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Sola Scriptura and Form: What I’m Not Saying

The purposes and positions of Religious Affections (the ministry and blog, not [necessarily] the book) are not obscure; this granted, I expect that our readers are primed to hear the strains of grinding axes in all our posts. Everything we say looks like a camel’s nose in your tent. You have the gnawing suspicion that the slightest agreement with the most modest assertion made here sets you on a path to delete all the Chris Tomlin on your iPod, replacing it with John Eliot Gardiner’s recordings of the Bach cantatas (a move I heartily commend).

Needless to say, such suspicions make calm discussion difficult. They don’t call ’em worship wars for nuttin’.

So in this post, I’m attempting to defuse tensions by telling you what I’m not saying. First, a quick review of what I am saying: the Bible is not only the final authority for the content of the Christian message, but it also models for us the manner in which we are to communicate that message. This is, to me, foundational for any useful discussion about worship philosophy; if we disagree on this point, I see little hope that any continuing debate will be profitable.

But I do not think that assenting to this claim demands that we all do things exactly the same way. Specifically, I’m not saying the following things:

1. There is only one right way to feel about God.

I have addressed this idea already in my series about Bob Kauflin’s argument for diversity in worship. I see here a helpful parallel between right thinking and right feeling about God. Thus, it follows naturally from the incomprehensibility of God that we can never exhaustively describe God. This creates an interesting paradox: we could speak about God for eternity, and never say all the true things about God, and yet it is not the case that all things that we can say about God are true.

What any orthodox theologian affirms about right thinking about God gives me my framework for discussing right feeling about God: the fact that God is infinite means that there are a whole host of right ways to feel about God. It does not follow from this that every way of feeling about God is also acceptable.

2. It is easy to determine precisely the mood that Scripture presents in any one passage; and,

3. Closely related: it is easy to determine precisely the mood communicated by any cultural expression.

I do not believe that, if we both agree that Scripture models for us the right way to feel about God, we will always agree on the mood of any particular passage, nor will we necessarily agree the best way to express that same mood in our own context. Again, I would offer parallels with exegesis and theology: two godly people can agree that the Word of God is the final authority for faith and practice, and yet disagree about what a passage says. Or they may, for instance, disagree whether some particular theological term is faithful way to communicate the meaning of the text of Scripture.

These kinds of differences are not unexpected; once again, though, difficulties and disagreements in interpretation ought never drive us to the conclusion that the text means nothing.

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About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.