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  • Writer's pictureThe Other Paul

The Obfuscation of Scripture - Prolegomena


One of the key truths of the Christian faith retrieved by the Reformation was the fact of scripture's perspicuity - a fancy synonym of 'clarity' - with respect to the articles of faith, that is, beliefs that are of the essence of the Christian faith, the denial of which would bar one from the life of the Church and entrance into the kingdom of God. Opponents to the Reformation naturally sought to oppose this principle and demonstrate that not all such essential beliefs (or 'dogmas') could be discerned from scripture, or worse, that scripture was fundamentally obscure. Thus it was proposed against the Reformation that one requires the aid of extra-biblical traditions and an unerring, divinely established Magisterium (teaching authority) in order to confirm all the necessary articles of the Christian faith.

The Obscurity of Scripture - Disputing Sola Scriptura and the Protestant Notion of Biblical Perspicuity by Romanist author, thinker, and apologist Casey J. Chalk is the latest significant product of Roman apologetics against the perspicuity of scripture. Indeed, it is a significant development, as while one can find many works from the Reformation until today by Romanists that attempt to refute scripture's perspicuity, none to my knowledge (which is limited regarding medieval sources) are solely dedicated to that task. All other works dispute scripture's perspicuity within a broader argument against Reformation thought on the nature of scripture and its' authority, but Casey Chalk has presented us with a nearly 300 page tome (excluding the bibliography) purely focused on disputing scripture's perspicuity. In my mind, it thus situates itself as the standard work of Romanist apologetics against this specific assertion of the Reformation (and - as this series aims to demonstrate - of countless other ancient and medieval figures). This, combined with the work's respectable (though inconsistent) depth and Chalk's clarity of thought grants it a serious potential to upset the faith of many within the Reformation and post-Reformation traditions. I thus see a need for a comprehensive and deep critique of this book in order to shore up the integrity of the Reformation in the minds of the faithful. Simultaneously, I hope to give a clear demonstration of invalid and unsound reasoning as well as inconsistent standards within Roman apologetics as employed in this major work. {I}

I - The Aims of This Series

The central goals of this series are as follows:

I - To assess the accuracy of Chalk's representation of history, historical sources, and the (post-)Reformation traditions, as well as the validity and soundness of his arguments.

II - To assess the consistency of Chalk's propositions with one another, with early Church witnesses, and with authoritative Roman Catholic teaching.

II - To accurately present and defend the clarity of scripture as understood by the Reformation traditions according to their most representative sources; that is, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Continental Reformed traditions. Being an Anglican myself, particular emphasis will be granted to authoritative Anglican sources. This will not deprive the series of appealing to sources of post-Reformation traditions like the Presbyterians, Baptists, etc. for specific purposes, such as articulating successful replies to attacks on traditional Reformation views.

II - Establishing a Correct Framing

An accurate framing of the state of the discussion will be established here and assumed throughout the series. It is as follows:

I - There is no single church institution or tradition under the label of "Protestantism," but rather a series of consciously independent bodies and traditions that may or may not accept certain principles and doctrines in common. Thus, an attack on the thought of authoritative Lutheran authors or documents does not necessarily apply to non-Lutheran "Protestant" traditions unless it is shown that they hold the same thought. Likewise, demonstrating an idea from a particular "Protestant" tradition does not thus demonstrate its presence within another "Protestant" tradition.

II - As there is no single tradition or church called "Protestantism," and yet while Chalk compares "Protestantism" to the Roman communion as though they are comparable categories, I may choose to apply any direct critiques of "Protestantism" by Chalk on the truly equivalent concept of Ecclesialism (see my definition here) in order to ensure that equal weights and measures are applied - a standard which holy scripture clearly attests to (Lev. 19:35 - 36, Deut. 25:13 - 16, Prov. 20:10, etc.). It will likewise further demonstrate the fallacy of comparing umbrella terms like "Protestantism" to specific institutions like Roman Catholicism.

I specify these points of framing as I believe the other, more common framing (which this book perpetuates) is erroneous and creates illusory problems for the "Protestant" side. This will be demonstrated at various points in the review series.

III - How the Series Will Run

As described in my initial announcement post, this will be a review series, rather than one long essay post, as that would necessarily sacrifice important levels of detail that a chapter by chapter (or in at least one case, a multi-chapter) review would be able to delve into. I will succinctly and (God willing) accurately summarise his key points in each part before I engage them, and usually only those which I contest. Otherwise, I may pass over or at most briefly acknowledge points of agreement for the sake of space.

I will now end this post on Prolegomena and also commence the series with my own Collect for Historians, asking for God's aid in this series as I deal with matters of history and interpretation:

Almighty God, Who knowest and decreest all things, lead us this day in these our inquiries of times past. Grant, Merciful Father, that we assert not fact where there is none, nor praise where it is unmerited, nor judgment where it is undeserved, but that the fruits of our study be only the story which thou hast written before the foundations of the world; through Jesus Christ Our Lord, to whom, with Thee and the Holy Spirit, be the honour and the glory, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

~~~

I - N.B. I do not give any critical comments here pre-emptively; to aim to "refute" an argument before hearing it is antithetical to learning. I only say the above in light of having read through the book and reflecting on it.

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