by C Michael PattonSeptember 17th, 2008 86 Comments
See updated version here.
Protestantism is not perfect. No informed Protestant would claim such. Evangelicalism has major problems. This is nothing new. But Protestants have always thought the strengths of Protestantism outweigh the weaknesses. Otherwise, we would not be Protestant!
While I often write about the weaknesses of our system, sometimes complaining about Evangelical shames, I want to do something different here. I am going to give a short list of what I believe to be the major strengths of Protestantism:
1. Celebration of diversity: Protestants can appreciate and celebrate the diversity in the Christian faith unlike any other tradition. Whether it be in worship style or liturgy, house churches or mega churches, Protestant recognize that all people are not alike in their subjective preferences. Protestantism, as a movement, cannot dogmatize the way people should be in areas that are based in non-essential personal preferences. We can recognize that God has created people differently—and this was intentionally. If people have a personality that does not respond well to one style of worship, they are free to celebrate their diversity without feeling the obligation of adapting their style to some traditional norm. Therefore, to be Protestant is to be able to celebrate diversity.
2. Promotion of true belief: Protestantism is built upon a distrust of one man’s or one institution’s ability to infallibly dogmatize truth to the exclusion of one’s personal convictions. In other words, Protestants hold to the position that belief cannot be outsourced to any human authority or tradition. Protestants believe that truth must be “adduced” by the individual before it can be truly believed. It is not that Protestants don’t recognize or respect authorities other than themselves, but that they understand that belief is ultimately an internal act of an individual’s will which requires true personal conviction. Protestants recognize the risk of “putting a Bible in everyone’s hands.” We recognize that in doing so we are allowing for the possibility of error and heresy. But we also recognize that the possibility of true conviction necessitates the possibility of error. In this, it is worth the risk. The personal conviction, however, should be fueled and feed from trusted outside sources, but, in the end, those outside sources cannot make the decisions for the us. Therefore, in my opinion, Protestantism allows for true belief more than any other Christian tradition.
3. Allowance of true scholarship: Closely connected to the second is the allowance of true scholarship. In other words, Protestants are not under a necessary mandate to conform to a traditional system. The scholarship produced in biblical studies and theology is not an exercise in confirming an established tradition of dogma. If one were simply to enter scholarship to prove what a tradition mandates they prove, scholarship becomes and exercise in confirming prejudice. This is not true scholarship. Protestants are free to question, search, deny, confirm, doubt, and change in a way that other dogmatic traditions are not. Again, this is risky, but, in the end, it does not mandate a certain conclusion and can evaluate the evidence more objectively. In other words, Protestants don’t have to be lawyers defending a client of tradition, but they are investigators of truth. They can be critical scholars. Whether or not we always practice this is a different matter. But the issue is one of allowance. Protestants can be critical scholars who are willing to let the evidence take them wherever it leads, not simply to a predetermined destination. Therefore, I believe Protestants can practice true scholarship to a degree that other traditions cannot.
I think that all of these provide the basis for why I believe Protestantism will always remain strong even in the midst of our weaknesses. Please understand that I respect other Christian traditions. I love the faith and stance of all those who, traditionally or not, are Christocentric, believing Christ—the God-man—is the center of all things. But everyone must understand that I am Protestant for a reason. I simply believe that it offers strengths that are stronger than the strengths of other tradition. I also believe that its weaknesses are not as weak as the weaknesses of other traditions.
Also be aware that I understand that the traditional answers for “Why I am Protestant”—”because it is biblical,” “because it provides personal assurance,” “because I believe in salvation by faith alone,” or “because I don’t believe in the Pope”—are not unimportant in my mind. However, these reasons are primarily methodological rather than theological. They provide the basis for our theological stance, which, indeed, is of ultimate importance.
It is because of this, I am proud to be a Protestant.
- Why Evangelicalism is Still the Best Option
- Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism: Has the Battle Ground Begun to Change?
- Can Catholics Affirm Sola Scriptura?
- In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Eight – What about all the divisions?
- Essential Differences Between Catholics and Protestants