The Final Authority

by Ted Cockle

Kevin DeYoung in a recent blog post discusses what Catholics, Evangelicals, and Liberal Protestants can agree on; namely, that which divides us.

In short, according to quotes DeYoung compiles, final authority rests accordingly:

  • Evangelicals – Sola Scriptura – The word of God is THE final authority
  • Catholic – Scripture along with church Tradition has final authority
  • Liberal Protestant – “Scripture as defined by personal experience”

It is interesting how DeYoung accurately notes, “whatever else we may disagree on as Catholics, Liberals, and Evangelicals, we should at least agree that it is our view of Scripture and authority that divides us.”


Thoughts on Final Authority

I found this article to be really interesting.  Coming from a much more theologically conservative background, I had never thought of anything but the scriptures as being the final authority.  In youth group my pastor once said, “If you can’t back up what I’m saying in scripture (and please check me on it) then I am wrong.”  He challenged us to get to know the scriptures on our own, and to make sure that was where our authority came from.

I don’t want to launch into an academic dissertation, but this article made me think.  It could be argued that all three views hold that scripture, experience, and tradition are important aspects of the church.  The difference lies in their emphasis. Evangelicals emphasize sola scriptura, Catholics hold scripture and Tradition together, and Liberal Protestants interpret through their experience.  Each segment does not negate the other aspects, but it seems that some are more emphasized than others.  For instance, evangelical churches practice church traditions (ie. communion, baptism, etc…) if they are backed by scripture.  So too do the Catholics and Liberal Protestants hold to the importance of scripture; they only do so in light of Tradition and experience (respectively).

So what can we learn?  In maintaining the evangelical view, we cannot live so polemically that we lose sight of tradition and experience, both of which are important elements.  Tradition helps us to see where we’ve come from, and what mistakes to avoid, and experience helps to shape the way in which we see God’s power in our lives today.  I do however want to make this point very clear, we have to maintain tradition and experience in light of scripture’s final authority.  Because we understand scripture as being from God, and tradition and experience being from man, we need to keep our order, but, I would argue, without completely forgetting the others.

(Thoughts based on Kevin DeYoung’s article that can be found here)