Recently I’ve been reading some books by William J. Abraham and NT Wright about the Bible. Both books argue to some degree that we read the Bible incorrectly when we make it primarily about settling arguments and establishing truth.
And then I read this story about indulgences being made available for people who follow the Pope’s trip to a youth conference on Twitter. Roman Catholic teaching about indulgences is complex and related to Catholic teachings about sin, sanctification, penance, and purgatory — among others. I do not pretend to be an expert, but like all heirs of the Reformation, know the story of Johann Tetzel and Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.
Now, I like this story because it gives me an opportunity to post a link to my favorite Lutheran polka tune.
But I do find the story also pressing back against the general undertone of both the books I’ve been reading. Both of them argue that while the Reformation had some good points, its emphasis on the Bible as the final authority on matters of faith and practice went wrong or too far or off base.
As I’ve been reading these books, I’ve been aware that they are both a sharp critique on John Wesley’s understanding of scripture, which would be called fundamentalist today. I’ve been stewing a bit about whether it is possible to hang on to Wesleyan theology while tossing aside the foundation upon which it was built.
But today’s news story about the indulgences raises a slightly different question.
Abraham, Wright, and a great number of contemporary Christians would reject Martin Luther’s doctrine of scripture. So do we also reject his defiance of the Roman Catholic Church? Or was he somehow right to oppose the practices of his own church even though he was basing his resistance on what we consider today to be an erroneous view of scripture?