Tag Archives: sola scriptura

Nothing Outside the Text: Sola Scriptura in a Postmodern Age

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Contemporary philosophy (& some theology as well) tend to emphasize the primacy of language, that various social constructions are linguistic systems made of the interplay of signs. All knowledge is interpretive, relational, and constructed, and not, as was once commonly believed, objective. Words do not have fixed meanings, but rather gain their meaning contextually, through their use in communal settings. This last thought might not be hard for many Christians to accept, but the greater implication is that all social systems, whether they be ethical, legal, religious, etc., are not based on any fixed foundation, but also gain meaning according to their context and communal interpretations. Contemporary Christianity, which is mostly rooted in an objectivist understanding of knowledge, ethics, and religion might find this hard to swallow, but I am of the opinion that we should embrace such perspectives of postmodern philosophy.

This readiness to jettison belief in an objective foundation may alarm some readers. They may even think, “Didn’t Christ say that we should build our house on the rock, a firm foundation?” The answer is that, yes, he did indeed say that. However, the rock he was referring to was not Descartes’ model of the autonomous subject, or Kant’s model of the subject that gains objective knowledge through reason and the senses, but rather, himself. Thus we Christians should build the Church on Christ, who is not a fixed object, but a relational Being.

We can think of the Church as a linguistic system, a body that shares a common language and set of symbols, all of which gain meaning and significance through context and the interpretation of the Church. When we say, “Christians are called to be loving and peaceful,” we must understand that the meaning of words like “love” and “peace” are not fixed, but change over time and in different situations. I have heard several sermons throughout my life contrasting the English word “love” with the Greek “agape”, about how our English concept of love does not compare to this Greek concept. But truly, this concept of God’s love, the love that is God (1 John 4:8), is not a Greek or an English or French or Chinese concept, it is a Christian concept. This kind of love is defined only through the narrative of the Bible, through Christ. The biblical narrative informs the Christian worldview, it defines the vocabulary of the Church. The laws, and rituals, and language, and understanding of the Church are not fixed traditions that must be preserved, but things that the Church should continually reconstruct so that they continue to embody Christ.

The idea of Sola Scriptura has not been the most popular in recent times, especially among the more liberal set of Christians who favor personal experience in deciding how the Church should act. But the Bible is integral to maintaining the particularity of the Christian faith through the communal interpretation of the Church, and dialogue between the text and ourselves.

Martin Heidegger stressed the idea that language precedes us, we are thrown into it, and that it forms us as much as we (communally) form it. The same understanding should be applied to the Church. It precedes us. We are embedded in it. We must allow its past to form us as we continue to form it in its current form. This is the Life of the Church.