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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Differences in Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura

It's been years since I opened this book. I know some Reformed circles don't like what Keith A. Mathison had to say about Sola Scriptura, but I am posting some of what he said in this regard anyway. Mathison is a Protestant in the Reformed tradition. He missunderstands Eastern Orthodoxy, the Orthodox do believe God is our Authority as seen here by the evangelical scholar Daniel B. Clendenin:

""the Orthodox East has never been obsessed with a search for objective, clear, and formally definable criteria of truth, such as either the papal authority or the Reformed notion of sola scriptura." Meyendorff takes pains to clarify this extremely important point: "This lack in Orthodox ecclesiology of a clearly defined, precise and permanent criterion of Truth besides God Himself, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, is certainly one of the major contrasts between Orthodoxy and all classical Western ecclesiologies." [1]


"while in Orthodoxy no need for, or necessity of, such a security was ever felt for the simple reason that the living Truth is its own criterion." This, of course, is the exact point made by Khomiakov, that in Orthodoxy the criterion of truth is not external or dogmatic, a speaking to the church, but internal and pneumatic, a living Lord within the church.
Positively, we might say that the only ultimate theological criterion to which Orthodoxy appeals is the living presence of God himself, who safeguards the church and promises through his Spirit to lead us and guide us into all truth (John 14:25-26; 16:13). This was the pattern established by the original church in council at Jerusalem, which based its decisions on the charismatic criterion: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28). Thus the Orthodox appeal to Irenaeus: "Where theChurch is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is Truth."

So Mathison was wrong in that regard. I also believe he was wrong in regards to what he wants to believe about the classical Reformers and the "Reformed" position of Sola Scriptura. One can easily see this when John Calvin rejected Nicine Triniterianism for his noval view of the Asiety of the Son. We can also look at Reformed Christology vs Chalcedonian Christology. Reformed Christology has a tendency to be Nestorian and some internet calvinists don't seem to care that thier view is different from that of Chalcedon. He also attacks the anabaptist view of sola scriptura as "solo scripura". And he says that their view is wrong. Well, what right does he have to call their view of sola scriptura wrong? Are they not protestants too? And why should we take his word about the doctrine over theirs? What makes the Reformed better than the Anabaptists? But anyway, I agree with most of what he has to say here. I just feel that he doesn't want to admit that he has more in common with us than he would like to make known.

He says in his book:

"In the 1980s and early 1990s, a controversy erupted among
dispensationalists which came to be referred to as the Lordship Salvation
controversy. On one side of the debate were men such as Zane Hodges and Charles
Ryrie who taught a reductionistic doctrine of sola fide which absolutized the
word "alone" in the phrase "justification by faith alone" and removed it from
its overall theologicalcontext. Faith was reduced to little more than assent to
the truthfulness of certain biblical propositions. Repentance, sanctification,
submission to Christ's Lordship, Love, and perseverance were all said to be
unnecessary for salvation. Advocates of this position claimed that it was the
classical Reformation position taught by Martin Luther and John Clavin. On the
other side of the debate was John MacArthur who argued that these men were
clearly abandoning the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. In
addition to the books written by the primary dispensationalist participants,
numerous Reformed theologians wrote books and articles criticizing this
alteration of the doctrine of sola fide. A heated theological controversy began
which continues in some circles even to this day.

Ironically, a similar
drastic alteration of the classical Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura has
occurred over the last 150 years, yet this has caused hardly a stir among the
theological heirs of the Reformation, who have usually been quick to notice any
threatening move against the Reformed doctrine of justification. So much time
and effort has been spent guarding the doctrine of sola fide against any
perversion or change that many do not seem to have noticed that the classical
and foundational Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura has been so altered that is
virtually unrecognizable. In its place Evangelicals have substitude an entirely
different doctrine. Douglas Jones has coined the term solo scriptura to refer to
this aberrant Evangelical version of sola scriptura. Mordern Evangelicalism has
done the same thing to solo scriptura that Hodges and Ryrie did to sola fide.
But unfortunately so little attention is paid to the doctrine of sola scriptura
today that even among trained theologians there is confusion and ambiguity when
the topic is raised. Contradictory not only among broadly Evangical authors but
among Reformed authors as well. In this chapter we shall examine this aberrant
modern Evangelical concept of solo Scriptura and explain why it is imperative
that the Evangelical church recognize it to be as dangerous as the distorted
concepts of sola fide that are prevalent in the Church today.

Evangelical Individualism

The modern
Evangelical version of solo scriptura is nothing more than a new version of
tradition 0. Instead of being defined as the sole infallible authority, the
Bible is said to be the "sole basis of authoruty." Tradition is not allowed in
any sense; the ecumenical creeds are virtually dismissed; and the Church is
denied any real authority. On the surface it would seem that this modern
Evangelical doctrine would have nothing in common with the Roman Catholic or
Eastern Orthodox doctrine of authority. But despite the very differences, the
modern Evangelical position shares one major flaw with both the Roman Catholic
and the Eastern Orthodox positions. Each results in autonomy. Each results in
final authority being placed somewhere other than God and His Word. Unlike the
Roman Catholic position and the Eastern Orthodox position, however, which
invariably result in the autonomy of the Church, the modern Evangelical position
inevitably results in the autonomy of the individual believer.

We have
already seen that there is a major difference between the concept of Scripture
and tradition taught by the Classical Reformers and the concept taught by the
Anabaptists and their heirs. The Anabaptist concept, here referred to as
Tradition 0, attempted to deny the authority of tradition in any real sense. The
Scriptures were considered not only the sole final and infallible authority, but
the only authority whatsoever. The Enlightenment added the philosophical
framework in which to comprehend this individualism. The individual reason was
elevated to the position of final authority. Appeals to antiquity and tradition
of any kind were ridiculed. In the early years of the United States, democratic
populism swept the people along in its fervor. The result is a modern American
Evangelicalism which has redefined sola scriptura in terms of secular
Enlightenment rationalism and rugged democratic individualism.

the best way to explain the fundamental problems with the modern Evangelical
version of solo scriptura would be through the use of an illustration to which
believers may be able to relate. Almost every Christian who has wrestled with
theological questions has encountered the problem of competing interpretations
of Scripture. If one asks a dispensationalist pastor, for example, why he
teaches premillennialism, the answer will be, "Because the Bibleteaches
premillennialism." If one asks the conservative Presbyterian pastor across the
street why he teaches amillennialism (or postmillennialism), the answer will
likely be, "Because that is what the Bible teaches." Each man will claim that
the other is in error, but by what ultimate authority do they typically make
such a judgment? Each man will claim that he bases his judgement on the
authority of the Bible, but since each man's interpretation is mutually
exclusive of the other's, both interpretations cannot be correct. How then do we
discern which interpretation is correct?

The typical modern Evangelical
solution to this problem is to tell the inquirer to examine the arguments on
both sides and decide which of them is closest to the teaching of Scripture. He
is told that this is what sola scriptura means-to individualy evaluate all
doctrines according to the only authority, the Scripture. Yet in reality, all
that occurs is that one Christian measures the scriptural interpreations of
other Christians against the standard of his own scriptural interpretation.
Rather than placing the final authority in scripture as it intends to do, this
concept of Scripture places the final authority in the reason and judgement of
each individual believer. The result is the relativism, subjectivism, and
theological chaos that we see in modern Evangelicalism today.
A fundamental
and self-evident truth that seems to be unconsciously overlooked by proponents
of the modern Evangelical version of solo scriptura is that no one is infallible
in his interpretation of Scripture. Each of us comes to the Scripture with
different presuppositions, blind spots, ignorance of important facts, and, most
importantly, sinfulness. Because of this we each read things into Scripture that
are not there and miss things in Scripture that are there. Unfortunately, a
large number of modern Evangelicals have followed in the footsteps of Alexander
Campbell (1788-1866), founder of the Disciples of Christ, who naively believed
he could come to Scripture with absolute no preconceived notions or biases. We
have already mentioned no preconceived notions or biases. We have already
mentioned Campbell's naive statement, "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
The same ideas were expressed by Lewis Sperry Chafer, the
extremely influential founder and first president of Dallas Theological
Seminary. Chafer believed that his lack of any theological training gave him the
ability to approach scriptural interpretation without bias. He said, "the very
fact that I did not study a prescribed course in theology made it possible for
me to approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and to be concerned only
with what the Bible actually teaches." This, however, is simply impossible.
Unless one can escape the effects of sin, ignorance, and all previous learning,
one cannot read the Scripture without some bias and blind spots. This is a given
of the post-Fall human condition.

This naive belief in the ability to
escape one' own noetic and spiritual limitations led Cambell and his modern
Evangelical heirs to discount any use of secondary authorities. The Church, the
creeds, and the teachings of the early fathers were all considered quaint at
best. The discarding of the creeds is a common feature of the modern Evangelical
notion of solo scriptura. It is so pervasive that one may find it even in the
writings of prominent Reformed theologians. For example, in a recently published
and well-received Reformed systematic theology text, Robert Reymond laments the
fact that most Reformed Christians adhere to the Triniterian orthodoxy expressed
in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. He openly calls for an abandonment of
the Nicen Trinitarian concept in favor of a different Trinitarian concept. One
cannot help but wonder how this is any different than the Unitarians rejection
of creedal orthodoxy. They call for the rejection of one aspect of Nicene
Trinitarianism while Reymond calls for the rejection of another. Why is one
considered heretical and the other published by a major Evangelical publishing

An important point that must be kept in mind is observed by the
Great nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Samuel Miller. He noted that the
most zealous oppnents of creeds "have been those who held corrupt opinions."
This is still the case today. The one common feature found in many published
defenses of heretical doctrines aimed at Evangelical readers is the staunch
advocacy of the modern Evangelical notion of solo scriptura with its concomitant
rejection of the subordinate authority of the ecumenical creeds. the first goal
of these authors is to convince the reader that sola scriptura means solo
scriptura. In other words, their first goal is to convince readers that there
are no binding doctrinal boundaries within Christianity.

In his defense
of annihilationism, for example, Edward Fudge states that Scripture, "is the
only unquestionable or binding source of doctrine on this or any subject." He
adds that the individual should weigh the scriptural interpretations of other
uninspired and fallible Christians against Scripture. He does not explain how
the Christian is to escape his own uninspired fallibility. The doctrinal
boundaries of Christians orthodoxy are cast aside as being historically
conditioned and relative. Of course, Fudge fails to note that his interpretation
is as historically conditioned and relative as any that he criticizes.

Another heresy that has been widely promoted with assistance of the
modern Evangelical version of solo scriptura is hyper preterism or pantelism.
While there are numerous internal squabbles over details, in general advocates
of this doctrine insist that JEsus Christ returned in A.D. 70 at the destruction
of Jerusalem and that at that time sin and death were destroyed, the Adamic
curse was lifted, Satan was cast into the lake of fire, the rapture and general
resurrection occurred, the final judgment occurred, mourning and crying and pain
were done away with, and the eternal state began. The proponents of Pantelism
are even more vocal in their rejection of orthodox Christian doctrinal
boundaries than Fudge. Ed Stevens, for example, writes,

"Even if the
creeds were to clearly and definitively stand against the preterist view (which
they don't), it would not be an overwhelming problem since they have no real
authority anyway. They are no more authoritative than our best opinions today,
but they are valued because of their antiquity."

This is a hallmark of
the doctrine of solo scriptura, and it is a position that the classical
Reformers adamently rejected. Stevens continues elsewhere,

"We must not
take the creeds any more seriously than we do the writings and opinions of men
like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, the Westminister Assembly, Campbell, Rushdoony, or
C.S. Lewis."

Here we see the clear rejection of scriptural based
structures of authority. The authority of those who rule in the Church is
rejected by placing the decisions of an ecumenical council of ministers on the
same level as the words of any individual. This is certainly the democratic way
of doing things, and it is as American as apple pie, but it is not Christian. If
what Mr. Stevens writes is true, then Christians should not take theNicene
doctrine of the Trinity any more seriously than we take some idiosyncratic
doctrine of Alexander Campbell or C.S. Lewis. If this doctrine of solo scriptura
and all that it entails is true, then the Church has no more right or authority
to declare Arianism a heresy than Cornelius Van Til would have to
authoritatively declare classical apologetics a heresy. Orthodoxy and heresy
would necessarily be an individualistic and subjective determination. Another
Pantelist, John Noe, claims that this rejection of the authority of the
ecumenical creeds "is what the doctrine of sola scriptura is all about." As we
have demonstrated, this is manifestly untrue of the classical Reformed doctrine
of sola scriptura." The doctrine of Scripture being espoused by these men is a
doctrine of Scripture that is based upon anabaptist individualism, Enlightenment
rationalism, and democratic populism. It is a doctrine of Scripture divorced
from its Christian context."

Mathison seems to deny the view that the Holy Spirit will guide the Body into all Truth. Those(Protestants) in whom he calls holding to "tradition 0" at least believe in the Holy Spirit guiding somebody. I wonder if Mathison is a cessationist? If so then this would explain the lack of "Charisma", in his view. Also differences in the doctrine of sola fide is not unique to dispensationalists. The Reformed camp have their own fued in this regard with Norman Sheperd and those that follow his lead. The former Prespyterian now Roman Catholic scholar and apologist Scott Hahn, noticed a difference between Lutherians and the Reformed in regards to the doctrine of "sola fide". We already know the difference between the Lutherians and Reformed in regards to Sola Sciptura when it comes to the "Regulative principle", as seen here "Theological Issues -Lutherian vs Reformed". The calvinists(and Reformed) over at Holycultureradio argued over this very issue some years ago when Phatcatholic was ready to debate one of them in regards to this issue. One of the Reformed tried to use Mathison's arguement until another Reformed came in and told everyone that the Reformed wasn't in agreement over this issue. At first it seemed that those who once sided with Mathison's perspective slowly switch sides to the other Reformed view. The one that Mathision tried to argue against. The debate never really jumped off because no one wanted to debate Phatcat after Ricky's first defence. As seen here "Debate with "Ricky" on Sola Scriptura: Parts One, Two, Three, and Four. I'm cool with both Ricky and Phatcat, but I just wanted everyone to know that "protestantism" has more than one interpretation of what "sola scriptura" means. The same is true for "sola fide".

Related links:

Lordship salvation vs nonLordship salvation view

The different kinds of Calvinists I've noticed throughout the years

A responce to a new christian in regards to the Trinity

A review of Mathison's book by a Roman Catholic (on a different blog):

Greg Krehbiel's Review of Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura

A discussion between Mathison and Sungenis:

The dialog

A review from James White's blog:

Solo Scriptura? Tradition 0?

A review by Touchstone:

Loose Canon

Wiki link:
Sola scriptura


[1]page 106-107,[2] page 107, from the book "Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A western perspective" by Daniel B. Clendenin. Baker Academic 1994, 2003

[3] pages 237-244 by Keith A. Mathision, in the book "The shape of Sola Scriptura". Canon Press 2001


Tony said...

I recently read the book "Shape of Sola Scriptura" by Mathison and, like you, found it with many errors, mostly misunderstandings regarding Orthodoxy and (either intentional or unintentional) an incomplete history regarding the early church and development of doctrine. I reviewed it on Amazon, I'm tempted to post my review on my blog now.

Jnorm said...

Go for it.

Oh and congradulations!!!


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