Monday, July 02, 2012

Book Review: "100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura" by Dave Armstrong

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Dave Armstrong, the author of many best-selling works on Catholic apologetics, has recently added another weapon to his arsenal: 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura.

What I liked first about this book is that it doesn't take him long to begin counting down the arguments against the foundation of Protestantism. His blog posts and debates can be somewhat verbose at times, but here he gets right down to it.

He begins with an Introduction, which is short and a must-read. Whenever a Catholic makes the biblical case against sola scriptura (or "SS"), Protestants will often respond by saying that their opponent really doesn't know what SS is, that he is simply tearing down a strawman. Armstrong neutralized this objection in his Introduction by quoting from three prominent Protestant theologians (Norman Geisler, Keith A. Mathison, and James R. White) as they explain in their own words what SS is. Then, working from their definitions, he proceeds to point out its various weaknesses.

He ends his Introduction with a game plan:
It is not enough, therefore, merely to cite biblical evidence of Tradition or an authoritative Church. These things are not, by their mere mention, sufficient to refute sola scriptura (as our three Protestant proponents cited above point out). The Catholic needs to go further than that and establish, based on unassailable biblical evidence, examples of Tradition or of Church proclamations that were binding and obligatory upon all who heard and received them. Whether these were infallible is a more complex question, but a binding decree is already either expressly contrary to sola scriptura, or, at the very least, casts considerable doubt on the formal principle.
[. . .]
This is how one goes about refuting sola scriptura: by demonstrating how biblical teaching makes the Protestant rule of faith collapse into self-contradictions and incoherence. It's a death by a thousand qualifications (and worse). [pgs. 19-20]
It might be difficult at first to imagine how there could be 100 arguments against anything, let alone SS, but once you see how Armstrong lays out his arguments and progresses from 1 to 100, it becomes clear that SS is indeed riddled with self-contradictions and incoherence. Of course it helps that the author is known for being immensely thorough. If anyone can find 100 arguments against SS, Armstrong can.

He uses the following outline to present his arguments:

PART ONE: The Binding Authority of Tradition
  • Biblical and Apostolic Tradition Contrasted with the False and Corrupt Traditions of Men (#1-12)
  • Oral and Deuterocanonical Tradition (#13-21)
  • Continuing Christian Adherence to Jewish (Pharisaical) Tradition and Mosaic Law (#22-35)
  • Prophecy and Proclamation: "Word of God" and "Word of the Lord" (#36-39)
  • The Alleged Perspicuity of Scripture and the Necessity of Authoritative Interpretation (#40-53)
  • General or Miscellaneous Arguments Relating to Sola Scriptura (#54-60)

PART TWO: The Binding Authority of the Church
  • New Testament Evidence for a Hierarchical, Visible Church with Strong Authority (#61-67)
  • Biblical Indications of Apostolic Succession (#68-71)
  • The Jerusalem Council and Its Implications for Subsequent Catholic Ecclesiology (#72-74)
  • Biblical Analogies for an Infallible Church (#75-83)
  • The Biblical Prohibition of Denominationalism, Theological Relativism, and Indifferentism (#84-86)
  • Counter-Arguments Against Alleged Sola Scriptura Prooftexts (#87-100)
There's also a Conclusion and a section for Endnotes.

Of all of these sections, my favorite is the very last one. As I was reading the book, I was thinking to myself, "Yes, yes, I know where support for the Catholic rule of faith can be found. But, how do I respond to the passages that Protestants use to defend their rule of faith?" This is where arguments #87-100 come in. They are very helpful and the book would have been incomplete without them. Do you know what to say when a Protestant quotes 2 Tim 3:15-17, or 1 Jn 2:27, or Rev 22:18-19? If you don't, get this book.

I should close with a few words on the best way to approach this book. While the armchair apologist may be tempted to turn to the particular section that deals with the arguments the Protestant debater is throwing at him, I think it would be much better to first read the book from start to finish. Armstrong's 100 arguments are really one huge argument that organically and systematically develops as one progresses through the book. If you read a single argument or section of arguments in isolation, then it may be difficult to see how that argument or section is relevant, or how it really refutes anything. But, once you're aware of where Armstrong has already been and where he's headed, then you can see how each argument fits into the larger whole. I don't think any single argument in the list will destroy SS all by itself. It's the cumulative weight of all 100 arguments that does the job.

To read all 100 arguments may seem daunting at first, but Armstrong's book is really a brisk read. He doesn't spend any time waxing poetic, or reflecting on his debate experience (which is extensive), or berating Protestant apologists, or anything like that. He just gives you the facts, with just enough commentary to explain why each argument or section of arguments is being used, and then he moves on to the next one.

Bit by bit, Armstrong methodically dismantles SS until, by the end, there's nothing left. Much like a house built on sand, the edifice is eventually reduced to rubble as wave after wave pounds against it. I really see no way around this. I'm sure that Armstrong will soon be greeted with a hearty round of diatribes and ad hominems and similar flailing about as his usual opponents try desperately to come up with anything in their favor that he hasn't already refuted. This will be the first indication that Armstrong has struck a nerve, and rightly so, for SS is the very foundation of Protestantism. When that goes, the only thing left is the sure foundation of the Catholic Church.

Armstrong has always been Her worthy defender, and I wholeheartedly recommend his book. His previous works are excellent as well:
For more from the ever-prolific Dave Armstrong, see his blog: Biblical Evidence for Catholicism.

Pax Christi,


caoliushu said...

your blog is good.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with this type of argument is very silmple, Catholics aren"t helped by another book telling us how unimportant and irrelevant the bible is. I used to attend a parish with 3000 parishioners, and only 20 or so attended bible classes which were lead by unqualified teachers. Now I attend a parish with over 5000 parishioners and fewer than 10 show up for the bible study. In my life, I have never been to a Catholic parish where the sermons were usually based on scripture or sound hermeneutics.The Catholic tendency to treat the bible as irrelevant is farther from the truth than the Protestant tendency to give scripture exclusive reverence.

Mr. Armsong needs to knock the chip off his shoulder and stop attacking his former Protestant beliefs, and Catholics shouldn't feel they have accomplished anything simply because they find a justification for bashing those crazy Protestants.


Anonymous said...

Brad, aka Anonymous 9:12-

I don't believe that Dave Armstrong's arguments in ANY way support your description of his work as "another book telling us how unimportant and irrelevant the bible is." Having read some of him, I find he holds, as do the Church and all Catholics of mature faith, that the Bible is indeed the Word of God and as such, vital to our salvation. That's actually pretty important and relevant, if you ask me. His arguments against sola scriptura are NOT arguments against the Bible but against personal interpretation of the Bible, which is something that it actually warns us against in 2Peter 3:16. I agree with you that Catholic Bible Study is woefully inadequate in most parishes, but that is not the fault of the Bible or the Magisterium that teaches it with infallible grace. Dave Armstrong does no disservice to the truth when he attacks sola scriptura.

Reg Platt

phatcatholic said...

Brad ... you obviously haven't read Armstrong's book. He never says that the Bible is unimportant or irrelevant. His claim is that the Bible IS an authority, just not the ONLY one. The Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura does violence to Scripture, and it is out of love for the Word of God that Armstrong has taken such pains to prove this.

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