Pope’s claims.

“This idea is more beautiful to me” isn’t a good enough argument to abandon sound exegesis. 

That argument doesn’t overcome the charge that Paul gave to Timothy:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

(2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

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