Scripture Alone? – an Excerpt from Reformed Catholicity

The following is an excerpt from Reformed Catholicity, by Michael Allen and Scott Swain.

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Cover ArtWe have seen that the reformers, through intense study of the Bible itself as their final authority, came to believe that the Bible cannot be read by itself, for it warrants or mandates the functioning of other ecclesial authorities.

To be more biblical, then, one cannot be biblicistic. To be more biblical, one must also be engaged in the process of traditioning.

Thus, the reformers certainly understood and intended sola Scriptura to shape engagement of the catholic tradition and the fullness of the riches of the church, all of which are meant to work together to form members of the body for the work of ministry.

We do well, nonetheless, to acknowledge the drift away from a lively setting of sola Scriptura in the redemptive economy of the Triune God and amid the life of the communion of saints. Indeed, sola Scriptura has served for some moderns as a banner for private judgment and against catholicity. In so doing, however, churches and Christians have turned from sola Scriptura to solo Scriptura, a bastard child nursed at the breast of modern rationalism and individualism.

Even the Reformational doctrine of perspicuity has been transformed in much popular Christianity and some scholarly reflection as well to function as the theological equivalent of philosophical objectivity, namely, the belief that any honest observer can, by the use of appropriate measures, always gain the appropriate interpretation of a biblical text. Yet this is a far cry from the confession of Scripture’s clarity in the early Reformed movement or even in its expression by the post-Reformation dogmatics of the Reformed churches.

On top of this type of mutation, we regularly encounter uses of the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” that ignore or minimize the role of church officers as well as the principle of sola Scriptura to affirm a lived practice of “no creed but the Bible.”

Right or not, then, many people embrace sola Scriptura, thinking that they are embracing individualism, anti-traditionalism, and/or rationalism. Similarly, right or not, many critique sola Scriptura as one or more of these three things.

©2015 by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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