A rather troubling issue for the Protestant can be the relation between tradition and scripture. So many Christians believe that tradition is just something that Roman Catholics have, and that us Protestant Evangelical Reformed types simply have the Bible; and thus us Protestant types have a hard time making a critical distinction between our personal interpretations of the text of scripture, and scripture itself. We should just admit that we have interpretive tradition operative in our lives as much as Roman Catholics do; we just don’t have an ecclesiological construct that imbues our interpretive traditions with the kind of magesterial and principled force that Roman Catholics do—but we might even function like we have this too (i.e. when we elevate our particular denomination’s interpretive tradition to a magesterial and binding level). Karl Barth would be one of the first theologians in line to tell all of us that we, as Protestant Christians, have interpretive tradition shaping the way we interpret and approach the scriptures. Robert McAfee Brown has written a whole chapter on Karl Barth and Tradition; he concludes his chapter thusly:
In the difficult area of the relationship of Scripture and tradition, Barth has broken some fresh ground upon which new approaches can be constructed. He delivers us from what can be a very perverse notion of sola Scriptura that would assert that we go to the Bible and to the Bible alone, as though in the process we could really bypass tradition. He delivers us from a kind of biblicism that is content to rest simply with a parroting of the vindication, “the Bible says …, the Bible says….” He confronts us with the necessity of taking tradition with utmost seriousness, and seeing it as a resource for the articulation of our own faith, so long as we keep it under Scripture and not alongside Scripture. He builds fences against the kind of subjectivism that is the morass of Protestant individualism, by pointing out that just as the church must first listen before it speaks, so must we first listen before we speak, and that when we do speak we many not jauntily set up our own private insights as though they had some kind of definitive worth simply because they are our insights. And he provides the supreme criterion by which all else, whether Scripture, tradition, church fathers, private insight, church structure, or whatever, must be judged — namely the criterion of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Whatever the witnesses to the Lordship of Jesus Christ we must retain. Whatever jeopardizes the Lordship of Jesus Christ we must discard. That the issue between what to retain and what to discard is momentous, constitutes both the glory and the risk of being a Christian. [Robert McAffee Brown, Chapter 1: Scripture and Tradition in the Theology of Karl Barth, edited by George Hunsinger, Thy Word is Truth: Barth on Scripture, 18-9.]
This reality could be distressing for some of us; it could challenge us to think that we don’t come to scripture naked, but that we come to it garbed in whatever swaddling clothes our spiritual mothers and fathers have clothed us with. As we come to scripture, as Brown points out in regard to Barth’s approach, we need to do so with the question: “Does what I believe scripture to be communicating coalesce with the fact that Jesus is Lord?” What does “Jesus is Lord” mean? For Barth I would suggest that it meant that God in Jesus Christ is the free and self determining God who elected in Christ (by electing our humanity for himself) to not be God without us; but to be God for us and with us (Imannuel). If you have an interpretation of scripture that challenges or negates this fact of who God is in Christ; then this should signal to you (and me) that we have a wrong understanding of scripture.
An example of having a wrong interpretation of scripture — in light of the above criterion that Jesus is Lord — could be to test and see whether what you think scripture is communicating about God in Christ makes God contingent upon creation. In other words, might you (might I) be interpreting scripture in a way that sets up creation prior to covenant; prior to God’s life revealed in Jesus Christ? So that we domesticate God in a way that makes him a predicate of our philosophical assumptions about how we think God should be or act; or do we so emphasize an personal experience of God that we forget that he is still sovereign Lord and God, that he isn’t just some sort of emotional experience we associate with him as him, once or twice a week (or more)?