Dec 1, 2009

Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, New from Reformation Trust

12 Min Read

Is the Bible really all we need?

Sola Scriptura, the formal principle of the Protestant Reformation, is essential to genuine Christianity. Yet this doctrine is under assault today as never before, both from outside and and inside the church. In manifold ways, the idea is put forth that the Bible is inadequate for the needs of modern man. Such suggestions represent an attack on the very foundations of the Christian faith.

In this book, several leading Reformed pastors and scholars unpack the meaning of the doctrine of sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone"). They also explain where the attacks on the Bible are coming from and show how those who accept the Bible as God's inspired Word should respond. In building a new case for the Bible as divine revelation, they show what a treasure the Scriptures are and call believers to a new commitment to the reading and studying of its contents.

Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible is a treasure trove of information and a comfort to those who grieve to see the twenty-first-century church wandering away from the safe harbor of the Bible.

"This book is not simply a lamentation; it is a way forward. It attempts to assess the present situation with a view to calling the shepherds of Israel to hear God's voice again and make it plain to a new generation." --Michael Horton, from the Foreword

Joel R. Beeke
Sinclair B. Ferguson
W. Robert Godfrey
Ray Lanning
John MacArthur
R. C. Sproul
Derek W. H. Thomas
James White

"That the Bible as we have it today is the inspired Word of God, and that it is authoritative and sufficient for all faith and practice, is the foundation on which all other Christian doctrines stand. This truth must be continually affirmed and defended. Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible does this in a way that will prove profitable to both laypeople and professional clergy. I highly recommend it."
--Jerry Bridges, Bible teacher, conference speaker, Author, The Pursuit of Holiness and other titles

"Christians are Bible people. We are made followers of Christ by the message of the Bible and continue to be guided in the ways of Christ by what the Bible says. The Bible is the Spirit's sword, and we must learn to wield it with confidence in order to live effectively in this world. This book will help you do that. The contributors are trustworthy teachers who understand the importance of the recovery of sola Scriptura, not only for the sixteenth century, but for the twenty-first. I am grateful to Reformation Trust for making it available once again."
--Thomas K. Ascol, Senior pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida, Executive director, Founders Ministries

"The Christian doctrine of Scripture, that the Bible alone is the Word of God, that it clearly and infallibly reveals the triune God and His truth in Christ, has always been at the heart of the faith. Since the sixteenth century, there have been three great assaults on this doctrine: the Romanist claim to authority over Scripture, the modernist rejection of the authority and truthfulness of Scripture, and the late-modern denial of the clarity and sufficiency of Scripture. The republication of Sola Scriptura is a most welcome response to each of these. This book is more relevant and necessary today than when it first appeared."
--R. Scott Clark, Professor of church history and historical theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, California


Page viii - However, we fallen sinners are creative folk. We do not appreciate being told from above what to believe and how to conduct ourselves in this life. The Frank Sinatra phrase "I did it my way" still expresses the sentiment of the rebellious human heart. Israel sought to worship God in its own way, in a manner that accommodated the felt needs of worshipers. Other "words" were added, leading the people away from the clear and simple teaching of Scripture, and even though this path always led to divine judgment in the form of earthly exiles, the people never seemed to learn their lessons about adding to Scripture (legalism) or subtracting from it (antinomianism). But God's Word is what it is, whether we acknowledge it or not. If we do not accept it, God's Word judges us anyway. If we do, it announces its saving promise of eternal life in Christ.

Like Israel, wanting to experience God on her own terms, the medieval church preferred idolatry to true worship and relied on visual forms created by the human imagination when she should have been sustained by the written and preached Word. In our own day, we also find ourselves immersed in a visual culture where words in general are both unimportant and viewed with a growing cynicism. Reflecting the contemporary attitude in both the academy and in popular culture, one pop group of the 1980s asked, "What are words for?"

But Christianity is a religion of words, a religion of the Book. Like the Reformers, we must not accommodate a visually or experientially oriented culture in the interest of marketing success, but must pour all of our energies into forming word-centered community, however out of step with contemporary society that may be. The Reformers insisted that Scripture not only has the final say, but that it is the formal principle of everything we believe about doctrine or conduct. That is, it shapes and forms our faith. It does not simply sign off on essentially secular definitions of reality borrowed from psychology, business, sociology, politics, and the like. Rather, it is more likely to overthrow our presuppositions.

Page xi-xii - The historical Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura--Scripture alone--affirms that God has an eternal plan to make known the mysteries of the gospel. Thus, Protestant theology (doctrines about God) flows from the act of divine will by which He wishes to make known to us truth, which is accomplished by His words or His works as revealed in Christ. "No man has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1:18). The picture of the divine mind and will that we have in sola Scriptura is dependent on revelation from God Himself. It is an example of God's merciful kindness to fallen humanity that He has willed that all of the knowledge we need for a relationship with Him, and for correct worship of Him, should be provided by Him. If it were not so, we would stumble in blindness. It is to the revelation of the divine mind expressed in sola Scriptura that all of our thoughts and doctrine, our worship of Him, and our obedience to Him must always be conformed.

It is for this reason that Reformation Trust has re-published this work, originally published by Soli Deo Gloria.

Page 2 - The Protestant position, and my position, is that all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible with enough clarity that the ordinary believer can find them there and understand. -- Robert Godfrey

Page 15 - If we would be faithful children of God, if we would be noble, we must proceed as the Bereans did. We must follow the example of Moses, Paul, and our Lord Jesus. We must not rest our confidence on the wisdom of men who claim infallibility. Rather, we must stand with the apostle Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:6, "Do not go beyond what is written." -- Robert Godfrey

Page 28 - How do modern Roman apologists handle statements by heretics claiming scriptural backing? Do they not quickly refer to the need of something more than Scripture? Do we not often see the cults and "isms" used as examples of why sola Scriptura doesn't work? -- James White

Page 32 - As with all elements of Christian truth, full examination will always support, uphold, and verify that sola Scriptura has long been the rule of believing Christian people, even before it became necessary to use the specific terminology against later innovators who would usurp the Scriptures' supremacy in the church. It is the teaching of the Scriptures about themselves (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Matt. 15:1-9, etc.), and we find a broad and deep witness to it in the early church fathers. Let us be thankful to God for the gracious gift of His sufficient and life-giving Word, the Holy Scriptures. -- James White

Page 42 - For the classic Protestant, though the individual believer has the right to the private interpretation of Scripture, he is capable of misinterpreting the Bible. But while he has the ability to misinterpret Scripture, he does not have the right to do it. That is, with the right of private interpretation comes the responsibility of making an accurate interpretation. We never have the right to distort the teaching of Scripture. Both sides agree that the individual is fallible when seeking to understand Scripture, but historic Protestantism limits the scope of infallibility to the Scriptures themselves. Church tradition and church creeds can err. Individual interpreters of Scripture can err. It is the Scriptures alone that are without error. -- R. C. Sproul

Page 56 - Oral Roberts once told the nation that God had revealed to him that his life would be taken if he didn't raise a large amount of money in donations. Robert Tilton promised his constituents that he would mail them a special message from God if they sent in their donations. These, of course, are crude forms of modern claims to added revelation. How these claims can be entertained by the credulous is a matter of consternation for me.

But it gets more subtle. We hear respected Christian leaders claiming that God has "spoken to them" and given specific guidance and instructions they are duty-bound to obey. They are careful to note that this divine speech was not in audible form and there is a disclaimer that this is not new "revelation." Yet the message that is "laid on the heart" is so clear and powerful that to disobey it is to disobey the voice of God. I am not speaking here of the work of the Holy Spirit, by which He illumines the text of Scripture in such a sharp manner as to bring us under conviction or direct our paths; in such times, the Spirit works in the Word and through the Word. I am speaking of the voice of the Spirit that men claim is working apart from the Word and in addition to the Word. -- R. C. Sproul

Page 57 - Though these are perilous times for the church with regard to the normative function of the Bible in our lives, we remain optimistic about the future. That optimism is grounded in our conviction of the providence of God. It was by His singular providence that the Bible was given under His superintendence and by His inspiration. It was also by His providence that the original books of the Bible were preserved and accorded the status of canon. It is in Providence that we trust for the future of the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith declares: "As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof." -- R. C. Sproul

Page 60 - Even if the Bible made no claim as to its inspiration and consequent infallibility/inerrancy, Scripture could still be said to possess a certain authority by virtue of both its (unique) witness to the events of redemptive history and the tradition of several thousand years, by which it has been regarded as authoritative for matters of doctrine and practice within the community of the church. Even moderate liberals, who do not affirm a view of the plenary (verbal) inspiration of Scripture, concede that the Bible has a unique role in the life of the church.

However, the Bible's claim to be the Word of God adds a dimension of authority that goes beyond mere sentiment or tradition. By this assertion, the Bible claims for itself the authority of God. Additionally, since Scripture is given by "inspiration of God," or more accurately, is the product of God's "out-breathing" (2 Tim. 3:16, theopneustos), the Bible's authority is comprehensive and total, down to the very words themselves. This is the view the Bible claims of itself. To cite John Calvin in the final edition of his Institutes (1559), "Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their own color, or sweet or bitter things do of their taste. . . . [T]hose whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self authenticated [autopiston]." It is for this reason that the Westminster Confession states, "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God." -- Derek Thomas

Page 72 - Tradition in effect becomes a lens through which the written word is interpreted. Tradition therefore stands as the highest of all authorities, because it renders the only authoritative interpretation of the sacred writings.

This tendency to view tradition as the supreme authority is not unique to pagan religions. Traditional Judaism, for example, follows the scripture-plus-tradition paradigm. The familiar books of the Old Testament alone are viewed as Scripture, but true orthodoxy is actually defined by a collection of ancient rabbinical traditions known as the Talmud. In effect, the traditions of the Talmud carry an authority equal to or greater than that of the inspired Scriptures.

This is no recent development within Judaism. The Jews of Jesus' day also placed tradition on an equal footing with Scripture. But in actuality they made tradition superior to Scripture, because Scripture was interpreted by tradition and therefore made subject to it.

Whenever tradition is elevated to such a high level of authority, it inevitably becomes detrimental to the authority of Scripture. Jesus made this very point when He confronted the Jewish leaders. -- John MacArthur

Page 79 - It is necessary to understand what sola Scriptura does and does not assert. The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.

It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture. -- John MacArthur

Pages 91-92 - Martin Luther's famous Ninety-five Theses sparked a religious fire in Europe that the Roman Catholic Church was unable to extinguish. The theological conflict that ensued has often been characterized as focusing on the four "alones" of the Reformation: sola gratia, solo Christo, sola fide, sola Scriptura--salvation is by grace alone, in Christ alone, by faith alone, and all that is necessary for salvation is taught in Scripture alone. Each of these principles, and certainly all four together, served as a canon by which the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church was assessed and found lacking.

In these great slogans, the nouns--grace, Christ, faith, Scripture--were and are of great importance. But in each case the qualifying sola (alone) was and is in some ways even more significant. Rome had always taught that salvation was by grace through faith in Christ, and had always held that the Bible was the Word of God--but never alone. To speak of sola Scriptura has almost always been viewed in Rome as a prescription for spiritual anarchy in which everyone would create for himself a personalized message of the Bible. The only safeguard against this was the living tradition of the church, which was viewed as a separate channel of divine revelation. -- Sinclair Ferguson

Pages 111-112 - In recent decades, an endless stream of books and articles has affirmed the infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of the Holy Scriptures.1 These doctrines are essential to the church's confession of the truth and authority of God's Word. It is both necessary and comforting for the Christian to know and believe that all Scripture is "God-breathed," that every word of every sentence is exhaled by the living God (2 Tim. 3:16). The believer would have no authority for declaring "Thus saith the Lord" in belief and practice if God had not superintended the entire process of the composition of Scripture down to every jot and tittle (Matt. 5:18). To be trusted wholly, Scripture must be wholly true.

Needful though such affirmations are, for many evangelicals sola Scriptura has become largely a polemical doctrine used to counter the threats of neoorthodoxy and liberalism. As a result, evangelicals have been preoccupied with defending their view of Scripture, frequently becoming more involved with articulating what the Word is than with what the Word says and does. -- Joel Beeke & Ray Lanning

Page 112 - As Protestants and evangelicals, we must complement the defense of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy with a positive demonstration of the transforming power of God's Word. That power must be manifested in our lives, our homes, our churches, and our communities. We need to show without pretense that though other books may inform or even reform us, only one Book can and does transform us, conforming us to the image of Christ. Only as "living epistles of Christ" (2 Cor. 3:3) can we hope to win "the battle for the Bible" in our day. If half the strength spent in attacking or defending the Bible would be devoted to knowing and living the Scriptures, how many more would fall under the sway of their transforming power! Therefore, in this chapter, we will consider the call of God to His people to be transformed, the transforming operations of His Word, those perfections of God's Word that account for its transforming power, how the Word must be used as a means of transformation, and the fruits of transformation produced in believers by the Word. -- Joel Beeke & Ray Lanning

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