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Sola Scriptura arguments should be put to rest

One of the most abused doctrines in evangelical Christianity is Sola Scriptura. Everybody uses it to prove their side of some argument, and as I’ve been thinking about it lately, I’m convinced it really proves very little for anyone.

Now one caveat before I move to my main point: the doctrine obviously does prove something; it was a critical doctrine during the Reformation. It proves that there is no other infallible authority from God but the Bible (such as the Pope or Church Tradition that is considered on par with Scripture)But I’m convinced that beyond that one important use, Sola Scritpura arguments should be put to rest.

So just to be clear: I think the doctrine is correct and should be used to counter any position that claims infallible authority equal to Scripture.

But beyond this absolutely valid use of the doctrine, I don’t think it’s helpful to cry “Sola Scripura!” as somehow a defense for every position. I’ve commented before on how I think the doctrine is most often used simply as a “trump card” in order to sidestep any discussion whatsoever about a difficult issue (you can follow more of the discussion here).

I truly think that other than the legitimate way the doctrine is used that I mentioned above, Sola Scriptura arguments should be put to rest because both sides of any argument can use it to “prove” their point, and it usually prevents careful dialogue about issues from taking place.

Here is just one case in point that lies within my sphere of study. In the worship debate, those who most often use the Sola Scriptura argument in my experience have been those who deny that any music is off limits for Christians. This is why I devoted chapters in both of my books to the subject.

However, I was recently interested to listen to sessions from a recent conference at Southwestern Baptist Seminary called “Sola Scriptura or Sola Cultura.” When I first saw the title, I assumed it would be a conference defending a more progressive view of worship since “the Bible doesn’t say anything about culture or music,” a comment I often hear. But as I listened to the audio, the oposite was actually true. The speakers were suggesting that the contemporary church allows the prevailing culture to drive their worship instead of the Scripture. In essence, this was a conference more in defense of being careful not to allow culture to drive worship than the other way around. I wholeheartedly agree.

Here’s the point: every evangelical Christian believes in Sola Scriptura. Everyone, I would suggest, wants his worship to be governed by the Word of God. But belief in this does not solve any of the debates; any number of people arguing that our worship should be shaped by Scripture can come to any number of divergent conclusions. For example, all three sessions on worship at the “Preserving the Truth Conference” last January (mine, Michael Riley’s and Chris Anderson’s) ironically argued basically the same thing–our worship must be governed by Scripture–even though Michael and I would probably come to slightly different conclusions than Chris in terms of application.

So I would respectfully suggest that those involved in the worship debate refrain from using some sort of Sola Scriptura argument in an attempt to prove that their view is more biblical and recognize that we’re all trying to allow Scripture be our guide.

The difficulty, and where the debate should rest, is which position is the best interpretation and application of the all-sufficient Word of God.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

75 Responses to Sola Scriptura arguments should be put to rest

  1. Nice post Scott. I will say that I disagree with much of your application. In fact, I consider some of your teaching to be dangerous. But I can (actually have) read the first part of your book and agree. I am hardly alone though. My experience is that Christian musicians of practically any genre and on all sides of the debate agree with the premise that the Bible and God's desires should dictate what goes in in church music. If your post is a acknowledgment that people driven by the same Biblical agenda can come to different conclusions on application, kudos to you.

  2. Greg, I would acknowledge that people driven by the same Biblical agenda can come to different conclusions on application, but I would also say that not all of them are always necessarily right applications (although they may be), and if two applications contradict each other, then one (or both) is wrong.

  3. Oh well Scott. At least you are halfway there :)

    Seriously, at least you give the other side credit for having the right motivations. That is better than some of your allies have traditionally done.

    But it is absolutely fine for different people to come to different applications. For example, there is no ideal music style that transcends all cultures. As much as you guys would like to say there is, it does not exist. Two different applications does not mean that at least one is wrong.

    But maybe we are just defining the term "application" differently.

  4. Greg, again, I agree that it's possible to come to two different applications and be both biblical, but, for example, if you say Christian rap is acceptable for worship biblically, and I say it's not, we can't both be right even though we are working from the same motivation and authority! :)

  5. Greg,

    I hate to speak for Scott, but I don't think he thinks, and I certainly don't think, that there is some "ideal music style that transcends all cultures." You say we affirm this position ("As much as you guys would like to say . . . "), but in fact, we do not. Now, with respect to the eschaton, I might be willing to affirm that we will be singing some ideal musical form. But in the here and now, I'm not even sure what your sentence means. How could a music transcend a given culture? Your sentence makes no sense. So I really don't like the words being put into my mouth. I say this respectfully but candidly, if you want to interact here, you should at least show us the courtesy of understanding what we say.

    You are right that two different applications does not mean one is wrong, but, again, that's not what Scott said. If Scott says that rap is wrong, and you say rap is right, you both cannot possibly be right. That is different than Scott advocating traditional worship and your advocating contemporary worship (or whatever you want to call it). Here we are talking about two applications of Scripture. One person takes Scripture to forbid a certain activity. Another believes Scripture affirms the activity. Both cannot possibly be right.

    I hope you'll keep reading.


  6. Scott, I love how you always go the most extreme example of Christian rap! ;)

    In seriousness though, I would have to disagree with you that two different applications can't both be biblical/right. As easy as it would have been if God has just spelled out every detail concerning music in worship, He didn't. There are a lot of gray areas. Serious scholars on many sides of the issue have drawn varying conclusions, and yes, many of them would claim Sola Scriptura.

    That being said, based on the principles of Romans 14, it is acceptable and even natural that believers would draw differing conclusions as it concerns life's "gray areas."

    This is why I think the area of most importance is Paul's exhortation that we all walk in love. Christian rap, to borrow your example, would be highly offensive in my church context. To use it would be wrong. However, I find no Biblical justification to say that it would be wrong in certain contexts. In fact, the most loving option might be to use a musical form most familiar to certain individuals. But…you won't find me anywhere near those contexts!

  7. Scott, your argument runs as follows:

    a1. Your views on the music debate rely on sola scriptura.

    a2. Your opponents' views on the music debate rely on sola scriptura.

    b. Therefore, pleas for sola scriptura in the debate are meaningless.

    c. By extension the only real difference is how or whether the two apply Scripture.

    The problem is that If "a1" is incorrect, then arguments based on "b" may actually be valid.

    In reality, you have already argued against this in your previous post on the topic where you in essence question the validity of "a2" in other instances (you argued that such pleas are really only pleas for "nuda scriptura."), and so I still find it valid to question "a1."

  8. Condemnation of homosexuality is just one of many OT laws handpicked by Christianity to be enforced.

  9. Ryan, take a deep breath. I don't know who you are, so rest assured you are not one of the guys I am talking about.

    Anyone that knows this debate knows exactly what I meant by the sentence you claim makes no sense. And no, I am not going to engage in word parsing games.

    Moving on….

  10. Hi, Philip. I think you missed my original point, however. Here it is:

    The only valid use of Sola Scriptura is to combat views, like that of Rome, that say that additional infallible revelation is being given beyond the Bible.

    So if I say that I believe my application is authoritative because it is derived by good and necessary implication from Scripture and from knowledge of music, etc., that is not the same thing as saying that my application is infalible revelation from God.

    Any other use of Sola Scriptura beyond that is invalid, I believe. You cannot show may anywhere in Scripture itself that would imply such.

  11. I'm one of the authors of this site, and I am very familiar with the debate. And my breathing is quite normal right now. :)

    It's your use of "culture," especially as modified by "ideal" that does not make sense, let alone the idea that this "ideal culture" could "transcend all cultures." That's not our idea of culture here. Cultures develop over time. We do not believe any culture is some kind of Platonic form, with the possible exception of the "culture" of the Millennium.

  12. I think the gap between my personal convictions (albeit based on conclusions drawn from Scripture) and the direct statements of Scripture itself is quite vast. To claim them both as authoritative seems to undermine the latter.

  13. Philip, I would respectfully submit to you that your understanding of the "direct statements of Scripture" are (a) less objective than you imagine and (a) more based on extra-biblical tradition, history, and other sources of authority than you'd like to admit.

  14. How is a direct statement of Scripture (e.g., a precept such as "you shall not steal") not objective and based on extra-biblical tradition/other sources of authority?

  15. I was also going to note my concern with your phrase "and from knowledge of music," but I was short on time this afternoon. My concern is that in order to have the one right (based on your statement to Greg: "if two applications contradict each other, then one (or both) is wrong") interpretation (and, therefore, application) of Scripture, then I must have the insight of a musicologist in order to properly interpret and apply Col. 3:16. But let's extend that analogy. What if I said that you needed a PhD in psychology in order to understand and apply the household codes, or a degree in quantum physics to properly interpret Genesis 1, or have studied sociology in order to properly apply principles of giving and meeting needs through the church? I have a big problem with allowing other sciences to make the Scriptures fit their molds, for such an atmosphere inevitably moves away from Scripture and fosters an unbiblical elitism from which we are cautioned time and time again in Scripture.

  16. OK, Philip. I'll try this one more time! :)

    Number one, let me say that I don't think you need a degree in musicology to understand the basic meaning of music. I've said that many times online and in my books. Because music communicates on a basic emotional level, any human being can discern its basic meaning as many have written about, talked about, etc. through the ages (until relatively recent history, that is).

    So right there your concern is unfounded.

    However, even having said that, let me ask you a few really honest questions:

    Do you believe that it is sin to take cocaine recreationally?

    Do you believe that it would be wrong of me to feed rat poison to my children?

    What about abortion? Can you show me a chapter and verse in Scripture that condemns the termination of a fetus in the womb? Can you show me a passage that explicitly says that an unborn fetus is a living human?

    You see, the point is that we make ethical decisions all the time that have as their background biblical principles, but are nevertheless based on reasonable application, sometimes requiring so-called "experts" to give us information about an issue.

    For example, the only reason taking cocaine is sinful is that experts and experience tell us that it is harmful to the body and addictive, and thus would break a biblical principle.

    The only reason I know that it would be wrong of me to feed rat poison to my children is that experts and experience tell me that it would kill them.

    The only reason I know that it is sinful to terminate a fetus in the womb is both implications drawn from Scripture (which I would suggest are enough in themselves) and experts who tell us that life exists in the womb.

    And when it comes to music, we apply Scriptural principles to our decisions, sometimes requiring experts and experience to tell us what the music is doing so that we can discern if that music breaks biblical principles.

  17. PhilipT said:

    But let’s extend that analogy. What if I said that you needed a PhD in psychology in order to understand and apply the household codes, or a degree in quantum physics to properly interpret Genesis 1, or have studied sociology in order to properly apply principles of giving and meeting needs through the church?


    I don't think your first analogy is particularly helpful or fair, for Scott is not arguing that you need a PhD in music. As for your other analogies, if you could establish that to interpret Genesis 1 a degree in quantum physics was relevant to the text (we're talking about 'interpretation') or even remotely connected (is Genesis a science book?), then perhaps it would apply. As to your sociology degree, I'm not sure that's even a bona fide science, let alone what that has to do with giving or meeting needs in a church. And I'm not sure what a degree in anything has to do with anything Scott said. He never mentioned a degree. He simply said a "knowledge of music."

    If I want to apply Eph 6:4, on the other hand, you had better have (to borrow Scott's words) a "knowledge of" what fathers, nurture, admonition, and children are. Would you disagree with this?

    Again, in order for genuine conversation to take place, and for you to genuinely respond to what we are saying, please understand what we are saying.

  18. Thanks for your response. I'll say first to your statement regarding meaning in music that I don't think you're being fair with the evidence. If you've read Meyer (and I'm sure that you have), you know that such universals are not what they have been made out to be. I could offer a litany of even music professors at fundamentalist institutions that would question that concept of universal meaning. That being said, I once again return to the concern of allowing the experts to determine how we understand and apply the Word of God. If so many experts can't nail down what a "pop style" is and even what it universally communicates, I can't help but question the validity of this source of Scriptural insight.

    As to your questions (which are not being asked for their answers, I know):

    – Drug use: Cocaine is illegal and therefore its use is a violation of I Peter 2:13.

    – Rat Poison: Really? Murder is condemned in Scripture. Can't remember where at the moment….

    – Abortion: Killing of an infant in the womb is dealt with in the Law (cf. Ex. 22:22-24). God hates it.

    There are certainly other arguments regarding these points that could exercise the insights of experts in particular fields and I do not devalue such insights. I see those insights in their proper place (viz., supporting the clear precepts of Scripture). My problem with the breadth of the waning fundamentalist doctrine of music is that it places the primacy on the pseudo musical theory and then uses cherry-picked Scriptures as proof-texts for an essentially unbiblical doctrine. When evaluating any such doctrine, I have begun to ask myself the following two questions: (1) does this conclusion rest PRIMARILY on clear statements of Scripture, or does it res PRIMARILY on human reasoning? (2) does this conclusion begin with Scripture, or does it begin with someone's opinion? The fundamentalist doctrine of music fails on both counts.

    I have answered 3 of your questions, and now I'd like a simple answer (preferably as short as mine were to yours) to one of mine: Is the song "In Christ Alone" as performed in the style done by Keith and Kristyn Getty categorically wrong for a believer to listen to or use in congregational worship?

  19. Thanks for the response Ryan. I am not questioning that as one grows in maturity in the Christian walk that their insight grows in some degree in regard to these items, but these insights do not fundamentally reshape the interpretations of the passages at hand. I would respectfully disagree what appears to be your conclusion regarding Eph. 6:4 (viz., that one must have children, etc. to understand how the verse must be applied) in that the writer of the Haustafeln was single and without children. The problem that I am trying to illustrate is that once we say that one must have a knowledge of a particular field or have access to certain works written by fundamentalist musicologists in order to apply Scripture aright, I have to question our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. In other words, if my "knowledge" of a particular field gives me a particular insight of "the right" application of Scripture that somehow the masses of orthodox evangelical Christendom has missed, should I be questioning them or questioning my gnosis?

  20. BAHAHAHAH! I don't know why I'm even reading all this, but I have to confess this is the best laugh I've had all day! I almost peed my pants! WHAT!?!? Well played, Scott, I'm not sure what you say to that either, as it has absolutely nothing to do with topic…and I can rabbit trail with the best of them.

  21. PhilipT,

    I agree with your first sentence after the greeting. I hope you will think long and seriously about the application of Scripture, even in the matters you mentioned to Scott. You have middle terms in your reasoning that you are not acknowledging.

    As for your "respectful disagreement," I was referring of having a knowledge, not from having children, but merely of children. Even if it's not of all the terms ("fathers, nurture, admonition, and children"), even if it's one, my point stands. You simply must provide middle terms (i.e., have a "knowledge" of the matters the Scriptures are addressing) to apply the Scripture.

    "Writer?" I hope you believe Paul wrote Ephesians. ;)

    I know what problem you are trying to illustrate. And you are working very hard to do so. But I'm not buying it. I'm with Scott on this. If we don't understand the Scripture and what the Scripture is addressing, applying the Scripture becomes nearly impossible.

    You say, "once we say that one must have a knowledge of a particular field or have access to certain works written by fundamentalist musicologists in order to apply Scripture aright, I have to question our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture." Yes, you keep coming back and saying this. You have said it many times. But that doesn't even remotely sound like an argument anyone here has ever made (especially about "fundamentalist musicologists"). Ever. Please try your best to represent us fairly, PhilipT.

    I understand that much of your argument depends on not reading us at face value. I mean, you have an uphill battle, don't you? You have to prove that we don't believe in the sufficiency of Scripture even though we continue to insist that we do. That means you have to read into what we are writing. But, PhilipT, this practice is neither charitable nor helpful for the conversation. Please try to read what we are saying and represent that fairly.

    On an incidental note, I understand that the mass of evangelicals may believe one thing or another. A very good argument could be made, using this same reasoning, that because "the masses of orthodox evangelical Christendom" embrace certain things, that therefore we should embrace sign gifts, seeker models for church growth, a lack of doctrinal carefulness, a non-young earth approach to Genesis, and even matters like egalitarianism, non-vicarious models of the atonement, and a host of other rubbish. As far as I'm concerned, this is non-starter argument. Some conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists may find it appealing, but I do not. Sola Scriptura, PhilipT.

  22. I haven't the time or the desire to respond to all the arguments, so I'll pick the most on-topic one for now. If one must have a knowledge of music in order to know how to apply the Bible to music, then how much knowledge is sufficient? Second, if someone more educated in musicology than you or I comes along and presents an opposing application, is it then binding? Finally, what knowledge of music do you have that allows for the most accurate application of Scripture?

  23. Scott,

    My main problem with the above article (which I've read as well as all of the comments in the thread) is that either Scripture is sufficient or it is not, and you cannot play it both ways.

    Now I'm sure that you'd claim (as do I, and most likely everyone who reads the threads on your site) that Scripture is sufficient (Sola Scriptura) as the final authority on any topic. Note it is not an exhaustive commentary, but as believers, it is the one source that we can have complete confidence in being true.

    Now in regards to the great music debate at hand, I think we'd all be wise to be dogmatic where the Scriptures are dogmatic and temperate where the Scriptures are silent. We also need to be honest about the difference between conviction and preference. My convictions are based on the dogmatic stances of Scripture (Murder is wrong, intentional harm to others is wrong, lying, stealing, unfaithfulness, etc, etc) are unquestionably wrong as they are explicitly discussed in Scripture.

    My preferences are based on my understanding and application of biblical principles. I may (and do!) hold many very strict standards for my life and that of my family. However, I have to be honest with myself and with them, that these are not direct commands from Scripture, rather they are how I am applying Scripture based on my knowledge, study, etc.

    Music falls in this arena. I personally have a strong preference for conservative music and very conservative format for corporate worship services. As I seek to apply my understanding of Scriptural principles for worship, a "traditional" style service is what I personally believe is most in sync with those principles. However, I cannot look at someone like Phil T who may (and likely does!) believes / follows the same commands in Scripture and also sees the same principles as I do, yet draws different conclusions than I do, and say that they are Sinning because they do not do things just as I do. If we were to believe this, then those from other countries and cultures are doomed to failure and sin in worship because they do not hold to my preferences.

  24. Thanks for your contribution, Kevin. I don't think I disagree with any of what you have said. But allow me some clarifications:

    I believe that the Bible is entirely sufficient, but "sufficient" is being used two different ways in this discussion.

    If by sufficient you mean that no matter what decision you face, the Bible has something to say to it, and it is the final court of appeal for all matters, then I agree entirely.

    But if by sufficient you meant that if you cannot find a chapter and verse that explicitly backs up a particular conviction, decision, application, or even doctrine that you hold, then I think you are defining sufficient in a way that the Bible itself does not claim, nor have any of the key defenders of sufficiency defined it that way.

    However, I also firmly agree with you that conclusions we make that are based on our reasonable application of Scripture cannot be held with the same amount of dogmatism as those derived from clear statements of Scripture (although the latter is fewer than most would admit).

    But here's the important point, and one that I think you would agree with: as Christians we MUST actively apply the Bible to every area of our lives, even those areas like music where we find no explicit commands in Scripture.

    I don't think many people are willing to do this, however. Instead, because the Bible says nothing specific about music, they refuse to make any applications on the matter. They refuse to eliminate ANY musical forms for worship based on reasonable application of the Bible to their choices. This is what I am arguing against in this and other posts.

    Finally, although I agree with you that my reasonable applications of Scripture must be held with an honest willingness to be proven wrong, I disagree with you that we cannot claim that someone else's applications are wrong, if they can be shown to be errant applications of Scripture. I am willing to be shown wrong on this matter; so should others.

    But instead of being willing to engage in reasonable debate about applications of the all-sufficient Word of God, most Christians today just throw up the Sola Scriptura trump card and refuse to acknowledge that their application could be wrong.

    This is how we operate in so many other areas in the Christian life where we have to make moral decisions about issues the Bible doesn't specifically address. The Bible is not an encyclopedia of commands and prohibitions; rather, it is a historical record given to us by inspiration that expects us to extract its principles for application to contemporary situations.

  25. I could not disagree with you more and have a burning curiosity about why you wrote the article in the first place. Anyone who keeps up with the pulse of evangelicalism recognizes that more than ever, the idea that the Bible alone is sufficient is being abandoned by record numbers of people claiming to be evangelical. Today it isn't popes or tradition that threatens sola scriptura, it is western autonomy in all its forms. It is the influence of both modernism and now postmodernism. You even have evangelicals denying the existence of absolute truth and our ability to know it. The best way for us to ensure that evangelicalism dies as a movement is to stop making a fuss over sola scriptura. We must keep it ever before people no matter what. It is crucial to the gospel. Look no further than Rob Bell if you want an example or the charismatics with their extra-biblical revelations!

  26. Scott,

    I certainly agree that "as Christians we MUST actively apply the Bible to every areas of our lives, even those areas like music where we find no explicit commands in Scripture."

    While many people are not wiling to do this, there are many who are daily growing in the gospel and sanctification is obvious in their lives. One concern I have with your positions is that in the same breath as you state that the Bible doesn't speak to specifics of music (thus leaving this to be a matter of discernment, preference, etc) you also say that we can look at someone else who's taken Biblically-based decisions that are different than ours and call them sinful. I may disagree sharply with what another believer finds acceptable in terms of use for worship, and would certainly not feel comfortable in those settings, but I have to also admit that those are preference-based standards and I cannot call their worship style sinful.

    I'm inclined to to think you don't believe this way, but after reading SoundWorship and numerous of your posts, it comes across with the implication of "when you get to the level of spiritual maturity as I have, you'll agree with me." However, as I study Scripture, I do not see that as being normative in sanctification. As we grow and mature as believers, the Holy Spirit guides our conscience. There are things that bind my conscience, which if I were to do them, would be sinful for me (whatever is not of faith is sin). However, I cannot bind someones else's conscience with those items.

    Take alcohol as an example. As much as I wish it were in the Bible, there is no verse / passage that states "thou shalt not drink." The Biblical commands are to avoid drunkenness, being under the influence of substances, etc. We also see that Christ turned water into wine at the wedding, and unlike many Fundy's state, it was not a watered-down version of grape juice. No, it was very quality drink as many people commented on the best wine being saved for last.

    When I was first out of college, I was invited (often) to go to happy hour and such with co-workers as a way to include me in the office culture, get to know me, etc. There was nothing malicious about their attempts, they were begin genuinely kind. However, I declined and was immediately greeted with the question of "why?" This was the first time I've had to work through the issue and determine what my convictions were. I was no longer under the authority of my parents or academic institutions that forbid it, so why was I not going to participate. As I studied, I came to the understanding that it was not explicitly off limits, however, for me it would still be sinful. I could not do it in full faith. Having a Scotch-Irish background and all of the genetics that are in play, and the evidence of my extended family (full of many drunkards), I was afraid I'd try it, like it, and not be able to control it.

    However, I cannot look at another believer (as much as my legalistic side wants to do!) who occasionally has a drink, certainly never close to being drunk and say that they are sinning. I have numerous Biblical principles that lead me to my positions (All things are lawful, but not expedient; etc.) and my conscience is bound, but I cannot bind them with these same things.

    The music issue is much the same way. Many of us have strong standards, but we cannot bind their conscience where the Scripture is silent. We can be dogmatic that singing is appropriate as are instruments in worship and other things as those are clear in Scripture.

  27. I'm just curious. How do we apply Romans 13:1 without getting some information from outside the Bible? If I consult a lawyer (an expert in law), so as to better apply Romans 13:1, does that make me an elitist?

  28. Ed, I couldn't agree more with your concerns, and I think in the cases you mention we should use Sola Scriptura with all our might. Sola Scriptura arguments should NOT be put to rest to combat the kinds of errors you cite. I'm with you.

    But the reason I wrote this post is that Sola Scriptura is being used illegitimately by lazy Christians who don't want to have to work to make God-pleasing decisions in areas where the Bible is silent.

  29. Scott,

    1. Scripture is replete with commands against murder (look no further than the 10 commandments). Look at the examples in the OT about what would happen if even during a struggle an unborn child dies, etc.

    2. And if that alone isn't enough, seeing that we are a subject to the laws of our city / state / nation which strictly forbid murder, and we are required through Scripture to be in subjection to those authorities, even if the Bible didn't prohibit murder, it would be wrong because we would not be obeying the authorities we are under. Last I checked, there are no laws governing what music is right wrong. There are no laws prohibiting alcohol consumption once you are of age, but there are laws prohibiting being drunk / under the influence and being in public.

    This is the second time in the thread you've tried that argument but it isn't even close to apples-to-apples.

  30. But how do you know that a lump of tissue in a mother's womb is a human? Why is destroying that tissue any different than cutting your hair?

  31. Who would deny that God creates human tissue? He knows the number of my hairs, after all.

    But how do you know that tissue in the womb has life?

  32. If I'm not mistaken, the only child in this passage is already born. Am I missing something?

    Even so, it seems like you're trying to prove your conviction based on implications from passages rather than explicit statements, are you not?

  33. The key is that these and a number of biblical passages are easily tied together to arrive at that conclusion. The weight of the argument rests on Scripture, not on reason. We're doing systematic theology here, not speculative guesswork. See also: Gen 25:22 (Hos 12:3), Job 10:8-12, Psa 51:5, Isa 44:2, Jer 1:5, Luke 1:41-44, Rom 5:12-19, to name a few.

  34. I know someone who is pastoring in a fundamentalist church whose wife had an ectopic pregnancy several years ago. He permitted the doctor to terminate the pregnancy in order to save the life of his wife. This is an abortion, but he believed it was right in this situation.

    Did he sin? Or not? How do you know?

    Everyone, with all these questions, even the most seemingly obvious, we simply must provide middle terms to get to make the Bible speak to our situation. In order to provide middle terms, we must know and understand our world. This is a God-given responsibility. There may be varying degrees of certainty concerning our application of Scripture, based on the complexity of the subjects, but in every single case, we simply must understand how the Scripture speaks to us. Understanding how the Scripture speaks to us means we must deduce (again, with middle terms) that there is a point of contact between what the Bible says and the situation in which we find ourselves.

    This may sound like elitism to some (who have a popular or shallow understanding of what elitism is), but it is not. God himself has revealed to us that he expects us to read and meditate upon the Scripture, and then apply it to our current situation.

    This impulse away from application sounds very much to me like a very weird form of postmodernism. First, it's weird because the proponents seem to think (contrary to postmodernism) that the Bible speaks on a surface level very plainly in all situations. Second, it's weird because those who advocate this impulse away from application seem to deny that anything can be known with certainty that the Bible does not address (this sounds very postmodern to me). It's a strange fundamentalist kind of amalgamation of selective application of postmodernism.

    PhilipT makes it sound so easy when he says, " We're doing systematic theology here, not speculative guesswork," but the truth of the matter is that even systematic theology is not a clearly definable task. There are scores of books written on theological method alone, let alone the various other prolegomena in standard theologies out there, all debating how we actually do theology. And many evangelicals have taken the radical skepticism PhilipT is showing toward knowledge outside Scripture and applied it to the interpretation of Scripture itself. So, to me it's interesting that there is this postmodern skepticism impulse to deny the certainty of knowledge outside Scripture, but that it has yet to turn on Scripture itself.

    And, again, to me, the cream of the crop was when PhilipT played the "masses of orthodox evangelical Christians" card. This coming from someone who has repeatedly chastized us for our alleged abandonment of Sola Scriptura. Now we must assume that what the majority of evangelicals Christians believe is authoritative?

  35. No, Philip. This is your fundamental problem. You don't seem to recognize how much reason, presuppositions are informing your conclusions. You are indeed doing systematic theology. You are correlating passages (using your reason) to arrive at a conclusion that you hold firmly.

  36. And I don't have any problem with that as long as it answers in the positive the following two questions (as quoted from my earlier post): (1) does this conclusion rest PRIMARILY on clear statements of Scripture, or does it res PRIMARILY on human reasoning? (2) does this conclusion begin with Scripture, or does it begin with someone’s opinion? The fundamentalist doctrine of music fails on both counts.

  37. Philip, I'm curious what you consider "The Fundamentalist Doctrine of Music, what you think we're arguing for on this site, and if you think there is any difference between the two.

  38. You cannot have it both ways, PhilipT. PRIMARILY assumes that there is something outside Scripture, and that means that Scripture is not, as you have put it, "sufficient." Moreover, if there is something outside Scripture, then it is most certainly not (again, as you accuse us), "Sola Scriptura" (for the Scripture is not alone our authority, as you put it). That's your argument.

  39. And Philip, we are more than willing for you or anyone else to show us how a particular specific argument or conclusion we make is not a legitimate application of Scripture. We really are. Please do.

  40. Scott,

    If you would answer the questions I have asked each of you above, I could even better answer your question (actually, I think it would answer the question by itself).


    I've said a number of times, I do not exclude reason outside of Scripture, but the argument must rest primarily upon scripture and must begin with Scripture. I don't know how I could make my position clearer. I have, on occasion, referred to this view as Prima Scriptura for this reason, but I think its a needless term.

  41. PhilipT,

    You entered this conversation saying that we don't believe in Sola Scriptura. You questioned (in your own words) whether or not "pleas for sola scriptura in the debate are meaningless."

    And now you have the audacity to tell us that you have no examples at hand where we are abandoning Sola Scriptura?

    This only illustrates the point I have returned to again and again. You neither read us nor understand us. And this, of course, illustrates the profound lack of charity and purposeful misrepresentation you have resorted to again and again.

    If you believe that we can use reason, then we agree. So I don't know why you're even here arguing with us, since we both believe in Sola Scriptura and that we have to use reason to apply the Scriptures, while acknowledging that Scripture is the final authority.

    And wasn't that Scott's point in his original point? We really agree on this?

  42. Ryan,

    My problem is consistently the primacy that you are giving for reason over Scripture. Even in our case study on abortion (granting that you have the same level of Scriptural support for some of the conclusions drawn regarding musical style, etc.), I would be willing to admit that my conclusions are somewhat tenuous and that if someone differed (e.g. terminated pregnancy for the sake of a mother), I would have to admit that I cannot hold them to my applications (however reasonable they may be). Would you be willing to admit the same with your extra-biblical conclusions (i.e. allow for stylistic differences within corporate worship)?

  43. i am deeply saddened by this post. not because of any lack of validity, mind you. rather i find this post extremely shortsighted. i have been following this post and the ensuing comments since it was posted and find the entire discussion rather inappropriate. i do not say this as some stranger posting on your site. i have heard you speak Scott. i have seen you lead music at a conference, and i am well acquainted with one of the other author's family.

    this post bothers me for a couple of different reasons. first off, all positions regarding worship that are wrong are arrived at using a low view of Scripture in one way or another. when combatting positions such as this, various forms of the sola Scriptura arguments may be used effectively. true, these uses of the argument would not be that same the original used of striking down papal authority. however, they would be aligned with the principles behind sola Scriptura in tandem with 2 corinthians 10.5. [let me backtrack momentarily and define what i mean by wrong positions regarding worship. i am using it in the sense of any position that is either in violation of explicit statement (thou shalt not worship other gods), or disregards obvious and relevant principles of Scripture (transubstantiation? not a good example but the only thing i can think of presently). that leaves two other possibilities regarding positions on worship: acceptable, and correct. correct would be that position which we as humans cannot attain this side of the grave. acceptable would be that which is apparently accordant with Scripture, is the best that each of us with our understanding can offer, and most certainly is different than correct worship.]

    secondly, this post is bothersome because sola Scriptura is the basis behind any discussion of acceptable worship. this is what gives authority to pastors to shepherd their flock in this area. this is what determines what worship is the most right-like we can be this side of heaven. all arguments that can be employed in the topic of worship come from either direct statement of inference from Scripture. certainly extra-Biblical information can be employed, but that information does not have authority of itself. extra-Biblical information only has as much authority as the Bible allows it to have.

    i think that there is a right way to approach this topic. i think it should revolve around proving that those who use sola Scriptura as a trump card to end discussion must be valuing something else higher than Scripture in order to use it that way. i think you intended something of the like and i harbor no ill will accordingly. however i think this post needs a rewrite starting with the title. especially in a world where each on of us is quick to reject Biblical authority on issues. i run into this problem consistently as a sunday school teacher.

  44. I must have missed something in your article, Scott. I didn't think it was controversial at all. These posts that have followed sure have gone off on quite a tangent. I think it would be good for many of you to go ahead and read Scott's articles that he has written previously on this topic. (maybe you did)

    I work quite a bit with teenagers and college students and I'm constantly hearing this comment "show me chapter in verse" where it says that is wrong. According to Hebrews 5, that is a very immature Christian who makes that statement. Although I may STRONGLY disagree with someone on an application, I have less trouble with them if they can reason out Biblically why they have come to that conclusion instead of basically just saying "show me chapter in verse why I can't do that."

    (on a different note – I know we don't want to get in to a discussion of alcohol on this site, but I completely disagree with Kevin's comments about alcohol. As soon as someone can prove to me that oinos and yayin of the Bible was always 14% alcohol like much of our table wine is today, I'll agree that in essence God doesn't care as long as we don't get drunk.)

  45. Any chance you could use the normal capitalization rules for your next post? :) It is really hard for my feeble mind to read your comments without the capital letters at the start of the sentences. (Is that legalistic?) :)

  46. BTW, in order for me to compare the wine of the Bible with today's wine, I had to go outside the Bible for that information.

  47. @Matt, what things do you struggle to find chapter and verse for?

    Regarding the drinking debate, it is certainly not as simplistic as you are presenting it. The burden of proof lies on you to demonstrate that biblical beverages did not contain sufficient alcohol levels to cause intoxication (since Scripture is replete with examples of drunkenness)…but that's a whole different discussion. I happen to not drink, but I don't think that the prohibition can be supported from Scripture.

  48. My guess is he, like everone else, would struggle to find chapter and verse that directly indicates it is wrong to abort a fetus within the first trimester.

    The passages you link above don't do that. Many of them (Isaiah 44:2 for example) are intended to describe God's awesome creative power and touch not at all on when life begins.

  49. Nice to chat again David! ;) BTW, as indicated above, I don't think that the passages necessarily say that. They are points used to draw a conclusion. I was actually asking Matt a legit question tho. I'd like to know other areas that he has run into where chapter and verse are not sufficient.

  50. Good to see you again as well, Philip.

    I'm willing to grant you that you are developing an overall theology of life from many passages, some of which touch on the subject only tangentially.

    But, to be consistent, I think you have to grant that what Scott is doing is really no different.

  51. The whole concept of a particular style of music evoking certain unbiblical emotions rather than biblical affections relies on several premises: (1) the meaning of music is universal (2) response to said meaning is universal (3) the response is universally unbiblical. Points 1 and 2 rest entirely on esoteric gymnastics (far above the understanding of some of the greatest musicians in the fundamentalist camp and even the secular academic elite). The final link also involves a bit of biblical judo (i.e., are there any emotions that the Bible clearly defines as sinful???). All in all, it is a tenuous argument that relies more on extra-biblical gnosis than on Scripture itself.

  52. An applicable comment just posted today from John Stott via Doug Wilson via John Piper:

    "There are many pastors today who, for fear of being branded 'legalists', give their congregation no ethical teaching. How far we have strayed from the apostles! 'Legalism' is the misguided attempt to earn our salvation by obedience to the law. 'Pharisaism' is a preoccupation with the externals and minutiae of religious duty. To teach the standards of moral conduct which adorn the gospel is neither legalism nor pharisaism but plain apostolic Christianity" (Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 158).!/JohnPiper/status/1045780576

  53. Philip, It seems to me that the RAM philosphy is based on something much more basic than what you list above. In no particular order:

    1. God has sensibilities (this is the only reason any of the rest of us have sensibilities) and these are revealed in scripture along with the fact that they can be offended.

    2. Some emotions are innapropriate to feel towards God.

    3. Certain affections are essential to true worship.

    This can be derived from scripture similar to the way you derive a "theology of life" from the passages you cite. In fact I think you'd agree with each of the three points above. You just don't like the way Scott, et al. apply them.

  54. Ah, but if I don't apply them the way you do, one of us is right and one of us is wrong (as Scott stated earlier). That's the rub.

  55. We are more likely to practice rightly if our principles are right. Practice and application are important. Principle, of course, drives these.

  56. If my interpretation of Scriptural principles indicates that I can use Tomlin-style worship without concern and your interpretation says that it is wrong, who is right? What makes the difference between who is right and who is wrong?

  57. Surely you do not need my approval for anything you do. :^)

    Anyway, we're way off track here; point being Sola Sciptura is not where we disagree.

  58. Scott, I enjoyed this article as I have all the others I've read since finding this website. I believe your arguments are based on Scripture and you seem objective in your applications; I really appreciate your straight-forward approach to this evidently volatile issue. I've read through the posts above and I'm amazed at how so many of the arguments are obviously centered around personal preference. I often mention to my students that they should examine the elements of their music they "just can't do without" and give me good reasons why they want to keep them. Why do you "need" or "want" drums, guitars, synthesizers, etc? Hasn't the music itself become more important at that point? I have even had to come to the conclusion in my own life that what I "like" or "prefer" is not always what I need. The situation is similar to someone who wants to eat chocolate all day; he needs vegetables but he doesn't want to eat them. He makes excuses for how good the chocolate is, and how "it's not all bad!" He might even cite a recent medical journal lauding the chocolate for it's health benefits.

    I think we, as believers, have reached a new level of spiritual maturity when we realize how much "vegetables" benefit us and how they really "taste" good once you try them. This may be a crude example, but it clarifies the issue with my younger students.

    Thank you Scott for your thorough approach to the subject of music. It is refreshing to know that there are others trying to hold to Biblical principles.

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