Some time ago an acquaintance from my Protestant fundamentalist days was in touch by email. Kevin is now a Baptist pastor working on his PhD. He wished to engage me in conversation to help me see my way out of the murky waters of Catholicism into the pure clear light of his religion.
I had not come across any disputant for some time who was really a sola Scriptura person. Most Evangelicals, when pressed, will offer some modified and qualified version of sola Scriptura because they will admit that they rely on a Presbyterian, or a Baptist or a Methodist (or whatever) tradition to help them interpret the Scriptures. Even if they don’t sign up to a particular denominational name brand, and claim to be ‘just an ordinary Evangelical’, it isn’t too hard to get them to admit that even as ‘an ordinary Evangelical’ they are still interpreting the Scriptures within a particular historical and theological context, and therefore they are reliant, at least a little, on a form of tradition.
Not Kevin. The weird thing about discussing the matter with Kevin is that there was an absurdity to it all. Kevin would say, “Dwight if you just open the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance he will enlighten your heart.” This was code for: “The Holy Spirit will lead you to believe like I do.” My reply was, “But Kevin, this is exactly what I have been doing for the last twenty years and the Holy Spirit has led me to become a Catholic.”
“Yes, but Dwight, if you will just open the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your heart…”
“But Kevin, that is just what I have been doing for the last twenty years and the Holy Spirit has led me to become a Catholic. What I don’t understand Kevin, is that if the Scriptures are the only source of truth, why should your interpretation necessarily be the right one? If we don’t rely on tradition, and it is just you and the Bible and the Holy Spirit and me and the Bible and the Holy Spirit, why should you be right and me be wrong?”
“But Dwight if you will but open the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your heart…”
There was a weird kind of absurd tail chasing going on. Logic could not permeate such an absurd position, and I realized that within Kevin’s world view was also a kind of dis-trust of reasoning and logic. I’d forgotten about the fundamentalist’s absolutism. Since then I’ve enountered it amongst several other fundamentalist with whom I’ve been involved in discussion.
Perhaps the word ‘discussion’ is an overstatement. There wasn’t really much discussion going on I’m afraid.