This question has certainly become one of them.
Some of the early objections to Keith Mathison’s article came up this way:
There are plenty of people who come see the lack of difference between sola and solo who never even dip a toe in the Tiber! Many of them embrace solo! The difference (principled difference) becomes invisible upon examination of the supposed differences. The differences do not do what they claim to do, namely to give an objective authority to the reader of scripture. I am not sure why Catholicism (or EO or whatever) even enters into the discussion at that point. The sola/solo differences are a distinction without a real difference on its own merits, judged within its own framework. I personally know men who saw this lack of difference and embraced SOLO scriptura. They were unconvinced of the claims of Catholicism but saw the fundamental problem with sola scriptura. Catholic “rosary” colored glasses are not needed to see the flaw in sola scriptura Keith.* * *
I have not read the reply yet but I share the concern which everyone is bringing up. It is perfectly possible that the Catholic Church is wrong about her fundamental claims while sola scriptura reduces to solo scriptura. e.g. The Eastern Orthodox Church could be the true Church or perhaps Hinduism is true. Both of those scenarios would be compatible with sola reducing to solo. For that reason, attempts to show the Catholic Church are wrong are irrelevant and do not show Bryan and Neal’s argument to be false.There is a major problem with this objection. This is not a philosophical question. The Reformation occurred in history. Roman claims were being made in history, and were rejected in history by the Reformers.
From my perspective, having grown up as a devout Roman Catholic, it was natural for me to try to find some way to understand whether or not Rome’s claims were true. I was being bound to them. And one method of conducting this investigation was precisely, like an investigation. And here is something that's a guiding rule:
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth? -- (Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four, emphasis in original.)
Right now, I’m not going to take sides in the Protestant debates on this topic, nor am I going to say that sola Scriptura is improbable, however unlikely it seems to some of these Roman Catholics.
Rather, I believe Mathison was correct in his methodology to bring up the absolute, utter impossibility of Rome’s claims.
These are the claims that the early Reformers dealt with. And despite the differences that emerged among themselves, they all agreed upon one fundamental thing: Rome’s claims to authority must be rejected. (And this is another thing they had in common with eastern and farther eastern churches.)
The question that the Reformers had to ask in their time was not “what’s the most philosophically perfect system we can find,” (and I grant that Rome has had centuries-worth of time to craft its philosophical story – and it is a very pretty story -- but it is just that -- a fictional story); once Roman claims were rejected, the true question was became, “how then should we live?” Or it is a question of epistemology: “how can we truly know what God is saying, upon which we base our lives and our belief?”
Protestants don’t always agree on the answer to those questions. But one thing is in absolute agreement: The claims of Rome are impossible from both a Scriptural and a historical perspective.
Dr. Mathison does give this explanation as to why he proceeds the way he does:
I’m sorry all of you find it disappointing. When I started writing it over a year ago, it began with a response only to the criticisms of the solo/sola distinction. The farther I went and the more additional article by Bryan that I read, the more I realized, I couldn’t even address that issue without first addressing the primary underlying issue – namely the church. That assumption (that Rome is the Church Christ founded) underlies everything said in every paper Bryan has written that I looked at. I wouldn’t expect otherwise. But given that fact, it has to be addressed first.He is absolutely correct to reject Roman claims as impossible. They are impossible to reconcile with any historical and Scriptural evidence we have. God in his graciousness has given us the time and opportunity to work out some of the other questions.
This became especially clear to me after reading Bryan’s response to Michael Horton. He makes it perfectly clear that the issue of the church’s identity is everything in these discussions. Thus the 30 or so pages I had to spend looking at it.
For those who commented before finishing it, I do get to the solo/sola issue in the second half.