Epistemology and Scott Hahn

Scott Hahn is a Roman Catholic who converted from Presbyterianism. To Reformed folks, he is an infamous defector. He was a devout and zealous Calvinist, who gradually lost his faith in the system. One of the final blows to his tottering Protestantism came in the form of a question that one of his students asked him. In his own words:

“Can I first ask you a question, Professor Hahn? You know how Luther really had two slogans, not just sola fide, but the second slogan he used to revolt against Rome was sola Scriptura, the Bible alone. My question is, ‘Where does the Bible teach that?’”

I looked at him with a blank stare. I could feel sweat coming to my forehead. I used to take pride in asking my professors the most stumping questions, but I never heard this one before. And so I heard myself say words that I had sworn I’d never speak; I said, “John, what a dumb question.” He was not intimidated. He look at me and said, “Give me a dumb answer.” I said, “All right, I’ll try.” I just began to wing it.I said, “Well, Timothy 3:16 is the key: ‘All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for correction, for training and righteousness, for reproof that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work….’” He said, “Wait a second, that only says that Scripture is inspired and profitable; it doesn’t say ONLY Scripture is inspired or
even better, only Scripture’s profitable for those things. We need other things like prayer,” and then he said, “What about 2 Thessalonians 2:15?” I said, “What’s that again?” He said, “Well, there Paul tells the Thessalonians that they have to hold fast, they have to cling to the traditions that Paul has taught them either in writing or by word of mouth.” Whoa! I wasn’t ready. I said, “Well, let’s move on with the questions and answers; I’ll deal with this next week. Let’s go on.”

I don’t think they realized the panic I was in. When I drove home that night, I was just staring up to the heavens asking God, why have I never heard that question? Why have I never found an answer?

My pastor told me that the problem with Hahn was that he was operating under a linear epistemology. What does that mean?

Linear philosophy – the idea that everything that exists is connected through cause and effect to everything else that exists – came into its own with Descartes in the seventeenth century. But it is an assumption. Non-linear philosophy simply sets that assumption aside and examines the universe as connected through complex organisation.

So under Hahn’s linear view, when one linchpin was pulled out of his system, the entire thing collapsed. Sola Scriptura was not taught in the Bible, therefore his Protestant apologetic was made of straw.

Opposed to this viewpoint is a web based, nonlinear, postmodern epistemology. This type of thinking has been described as “all of the beliefs in the system standing in relations of mutual support, but none being epistemically prior to the others.” (Greco and Sosa) My pastor said that Hahn could have started from the fact that angels exist, and built upon that, for example, rather than Sola Scriptura.

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