Protestantism Produces Pluralism

Protestantism Produces Pluralism January 10, 2015

Protestantism Produces Pluralism

Richard Beck wrote the following in a blog post on why being “biblical” means being doctrinally tolerant:

People who claim to literally interpret the inspired and inerrant Word of God do not agree on what the bible says…

The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn’t a theological claim. This is an empirical fact.

Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The “bible alone” creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.

And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A…

…If your are going to accept the burden of being of Protestant, of living with sola scriptura, then you are going to have to learn to welcome doctrinal diversity.

If you want to be biblical you’re going to have to reconcile yourself to pervasive interpretative pluralism. That’s life being biblical. Being biblical requires a fair amount of tolerance for doctrinal diversity. Being biblical means creating a big tent.

So if you want to be biblical–if you want to go sola scriptura and drop the magisterium–then you are morally obligated to assume the burden and responsibility of welcoming the doctrinal diversity you will create.

The alternative is to be delusional, pretending that opening the bible brings everyone to a consensus. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen. And pretending otherwise just sets you up to be judgemental and condemnatory. It tempts you into using the word “biblical” as a weapon. 

In the end, if you’re going to be biblical you’re going to have to learn to be tolerant.

Click through to read the rest, as the above is just an excerpt.

Of related interest, Jason BeDuhn has written an interesting article for Bible and Interpretation about Al Mohler’s response to the recent Newsweek article about the Bible. See too Eric Alexander’s blog post on how big the progressive Christian tent should be.

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  • What Beck writes seems correct to me. It pretty much describes how I saw Christianity while growing up. I welcomed that pluralism. I thought of members of different denominations as being Christians who disagreed only on unimportant matters.

    When I look at fundamentalist Christianity today, I cannot but wonder whether they are creating a new papacy. They seem to reject that diversity, and try to impose a new orthodoxy.

  • CarolynC

    Here’s my two cents. This is good as far as it goes but to me it doesn’t go far enough. What about those Christians, such as myself, who no longer accept the traditional canon of books as the exclusive scriptures conveying the Gospel? Couldn’t there be some tolerance for us? I consider myself a Thomas Christian, because the Gospel of Thomas, one of the earliest gospels written, btw, speaks to me most deeply of all the Gospels. I do not reject the four canonical gospels — I love them. But the discoveries at Nag Hammadi and elsewhere speak to those of us hungering for a less dualistic, more experiential Christianity. I also believe The Gospel of Mary Magdelene, which in many ways complements The Gospel of Thomas, is further evidence for the claim that the feminine, along with the record of Mary M’s apostolic role as apostle to the apostles, was purposely rejected and blotted out by the early church.
    I am fortunate that I can attend a church occasionally (it is several hours’ drive away from my town) where this kind of diversity of thought and belief is accepted. All are welcome there, even those who do not accept the biblical canon as the exclusive revelation of Jesus’ gospel.
    There are legions of Christians now who are seeking greater tolerance and respect for diversity in Protestantism regarding which scriptures are legitimate. The canon was first organized in order to unify Christians and guard against “error,” read “departure from the institutional church with its priests, bishops and Popes.” As you have so ably pointed out, Richard, this has not solved the “problem” of diversity– it has only caused more schism. Why not acknowledge the failed experiment of exclusion of other ways of understanding the meaning of the incarnation, and say that we have much to learn from newer discoveries about the early church? The canon can remain as it is, IMO, but respect for other ancient sources can still be allowed and tolerated.
    Please don’t leave those of us who accept other scriptures as legitimate out of the fold in your laudable campaign for more plurality in Christianity.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I don’t think the aim was to exclude those whose appreciation for ancient texts goes beyond those included in the traditional canon(s), but merely to point out that the very principle which gave rise to modern Protestant fundamentalism ought to lead to an embracing of pluralism and diversity.

  • Jason BeDuhn’s article seems right on target to me. Al Mohler and other fundamentalists make far more than Eichenwald’s minimal errors, when they decry his newsweek article.