Have you no scriptural basis though?

And so Mark comes back to me after the last two blog posts with another question. As there has been quite a lot of interest in the answers I’ve already given, I think I might as well carry on responding to his one-line versions of the big questions of faith.

Most recently he has asked:

What would you say to those that argue you’ve no scriptural basis though?

Well, there are a number of things that I would say. The most important thing to say though is that I don’t believe that we should live life as though the Bible is the supreme authority in all things. It is far more interesting a collection of literature than that and it is too important to be trivialised in that way.

It seems to me that those who apply a sola scriptura mindset to things are always going to be dancing around trying either to prove their fidelity to a complex ancient text or alternatively trying to show that they are not really fundamentalists after all when it is obvious to even the most casual observer that such a viewpoint is the place at which fundamentalism begins. (Or, it will lead to good-hearted people damning and condemning people like me, and damning other folk isn’t an attractive side of religion, is it?)

No – none of that. I don’t believe it and am not required to believe it. I do believe the historic creeds of Christianity. I might want a discussion about how I believe them but believe them I do. And they don’t make subordinating everything to the Bible a requirement.

Incidently, one of the reasons I could never affirm the Anglican Covenant is its insistence on the Bible being “the rule and ultimate standard of faith”. (A Lambeth Conference affirmed this in 1888, but it ain’t for me and I prefer the original version of the Chicago Quadrilateral).

No, I’m very happy to look to the way of thinking about the scriptures which allows one to respond to them whilst also responding with an eye to both reason and tradition too. Richard Hooker famously said that scripture, reason and tradition were like the three legs of a stool. Now, there have been some who have tried to argue that Hooker still wanted scripture to have the highest authority. I’m unconvinced by their efforts though and I think that it was nothing short of genius for us to come to a view where there was no one, single infallible source of authority but to recognise that each shines brightly in the light of the others.

Now having said all that, I think it is worth saying that I love the Bible and read it rather a lot. I’m often surprised how little Evangelicals read it. We read it every day in public in St Mary’s and most days we discuss it. Our Sundays are dominated by great, powerful chunks of the Bible and I enjoy engaging with it in the pulpit. Indeed, the playful, generous way in which we engage with the texts at St Mary’s is one of the things which is attracting people to the congregation and the preaching is one of the reasons the congregation is growing.

Now, with regard to what I said yesterday about providence and whether or not I have a Biblical basis for saying what I said, we have to recognise that the Bible tells us about all kinds of people, some of whom would have believed that God had a great plan for their lives and others who wouldn’t. We have to contend with the mystery of Jesus praying that God would take away the cup [of crucifixion] from him. We certainly encounter a great deal about vocation, but we also encounter the likes of Ecclesiastes too – one of my favourite books, which takes a very different view of such matters, for example, to the tales of the calling of Samuel, Isaiah or Jeremiah. (And we’ll pass over for a moment the observation that these tales of vocational calling seem to be all about God and men, not God and all people).

The Bible is in some respects a collected edition of human responses to God. It isn’t just that, of course, but you’ll find all human life is there.

I tend to take an existentialist approach to Scripture anyway. I don’t think it is about the past or a recipe for how to live the present. I think it is the present and I encounter people who appear to be living out the archetypes, stories, parables and ethical battles of scripture daily in Glasgow.


  1. Jackson says

    If this blog were a talk radio show, I would say something like ‘long time listener, first time caller’. I found this article very interesting and the role of the Bible in the 21st century is something that many people are hesitant to enter meaningful discussion about. Being brought up in an Evangelical tradition I was taught to hold the Bible in very high regard. However I’ve come to realise in recent years that Scripture, Tradition and Reason is the only tenable way to approach one’s faith. Old teachings do run deep, though, and the question needs to be asked, when is it appropriate to look to the scriptures as a source of authority? The flagrant abuse of the Bible to further dogmatic agendas is undoubtedly a source of frustration to many Christians, but what do we do when reason seems to lead to a stalemate? A prime example will be when Margot MacDonald eventually revives her End of Life Assistance Bill. Many Christians in Scotland will be lobbying against and undoubtedly no small number for. Now scripture and tradition would affirm the sanctity of life, but that won’t stop quite a few people allowing their opinions to be moulded seemingly by reason alone. Meanwhile there will be a great many caught in the middle of very persuasive arguments, struggling to make up their minds while desperately looking for something authoritative to cut through the confusion. Are we too scared of fundamentalism to look to the Bible for guidance in such scenarios?

  2. Neil Oliver says

    Kelvin, I’m fascinated by your blog posts this week and encouranged that your statements make such sense to me and my view of my faith and the world. Great stuff.

  3. Helen says

    I too have followed your blog this week with interest and have found that it has encouraged my broadening faith, stimulated by St Mary’s. Thanks for the effort and thought you have applied. Dont be too hard on Evangelicals though.

  4. Brother David says

    Being an Anglican educated in a United Methodist seminary, my stool has four pegs; scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

    I have enjoyed these fireside chats good Padre.

  5. Melissa Holloway says

    This reminds me of a funny conversation I had with my 20 yr old son – we found ourselves discussing whether or not Kelvin was an evangelical?!!

    He had taken a university course on Evangelicalism in America and I suspect it was taught by a (perhaps undercover) evangelical. Seems that one of the ideas that my son came away with was that being evangelical was more a way of doing things – an idea that we did indeed hear from Kelvin – that one has the good news and is eager for the world to know.

    Of course my argument was that evangelicals do have to believe certain things, that I remember realizing I wasn’t an evangelical anymore when I couldn’t believe that there was a certain group of people, however they were defined, for whom hell was reserved. I feel there are parts of the movement that are just not benign.

    But anyways, it is remarkable that someone somehow trying to put evangelicalism in the best light caused him to conclude that Kelvin fit the bill.

    I think in the end we came up with the conclusion that Kelvin is able to hold a distinct theological vision in a perhaps evangelical way, having taken the best from his roots. I hope I won the day.

    The whole conversation felt a little like the Twilight Zone.


  1. […] that the BIble holds a primary place of reference for Christian life (and I acknowledge that my boss doesn’t*, in the sense I propose here), one ought to have something to say about the prminence of […]

Speak Your Mind