Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Slow News Week for the LayMAN

The LayMAN has decided to take a few shots at the new vice-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Rev. Landon Whitsitt.

In a meandering post that moves from wikipedia to crowdsourcing to Phyllis Tickle, former editor of the LayMAN, Parker Williamson, has gone on a Whitsitt hunt.

The Holy One of Lenoir explains Whitsitt's "world":

What’s lacking, of course, is our refusal to acknowledge any authority above ourselves. We’re talking here of a world without God, a world that does not – will not – hear “Thus says the Lord,” a world where “crowdsourcing” is all there is.

This is the world that the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s vice moderator embraced when shortly after the General Assembly adjourned, he opined that “Scripture is no longer an authority.”
To get what Parker is talking about, you have to follow his link to another LayMAN article entitled: PCUSA Vice-Moderator: "Scripture is Not the Word of God".

I have to say the title alone is enough to make me admire Whitsitt. At most "Word of God" is a metaphorical combination. I personally think it does more harm than good and that we should stop using it as I wrote here.

I am not sure that is where Landon is. I'd hate to see the poor guy sent to hell because I have praised him. Finally, after working through the links I find the the source of the damning quote, an interview with Whitsitt shortly after he took office, A Leader Rethinks Church. Yet this is all I found:

'Sola Scriptura' is dead most places, and dying rapidly in others. So where do we lodge the authority of our faith? That's the real battle we see fought in the church. We're not really arguing about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) inclusion, we're arguing about how we read the Bible.
I still haven't found where he said, "Scripture is not the Word of God."

Maybe he said, "Scripture is not the Word of God" somewhere else or maybe the LayMAN is just telling an Appalachian tall tale. They are common in these parts.

Landon's quote about sola scriptura is interesting. I personally think he is doing a good thing for the church. I wonder if the difference between the "worlds" of Parker and Landon is the difference between understanding faith as clinging to a slogan and repeating it vs. reflecting on what it means and making some decisions about its usefulness.

Good job, Landon. These are questions the church needs to talk about even if it is brought into the conversation kicking and screaming.

UPDATE: OK, I think I found it. At the end of the first LayMAN article, it reads:
Whitsitt added that he believes Jesus Christ is the final authority, and the disagreement over Scripture is on how it’s read and at what point it should be authoritative.

“What I’m trying to do is place Scripture at a specific point in the process of trying to discern what the Word of God would have us do,” he said. “Scripture is only a reference point to the Word of God, it’s not the Word of God, you know, capital W. It’s only a reference point.”
That is not the same as declaring as the title did: "Scripture is not the Word of God."

What Whitsitt is saying is pretty standard stuff. I mean what else can a metaphor do but point?


  1. As you & others have written, this points to the general unwillingness or inability of the church to teach its avarage members the findings of scholarship of the last 150 years. Lots of people, even in the mainline churches, operate as if it's still 1520 in the way they look at things religious. Hard to see a resolution.

  2. Hey, he has a tattoo. Why should he be trusted at all? :)

  3. But it's a presby symbol tattoo, Bob! I think Viola is simply jealous of his level of commitment. I mean, how likely is SHE to go that far for the church?

  4. I am pretty sure the reformers did not mean or anticipate that their invention against the authority of the Pope would eventually turn into the worship of scripture as an idol as it has among the Fundamentalists.

    If that is what sola scriptura has come to mean, then it is wrong and should be abandoned as a doctrine.

    It was supposed to mean that every individual is entitled to read the scriptures on their own, using only the scriptures to interpret the scriptures, not some priest or church or pope.

    It's a concept I endorse because it allows the Holy Spirit to become the teacher as we read the scriptures. An exhilarating, life affirming, faith enhancing experience.

    But it failed right out of the gate because in 5 seconds it became sola anointed-interpreter-of-the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit got cut out of the loop almost immediately. Argue with a Fundamentalist and what do they counter with? They claim you are arguing not with them but with Scriptures and (therefore) God Himself.

    Their self-serving self-righteous interpretation of Scriptures gets elevated to THE WORD of God. Any other interpretation besides their own gets labeled a whole dictionary of pejoratives.

    Sola Scriptura? Not!

    So at the end of the day, it's not that Sola Scriptura is wrong. It's that it does not even exist! It's a myth. Nobody believes in it, and nobody practices it.

    In the future Church, that doctrine will be gone.

  5. Snad, it was a joke, ya know.

    Re: Sola Scriptura: One of the reasons, if not the primary reason Presbyterians have insisted on literacy over the years and started schools all over the place was so that all could read Scripture for themselves. I suggest a quick reading of the 1st chapter of Westminster which out and out states that most of Scripture and the main parts of it are clear to any reader. There are other parts that are not so clear. For them you may need to go back to the original languages. Also for the persons who may not spend all their time looking into these things there are the "means of grace." The means of grace meant hearing preaching and curiously receiving the sacraments.

    Westminster is also the confession that says synods and councils do err.

    The real issue is whether we are willing to act on what we say we believe that we can each and all be wrong. Ultimately saying that the Holy Spirit inspired me and not you is a false argument. We all have to proceed on the basis of what Scripture meant, to the extent that we can discern that, and how to apply it today, if indeed that particular section should be applied today.

    Sola Scriptura can have meaning if we use it as intended.

  6. Hi Pastor Bob: back in my Reformed-fundamentalist, WCF-reading days, I heartily accepted sola scriptura, original languages, WCF Chapter 1, etc. All that made sense as long as we take the text at face value as seamless, inerrant revelation from heaven. But what happens when (as I've learned about modern scholarship) the text is an agglomeration of poems, legends, stories, later edits, differing agendas, etc. If you happen to accept that view of the Bible, then in your opinion what does sola scriptura mean today? In my experience, adherence to sola scriptura goes right along with rejecting modern scholarship, but maybe that isn't necessary; I'd like to know.

  7. Yeah, Bob. I know. So was mine. Sort of.

  8. You know, you just have to admire the Layman's ability to quote people.

    LayMAN says, "Scripture is not the Word of God"

    Read it. It's right there and Parker Williamson wrote it. I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you! Parker Williamson doesn't believe that Scripture is the Word of God. What has this apostate denomination come to?

  9. Michael

    If Sola Scriptura means that all the Biblical authors agree on everything then clearly one has not carefully read the Bible. I offer Ezra on the one hand and Ruth and Jonah on the other as an example.

    If Sola Scriptura means, as I think the Reformers intended, that salvation does not come through the infallible interpretation of the bishops and popes but rather through an understanding of the message of Scripture I don't think one has to reject Sola Scriptura while also saying that there are multiple streams of theology in the Bible. Actually I think the multiple streams are part of the point.

    Of course as you point out it is always helpful to know what kind of literature one is reading so as to understand the meaning. One of the primary problems of the philosophical bases of fundamentalism is the attempt to make all statements into truth statements. Thus each sentence or verse in the Bible would be a truth statement. And the Bible can't be wrong so the statements must all agree. And thus one puts a grid on the Bible never intended by the original authors/editors. Nothing like a little Scottish Common Sense Realism to find the way to Wonderland. Better than Alice's potion.

  10. LayMAN says, "Scripture is not the Word of God"


  11. Thanks Pastor Bob, this helps. But I'm probably going to retire from looking into these foundational questions, since I'm finding I can't even discuss them with the church members or even my own family, without causing commotion. I'll spend my time watching Netflix instead (or Peak-Oil Flix, from our host).

  12. (or Peak-Oil Flix, from our host).

    Attaboy! And remember the apocalypse is way more fun when you bring the family!

  13. Thanks for creating the opportunity for dialogue on these issues! Not only are these folks engaging in logical fallacy, their deliberate escalation of misunderstanding by mis-statement of the Vice Moderator's position is a direct violation of scripture itself. My comments got long enough that I put them on my blog instead of taking up too much space here:
    I agree with the Vice Moderator, arguments over specific social issues really reflect nothing less than a fundamental disagreement over the meaning of the Bible: are you a literalist, or not?! The detractors should be engaging in dialogue on literalism, not engaging in personal attacks on the sincerity / belief / capacity of the Vice Moderator!

  14. Xan,

    That was a brilliant and humbling commentary on your blog. Thank you for the contribution that it is. I hope it, or something like it, gets wide circulation.

  15. Landon is correct. Thanx for finding the actual context, John.

    First, believing that Jesus is the only authority is...wait for it....

    I don't know what makes people like Parker tick, but it's really slimy and disgusting.
    To state that the Bible is the actual word of God is to state that God never said anything prior to or after that.
    Did God lose His voice after the last chapter of the book was written? Nah...He talks to us all the time.
    It's just that nobody's bothered to create a detailed, written reference point of it since then.

  16. What he says about the Bible is from our own confession, The Confession of 1967:

    2. THE BIBLE

    The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word
    of God written.