My post on Sola Scriptura from last week certainly generated a lot of discussion here, on Facebook, and in my e-mail box. Reviews were quite mixed. For example, a seminary professor e-mailed me and said,
Just a quick note to thank you for your latest post on sola Scriptura. . . . But I just thought you’d be encouraged to know there are a number of us in agreement with you. The music issue is a difficult one, but we should at least be arguing about the right things!
But, of course, there were many who disagreed with what I said, or at least they disagreed with what they thought I said, so that’s why I’d like to offer one final summation.
Let me begin by stating with clarity that none of the authors at this site believes that our views are infallible. We hold some of them firmly to various degrees, but we welcome debate and disagreement about what we write. Our views are our best attempt as finite sinners to actively apply the sufficient Word of God to every single decision we make, including how we conduct worship, but we recognize that we could be (and often have been) mistaken with regard to particular applications.
What we do not welcome are those who wish to stifle any discussions by claiming a “higher view” of Sola Scriptura, and so a few concluding words about this important doctrine.
I firmly believe that the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is a critical one and one that must be defended against any who would claim God-inspired authority in any other source than the 66 canonical books of God’s Word. For example, Phil Johnson’s recent diatribe against Mark Dricsoll and his visions is exactly the kind of issue Sola Scriptura speaks directly to. (You know, as a side note, it’s interesting to me how many young evangelicals cry “Sola Scriptura” when anyone says anything about music, but when it comes to continuationism they’re “cautious but open.”)
But when it comes to application of the Bible to contemporary moral situations, crying Sola Scriptura doesn’t do anything helpful to advance the discussion since both sides of a given debate think they’re being faithful to the doctrine.
For example, with music, those with a more progressive view insist that Sola Scriptura means that since the Bible doesn’t say anything about musical style, we cannot and must not say anything authoritative about it either. This view fears legalistic Christianity.
On the other hand, those like me who are more conservative insist that Sola Scriptura means that the Bible speaks to absolutely any issue we’ll face, and so we must actively seek to understand as much information about the matter at hand so that we can apply the all-sufficient Word of God to it. As I was reading the comments on my previous post, for example, I couldn’t help thinking over and over, “These people really don’t believe the Bible is sufficient for their musical choices.” This view fears lazy Christianity.
My deepest wish is that people would engage the issue on its own terms, that they would be willing to actually dialoge about how the Scripture addresses things like our musical choices in worship. Instead, the entire discussion is stalled by those unwilling to make any dogmatic statement unless that statement can be found in black and white in a verse of Scripture.
To put it bluntly, I believe that kind of approach is naive and lacks any support either biblically or historically. The Bible itself, which these folks say they are defending, does not portray itself that way, nor has any significant defender of Sola Scriptura claimed this either.
Even leading evangelicals don’t interpret the sufficiency of Scripture this way. I’ve quoted John Piper on this before, but he’s worth quoting here again because of his clarity on the matter and because of his respected status among the very kind of people I’m addressing:
The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently. To be obedient in the sciences we need to read science and study nature. To be obedient in economics we need to read economics and observe the world of business. To be obedient in sports we need to know the rules of the game. To be obedient in marriage we need to know the personality of our spouse. To be obedient as a pilot we need to know how to fly a plane. In other words, the Bible does not tell us all we need to know in order to be obedient stewards of this world.
The sufficiency of Scripture means that we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words. In the Bible God has given us, we have the perfect standard for judging all other knowledge. All other knowledge stands under the judgment of the Bible even when it serves the Bible. For example, the English language serves the Bible by making it accessible to readers of English. But even as English does this, it stands under the Bible and is governed by the Bible. So the English word “yes” cannot translate the Greek word for “no.” The Bible is sufficient to prevent that misuse of English.
In this way the Bible is served by our extra-biblical knowledge in many ways. For example, the word “ant” occurs twice in the Bible (Proverbs 6:6; 30:25). It is never defined. The Bible expects us to know what an ant is from our experience. But if we say that the lesson of the ant is that we should all be lazy, the Bible is sufficient to prevent that error.
So it is with language in doctrinal disputes. Non-biblical language serves the Bible by ruling out some meanings and including others. The word “trinity” and the phrase “one substance with the Father” are extra-biblical terms. But they contain essential biblical truth. To affirm with extra-biblical language that God is “one essence in three persons” (=trinity) and that the Son is “one substance with the Father” is more biblical than to use biblical language to call Christ God’s creature. The sufficiency of Scripture does not dictate the language we use to interpret the Bible; rather it governs the meaning of the language we use. For that it is wholly sufficient.
Or take another example from Ed Stetzer on missiology:
While I affirm sola scriptura and privilege the authority of biblical revelation in our missiological reflection, these convictions do not preclude us from gaining favorable insights from the history of the church, philosophy, a community of believers, the social sciences, and other sources where God’s truth about the world and the people who live in it may be discerned.
Furthermore, who is it that insists that along with studying Scripture, we must exegete culture in order to correctly contextualize the gospel message, otherwise it will not be understandable to contemporary listeners?
You see, there is so much inconsistency, lack of biblical or historical support, and obfuscation on the matter that continuing to focus on this one issue is unhelpful to the discussion in my opinion.
So that’s where I plan to leave it. If you do not believe that anything dogmatic or authoritative can be said by anyone about anything that does not have word-for-word chapter-and-verse support, then this site really is not for you. I welcome you to visit often and dialogue as often as you’d like, but please don’t try to argue against what is said here on the basis that it fails your interpretation of Sola Scriptura. We just don’t believe your interpretation is correct biblically or historically. We actually think we are working out a more robust, biblical view of Sola Scriptura.
However, if you’d like to disagree with something said here, please do! Our views are not Scripture, and although we hold some of them with various degrees of dogmatism, we would never claim that anything we say has the same level of authority as Scripture. So we welcome disagreement and debate as long as it is about the issue itself.