ReformedSystematic Systematic Theology

Sola Scriptura and the Freedom of the Mind

About a year ago I read a section by the Philosopher Immanuel Kant regarding the spirit of the enlightenment. Enlightenment is man’s freedom from his own self-imposed imposed slavery of the mind. I remember being moved inwardly, gravitating very strongly to his doctrine of the independent, free mind. Kant’s ethic is paradoxical: He argued that one is to live in society submitting himself to the various requirements of the spheres he’s engaged in. He then argued that it is the righteous requirement of all free thinkers that, though they submit themselves to these institutions bodily, they simultaneously submit their own independent thought-system to reason alone. In other words, though they submit externally to their authorities,  they are compelled to disagree inwardly. They are to submit in the body, but not in the mind.

This freedom, though, is a freedom which is, in one sense, absolute and in another sense slavery. It is the freedom from any restraint in the mind, save rationality. Yet rationality cannot itself be justified within this system. The freedom of all mental restraint is the freedom from the necessary condition required to structure a fully formed worldview in the first place. Thought systems, insofar as they are consistent and reasonable, require a reason for rationality. They require a reason for reason. And this is the problem with enlightenment: enlightenment, which throws off all Christian revelation, frees itself from all authorities but also enslaves itself to that same freedom. That “freedom” is freedom from authority, yes. Yet it is also freedom from the necessary conditions to construct a system of thought at all. Biblical Revelation is, at-least in part, man’s necessary grace from God required in order to inform him of the truth which grounds his belief in truth at all. God’s reason for reason is that man is a being created by the rational God. That rational God made a rational world. Within that rational world, God made humanity, in His own image and likeness, as rational beings. This system, which is the real and true Metaphysic, is the only system which ultimately grounds the world’s rationality.

It is the Reformation, not the Enlightenment, which contained the mental seeds that, if fully actualized, lead to freedom of the mind that is a necessary condition for the full flourishing of the soul. The Reformation, and Protestantism’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura, contain the potential for the freedom of the mind necessary to rightly interpret our present existence in a consistent and fulfilling way. The Protestants were protesting against the Roman Catholic communion, its authoritarian system of Pope, Bishops, and Priests. The Roman system posited the necessity of man’s submission to an “infallible” interpreter of Scripture. They stated that one could not, in truth, trust that he himself was rational enough to interpret the Scriptures for himself. He needs the pope. Against this, the Protestants argued that the Bible is perspecuitable. Perspecuity refers to the clarity of Scripture. As to its source, the Scriptures are given by the God of truth, not the author of confusion. They are, therefore, objectively clear. Further, they argued that the Bible is, itself, as to its form, composed of the Law and Gospel. The Law and Gospel are intelligible, even to children. The form is, therefore, perspecuitable to churchmen. And if the form which transcends the whole is perspecuitable, then too are the parts, the individual Scriptures which make up its whole. Further, they argued that the constituents of the church, individual members, are inhabited by the Holy Spirit. They are themselves by that same Spirit able to interpret the Scriptures by His grace. These doctrines, the perspicuity of Scripture (the principal of objective clarity) and the doctrine of the Spirit’s indwelling of individual believers (the principal of subjective clarity)  together justify the Protestant doctrine of the right of private interpretation: A Christian man is free to interpret the Bible for himself and stand with conscience against any without it. “A laymen who has the Scripture is more than pope or council without it” (Martin Luther).

It is this epistemic-system, the system of Sola Scriptura, which frees the mind from illegitimate authorities to the legitimate authority of Jesus Christ. Through the Bible, and the God contained therein, one’s mind is furnished with the necessary justification for rationality, morality, cosmology, anthropology, political philosophy, history, and ext. In short, through the doctrines contained in the Scripture one is furnished with the potential to develop an entire system of thought. This is mental freedom. Further, when one considers God’s own doctrine of authority in Scripture, one is freed from all illegitimate mental authorities; he is free from all Teachers is an absolute and Popish sense, bound only to His Lord who through the Scriptures and the Spirit who still continues to speak in them.

On the authority of God’s Word believe God’s Word and recognize your freedom from any other authority, mentally, besides God and God given rationality; in this, you will realize the freedom of the mind which necessarily corresponds to the flourishing of the soul, as God intends.

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.  They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they clove the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are hall brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ’” (Matthew 23:1-10).

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

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