Periodical Reviews -- By: Carisa A. Ash
BSac 174:694 (April-June 2017) p. 238
By The Faculty and Library Staff of Dallas Theological Seminary
“Sola Scriptura: An Inadequate Slogan for the Authority of Scripture,” Henk van den Belt, Calvin Theological Journal 51 (2016): 204-26.
The author is professor of Reformed theology at the University of Groningen. Originally delivered in Dutch during the conference “Sola Scriptura: Fading Standards and Irreconcilable Differences” at the Theological University of Kampen in 2015, this essay has been translated into English by Arie C. Leder (p. 204). The author argues, “The expression sola scriptura has its origins in rather recent Lutheran sources [not in the Reformation itself] . . ., [and the] expression is inadequate to describe a Protestant, or at least, a Reformed understanding of the authority of Scripture” (p. 205). He concludes, “It is time to abandon this typical twentieth-century formulation of the authority of Scripture” (ibid.). Though the statement is a bit provocative, the author does defend and explain his claim.
He contends, “The three-fold confession ‘Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone’ is in fact not much older than one hundred years old and originated in the circles of radical Lutheranism” (p. 206). It “defines the core of the Reformation from the point of later polemics against the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation” (p. 207). He then identifies several ways that sola scriptura has been misunderstood. Most importantly, Luther and the other Reformers did not “understand Scripture separated from the tradition or the confessions of the church for all ages. . . . Both Reformed and Lutheran reformations have deep respect for ecclesiastical traditions and confessions” (p. 210). Further, the Reformers read the Scripture according to “the regula fidei, [which] was found in the creeds of the Early Church” (p. 213). Finally, sola scriptura is sometimes misunderstood as excluding other sources of knowledge. He argues, “To avoid misinterpretations, Scripture should remain the ‘pair of spectacles’ to properly interpret creation. But a proper view of creation through these lenses may also lead to a reinterpretation of Scripture if the book of God in nature begs for it. In any case, from the basic positive attitude of Reformed theology towards human reason, guided by the Holy Spirit, the phrase sola scriptura must be nuanced” (pp. 215-16).
The author summarizes the appropriate understanding of sola scriptura succinctly: “Sola scriptura is only acceptable if it means that Scripture is clear and contains enough for salvation and for the conduct after s...
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