As a Protestant who really tries to abide by the sola scriptura principle to subject my understanding of God, His works, and His relation to us under the accepted Protestant canon, I am bewildered on how to choose the "correct" interpretation of key Bible verses relating to competing understanding of key doctrines necessary for my "walk in the spirit" such as Trinity, dual nature of Christ, Original Sin, baptism, justification, union with Christ, sacrament, spiritual gifts, etc.
There seems to be many legitimate options, leading to several Protestant theologies on offer, all of which adopt sola scriptura : Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc. but each theology seems to be evolving. While a particular theology can then gives me a responsible interpretation that leads into a certain position I can then adopt of baptism, sacrament, etc, and while sola scriptura correctly subjects these theologies under scriptural authority, there remains the problem of choosing which theology to use for an individual Christian.
Some key doctrines like the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ seem to require me to trust in the judgment of early councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon to favor one particular interpretation of Bible verses related to God and Jesus. While Kenneth Collins and Jerry Walls in their book Roman but Not Catholic offers a way for sola scriptura proponents to coherently accept the binding authority of those early councils (because nearly all Christians accept them), there remains the problem of choosing post Reformation councils / confession document to trust. Should I go with a Reformed church which adopts Westminster Confession of Faith, or with an Anglican church which adopts the 39 articles, or with a Lutheran church which adopts the Augsburg Confession, or with a Methodist church which adopts the United Methodist Confession of Faith?
In an answer to a related question we read (emphasis mine):
Sola scriptura says there is no guarantee that any doctrine of the church is certain; the only mark of divine certainty is on the scriptures. So our relationship to the scriptures is one of an ongoing project of investigation guided by the spirit's insights. As God guides us we may collectively decide that some things which were believed in the past, although they do not directly contradict the scriptures, are weaker exegetically and have unfortunate theological implications compared to alternative interpretations. And just as we have a measure of skepticism towards earlier generations' traditions and interpretations, so future generations will judge that some of our interpretations and theological theories are unjustifiable as God continues to guide them.
It seems to me that at the end of the day, as a sola scriptura believer I only have myself to rely on, combined with:
- the assistance of Holy Spirit in my heart,
- the binding authority of those early ecumenical councils
- several peers that I trust, that they're engaged in the same project as myself, to collaboratively understand God and his scriptures under the Spirit's guidance
With the above guidance, am I then free to choose a theologian I trust and enlist him/her as one of my peers to help me in my "project of investigation" to choose a responsible interpretation of key Bible verses by reading his/her commentary / book and knowing as much as I can about his/her life as a Christian, and THEN use that guidance to select a church to attend? Is that the correct procedure? It still sounds lonely to me, or do the followers of those "peer theologians" (such as CS Lewis) count as a collective so my position is not solitary?
Is this the best that sola scriptura can offer, and that means I have to keep a lingering doubt in the back of my mind about my currently chosen position on doctrines that the Protestant churches have differences on? It feels like standing on shifting tectonic plates waiting for an earthquake to happen.
So the complete question is: How do proponents of Sola Scriptura choose the "correct" interpretation of key Bible verses to adopt for one's faith life when many responsible exegesis in different faith traditions lead to different interpretations?
Real life significance of this question
As a Christian we can speculate all day long and thus risk "living in an ivory tower", but the rubber really meets the road when that Christian is married to a spouse that holds the same sola scriptura position and but are unable to come to an agreement because they do their own "project of investigation", enlist different "peers" and then strongly decide to go to a different church of a different tradition.
For example, one wants to go to a Pentecostal church (with "memorial" understanding of eucharist and double adult baptism, the 2nd one for filling), but the other wants to go to an Anglican church (with "means of grace" understanding of eucharist and infant baptism). Not only about church attendance, how are they supposed to baptize their children? I have seen in some couples that this happens and this became an element in their divorce.
Are we supposed to consider this as a defect in both of their faiths? In this situation, should a couple who are persuaded to different faith traditions (each claim to have Holy Spirit backing) subject themselves to sola scriptura and attempt a compromise? What does this compromise look like since the couple cannot appeal to the Holy Spirit anymore for common ground? Ideally the couple should be "peers" to each other, but what if they cannot even agree on a single external "peer" to include in their "project of investigation"?
A high profile real life example of a compromise is that of Prof. Francis Beckwith who resigned as President of the Evangelical Theological Society to avoid a conflict of interest because he wanted to return to the Catholic Church. He has been "Catholic friendly" but the catalyst was when his nephew asked if he could be his sponsor when he receives the sacrament of Confirmation, which requires the sponsor to have a good standing in the Catholic Church. (read the full story here). He was baptized Catholic, but apparently joined his wife's Presbyterian church after marriage. Subsequent to his returning to the Catholic Church, his wife underwent RCIA to become Catholic as well.