Reformation Considerations: An Interview with William Sola


Note from CM: In the light of Reformation Day and the beginning of the year-long celebration of the Ref’s 500th anniversary, we will present some articles this week on Reformation themes.

Michael Spencer, whose views about Protestantism and Catholicism developed and changed a great deal over the years of his writing, once said that the Reformation, “while tragic and sad, was and remains a sad, tragic necessity.”

While I basically agree with that statement, it doesn’t mean that all the formulations that came out of the Reformation have ultimately proven helpful. In an article at RNS, for example, Jacob Lupfer says this about the doctrine of “sola scriptura”

Luther’s “sola scriptura” — “Scripture alone!” — is the essential Protestant rallying cry. Yet it is highly problematic, requiring a rejection of the church that Jesus built on Peter in favor of a book that was canonized centuries later and subject to endless unresolved and unresolvable conflicts of interpretation.

Sola scriptura unleashed innumerable fights over which interpretations will prevail in churches and institutions. This has led to an endless proliferation of sects and denominations.

Today’s post of an interview first given here at IM in 2010, takes a metaphorical look at this teaching and suggests some of the problems attending it.

• • •

Reporter: Hello, today I’m with William Sola, great, great, great grandson of Jack Sola, founder of the Sola Bakery Company. Thanks for joining us today, Mr. Sola.

Sola: My pleasure.

Reporter: You are the latest in a long line of Solas to have inherited the Sola Bakery business. if I understand correctly, your company is now being run in quite a different way than it was in the past. Can you tell us about that?

Sola: That’s right. we operate strictly on a franchise basis now — you tell us you want to run a Sola Bakery, we verify that you’re a believer in the Sola name, and boom! there you go, you can run your own Sola Bakery.

Reporter: How do you go about helping these franchise owners get started in business?

Sola: We give them the book.

Reporter: The book?

Sola: That’s right, the Sola Bakery book.

Reporter: I assume that this book contains all the directions one would need to get a bakery going — specific steps for setting up a business, company policies, the unique Sola recipes, all of that?

Sola: No, not really. The book is more like a history of Jack Sola and his family. It lays out his roots, the background of why he started the bakery, and then tells about his life, his sayings, and especially the sacrifices he made to start the first Sola Bakery. It also tells the exciting story of the early growth of the business, and several letters that the first company managers wrote to bakeries around the area to help them with their specific problems. Oh, you can find bits and pieces of various recipes in there, and fragments of policies and procedures. but mostly, it’s the story of Jack Sola and what he created.

Reporter: It doesn’t contain specific company policies and the actual recipes for baking Sola products? How then do you maintain quality control? How do you make sure one Sola cake is like another Sola cake?

Sola: We don’t care too much about quality control or consistency. We pretty much just give new owners the book and let them go. They’re on their own then. We think the book contains enough principles to keep them straight and faithful to the spirit of our founder, but they are free to develop their own recipes and run the business any way they want. This has led to a whole new, exciting era in Sola Bakery history, and we are celebrating it with our new slogan.

Reporter: And what is that?


Reporter: Oh my. But, doesn’t that confuse people? Doesn’t it bother you that people don’t really know what to expect when they buy a product from a Sola Bakery? And what if they get something really bad, or even harmful?

Sola: Actually, we like it that people don’t know what to expect — it adds an air of spontaneity and excitement that we think is great! Here at headquarters, we just say, “LET THEM EAT CAKE!” and then wait to hear the thrilling reports from the field. If a customer isn’t satisfied with her local Sola Bakery, we figure there are enough other franchises in the area. We don’t care if she tries them all until she’s satisfied.

Reporter: So, the “Sola” name really doesn’t indicate what kind of a product you’re going to get.

Sola: That’s right. What we can guarantee is that it will be a “Sola” cake, no more, no less. Beyond that, it’s up for grabs. And we like it that way.

Reporter: And there you have it — William Sola, President of Sola Bakeries, telling us that, when it comes to Sola Bakeries and Sola cakes, it’s a surprise in every box.

Good night, and GOOD LUCK.

43 thoughts on “Reformation Considerations: An Interview with William Sola

  1. Angry? Contempt? You’ve boggled my mind and I don’t even know how to respond other than to keep my distance next time you seem to be bantering and remember not to offer communion. Life seems hard enough without manufacturing difficulties, at least it is for me.


  2. Charles, I wish I could withdraw the comments I exchanged on this thread with you. My original intention was not to stoke your hostility. I have to confess that I was surprised and upset by the fact that you replied to me in such an angry tone, and with so much contempt. Anyway, I don’t want to continue with this, it’s quite unpleasant, so I quit.


  3. Well, since you’re in such a generous not to say magnanimous mood, I think I’ll stick with my own “different stroke” and think of grace as involving God’s forbearance and love. Thank you very much.


  4. >> . . . the only one permissible . . .

    I would ask how you have come to equate “different strokes” with “the only one permissible” in your mind but don’t have a lot of spare time today. Would indeed be amusing if the Great Crusader Against Dogmatic Attachment ended up not only finding a plain-English simplification personally helpful but enforced its use world-wide on pain of torture and death. Not sure that “amusing” is the right word. “Permissible”? You can’t begin to imagine how that rankles my soul.


  5. Is human nature fixed? Or in process? If it isn’t fixed, if it’s in process, then unchanging universal natural law cannot be found in it. I think there’s strong scientific evidence that human nature is not fixed and immutable, but in process.


  6. Which Natural Law? Natural Law as a basis for arguments is pervasive,. I am comfortable saying 94% of the world accepts Natutal Law. But which one, in what circumstances? Generally speaking NL is not terribly useful – everyone’s NL supports thier presuppositions. NL will never convince anyone of anything of which they are not already convinced.

    Sometimes actually meeting people will. Sometimes data will – if asserted relentlessly. And occasionally people change direction seemingly spontaneously, with no clear explanation. But I’ve yet to see a substantial turn in position or focus due to anything like an NL argument.


  7. Charles, While I appreciate your criticism of my prolixity, I have to ask: Have you become dogmatically attached to the hyphenated term loving-kindness as the only one permissible to translate the theological concept of grace?


  8. Do you mean, like if I jump off a 30 story building I will drop like a rock? Seems like Natural Law and absolute Truth to me. Not incompatible, in other words.


  9. When you’ve decided that sola scriptura means that only the Bible is necessary for salvation, you’ve already laid a lot of theological groundwork regarding a need for salvation, and what the cause of this need is. Where does this preexisting theology come from? Scripture? Experience? Tradition?


  10. That thought has crossed my mind several times, in other words, Christianity has survived not because it’s true, but because it is highly adaptable to different cultures and environments, though I usually come down on the converse: it is highly adaptable to different cultures and environments because it is true.


  11. American Evangelicalism (AKA Born-Again Bible-Believing True Christians) tend to approach SCRIPTURE the same way the Taliban approach the Koran. Chapter-and-Verse “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!”


  12. Two of my Atheist friends agree that Christianity is not True, but is Right about most things.


  13. “””nine churches within a square mile of us”””

    Which is almost anywhere in the urban midwest!

    When I was younger [more naive] I had the idea to make a list of all the churches situated along a transit route, then I’d send them a mailer. I was (A) very wrong to believe they would be in the least bit interested in a thing impacting their neighborhood and (B) STUNNED by how many there were. The list was LONG. Many of those are gone now… which at some economic threshold isn’t so much decline as inevitable.

    “”” we’ve held onto the “Truth” so tightly,…. we have alienated and distanced ourselves from those in our community”””

    Yep. Happens frequently. Sad.

    “””a church that is more concerned with guarding the “Truth””””

    I often think of the line from Chapman’s song “Tin Man” : “don’t forget you guard an empty space”. A lot of churchdom feels that way.


  14. One atheist blogger I know (Jordan179) has described Christianity as a meme that has been refined and debugged continuously for over twenty centuries. And that it is a better meme to build a civilization on than most all of the alternatives.


  15. Better wording:
    SCRIPTURE(TM) is all too often a Thoughtstopper barrage of Bible Bullets.
    No need to think, just Recite Chapter & Verse.


  16. Watch out – even the Catholic Church can spring surprises on you. Just ask the pre-Vatican 2 liturgy holdouts.


  17. Sola Scriptura can be, and was and is, taken two different ways. Broadly speaking, the Lutheran side took it and takes it to mean that scripture is the test of tradition. If a tradition is judged to be contrary to scripture, it is to be abandoned. But if not contrary, then it is kept. This is why Lutheran and Catholic liturgies are so similar. The Reformed side took Sola Scriptura to mean that any tradition must be abandoned unless affirmatively mandated by scripture. This is why Reformed churches abandoned the traditional liturgy.

    The Church of England is, within the taxonomy of Protestantism, a weird hybrid. Its early theology was strongly influenced by the Reformed side, via the Geneva Puritan crowd. But its approach to Sola Scriptura is more Lutheran. This is how it ended up keeping many traditional forms, including the ecclesiastical structure and the liturgy.

    American Protestant has long been, for better or worse, more influenced by the Reformed side than by either Lutheranism or Anglicanism. The Reformed version of Sola Scriptura is part of this package.

    I think things are actually far worse than that. American Protestantism has devolved a dumbed down version of Sola Scriptura. Say what you will about the Puritans, they respected book learning. The modern dumbed down version eschews scholarship in favor of the belief that you can take any snippet of text from scripture, disregard everything that comes before it or after, and have TRVTH. Thus are all sorts of heresies promulgated.


  18. “[*3] planting churches in a city with, literally, a row of abandoned churches… because your innovative, more pure, biblical interpretation will certainly fill the building.”

    I have often wondered why our little church was planted. It’s not like there were not another nine, literally, nine churches within a square mile of us and I finally came to this very conclusion. The planters (well before we started attending) believed they had a monopoly on “Truth” and our town needed a church that “wasn’t afraid to preach it”. Over the years, we’ve held onto the “Truth” so tightly, we haven’t been able to hold onto anything else and, as a result, we have alienated and distanced ourselves from those in our community who most desperately need the grace and love of Jesus–including me.

    I think we will be leaving this particular church soon, the church in which we served for so many years, the church in which my children grew up and were baptized and in which we have made many friends. But we can no longer be part of a church that is more concerned with guarding the “Truth” than with exhibiting the love and grace of Christ.


  19. and so, you end up with the mess we have now. Marriage is meaningless, genders are invented, everybody makes up their own morality, might makes right. I left the Anglican Church because no one could tell me what they believed, everyone had their own idea. But I wanted the TRUTH. If you want to know what Catholics believe and why, read the catechism. For 2000 years, they’ve been discussing it, analyzing it, testing it for logic and consistency, and coming to consensus.


  20. >> I’m not entirely convinced the author of Judges meant that as a negative.

    Hard to say. Likely written or revised or edited at a much later date with a view toward reinforcing hierarchical authority. What is evident in the story is that “judges” were effective for the situations of that time, at least for as long as they were alive and given authority over an emergency situation. Also evident that the people of that time didn’t learn from their mistakes very well. Are we more advanced today? Sometimes I wonder. The difference between judges and kings seems to be that judges were appointed as needed individually as leader for life, while kings established a troublesome dynasty most difficult to get out from under.


  21. Anglicans tend to pay attention to scripture, reason and tradition. And there is a dialogue between the three. In theory scripture trumps all.


  22. Considering God’s warnings to Israel about a king when they wanted one, I don’t consider it a bad thing that every man did that which was right in his own eyes. I’m not entirely convinced the author of Judges meant that as a negative.


  23. Like all the Silicon Valley Online Economy hotshots during the dot-com bubble in the Nineties. Corporate HQs built to order (with someone else’s money), Porsche & Ferrari company cars for everyone (with someone else’s money), genuine Persian rugs on the floors (with someone else’s money), 24/7 gourmet chefs for company foodservice and company gyms with all the amenities of a high-end cruise ship (with guess who’s money). Dot-com startups even competed with each other in “burn rate”, i.e. who could burn through someone else’s money the fastest.


  24. “My background is the Church of England, and sola scriptura is one of its founding principles, but (at least to it) this doesn’t mean ignoring the entire history of the church and nearly 2000 years of considered theology.”



  25. >> . . . a rejection of the church that Jesus built on Peter in favor of a book . . .

    Not quite accurate. As it turned out, it was a rejection of the authority of the church that CLAIMED Jesus built it on Peter, which is a whole ‘nother story, but I don’t know that Martin would have questioned that particular part. He didn’t even start out to reject the Roman church, just wanted to reform it, as did many others within that institution.

    >> This has led to an endless proliferation of sects and denominations.

    Another inaccuracy by the earnest Mr. Lupfer. While the number of sects and denominations is probably far higher than Martin’s worst nightmares, the number is not endless, since the number of people alive on this planet at any given time is finite. I do not join in with the anguish expressed by those wringing their hands over this situation, tho I recognize the problems involved. What it means for me is that I can follow Jesus directly without any intermediary human authority figure telling me what to believe and what to do and not do. Sort of like the apostles did, not that I claim that status. And, no, the apostles didn’t all kowtow to Peter, tho he was highly respected.

    Yes, I know the story of the book of Judges about what happened when people did what was best in their own eyes. What’s that you say, do I think I know better than all the collected knowledge and judgements of two thousand years of church history? Well, since you put it that way, yes I do. Doesn’t mean I don’t find the occasional gem buried in the manure pile. I keep those gems in a little bag and keep on looking. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. I’m most grateful to Martin for making this possible, and willing to give him slack for not knowing all the answers, since I find myself in the same situation.


  26. Isn’t the version of “sola scriptura” you are parodying itself a bit of a parody of the original idea? My background is the Church of England, and sola scriptura is one of its founding principles, but (at least to it) this doesn’t mean ignoring the entire history of the church and nearly 2000 years of considered theology. My understanding is that “sola scriptura” means that only the Bible is necessary for salvation, not that it is the only thing useful for it, or that the extra-Biblical church traditions are wrong or (if not directly contrary to the Bible) should simply be ignored. In other words we as Christians should give all due respect to the historic teachings of the Church but are only obliged to follow that which the Bible lays down as the word of God, and are not required to or entitled to try and force everyone to tow the party line on anything else.


  27. [*1] that failure is good! And success is, somehow, is achieved through failure (best done with someone’s money).

    Someone ELSE’S money!


  28. Hmm, thirty-three words as I counts ’em, one of them hyphenated, so it’s open to quibble. Not quite defining “grace” in twenty-five words or less, and certainly not ten, but at least not several pages or even a book. Let’s go the other direction. When I say that I rely on God’s grace, I mean his “loving-kindness”, which is more or less what you rambled on for thirty-three words condensed into one. Yes, it’s hyphenated, but what’s good for the goose . . . . Different strokes and that’s okay with me, if not with St. Martin. You want half my bread and wine?


  29. I have seen an experience “SOLA SCRIPTURA” becoming nothing more than a totalist Party Line.

    It’s like the comic-opera Muslim character with “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!”, totally incapable of thinking outside of What Is Written.


  30. It’s unwise to proceed as if no one has gone ahead of you before, it’s unwise to try to reinvent the wheel when you have a perfectly good one at your fingertips, it’s unwise to disregard the hard-won accumulated wisdom of generations that went before.

    This is actually called “Year One Syndrome”, after the French Revolutionary Calendar.


  31. > An absolute claim to truth is one of the hallmarks of human pride

    The is also a more subtle error – taking a statement meant generally and **interpreting** it as an Absolute Truth Claim. Take “popism”… yes, the idea has problems. I say that as a Catholic sympathizer. However, ask a random collection of Protestants what actual Catholic teaching about the Pope is… what you will get will essentially be made up on the spot, as an act of cognitive crack sealing.

    We need slogans, pithy statements, and proverbs to steer us through life; people really can’t deeply discern 24/7 about everything. The important bit, I believe, is to remember they are slogans, pithy statements, and proverbs. The Truth is at the Library, were there are thick stone floors to bear the weight of all those book shelves; if you put it on your bumper you’d blow out all your tires and bend the frame.

    Christians can have proverbs, they should not have battle cries.


  32. This needs to be updated so that Mr. Sola uses the term “innovation” at least three times, and alludes at least once to Failure Flattery [*1]. Otherwise it sounds kind of dated; Mr. Sola needs to get with the times and start hanging out with some Startup [*2] People.

    Once you think about it for a bit – there is a lot of similarity between the start-up culture and the church-plant culture [*3].

    [*1] that failure is good! And success is, somehow, is achieved through failure (best done with someone’s money).
    [*2] what we used to call small businesses, but generally started with someone else’s money. Interestingly just like small businesses – i know, that term is so quaint (not aspirational at all) – they almost all fail. But they re-frame failure as learning [with someone else’s money, of course].
    [*3] planting churches in a city with, literally, a row of abandoned churches… because your innovative, more pure, biblical interpretation will certainly fill the building. This done with someone else’s money, of course, we need to be reasonable.

    I like footnotes, they are so vintage; they add a sense of authenticity.


  33. Charles Fines, If you’re listening, here is one way of expressing what I mean when I say that I rely on God’s grace: I do not depend for my ultimate felicity and well-being on my own or others goodness, wisdom or good fortune, but on the love and forbearance of an always loving and forbearing God.


  34. An absolute claim to truth is one of the hallmarks of human pride. However, as many protesters can see the problems with popism, they fail to see the absolute claim in the Bible can be the same. Protestants philosophically should warn against making the relative absolute. Theologically that means warning against idolatry. Many conservative Christians don’t like Tillich, but his Lutheran roots really did keep him from pantheism. The following is his “content of which is the biblical message itself….
    Justification through faith
    New being in Jesus as Christ
    The Protestant Principle
    The criterion of the cross”.


  35. When the New Testament says that Jesus spoke as one with authority, it doesn’t mean that he spoke with the voice, or in the voice, of accumulated human wisdom. The authority spoken of here is a harder to define one that, though it may or may not disregard or set aside human wisdom, has the quality of being original: it comes from Jesus, he is its origin, and he defers to no human line of authority for his its justification.

    True authority is a mysterious thing that, though it may go back to the beginning (as the word original suggests), is sometimes a new thing found in the present, and doesn’t rely on claims to antiquity for its power and legitimacy.


  36. True. It’s unwise to proceed as if no one has gone ahead of you before, it’s unwise to try to reinvent the wheel when you have a perfectly good one at your fingertips, it’s unwise to disregard the hard-won accumulated wisdom of generations that went before. In fact, it’s probably impossible to actually go on your way without a compass; a compass of some sort will always be in your hand. The question is whether or not the compass is reliable, and true.

    It is wise to bow to true authority, but it’s impossible to do so without figuring out how to recognize it. In this, in determining what is both authoritative and true, no one has an epistemological advantage. No one can take the burden of making that determination off of the shoulders for another; we always make that decision for ourselves, even if only by default. We can fool ourselves and others into thinking that the onus for the decision doesn’t fall on ourselves, but it’s an illusion. And because we are all prone to imperfection, a good outcome to that determination and decision will always indeed involve GOOD LUCK, or, as our medieval Christian forbears and the ancient pagans called it, good fortune.

    All this is why we can always ultimately only depend on the love and forbearance of a loving and forbearing God.


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