JumpIntoTheWord

Bible Engagement Blog


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Sola Scriptura or Solo Scriptura?

“All Scripture is God-breathed …” 2 Timothy 3:16. The inspiration of Scripture should never be a matter of dispute among Christians, but are the Scriptures the only source for theology?

Some Christians (mainly Catholics) insist that both Scripture and church tradition, as given by the Holy Spirit, are the source for theology. Others (mainly Anabaptists and Quakers) insist that Scripture, and the Holy Spirit speaking new revelation to the individual, are the source for theology. Yet another group of Christians (mainly Evangelicals) insist that the Bible alone, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, is the source for theology.

Each group of Christians cites the work of the Holy Spirit to legitimize their position, yet each of the views is problematic. When it’s assumed that God is the author of both Scripture and tradition equally, what happens when tradition clashes with or contradicts what the Bible says? When it’s assumed that an internal voice along with Scripture is authoritative, what happens when the internal voice says something the Bible doesn’t say? And when it’s assumed that there’s no authority other than the Bible, what happens when there’s disagreement about what the Bible says?

In considering the last question, it’s helpful to know that Protestant reformers made a distinction between the principles of “sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone) and “nuda Scriptura” (bare Scripture). “Sola Scriptura” has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as the Christian’s supreme authority in all spiritual matters. “Nuda Scriptura” is the idea that the Bible is the Christian’s only theological authority in all spiritual matters. The best transliteration for “nuda Scriptura” today is “solo Scriptura” (just me and my Bible).

The distinction between “sola Scriptura” and “solo Scriptura” is important. The two are not the same and shouldn’t be equated. The emphasis in “sola Scriptura” is on theology being ultimately subject to the Scriptures. The emphasis in “solo Scriptura” is narrower. It gives prominence to personal interpretation removed from the Church.

“Solo Scriptura” naturally appeals to people who are suspicious of authority or individualistically inclined. The revivalist preacher Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) captured the essence of “solo Scriptura” when he said, “I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me, and I am as much on my guard against reading them today, through the medium of my own views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority, or system whatever.”

People are in error if they outright reject the theological insights of others in favour of their own interpretations. They’re also dangerous and divisive. Dangerous because “solo Scriptura” subjects theology to the whims and frailty of subjectivism, and divisive because “solo Scriptura” has no court of appeal for theological disagreements.

“Sola Scriptura”, on the other hand, depends on a communal reading of the Scriptures. It does this by interacting with the theological insights and understanding of Christians past and present. No man or woman is an island to himself or herself. “Sola scriptura” recognizes that while Scripture is the final authority to judge Christian doctrine and practice, it’s not the only resource for theology. That is, “sola Scriptura” identifies that the core convictions of the Church, as long as they don’t compete with or supplement the Scriptures, are essential resources for biblical interpretation, theological reflection, and interdenominational dialogue.

So what happens when there’s disagreement about what the Bible says? While there are no easy answers, it’s naïve to think that just me and my Bible is more than enough. We need one another. We need, with the Scriptures as the primary authority, to tap into the exegetical insights, doctrinal clarity, and pastoral perceptions of Christians through the ages.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement Renewal

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, started a schism in the Catholic Church when he sent a Theses (also nailed to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg) enclosed with a letter to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz. The Theses propositions disputed the power of indulgences and effectively started the Reformation and the branch of Christianity known as ProtestanBruenig_Lucas_Cranach_imgtism.

Luther’s dispute with the Catholic Church included a belief in the Bible alone (rather than with sacred tradition) as the highest authority in matters of faith and practice (sola scriptura). So for most Protestants, and a Bible engagement advocate like myself, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is hugely significant.

While much could be said about the doctrines of sola scriptura, prima scriptura (Anglican, Methodist, Wesleyan), or the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Catholic), the purpose of this article is rather about how we desperately need a Bible engagement renewal.

Despite all that’s been accomplished down through the centuries to stress the primacy of God’s Word in the faith and practice of the Church, there’s a significant lack of emphasis on Bible engagement in many churches. Something’s lost that needs to be found. And to find what’s been lost we must begin with lamenting the weak state of Bible reading, reflecting, receiving, remembering and responding.

Someone once said that we “need to let the Bible accuse us.” The trouble is we’re not connecting with it in a way that opens the door for the Bible to show us where we’ve gone astray, and we don’t give it room to help us return to the place where it gets to have its way with us (because Bible engagement is essentially Jesus engagement, this statement should also be understood as Jesus getting to have His way with us through His Word ).

Through the course of history God breaks into the affairs of humanity to renew and restore us to Himself. Five-hundred years on from the last great renewal in Bible engagement we need the Lord to bring us alive to His Word again. There are no shortcuts to a Bible engagement renewal (unless God chooses otherwise). The process of renewal usually requires the following:

  • Recognize the need for a Bible engagement renewal. “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6.
  • Pursue a Bible engagement renewal personally. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” Psalm 51:1.
  • Seek forgiveness for personal and communal sin. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” Psalm 51:10.
  • Promise to follow the Lord and engage His Word with all your heart and soul and mind (cf. 2 Kings 23:3).
  • Act on the Word. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” James 1:22.

Now pray for a Bible engagement renewal; trusting God to usher in a much needed season of long term growth that will be marked by the strengthening of individuals and communities of faith as they connect with Jesus and His Story.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Breathe Scripture

I wonder what 16th Century Protestants would think of today’s church if they could drop in for a visit. Sola Scriptura was the rallying cry during the Reformation and many fought and died for the Bible to be pre-eminent over church traditions or practices that were un-biblical or extra-biblical. In varying degrees it seems like something of the Sola Scriptura focus has been lost in the 21st Century Church. While the Church generally uses the Bible to provide an underpinning for teaching and life instruction, the Scriptures aren’t always the primary authority in directing all we say and do.                                                                              

So why should the Scriptures be interwoven into everything we say and do in the local church? The REVEAL study, conducted by Willow Creek Community Church (USA), suggests one exceptionally good reason – to nurture spiritual maturity.

In the REVEAL study book, MOVE: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, Hawkins and Parkinson say that embedding the Bible in everything is one of the top four practices of disciple-making churches. In fact the top five percent of churches in the REVEAL study who successfully nurtured spiritual maturity were churches who “breathed Scripture”. When churches breathe Scripture they’re asking, “What does the Bible have to say about that?” The answers to this question inform and direct every activity of the church.

Breathing Scripture . . . how many churches apply the Bible to everything they say and do? Looking at some of the things done, or not done in our churches, I wonder . . .

Is your church breathing Scripture? If not, maybe it’s time to take up the ancient rally cry of Sola Scriptura. David’s oft repeated proclamation was, “I have chosen your precepts” Psalm 119:173 (NIV). Pray that the church in our day will come to be known for its total allegiance to the Scriptures.

© Copyright Scripture Union Canada, 2012