From the Dr.
Scott Hahn links page
For the full transcripts see: THE AUTHORITY DEBATE
[The following is a transcript of a taped debate between Scott Hahn, Catholic convert and former Presbyterian minister, and Dr. Robert Knudson of Westminster Seminary. The original tape was distributed by Catholic Answers.]
Dr. Scott Hahn's opening remarks:
HAHN It sure is good to be here with you and share with with you, and I want to reaffirm what I heard Pat say a few minutes ago. That is, we're not here to pounce on each other, we're not here as a spectacle, we're here out of a deep and sincere loyalty to Christ and reverence for his Word. There is so much agreement that I think we can rejoice in the fact that both of us share the conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, hence it is infallible, hence it is authoritative in our lives; and it's a practical guide, it's one in which we can hear the voice of God, the living voice speaking to us in our own lives. The real question, then, is not much whether the Bible is the Word of God, inspired, infallible and authoritative, but whether it itself teaches that it is the only, exclusive authority governing the Body of Christ.
I was a Presbyterian minister for a few years, a graduate of an Evangelical seminary, and a very great respecter of the Westminster Theological Seminary tradition, and I still am, but I have one question today as I have for several years since I left the ministry and I gave up teaching at a Presbyterian seminary. It was a question raised to me by a former Catholic in the seminary in the middle of a seminar on creeds and confessions in the church. He asked me, where does scripture teach sola scriptura? And I panicked, I played around, I even said "That's a dumb question." and I never heard myself say that before in a classroom. And I realized going home that evening why I'd said it: it was because I wasn't prepared to answer it. I thought I'd just had a sudden bout with amnesia, but I thought about it some more, I consulted my books, I even called two or three of my professors and I've had the privilege to study under some of the very greatest professors in the Evangelical world, and I thank God for them but I didn't come up with any satisfactory answer. That's critical; as one of the greatest Evangelical theologians of our day says, J. I. Packer, "The Reformers' whole understanding of Christianity depends on the principle of sola scriptura; that is, the view that the Bible as the only Word of God in this world is the only guide for conscience in the Church. It's the only source of true knowledge and of God's grace, and it's the only qualified judge of the Church's testimony and teaching. That's the view of a Protestant Evangelical theologian whom I respect very much. However, the only thing I disagree with Dr. Packer about is the Word 'only'. I do believe that the Bible is to be regarded by all Catholics as our guide, as our source, as our judge, as the living and active Word of God, alive in our lives, in addition to which the Church confesses a living tradition to which she is bound out of obedience to Scripture. For Scripture speaks of that living tradition very naturally, very easily and matter-of-factly, as we'll see in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 where Paul commends and commands the Thessalonian Christians to hold fast to what Christ passed on to him, to what he passed on to them, to the tradition, whether it is written or whether it is spoken. Now Paul could take matter-of-factly, and he could state matter-of-factly the authority and existence of a living tradition. He didn't feel any need to argue for this living tradition; he assumed it and he assumed the Thessalonians knew what he was talking about, so I would ask my Protestant brethren, where is that living tradition and how is it that we are held fast to that living tradition and how is that living tradition distinct from my own individual interpretation of the Bible? Ultimately, after several years of struggle because I was very anti-Catholic as a Presbyterian. In fact me and my best friend were the only Presbyterian seminarians at Gordon Cornwell in the Presbyterian Fellowship who endorsed the old Westminster Confession which charged the Roman Catholic Church with being the Antichrist, and he opposed me vigorously when I was thinking about joining the Catholic Church. He now is also a member of the Roman Catholic Church and he's finishing his doctorate at Westminster seminary, ironically enough. I believe that the doctrine of sola scriptura, that the Bible alone is our only authority, is itself unscriptural. I can't find anywhere in scripture God telling his people that the Bible alone is their sole authority. It would have been very convenient for me in terms of my career to find it, and I looked and I tried, but I couldn't. Second Timothy 3:15 doesn't teach that. It teaches the inspiration of Scripture, but just because the Bible is inspired and profitable, it doesn't mean that only the Bible is inspired and profitable. Matthew 15 condemns tradition which is merely human and which contradicts the Word of God, but 2 Thessalonians 2:15 speaks about a tradition through which the Word of God is conveyed authoritatively. How can that be? St. Paul also commends the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:2 for 'holding fast to the traditions that he had handed on to them'.
So I rejected sola scriptura because it was unscriptural. I also came to the conclusion that sola scriptura is unhistorical. That is, the Church was spreading for decades, long before the New Testament books were written, gathered and officially canonized, or collected in an authoritative collection. I believe that historians who are objective will see that the Church saw itself bound to the Word of God as it was handed down from Christ to the apostles and their successors in their doctrine, in their worship and in their morals apart from New Testament books. The New Testament books were in a certain sense occasional documents written to help certain congregations or certain area churches with particular questions, but nowhere does the Bible say, or does the New Testament regard itself, as a compendium that is sufficient for everything we need to know to live the Christian life. I should say that I believe the Bible has a lot more than most Christians realize, and there's a lot more to be gained than many Catholics and Protestants have actually acquired, but I think it's unhistorical to regard sola scriptura as true and binding upon the believer. I think it's also contrary to sound reasoning. It's illogical. How do you know what Scripture is? How do you know what books are inspired? Do we leave it up to each individual Christian to read all of the books that were possibly included or excluded? Have you read and studied The Shepherd of Hermas? The Epistle of Barnabas? The Book of Clement? The Epistles of Ignatius? All of these were circulated in such a way as that some regarded them as scriptural. Others didn't. The Church had to decide and, thanks be to God, Jesus Christ gave to his apostles his own authority to decide, and their successors carried on their authority so that we could have a New Testament today, But I believe it's illogical to suggest that the Bible alone is our authority when the Bible alone can't give to us what books are and aren't to be included in the Bible. How could it? If revelation included a list of every single book to be included we would only be able to trust that if we knew that revelation itself was inspired. But no book can confirm or authenticate its own inspired status.
I think it's also impractical. This is a very hard point to speak about, but I think that it almost results in a kind of anarchy within the church. Since the Protestant Reformation over four centuries ago we have literally thousands of denominations and splinter groups that are continually splintering over various interpretations of the Bible. Several Presbyterian denominations. We affectionately and somewhat complacently refer to ourselves as the 'split P's'' because we have so many Presbyterian groups. And then Methodists, and Lutherans and even Episcopalians, especially in the last ten or fifteen years. It hasn't brought greater unity into the Church, it's brought a very tragic disunity to impose the Bible as the sole authority so that every individual is left up to himself or herself to decide what doctrines are true. Can every believer be expected to understand and articulate the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ? The Council of Calcedon passed on to us a legacy that we need to hold fast to, but very few lay people dare say very few seminarians could give a very articulate, detailed defense of that doctrine, which everybody at Westminster Seminary upholds, but very few people have actually generated on their own by interpreting the Bible by themselves. It's anarchistic. It would be like writing the U.S. Constitution only not establishing a judiciary or an executive or a legislative branch to apply that with authority. It would be like constitutionally investing individual citizens with the right to disagree with and rebel against judicial decisions handed down from any level of the court system. It would be up to them to interpret the Constitution with regard to any legislative decisions and executive enactments. You would have no nation; every man and woman would be a nation unto himself or unto herself.
Is that what Jesus Christ intended for the family of God that he died and was raised to build upon the Holy Spirit? I don't think so. I don't think so. I also think it encourages a subtle and unconscious and unintentional presumption, or tyranny. As we enforce church discipline in Protestant churches, I recall the very funny feeling that I had as I would argue and articulate my views and then face the prospect of disciplining members in the church just because I was able to get a consensus among my elders, or among the congregational members.
Is it really that way? No pastor presumes to be infallible in the Protestant tradition. No head of any denomination presumes such, but they all have to continually discipline people and in many cases excommunicate people on the basis of their own fallible and frequently erroneous interpretations. That seems somewhat dubious. I also believe that its inconsistent. The doctrine of sola scriptura is inconsistent. Everybody has some tradition. They might be Americans, or Westerners. They might think in an individualistic thought world. They might be Methodists; they might have come up in the Episcopal tradition or the Presbyterian tradition, but all of us have categories that we receive from our spiritual fathers and mothers, those who have nurtured us in the faith. They have transmitted to us thought categories about which we know little, and yet they influence our interpretation so much. The question is not whether or not an interpretation will be authoritative, the question is whether it's the tradition that Christ instituted through the apostles and maintains through the apostolic tradition in one holy Roman Catholic Church. Its also improbable. I believe that any doctrine without a single defender for the first thirteen centuries of the Church is questionable to say the least. The along came Wycliffe in the fourteenth century and he began to develop it rather defensively. Because he disagreed with the pope, he thought his interpretation of the Bible was sound, therefore, he concluded, the Bible alone must be authoritative. It wasnt until the Protestant Reformation that such an interpretation became widespread. In Wycliffe day his own university colleagues condemned the proposition. Is it really the case that for fourteen centuries the Holy Spirit could guide nobody to see what the Protestants regarded as the formal principle of the Reformation, the article on which the Church stands or falls, along with justification by faith? And finally I believe that practically speaking it becomes somewhat incoherent. We say, well, the Bible alone is our sole and exclusive authority, but we will listen to and respect tradition. Well, what do you think of somebody who says, "I will accept with respect the words of Jesus and follow them whenever I agree with them". That isn't lordship, and that isnt servanthood. If we submit to the living Word of Jesus Christ I believe that it will cause us to see the Apostolic Tradition that Jesus Christ handed down to his family through his apostles, his spiritual sons and through their successors, the grandsons and greatgrandsons. A binding, a divine, an authoritative tradition found in the liturgy of the Church, found in the Creeds, found in the writings of the Fathers, and exhibited in statements such as St. Paul makes in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 1 Corinthians 11:2 and other places as well. My reasons, then, for accepting Tradition are mainly biblical. I don't believe that Scripture teaches sola scriptura; I believe it's unhistorical; I believe its illogical; I believe the Protestant doctrine is impractical, inconsistent, improbable and incoherent, whereas I feel and I believe and I've come to see that Scripture teaches the authority of Sacred Tradition, that it is the context in which the Church came to recognize the gospels and the New Testament. As St. Augustine said, "I would not believe in the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church." That authority is not tyrannical, it is not human, it's the life of Jesus Christ transmitted by the Holy Spirit through those successors that he has graciously overseen and guaranteed because of his love and his power manifested in his living Body, the Church of Christ. Thank you very much.
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