Here I Stand: The Promise and Peril of ‘Sola Scriptura’

One of the fundamental theological convictions to emanate from the Protestant Reformation was the doctrine of sola scriptura. As defined and defended by the magisterial Reformers and several generations of their ideological heirs, this term affirmed that Holy Scripture was the only infallible authority for life and doctrine. Roman Catholics rejected this doctrine completely, affirming at the Council of Trent that Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition were equal authorities.[1] Protestant evangelicals over time tended to reinterpret the doctrine as an affirmation that Scripture was the only authority in the life of the Christian. Creeds, councils, and church history could be interesting or even helpful in interpreting Scripture, but they were not necessary so long as a literate individual owned a copy of the Bible. Roman Catholic critics have often rooted the hyper-pluralism and theological anarchy of the evangelical world in the Protestant Reformation and the slogan sola scriptura. Both liberal and evangelical Protestants tend to embrace this criticism and celebrate the Protestant Reformation for producing such a diverse result. Conservative and confessional Protestants resent this claim, arguing that the corruptions of the doctrine of sola scriptura do not invalidate its merit and attribute the pluralist and individualist tendencies within Protestantism to some other cause. By tracing out the lineage of this Reformational idea, it is reasonable to conclude that though it was necessary to assert the supremacy of Scripture at the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of sola scriptura has had some unfortunate effects on the life of the church and the necessity of continuing to reform the doctrine in a catholic (that is, universal), rather than a partisan, direction remains necessary.

Martin Luther and Sola Scriptura

The historical analysis of the doctrine of sola scriptura must begin with Martin Luther. Luther’s primary issue of interest as a professor at Wittenberg was the doctrine of justification by faith. Without the emergence of Johann Tetzel and the indulgence issue, Luther’s legacy may have been nothing more than a church reformer seeking to recover and apply an Augustinian doctrine of grace in the late Middle Ages. The abuse of indulgence sales struck directly at Luther’s understanding and articulation of justification by faith alone, a doctrine that had brought him so much comfort in the midst of spiritual turmoil and in which he was personally invested. Luther responded to Tetzel’s practice by posting his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg castle door. The theses begin by drawing a distinction between inner repentance and the outward practice of penance and declaring that Christ taught the former, not the latter (Theses 1-3). Though his theses implicitly presented a challenge to papal authority, Luther went out of his way to assume the pope was ignorant that such abuses were occurring and would be in favor of reform (Theses 48, 50, 51). Luther’s direct challenge to the indulgence system drew the ire of the Dominicans, to whom Tetzel belonged. Rather than quarrel with Luther on the nature of repentance and justification, Luther’s Dominican opponents made papal authority the central issue, one that would indeed get more political traction. According to historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, “that chasm of purposes explains how an argument about a side-alley of medieval soteriology – indulgences – escalated into the division of Europe.”[2] Faced with the claim that he was directly challenging the pope, Luther doubled down and appealed to the General Council as the real source of authority. In doing so, Luther reopened the conciliar debates of the previous century. Who was supreme in the church: pope or councils?

In 1519, Luther was drawn into a debate with the Catholic scholastic theologian Johann Eck at Leipzig. Eck had been slated to debate Luther’s Wittenberg colleague, Andreas von Karlstadt. However, Eck’s 12 Theses prepared in anticipation of the debate, though ostensibly meant to combat Karlstadt, were actually aimed at Luther.[3] Most of Eck’s arguments directly contradicted claims Luther had made in his 95 Theses. Luther had to respond and by doing so was drawn into the public debate against Eck, becoming the Protestant star at Leipzig rather than Karlstadt. With his target out in the open, Eck skillfully maneuvered Luther into the position of defending the 15th century, Bohemian reformer, Jan Hus, even though Hus had been condemned to death as a heretic by the Council of Constance in 1415. Said Luther when pressed, “I am sure of this, that many of Hus’ beliefs were completely evangelical and Christian.”[4] Luther at that point would not have in any way considered himself a Hussite. However, by fully committing himself to his position that Scripture was supreme over the pope, he fell into the trap of affirming Scripture as supreme over councils as well. Eck achieved what he set out to do in positioning Luther not merely against the current pope, Leo X, but against the entire church hierarchy. Brad Gregory elucidates:

Luther was clear by the Leipzig Disputation in 1519 that the church fathers belonged on the same side as popes, councils, and canon law in contrast to the authority of Scripture: ‘Even if Augustine and all the Fathers were to see in Peter the Rock of the church,’ he said, ‘I will nevertheless oppose them – even as an isolated individual – supported by the authority of Paul and therefore by divine law.[5]

The issue was not simply that Luther disagreed with the pope or the clerical establishment on the nature of justification, indulgences, or the extent of papal powers. Such questions had been raised many times before and had been the subject of reform movements throughout the Middle Ages. The fundamental issue was the role of ecclesiastical authorities. Eck had raised the stakes of the debate and Luther refused to back down on his claims.

In 1520, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X for heresy with the papal bull, Exsurge Domine. Rather than retracting or qualifying any of his statements, Luther publicly burned the bull, metaphorically and literally adding fuel to the fire. It was as if the vehement criticism hurled at Luther by church officials and the simultaneous broad support from the German people reading his pamphlets triggered Luther to embrace a more rhetorically radical position that began to raise questions about whether the church’s exclusive role in interpreting Scripture was legitimate. As historian Owen Chadwick states “Luther, not an extremist, often sounded like an extremist.”[6] Though Luther did not desire to renounce the authority of the church and personally drew heavily upon the church fathers in forming his theology, at the end of the day, all authorities outside of Luther’s own interpretation of Scripture were secondary. Thus, Luther could write in response to Henry VIII’s Defense of the Seven Sacraments:

The Word of God is above all things. The divine majesty does not make me care at all even though a thousand Augustines, a thousand Cyprians, or a thousand of Henry’s churches should stand against me. God can neither err nor can he be deceived. Augustine and Cyprian, although they were all elected, were able to err and did err.[7]

As a statement of the principle that Scripture is a higher authority than Augustine or Cyprian, Luther’s words are not incorrect or controversial. However, rhetorically speaking, the possibility that thousands of church fathers could stand against Luther, and it would not move him one inch to reconsider his position because he believed that he had a better grasp on the mind of God, is at least concerning and would be guaranteed to have significant ramifications. What began as an attack on the abuse of papal authority morphed into an attack on the clergy as a whole. If the legitimacy of the clergy is called into question, so also are the sacraments they administer. Couple this reality with the possibility of each individual accessing divine revelation for oneself through a vernacular Bible rather than relying on a corrupt clerical class, it becomes clear by implication that the church hierarchy and the clerical class are completely unnecessary.

In 1521, Luther stood before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms and declared that unless he could be convinced by Scripture and plain reason, he could not recant his beliefs for defiance of conscience was neither right nor safe. This turned out to be the defining statement of the Protestant idea of sola scriptura. “In its formative phase,” writes Alistair McGrath:

Protestantism was characterized by a belief – a radical, liberating, yet dangerous belief – that scripture is clear enough for ordinary Christians to understand and apply without the need for a classical education, philosophical or theological expertise, clerical guidance, or ecclesiastical tradition, in confident expectation that difficult passages will be illuminated by clearer ones.”[8]

While one should not violate conscience to commit some wrongful deed, elevating the individual’s conscience to the position of the ultimate gatekeeper of orthodoxy was indeed a dangerous and rather naïve move, given the reality that an individual conscience can be seared (I Timothy 4:2) and truth can be suppressed (Romans 1:18). On his return home from Worms, a kidnapping of Luther, now a heretic and wanted man, was staged by the Saxon elector, Frederick the Wise, and he was escorted to safety at Wartburg castle where he spent the next 18 months translating Scripture into the German vernacular.

While Luther penned his aforementioned response to Henry VIII in Wartburg castle in 1522, the Zwickau Prophets took hold of the reins of the reform movement back in Wittenberg. Precursors to the Anabaptists, the Prophets claimed to have received additional revelation from God that provided them with unique insight into the teaching of Scripture. The teaching of the prophets began to dramatically diverge from Luther’s own teaching, especially in regard to the sacraments. They denied both infant baptism and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and called for a broader social revolution against magistrates and the nobility as well as the church. Though Luther and the magisterial Reformers would eschew such radicals and deny the legitimacy of special revelations from God that essentially added to the canon of Scripture, the conclusions of the Zwickau Prophets and the various Anabaptist factions that followed them were the logical extensions of Luther’s own statements concerning Scripture and authority.[9] If Luther was at odds with the Roman Church, it was because he was reading the Bible with the illumination of the Holy Spirit and his opponents were not. The Zwickau Prophets likewise could claim to be reading the Bible but were even more enlightened by the Spirit such that their pronouncements went beyond Luther’s. Writes Brad Gregory, “Unlike exegetical disagreements about the ‘external Word’ – in which texts could be cited and weighed, compared and debated – disagreements about whom the Spirit had ‘taught from above’ ‘in the heart’ were insurmountably problematic because of their inaccessible interiority.”[10] Whether intended or not, the personal revelation became the primary source, and the text of Scripture became the secondary source for determining the truth. Church doctrine will inevitably take a backseat to the personal revelations and insights of the individual.

Early Protestant Divisions

The first major split within the Protestant movement occurred at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 when Luther and Ulrich Zwingli failed to come to an agreement on the nature of the Eucharist. In this dispute, Luther emphasized the literal words of Christ in the text of Scripture (“This is my body”) in his affirmation of the physical presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements while Zwingli held to a symbolic view of the bread and wine, which served as reminders of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross rather than containing Christ’s presence in any way. Both Luther and Zwingli believed they were arguing strictly from the text of Scripture alone. Thus, it became manifestly clear from the beginning that adherents of the principle of sola scriptura could not come to an agreement on a methodology for resolving questions. The issue was not that Protestants disagreed on various doctrinal issues. It is to be expected that a movement of any significant size will be unable to achieve anything near unanimity. The problem was that though Protestants agreed on the foundational doctrine of sola scriptura, they could not agree on what sola scriptura actually meant or what the Scriptures taught. In effect, the doctrine in theory provided an answer to the extrabiblical decrees of a corrupt Roman church, but in practice, it only raised more questions. Instead of one institution or individual abusing its authority as the ultimate interpreter of Scripture, every individual was now empowered to be their own pope. However, unlike modern times where opposing truth claims coexist within a sea of relativism, the Western world of the 16th and 17th centuries was one in which logic and the law of noncontradiction still applied. Mutually exclusive truth claims, therefore, necessarily meant that if one view was correct, then the other was not. Mutually exclusive theological truth claims meant the difference between the Word of God and damnable heresy. Political ambition, given the cover of preserving orthodoxy and punishing heresy, would only be too willing to defend such opposing truth claims with the sword, leading to an era of religious war that would plague Europe until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, ending the traumatic Thirty Years War. War was not unique to this era of history as it has plagued humanity since the dawn of time, but the casus belli was new, as religion could provide theological cover for dynastic ambitions.

Feeling exhausted after the Thirty Years War and resenting the formalism of the established churches, pietism gained a following under Count Zinzendorf. The church in Germany was again in need of reform and an injection of new life and vitality. Doctrinal disagreements and disputes in the face of a real need for discipleship led to the growth of pietism, which sought peace and devotion in getting behind the conflicting religious truth claims to the essence of Christianity: “simple and childlike faith.” A simple faith based on one’s personal experience with God and sweet corporate fellowship with one another held out the promise of a united and harmonious faith that could serve to transform individual lives.

Though the Pietists were not arguing precisely for Scripture alone, they very much drew on that German Lutheran legacy. Like Luther, they rejected scholasticism in favor of what they believed to be a straightforward interpretation of the biblical text. However, history has shown that between Luther’s time and theirs, simply reading the text of Scripture did not result in uniformity of doctrine nor avoid controversy. Thus, the Pietists supplemented their reading of Scripture with their personal experience. Scripture was brought out of the public realm and into the personal or private sphere. Scripture was authoritative because of its devotional value. The Bible did not declare public truths, but personal and private truths. Sola scriptura was preserved by simply narrowing the sphere of its application to private devotional concerns. The message of Scripture was merely to reveal an opportunity for the individual to have a personal relationship with God and live in community with others. In this scheme, pacificism is possible and conflict is avoided because Scripture claims no political or social authority. Thus, in effect, pietism “paved the way for the humanism and the universalism of the Enlightenment. It won for the individual his freedom to develop his capacities in his own way.”[11] Private interpretation based on the individual’s experience with the text, which is only implied by Luther and never embraced, became explicit and applied by the pietists.

While the pietist movement was emotionally driven and short-lived, the Enlightenment was level-headed, rational, and had considerably more staying power. Reason sought to accomplish what sola scriptura could not.[12] The empiricism of Francis Bacon and the rationalism of Rene Descartes provided new hope for obtaining certainty and knowledge, though at the same time restricting the definition of what constituted knowledge to that which was useful. Such philosophical assumptions were brought into the life of the church to aid the reconciliation of competing religious views as well as to reconcile Christianity with the secular Enlightenment. The Latitudinarian tendency in the 17th and 18th-century church sought to simplify the faith to comport with reason. Unlike the Pietists, they did not seek to personalize or privatize the faith but attempted to uphold its social respectability by emphasizing the reasonableness of Christian doctrine rather than its supernatural origin in revelation and to avoid controversial doctrines. Deists pushed further, seeking to make the faith fit completely within the categories of modern science. Scripture then was nothing more than what man already could discern from nature and reason. If Scripture did not conform to these categories, it was simply rejected. Special revelation at the end of the day was superfluous.

However, while offering to bring peace and progress, reason could also be a cruel mistress. The orthodox could use reason to defend the coherence of the Christian faith; the Deists and skeptics could use reason to undermine biblical doctrine. Belief in a Trinitarian God, the Incarnation, the virgin birth, and the Resurrection of Christ could not be supported by reason and logic alone, nor could they be verified empirically. Reason failed to provide the epistemological certainty and unity originally sought by the doctrine of sola scriptura. The reaction would lead to the embrace of subjectivity and the rejection of absolute truth as individuals would increasingly turn inward to find the true meaning of Scripture and abandon formal doctrine.

Modern Manifestations of Sola Scriptura

The legacy of the doctrine of sola Scriptura manifested itself in three problematic ways in the modern world. The first was the emergence of liberalism. Beginning in the 19th century, liberals began a revolution within the form against the dogmas of the faith by subtly hollowing out the meanings of words rather than outright rejecting them. Such liberals still identified themselves as Christians, but although the form or structure of the doctrine remained the same, the content contained within that form could evolve. What liberals meant by their affirmations of orthodoxy was something entirely different than what such affirmations had meant in the past. In the early 20th century, it was J. Gresham Machen who cogently argued that liberalism was not a faction within Christianity but was a different religion altogether and pleaded for intellectual honesty. Liberalism could emerge only within a context in which Scriptural interpretation could be divorced from the rule of faith. By separating itself from the broader church tradition, liberals could infuse the text of Scripture with new philosophical ideas that would produce new theological conclusions.

This is not to say that liberals claimed the doctrine of sola scriptura or that the doctrine inevitably led to liberalism. However, the liberal approach to Scripture was not dissimilar from the more radical implications drawn out of the Reformation. The desire among liberals was to pull back from preconceived ideas and assumptions as well as the traditions and authorities that had been built up around the text in order to find the essence of the faith or “the real Jesus.” Having discovered this essential message of Scripture that emanated from, and existed apart from, the text, it could then be used as a key to determine what the text “really meant” or to cancel out any unapproved or outdated doctrinal propositions. For the German liberal, Friedrich Schleiermacher, it was the continuing experience of the work of Christ that allowed the church “to discard those features of traditional orthodoxy which the natural science or the historical and literary criticism of the time were showing to be untenable.”[13] Later Soren Kierkegaard’s existentialism further subjectivized the faith, emphasizing that real transformative faith was borne out of the decisions made by individuals based on their own personal experiences. For Kirkegaard, all theological systems and traditional authorities were to be rejected. The essence of real Christianity was the individual freely making decisions on his own based on his encounters with the Almighty.[14] However, as Machen would write almost a century later, valid Christian experience rested on the documentary evidence of Scripture and not the reverse.[15] In trying to get to the heart of the Christian faith by reducing the interpretive dynamic to the individual’s experience with the Scriptural text, the text was unmoored from the bounds of orthodoxy and free to be redefined by subjective experiences. It would be a mistake to see the subjective interpretations of liberalism as a direct descendant of the Reformers, however, the sentiment behind such ideas is not inconsistent with the sentiments Luther expressed at Worms and thus may be considered an unintended effect of the reformational slogan.

A second problem existing among evangelicals may be referred to as “nuda Scriptura” or “solo Scriptura.” Recognizing the dangers posed by the emergence of liberalism, the fundamentalist reaction was to adopt a wooden, literalist reading of the text that would seem to preclude the possibility of outside influences or experiences from redefining Scripture. If the liberal gatekeepers had exposed the flock to wolves, the answer was to lock the gate to all influences who may enter the fold to ensure the purity of one’s interpretation. It operated on the same premises as the liberals in that all traditional authorities were barred so as not to prevent the individual from understanding the real, literal meaning of the text.[16] Twentieth-century fundamentalism drew much from the pietist tradition assuming both the individual’s internal ability to comprehend the plain meaning of the text absent authorities or influences as well as the personal nature of that interpretation. There was no need for creeds, councils, or confessions for there was “no creed, but Christ.” There was no need to contend for the coherency and veracity of the faith in the public arena for the truths of Scripture were understood in the heart.[17]

A third problematic manifestation of sola scriptura emerged in reaction to the pietistic fundamentalists out of a desire for unwarranted certainty for all of life’s questions. If the liberals redefined the faith to make it unrecognizable and the fundamentalists narrowed the faith to one’s personal relationship with God through the medium of the unaided reading of the Scriptural text, the neo-Calvinist movement began to interpret sola scriptura as providing certainty for every aspect of life and society. The Bible did not merely contain the plan of redemption by which the sinner may be reconciled with God but also contained a blueprint for every aspect of life.[18] Scripture was set in opposition to natural law, custom, or any worldly wisdom that could be gained from any other source. In a modern world that had lost its way, devastated by economic collapses, world wars, and the continuing presence of communism, the answer was to get back to the certainty that sola scriptura could provide. If reason is compromised and the only truth of which we can be certain is Scripture, Scripture must provide us with an answer for every social policy that applies in every context. While there is much that can be positively said about this movement, some of the bad fruit is still being revealed in the abandonment, not only of natural law norms for society but of classical theological categories within Christianity, both dismissed as pagan influences upon a purist Christian tradition built ostensibly “only” on the Bible. Scripture was made to carry a burden it was never meant to bear, and the centrality and unity of the gospel message have been further compromised.

Yet, Real Consensus Remains

Despite these problems and conceding the considerable lack of doctrinal unanimity in the modern world among Protestant denominations, the degree to which real consensus remains should not be dismissed. Even though Protestants lack institutional unity, doctrinal unity remains strong on the essentials and biblical literacy tends to be higher than among Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox.[19] The core message of Christianity articulated in the Creeds remains the focal point of many Protestant denominations committed to sola Scriptura. As Alister McGrath has written, “Protestantism already possesses the resources it needs to deal with this difficulty,” even if those resources have been severely underutilized as of late.[20] One such resource is the affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture on the essentials of the faith. The doctrine of sola Scriptura affirms no more than that Scripture is the only infallible authority, the norm by which every norm is judged, and that Scripture is perspicuous to discern all that is necessary for salvation. The Thirty-Nine Articles provide perhaps the best summary statement on this in Article VI:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.[21]

This statement implicitly acknowledges that there will be disagreements in the interpretation of Scripture, while relativizing the importance of those disagreements in such a way so as not to compromise essential doctrine or thwart the pursuit of ecclesiastical unity. It does not claim that everything in Scripture is clear and subject to the individual’s unaided interpretation but rather is a rejection of extra-biblical burdens placed on the individual soul as necessary for salvation.

Nevertheless, even if largely overstated and exaggerated, Roman Catholic critiques of the lack of unity and hyper-pluralistic tendencies that plague modern Protestantism should serve as a stinging rebuke not easily dismissed by the notion that there is sufficient unity or clarity on the essentials. In response to such critiques, some Protestant scholars have begun the work of retrieving the classical understanding of the doctrine of sola scriptura to provide a corrective to its evangelical abuses and distortions. Michael Allen and Scott Swain provide an answer to Brad Gregory’s claims by arguing that theology is formulated through the work of the Spirit within the context of the church. “Because the anointing of Christ dwells within the church, the church is the seedbed of theology, the fertile creaturely field within which alone Christ’s teaching has the promise of flourishing in renewed human understanding.”[22] According to Allen and Swain, one of the mistakes of both adherents and critics of sola Scriptura is to frame the doctrine as a deistic approach to the process of theological formation, consigning the supernatural work of the Spirit in producing the text to the distant past and thinking of the believer’s role in the present as merely figuring out what the text says, which can be performed with or without the aid of tradition.[23] This deistic formulation does not account for the active work of the Spirit in the present to continually bring the church to a deeper understanding of the text. “Scripture is the final source and authority for knowing God, but there is a catholic shape and context that involves the fullness of the church’s life as the matrix within which the Scriptures are read and received.”[24] We may conclude then that the continual multiplication of interpretations and the fraying of denominations within Protestantism has not been due strictly to the doctrine of sola scriptura but to the tendency among Protestants to neglect a meaningful ecclesiology. While Scripture alone is the ultimate and only infallible authority, “the Lord who possesses all authority authorizes the church to build on that foundation.”[25] That the church builds upon the foundation of Scripture does not negate the reality that the Scripture alone is the foundation. It does not act as a distinct authority or alternate foundation from Scripture, but as the conduit through which the Holy Spirit brings the truths of Scripture to His people. Growth in unity and harmony of doctrine occurs in the context of ecclesiastical community.

Properly understood, the slogan sola scriptura can continue to be helpful in articulating the Protestant view of authority in the current day. However, given the radical individualism that pervades modern society and the degree to which people are distracted and less likely to familiarize themselves with nuance and proper definitions, it can also serve to facilitate further theological anarchy within Protestantism. Brad Gregory’s argument that sola scriptura contributed to the hyperpluralism of the modern world is a compelling one because he shows that such results were unintended. This argument both withstands scrutiny from those who would counter with what the Reformers “really meant” by sola Scriptura, and does not serve as an indictment on the Protestant Reformers. Even some great ideas have unintended consequences and such consequences do not diminish the need for reform. Nonetheless, as Protestants, we must be honest about the unintended consequences and shortcomings of particular slogans in the particular contexts in which we live. It will not do to attempt to reach a fractious culture with a splintered church and an individualist theology. The principle of semper reformanda should drive the church to consider ways in which the trajectories of past reforms may have overshot the mark and how reforms aimed at restoring the unity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church may be necessary.

Notes

  1. The Council of Trent, Session IV. http://www.thecounciloftrent.com/ch4.htm Accessed 17 August 2023
  2. Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation (New York:NY: Penguin Books, 2005) 126.
  3. W. H. T. Dau, The Leipzig Debate in 1519: Leaves from the Story of Luther’s Life (St. Louis, Mo: Concordia Publishing House, 1919), 60.
  4. W. R. Naphy, Documents on the Continental Reformation (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1996) 18, quoted in Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2005), 127.
  5. Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How A Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015), 95-96.
  6. Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 61.
  7. Martin Luther, “Martinus Lutherus Contra Henricum Regem Angliae,” trans. E. S. Buchanan, Project Canturbury, accessed August 18, 2023, http://anglicanhistory.org/lutherania/against_henry.html.
  8. Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution – A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 208.
  9. Gregory, 86-88. Here Gregory provides several illustrations of how Zwingli and then various Anabaptists argued from the same principles Luther asserted.
  10. Gregory, 98-99.
  11. Gerald R. Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason, 1648-1789 (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 106.
  12. Gregory, 113.
  13. Alec R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution: 1789 to the Present Day (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 26.
  14. Ibid, 205.
  15. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 61.
  16. See Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2012) on the secular, cultural influences that shape how evangelical Christians think about creeds and confessions.
  17. See A.H. Ackley’s popular 1933 hymn, “I Serve a Risen Savior”, where evidence for the truth of the historical resurrection of Christ is that “He lives within my heart.”  
  18. The Biblical Blueprints Series by Gary North is but one example of this thinking. The origins of the movement are much broader and extend back to Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Til. This is not to suggest that the Bible has nothing to say about social issues. However, the insistence that the Bible advocates one political, economic, social, environmental, etc. program and that policies that do not fit a particular mold are inherently unbiblical has tended to further divide Protestantism in the name of sola Scriptura.
  19. See Dave Armstrong, “Why Are Catholics so Deficient in Bible-Reading?,” National Catholic Register, accessed August 17, 2023, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/why-are-catholics-so-deficient-in-bible-reading. This reality can be explained to some extent by the number of merely nominal or cultural Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox that are included on church roles that are usually not considered members of Protestant churches.
  20. McGrath, 239.
  21. Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles.
  22. Michael Allen, Scott R. Swain, and Todd Billings, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 18.
  23. Ibid, 57.
  24. Ibid, 59.
  25. Ibid, 43.

 


Jared Lovell

Jared Lovell is a deacon in the Reformed Episcopal Church serving Grace RE Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Jared is a classical educator, teaching European and American history at Memoria Press Online Academy, and is a teaching fellow at the Wayside School.


'Here I Stand: The Promise and Peril of ‘Sola Scriptura’' has 1 comment

  1. November 14, 2023 @ 12:03 pm Mitchell Cochran

    Excellent article illustrating intellectual honesty!

    Reply


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(c) 2024 North American Anglican