Periodical Reviews -- By: Jefferson P. Webster
BSac 172:686 (April-June 2015) p. 229
By The Faculty and Library Staff of Dallas Theological Seminary
“Sola Scriptura: Reductio ad Absurdam?” John C. Peckham, Trinity Journal 35 (Fall 2014): 195-223.
Determining the right relationship between Scripture and tradition is perpetually vexing, especially for those who affirm the principle of sola Scriptura. As with many intricate theological debates, precision in definition is essential, while the most seemingly slight of nuances can bear—or fail to bear—an immense weight of argumentation. Furthermore, with this doctrine, in particular, the path to truth is strewn with the ashes of incinerated straw men. The principle’s intrepid adherents must tread cautiously, parrying objections left and right.
John C. Peckham, Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy at the Theological Seminary of Andrews University, defends the principle against those who claim that it reduces to a “logical absurdity” (p. 195). Specifically, he counters the most common charges that it is “self-defeating,” “isolates Scripture to the exclusion of any other revelation,” or results in “subjectivism and/or hyperpluralism” (p. 195). First, however, he attends to the important matter of definition.
While recognizing that the phrase “sola Scriptura” means different things to different people, “depending on who is using it” (p. 200), Peckham’s own definition affirms three essential points: 1) Scripture is the “uniquely infallible source of divine revelation.” 2) Scripture “alone provides a sufficient and fully trustworthy basis of theology.” 3) Scripture is the “uniquely authoritative and final norm of theological interpretation” (p. 200). These points, fairly standard in themselves, are then buttressed by the necessary qualifications to obviate misunderstanding: sola Scriptura does not mean that Scripture is the “only source of knowledge”; it does not exclude reason or dismiss “interpretative communities and traditions(s) past and present”; nor does it insist that “all theological doctrine requires a direct biblical statement” (p. 201).
In countering the claim that sola Scriptura is “unworkable in practice,” Peckham makes an extremely important point that warrants greater attention: “The inability to perfectly implement sola Scriptura,” he writes, “is not due to the concept itself.” Rather, it results from “the inescapable hermeneutic circle that is common to all interpretation” (p. 203). The refreshing theme of epistemic humility runs throughout the article and is nicely stated with respect to the relationship betwe...
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