This morning I watched the above lecture titled, “Scriptura Sola After Nearly 500 Years: A Protestant Blessing or a Protestant Curse?” It is delivered by Mark Noll, one of the foremost historians of religion, most specifically Protestantism in its American context. I think Noll does an even handed job of presenting the positives and negatives associated with the outworking of scriptura sola and he mentions that in a year he will return to Gordon College (where this lecture is given) to deliver another one on the same subject with more research involved.
I welcome you to watch the lecture and share your thoughts.
Personally, I struggle with this doctrine. I’ve heard the apologetics for its defense, and I know people clarify that it is “sola” not “solo” (a play on words used to emphasize finality of authority, not isolation as the only authority), but it sure causes me a lot of cognitive disconnect.
First, there is the internal problem that if Scripture is the final word how do we know what constitutes an authoritative canon of Scripture since Scripture itself does not provide a list? We may appeal to the work of the Spirit in the formation of the canon, but it seems that the Spirit worked through the church, and even then the church doesn’t always share exactly the same canon (compare Protestants to Catholics to Orthodoxy to the Coptic church…).
Second, there are some doctrines like the Trinity where Scripture provides the “seed,” but the “oak” itself–while derived from that seed–is not one and the same as the seed. In other words, the Trinity is formed on the basis of Scripture but it is a tradition that evolved from Scripture, plus the hermeneutics of the church over hundreds of years, plus a Pneumatology that guides one to affirm that the church correctly interprets Scripture where it matters, plus authoritative interpreters who were used to come together to make decisions on orthodoxy (e.g., bishops at councils, which is far from the democracy of evangelicalism with which I am acquainted), and so forth.
Third, Scripture (in my view) is a difficult source for systematic theology because often it includes contradictory positions on matters and tensions in worldview. Jesus says to turn the other cheek. The Book of Joshua include a divinely mandated genocide. The Book of Proverbs tells the readers that various truisms will lead to the “good life.” The Books of Ecclesiastes and Job say that there may not be any such thing as the “good life,” or that God may allow “bad things to happen to good people,” yet the reader must remain faithful to God nevertheless. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus says and does things on behalf of God, sometimes speaking in ways that could be interpreted to mean he sees himself as sharing the divine nature, but nothing comes close to Jesus’ straightforward language about his oneness with the Father as the Gospel of John.
All things considered, though I am no church historian, it seems the truth of the matter is that Arius had as many proof-texts as the Council of Nicaea, Pelagius could exegete like Augustine, and the line between “orthodoxy” and “heresy” is as wide as the words in a section of Scripture that both groups use against each other.
I remember reading Alister McGrath’s book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution–A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First with delight and horror. It was wonderful to think of a movement that allowed the Bible to be placed in the hands of many people. It was frightening to think back on the sermons I have heard in my short lifetime from preachers who have no greater authority than their own imagination when it comes to establishing doctrine and practice for their church.
Yet I don’t want to lead readers to believe that I find other approaches more helpful than that of evangelicalism’s at this juncture in my intellectual journey. I am skeptical of some of the cause-and-effect of tradition upon the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communities. I’m not quite sold on the flotsam and jetsam approach to Christianity I see exemplified by so-called “Progressive” or “Liberal” groups either. I don’t know that a hierarchy solves my problems when they tell me Mary the mother of Jesus was sinless or that it is evil to use contraception. Neither do I see a point in being a Christian when I am told Jesus is a good model to emulate bringing the “kingdom of God” to this world, but there is no room for a resurrection from the dead, a second coming of Christ, or any of those foolish mythologies.
In other words, I have a lot of thinking to do!