The Protestant Dilemma

Daniel-Rops writes:

For three centuries Protestantism has been unable to escape the dilemma: either the freedom of the Spirit which leads to anarchy, or else the acceptance of an orthodoxy which in substance is contrary to the spirit of the Reformation. [p. 188]

Just so. The Protestant claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit when he interprets the Bible, so why would he accept the shackles of being “compelled” to accept someone else’s view when it differs from his own? On the other hand, the very fact that someone else differs from him ought to give him pause: the other fellow claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit, too. So who’s right?

Perhaps the Protestant will say that the Holy Spirit uses the means of grammatical-historical exegesis in order to guide him, so that he who doesn’t know Greek and Hebrew just isn’t on the same footing as, say, Charles Hodge or Sproul or Calvin.

But isn’t that a bit odd? First off, the Bible doesn’t say anything about grammatical-historical exegesis per se, so it seems to be rather eisegetical to propose that a particular hermeneutic principle is an anointed means of the Spirit. Secondly, doesn’t this arrangement effectively constitute the second horn of Daniel-Rops’ dilemma: an academic magisterium, wherein the man in the pew is expected to submit to the decrees of the men in the ivory tower? After all, not all orthodoxies must be proclaimed by those wearing the minister’s robes.

So the pew-sitter is reckoned to be presumptuous when he differs from Drs. Horton or Silva or Hodge, and yet we’re told that we don’t need “the Roman Magisterium.” Why? Because what we really need is the Genevan one? And why Geneva rather than Canterbury or Dallas?

The situation is exactly as Daniel-Rops describes, unfortunately. And it seems to reach its zenith—or nadir—in gentlemen like this, who (without benefit of any advanced theological training, apparently; does that make him presumptuous?) subscribes to the Westminster standards but who stands apart from any American Presbyterian denomination because he judges them to be deficient: an orthodoxy within anarchy, if you will.

 

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