The Sufficiency of Scripture, the Insufficiency of Man

The Sufficiency of Scripture, the Insufficiency of Man

Scripture, tradition, and the relationship between the two—it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

But the present manifestation of this conversation includes two sides talking past one another in a big way. One reason for this is the emerging divergence between two very different epistemologies. Presuppositionalism, broadly speaking—with its idealist DNA—makes Scripture the epistemological starting point of the Christian individual. Man’s idea of Scripture and Scripture itself are nearly the same. And this results in very little attention paid to man’s insufficiency once Scripture is presupposed as sufficient. It is generally assumed that the individual Christian has sole right in determining the proper interpretation of any given verse, chapter, or book of the Bible. Hence, the disdain of some for the tradition.

The classical Reformed position, on the other hand, understands there to be a distinction between Scripture as a source for our theology and our theology as it exists in the fallible mind. In other words, the fount of man’s theology is the text of Scripture, the principium cognoscendi, and man’s theology derives from that principle in an imperfect manner. (1 Cor. 13:12) This means Scripture is presupposed, but it is presupposed as a principle that leads to conclusions drawn by the fallible intellect. Naturally, therefore, we can admit these theological conclusions drawn from biblical exegesis to be fallible as well, while the source itself, Scripture, is infallible. Subsequently, a team effort in biblical interpretation becomes a needful service.

Scripture & the Tradition

Given the above explication, we should be readily able to see why the presuppositional milieu seems so allergic to the ministerial authority of tradition. Man presupposes the Scriptures in such a way that there’s functionally no difference between Scripture and man’s knowledge of Scripture. This cashes out in an infallible presupposition, or an infallible idea in man. In this one area, the knowledge of man is raised to an apostolic quality of infallibility. If Scripture is infallible, and there is no distinction between Scripture itself and man’s idea of it, man’s idea is infallible. And thus, it is no longer subject to peer scrutiny, say, from the tradition. It’s a simple matter of applying the law of identity and following the implications.

On the other hand, if classicalism is true, and Scripture acts as a perfect reservoir for our  imperfect theological knowledge, it follows that we might maintain Scripture’s unique attribute of infallibility while at the same time admitting man’s fallibility. And this leads us to the good and necessary use of secondary authorities. If man is fallible, he needs help to understand the infallible Scriptures aright. Biblical interpretation is not purely an individual exercise. It requires the Holy Spirit, as He works in the individual, but also as He has worked in believers past and present. Francis Turretin writes:

When we dispute at any time from the fathers against our adversaries, we use them only as witnesses, to approve by their vote the truth believed by us and to declare the belief of the church in their time. We do not use them as judges whose opinion is to be acquiesced in absolutely and without examination and as the standard of truth in doctrines of faith or in the interpretation of the Scriptures.[1]

In other words, while the fathers are not determinative of biblical meaning, as Rome conceived of them, they are witnesses unto the truth. They are the Democracy of the Dead. The peer review of theological discourse.

But not even this minimalized view of tradition may be granted if indeed our presupposition of the Scriptures is one and the same with the Scriptures themselves. If this is the case, to criticize the presupposer is to criticize what is presupposed. If Scripture and our idea of Scripture are identical, then subjecting ourselves to the voice of history is as bad as subjecting Scripture itself to the voice of men! In this scheme, to make man accountable to other men is to make Scripture accountable to man.

The Protestant View of Tradition

During the Reformation, two different views of tradition were forcefully advanced. There was “tradition 1” (T1), which taught the magisterial authority of Scripture, the meaning of which is witnessed by ministerial authorities, like creeds, confessions, the early church fathers, and biblical commentators. But “tradition 2” (T2) taught that there were two magisterial authorities, Scripture and tradition—the latter being able to create doctrines not found in the former. In the modern discourse, a “tradition 3” (T3) seems to emerge which rejects the place of tradition in theology entirely. Charitably, we might credit the (T3) position with maintaining a use for tradition, but what that use is is not abundantly clear. On (T3), tradition may be interesting, but it isn’t authoritative in any measure, and it rarely maps to the church’s contemporary situation.

For example, in a recent journal article, James White writes:

Just as in the days of the Reformation, citations and counter-citations of earlier church writings appear in the battles of our own day, whether in reference to the positions of Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, or any other system that claims to honor both Scripture and other external sources of authority (whether those sources are necessary for the interpretation of Scripture or whether they exist as co-equal or even superior authorities alongside of Scripture). But it is here that we must insist upon this maxim: Let the early church fathers be the early church fathers. That is, we must allow them to speak in their own context, to their own battles, in their own language. We cannot demand that they answer our questions and engage in our conflicts, nor can we assume that the battles back then were identical in form and substance to ours today. It is far, far too easy to abuse historical sources in the service of a cause or a movement. Rome has done this, and has done so authoritatively, by claiming her dogmas have been the “constant faith of the church” down through the ages. But Protestants, free of the dogmatic constraints of Rome’s infallible pronouncements, can still emphasize a particular lens through which the statements of earlier generations and previous centuries are filtered, giving a distorted view of earlier theologians’ actual beliefs. Ironically, such modern lenses are often constructed with carefully selected citations of the fathers by contemporary historians who insist that they are, in fact, simply walking in the tradition that has come down to them.[2]

Apparently, there is a severance between our time and their time. The issues they dealt with were their issues, and the issues we deal with are ours. The implication is startling. Their doctrinal conclusions were formed from issues unique to their time. And this leaves the reader scratching his head, asking, “Are their doctrinal conclusions to be left behind, as unique to their own day, as were their theological disputes?” Of course, Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us there is nothing new under the sun. So, one has to wonder what White intends to achieve by seemingly isolating the fathers and their problems to their historical context.

Furthermore, White’s engagement of his interlocutors simply fails to remark upon crucial aspects of (T1) and the Reformational doctrine of Sola Scriptura as the norma normans over subordinate authorities, norma normata. The “contemporary historians,” though not named in the above quote, presumably includes the historians and theologians White has been interacting with over the last year—a year which no doubt contextualizes the entire journal issue in which White’s article appears. And those particular historians and theologians, as far as I can tell, do not accept White’s presupposition that historical figures are adopted as idealistic “lenses” through which Scripture must be filtered. It has been unequivocally stated that Scripture is the source and principle of true theological knowledge, and that this source of knowledge is a document read by the Holy Spirit-filled individual with Holy Spirit-filled voices from the past. To use Turretin’s language, employment of the creeds, confessions, and historical commentary is the employment of “witnesses”—other minds which demonstrate that we ourselves are not going it alone.

The Insufficiency of Man

This brings me to what should be an elephant in the room: the insufficiency of man. Fundamental to the task of theology is the theologian’s humble acknowledgment of his own inadequacy. He has a keen awareness of Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” noting especially the present tense of his fallenness in that text. He confesses that his heart is accurately diagnosed by Jeremiah when he writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)

Because of man’s inadequacy, the Holy Spirit turns the Christian to his fellow man, “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (Prov. 15:22) Through consort with his brothers, he gains a wider periphery. A single man can see, but many men can see more. He also gains accountability, and is less likely to chart his own, novel path. Heretics, though claiming love for the Scriptures, gain nothing but their own innovative opinions leading to their spiritual shipwreck. A helmsman needs a navigator to chart the sea.

Conclusion

Once we acknowledge the difference between the primacy and adequacy of the Scriptures versus our own inadequacy, we will clearly begin to see the need for a “multitude of counselors” when it comes to biblical interpretation and theological formulation. So long as Scripture and our commitment to it are seen as one and the same (some corners of presuppositionalism), man’s insufficiency figures less into the exegetical picture. So long as Scripture and man’s idea of it are the same, Scripture’s adequacy and man’s adequacy are one and the same. The result is an unfalsifiable, individual Bible interpreter that sets himself above the collective voice of the historical church. A self-made pope.

For these reasons, it would be best to understand Scripture as sufficient, man as inadequate, Scripture as chiefly authoritative, and tradition as a ministerial aid to man’s intellectual and ethical handicaps.

Resources:

[1] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. I, (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1992), 163.

[2] James White, “What Is Sola Scriptura,” Pro Pastor,Vol. 1, No. 1, FALL 2022, A Journal of Grace Bible Theological Seminary, 3-4.

Trials & Their Outcome

Trials & Their Outcome

In James 1:2-3, James begins his letter with a near-paradoxical consolation. Trials are nasty. And we are all bound to experience them to one extent or another. But here, James gives us a sound reason for why Christians should remain joyful in the midst of affliction. Let’s look at our text under four headings: (1) the command to joyfulness; (2) the occasion; (3) the ground of joy; and (4) the outcome of the testing of faith.

The Command To Joyfulness

James begins by addressing his words to his “brethren…” These are not merely brethren according to the flesh (they do seem to be Jewish converts along with James), but they are brethren according to the Christian faith, as v. 3 makes plain. And he commands his brethren to, “count it all joy…” Or, “consider it joy…” This is a command and an encouragement to count those things as joy which the world would count as occasions for despair and cynicism. Joy here is not to be taken as a fleeting emotion or passion, but a perennial disposition of the Christian person grounded in the knowledge of faith. This is a gladness to be had by the Christian.

The Occasion

As mentioned, the occasion is that which the world would deem undesirable. The world teaches us to escape our issues and problems. The Christian faith teaches us to trust God and embrace what God sends our way with gladness. And in this case, James has trials in view. These trials are not specified. They could be anything from persecution to false teaching; from financial hardship to famine, etc. In our context, we might think of political upheaval, job losses, general uncertainty, economic unsurety, cultural perversity, etc. James says that upon the occasion of falling into any one of these trials, we should “count it all joy.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that we ought to be glad for wickedness itself, but for what God is doing for us in spite of it and even through it.

And this brings us to the ground of our joy in trials. What does the Christian have that the world doesn’t have which allows the Christian to count these trials as instances of joy rather than despair?

The Ground of Joy

James began his letter with what he will assume throughout: the possession of the good news of Jesus Christ and our slavehood to Him (Jas. 1:1)—in both trial and tribulation. But in v. 3, he adds a further reason why the Christian ought to have gladness in tribulation, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” The reason for gladness, in this case, is essentially Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” God is doing something for us, even in the midst of trial, and for that we ought to be grateful. We ought not try to thwart God’s providences, we ought not shake our fist to heaven. We must be grateful for what God is achieving in us through trial, trusting that a trial is a providential test for our good.

The Outcome of the Testing of Faith

By the way, What is a test?

A test is a metallurgical procedure whereby a metal is purified from its ore. Our faith is the precious metal buried in the human being, which is like ore, having many imperfections. And this spiritual testing of faith purifies the faith in the believing subject which in turn results in a stronger substance, able to take the beating of the world. Hence, such testing “produces patience,” or, more accurately, “perseverance.” How pure and how strong would our faith be without trial? Constant world-comforts often lead us to a  growing complacency and laziness. But God is pleased to refine us, like metal, through the fires of trial. Through these means, He casts our attention upon Him rather than the pleasures of this life. Through trial, He increases our trust and comfort in Him whilst weaning us from our trust and comforts in the world.

What Does Jesus Think About Adultery?

What Does Jesus Think About Adultery?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very God who inspired the Mosaic law. Therefore, when in His incarnate state He teaches us the law, His interpretation of it is the full and perfect exposition of the true sense of the law. Remember, Jesus did not come to eradicate the law, but to perfect or complete it. (Matt. 5:17) Christ is the point at which the law finally meets its goal. So, when He apparently sets Himself against the law, we have to remember that He’s not contradicting what He Himself revealed to Moses all those years ago. Instead, He’s teaching the fuller sense of the law, and in the process, He is rebuking and correcting what we might call a Pharisaical “letter of the law onlyism.”

Matthew 5:28 & Our Lord’s Teaching on Adultery

After stating the letter of the law, He says, “But I say to you…” He does not appeal to another authority outside Himself. He does not, as the prophets of old did, begin His message with, “Thus saith the LORD.” He just says, “I say to you.” The Author of the law comes to deliver the law according to its fuller sense.

He internalizes the command forbidding adultery, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Just as Jesus forbids soul-murder, (Matt. 5:21-22) here He forbids soul-adultery. We need to make a few observations regarding v. 28. First, what is it to “look at a woman to lust for her”? Second, what forms do this “looking,” and the resulting adultery take? Third, how is this adultery especially present and promoted in our culture today?

What is it to “look at a woman to lust for her”? It is probably necessary to note at the outset that this doesn’t apply to physical, and even sexual attraction, which is good and right. It is right for a man to be sexually attracted to a female, and a female to be sexually attracted to a male so long as that attraction is aimed toward marriage and occurring within the context of marriage. Sexual desire is good when ordered properly. Lust, however, is an inordinate sexual desire out of step with God’s purposes in and for creation.

Frederick Dale Bruner notes how the Christian church has both overreacted and under-reacted to this commandment throughout history. He writes, “The early church in particular tightened Jesus’ Command too intensely as the result of an occasionally dualistic antipathy to sex of to pleasure as sinful…”[1] And this is why forced celibacy of clergy and celibacy in general came to be seen as an exalted Christian virtue whilst marriage was more or less perceived as a necessary evil for those who couldn’t control their sexual desires. But Bruner then notes a more modern interpretation of the text. He goes on to say, “But later a losing occurred under the influence of an increasing secularity, where, for example, some interpreters said that Jesus did not forbid looking to lust at a woman but to lust at someone else’s wife…”[2]

Thus, Jesus’ words came to be understood by the modernist not as an exposition of the seventh commandment, but was limited only to the tenth, which says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Ex. 20:17) According to this interpretation, lust is perfectly acceptable, so long as it isn’t toward someone else’s wife. But this couldn’t be a more fatal mistake.

The language of the phrase, “look at a woman to lust for her,” is notable. Given the preposition in, “to lust for her,” we might render it, “look at a woman in order to lust for her.” In view here is an extremely foreboding law that condemns the very look, even prior to the formal act of lust. A look that is intended to lust is what is here identified as spiritual adultery according to Christ Himself. A look or a glance ordered to lust is what is what Jesus condemns. And this brings us to the several forms such a look takes.

Forms of “Lustful Looking”

What forms does this “adultery of the eyes” take? Given the all-encompassing nature of the commandment, there is a twofold restriction: First, against lustful intent. And second, against the steps taken in order to lust, i.e., looking, seeing, or viewing. And this means the following are here expressly forbidden and condemned by our Lord:

Perverse thoughts. All sexual thoughts the include non-marital or extra-martial sexual relations of any kind are here forbidden by our Lord.

Looking at someone else with non-marital sexual intent. That glance at that woman or man at the mall, at school, or at work, which has a non-marital sexual character is explicitly declared a sin by our Lord.

Viewing pornography. Men and women are good enough at conjuring up adulterous images in their imaginations apart from pornography, but pornography plays on this already-present sin by adding fuel to the fire. It sets the mind and flesh on fire with an inordinate passion toward another person—not for their personality, not for their value as a human being, but as an object to be used and abused for one’s sexual pleasure. As Bruner puts it, the woman or man in the magazine or on the website “is no longer really a unique human being; she or he is not simply kindling, tinder, a thing; a way for one to enjoy oneself, to express oneself, to feel one’s powers.”

Conclusion

According to Jesus, the very look ordered to the purpose of lust is itself sin. We, of course, are aware of the obvious cases of adultery found in society—extra-marital sex and explicit violations of the marriage covenant by either husbands or wives. But we are less sensitive to those forms of adultery which go unnoticed by other people. Invisible to man, yet visible to God, adultery of the heart—including looking at another person with lustful intent—is less of a concern. Even worse, it’s generally accepted as a cultural norm. Everybody’s doin’ it!

But make no mistake, if imbibed and habitually practiced, apart from the twin graces of faith and repentance in and to Jesus Christ this invisible sin will do two things: It will, first, destroy your soul. And, second, it will eventually manifest itself in outward relationships in a very visible, destructive way. Silent sins eventually become very loud. The bosom sin of internal adultery is a poison that tastes sweet, but nevertheless kills.

Resources:

[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 221.

[2] Ibid., 220.

The Kingdom & Its Implications

The Kingdom & Its Implications

If God speaks on earth, the people to whom He speaks are obligated to Him. The covenant established at Mt. Sinai was a covenant of law, the violation of which made one liable to judicial punishment. When God speaks on earth, He imposes upon His people a covenant they are obligated to keep upon pain of death. When God speaks from heaven, however, much less will those escape who refuse such a punctuated address. And indeed the way in which the Father has spoken to us in these latter days is through His Son, the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47). If Christ is refused, no hope remains. God has spoken from heaven through His Son, and in His Son, He has established a greater covenant through which comes a greater kingdom than that which came through the Mosaic covenant. The old things have been, are, and are being shaken and removed. The new things have come, are coming, and will come in Christ Jesus—an economy which will by no means fade away (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Conclusion to Hebrews 12:18-24

Hebrews 12:28-29 begins with a “therefore,” because it is drawing an important practical conclusion from what has thus far been said, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” This is only the third time in the whole of the epistle the term kingdom is utilized. In Hebrews 1:8, it was used when our author quoted from Psalm 45:6, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” It was used in Hebrews 11:33, speaking of the faith who “subdued kingdoms.” And now, it is used a final time in Hebrews 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” What kingdom? What is the term kingdom in reference to? The term has not once been employed in ch. 12 until now. What, then, could possibly be its significance?

The Identity of “Kingdom” in v. 28

There has been much speculation as to the identity and timing of God’s kingdom. Contemporary speculation on the kingdom of God tends to domesticate and separate the kingdom from Christ and His work, and it fails to account for present-kingdom language used throughout the New Testament. Moreover, it often cannot account for how the Old Testament relates the kingdom of Christ with His first, not second, coming. Some believe the kingdom has not yet been established, and that it is a future-only reality. Others believe the kingdom has been established to such a degree such that there is nothing but the kingdom of God in the here and now. Everything is the kingdom of God, or so it is thought. I do not think either of these positions account for the biblical data. One reason for this is our text, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” The term for “are receiving” is in the present tense. This kingdom is, at present, being received by God’s people. In fact, we could render it more strongly, “Therefore, since we are taking a kingdom…”

The kingdom is something all Christians receive or take in the here and now. But, what about its identity? We know it is present to us. But what is present to us? We have to remember how v. 28 begins, “Therefore…” It is a conclusion. Moreover, this kingdom is one that “cannot be shaken.” We should also remember that vv. 25-27 and its contrast between shakable and unshakable things corresponds to the contrast in vv. 18-24, that between Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion—the mountain of terror and the mountain of glory. Thus, the mountain of glory and all it entails is one and the same with the unshakable things. And the unshakable things are summarized by our author using the term kingdom. What is the kingdom of God? Verses 22-24 tells us: Zion, heavenly Jerusalem, the church, God, His Christ, the New Covenant, and justification, i.e. the sprinkling of the blood “that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

If this is not the kingdom, it follows that our author introduces an entirely new concept in v. 28. But such a new introduction would not help his purpose. If his purpose is to motivate his audience unto godliness through vv. 22-24, i.e. Mt. Zion and all it entails, he would not introduce something new and altogether separate in v. 28. So, the kingdom, I contend, just is what is described in vv. 22-24—God, His Christ, His Covenant, His people, that is, His kingdom. Some do not understand the church to be God’s kingdom. It is true that the church at present is not the sum total of the kingdom. But the church does constitute the people of the kingdom. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love… (Col. 1:13).” Who is conveyed into the kingdom? “Us,” Christians—the church. The church is the citizenry of Christ’s kingdom, and this is made necessary by vv. 22-24 where it is the church who dwells atop Mt. Zion in heavenly Jerusalem. Thus, Christ’s kingdom is now. It is being received at present by all true believers. And the identity of Christ’s kingdom is found in vv. 22-24—the unshakable inheritance of all those who are in Christ Jesus.

Implications of the Kingdom

Yet, our passage moves beyond the unshakable kingdom now to certain implications of the reality of this kingdom. “Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,” our text says, “let us have grace…” We are here admonished to “have grace.” And it is this grace “by which we may serve God acceptably…” Apart from grace, it is impossible to serve God in any kind of acceptable manner. And this grace is both justifying and sanctifying grace—justifying, that our works may be acceptable before God in Christ; sanctifying, that we would be enabled to perform such works in the first place. And thus, as John Owen notes, this admonishment to “have grace” is nothing more than an exhortation toward perseverance in the gospel. And it is the grace of the gospel which, in turn, moves us to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

By grace, we serve God acceptably. In what manner do we serve God? “With reverence and godly fear.” We need to look at both of these terms individually. The term for reverence (αἰδώς) could literally be rendered modesty. The primary lexical connotation is to have a sense of shame. The idea here is to serve God humbly, having a lowly disposition rather than one that exalts man in a proud or irreverent manner. To revere someone is to observe their superiority to yourself. We revere others because their accomplishments and reputations far outshine our own, and thus they seem special and deserving of our undivided attention. How much more ought we revere God, who is Himself beyond us—our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer!

The second term employed is “godly fear.” If read narrowly, this term could almost be synonymous with the term reverence. But “godly fear” denotes more of a recognition of God’s awesomeness, His sublimity, magnificence, etc. To serve God in godly fear is to serve God whilst consumed by the overwhelming glory of our Triune God. For those who stand in awe of a king have no time to disobey—they are too taken by his character and majestic appearance. So too, if we labor to stand in awe of our God through contemplation of the divine essence, less time we have to disobey and much more strength we will have to obey.

An Ominous Reality for Those Outside the Kingdom

In v. 29, our author solidifies this point by returning to the holy nature of God, “For our God is a consuming fire.” This is an application of the terror of God as seen atop Mt. Sinai, “The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel (Ex. 24:17).” You may be wondering, “But I thought we came to Mt. Zion, where there is no terror or wrath, not Mt. Sinai!” This is true. But those who are without the gospel still relate to God just as the disobedient Israelites did in those days under the law. All those who are without the gospel are, by nature, transgressors. And so all they see, all they will experience with a veiled face, is YHWH shrouded in smoke along with His threats and condemning wrath. The admonishment in v. 28 is to persevere in the gospel. The threat of v. 29 is not a threat of the New Covenant (the New Covenant has no threats toward its members, since it’s unbreakable), but a threat toward those who would not persevere, thereby proving their apostacy and condemnation under the law. Without the gospel, outside the New Covenant, there is only the condemnation of the moral law—the same moral law issued upon the stormy, smoky, fiery Mt. Sinai.

How Sola Scriptura Presupposes Natural Theology

How Sola Scriptura Presupposes Natural Theology

Very few things surpass the importance of a correct understanding of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).

I’m currently teaching a church history series in Sunday School at my church. The sobering fact is that many faithful men were murdered at the hands of zealots whose religion derived not from Scripture but from a tradition defined by men. We’ve come to realize, throughout the course of that series, that the mere effort to make Scripture understandable to the general population fell under a high level of ecclesiastical and political scrutiny. Men such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, William Tyndale, and all who found themselves influenced by them, felt the heavy load of governmental pressure in one way or another for simply desiring to know the Word of God.

The question of sola Scriptura, then, is no mildly important matter. It must be understood, not only that we might prevent history from repeating itself, but also for the sake of knowing God and His will correctly. Unfortunately for us today, we live downstream from the massive ideological change of the 17th-18th centuries—namely, from rationalism and idealism—both of which play large roles in modern assumptions. We are all subject to these assumptions because this is the philosophical milieu we’re all born into. Many of these ideas are no less common than the 8-5 workday, or the need for internal combustion in our regular transportation. As with the latter, we give the former hardly any thought at all.

These oft-assumed and unquestioned ideas make for much difficulty when defining the term sola Scriptura. These influential ideas span from Descartes’ critical and rationalistic epistemology to Immanuel Kant’s idealistic separation of the phenomena from the noumena in response to David Hume’s skepticism. We live in an age largely characterized by assumptions finding much of their genus in the minds of these men, but we’re rarely conscious of them.

Sola Scriptura Has Friends

Chances are, if you don’t today, you’ve once assumed the definition of sola Scriptura to be something like the following: “the Bible is the ultimate authority by which we know God.” This is not an altogether wrongheaded definition if we understand it within its proper context. But because such a definition is rarely understood within its rightful place, it is taken to mean that one’s only authority and source of divinely-related knowledge is Scripture. Or, at the very least, Scripture is the best source, and any other alleged source—natural or otherwise—ought to be viewed with a skeptical eye.

This was not the understanding of sola Scriptura during nor immediately after the time of the Reformation. Phil Johnson, of Grace to You Ministries, helpfully notes:

“Sola Scriptura” is not the same as “Solo Scriptura”. A proper understanding of “Sola Scriptura” will not lead to an individualistic, “me and my Bible in the woods” approach to Bible interpretation. Because of Christ’s gifts to the Church through the centuries, we have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants (https://reformedontheweb.wordpress.com/tag/phil-johnson/).

Here, Johnson rightfully makes room for help—that is, from the traditional interpretation of Scripture. But he does so without making tradition itself a coequal authority with Scripture. The tradition is subjected to Scripture concerning everything Scripture reveals. But that doesn’t mean the tradition can’t be helpful. And if it is correct, it carries with it the authority of Scripture—all truth is God’s truth, and thus all truth is equally authoritative coming from the same source. We must understand man’s authority to be entirely dependent upon Scripture, since he is not God and since he is often wrong. Scripture, then, is man’s norm, as it were. And even though man can speak with the voice of Scripture, i.e. when he proclaims God’s truth, he himself is not Scripture and thus does not, in himself, carry the same authority. Man may speak with the authority of Scripture, but that authority is derivative not from himself, but from the Word of God. This is why we can say, “If this or that person rejects the Nicene Creed, they are heretics,” not for the authority of the Creed itself, but for the authority it accurately reflects, i.e. Scriptural doctrine.

Thus, there is a place for tradition when it comes to interpreting the text of Scripture. If this is the case, no Christian should abstract themselves from the tradition altogether (solo Scriptura) under a pretense of sola Scriptura. But what about principles of thought? If we give place to tradition as a handmaiden, helping us to rightly interpret Scripture. Surely, then, it would seem there should be a place made for nature to give assistance as well. More directly, if other men can help us understand the Bible, how much more ought God’s voice through nature help us understand it?

My argument here, and it certainly isn’t original to me, is that the Bible’s context is nature. Not only is it itself creaturely (having been created by God and given to us), but it is contextualized by God’s creation. We live, move, and breathe in this creation prior to ever coming to the text of Scripture. We assume natural life, principles of thinking, principles of ethics, and even possess a rudimentary understanding of who God is prior to turning even one page of the Bible. Scripture itself makes this assumption when it begins in Genesis 1:1 with, “In the beginning God…” Not only must we assume some functionality of reason in order for that line to be intelligible to us, but we must also have some idea of what God is. In other words, the very first line of Scripture cannot be understood apart from principles God gives us through nature—not only logic, but also the basic revelation of Himself as “that Being than which nothing greater can be conceived,” to borrow the words of Anselm.

It would seem, then, genuine sola Scriptura has made friends out of both tradition and natural revelation. And these friendships are, to one extent or another, required for a proper understanding or interpretation of Scripture.

A Brief Defense Natural Theology Against False Definitions of Sola Scriptura

What I’ve just described, in short order, is the Bible’s presupposition not only of natural revelation but also of natural theology (which man’s study of natural revelation). It is, however, all the rage to vocally deny the first principles of natural theology, or at least the knowability of them, and such a denial is often said to be in service to sola Scriptura. Man, it seems, must come to Scripture as a tabulae rasae (blank slate), and from there begin his work of interpretation. It’s as if the modern denial of natural theology is but a veiled Lockean empiricism inconsistently combined with fideism. This, it is thought, is sola Scriptura. We can’t leave place for reason, philosophy, natural theology, tradition, et al., because Scripture stands alone… in a vacuum. I doubt many would admit such a thing if put to them in more or less similar terms, but it most certainly seems to be the prevailing assumption of what sola Scriptura implies.

Richard Muller, in his work Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 2), gives a rather precise definition of sola Scriptura when he writes:

The logical priority of Scripture over all other means of religious knowing in the church—tradition, present-day corporate or official doctrine, and individual insight or illumination—lies at the heart of the teaching of the Reformation and of its great confessional documents. Indeed, it is the unanimous declaration of the Protestant confessions that Scripture is the sole authoritative norm of saving knowledge of God (p. 151).

There are some heavy qualifications made here. Scripture is not the sole authoritative norm for all knowledge, but saving knowledge. Also, neither tradition, corporate interpretation, or individual interpretation are ruled out entirely, though subordinated in terms of, again, the rule of saving knowledge. Moreover, this is a logical priority, that is, it is to come first in the order of religious thought, once more, in terms of saving knowledge.

Scripture does not outfit the Christian with the general laws of thought necessary for intelligibly apprehending Scripture, or anything and everything else we can know for that matter. All people are furnished with such principles prior to ever coming to the text through natural revelation, and they are assumed if not expressly known as natural-theological articles. Later, speaking of Scripture as the principium cognoscendi (principle of cognition, knowing), Muller states:

Of course, the act of creation itself is a movement of holy God toward the creature which, in its completion or result, provides a basis for knowledge of God. We can, therefore, speak of a first form of revelation whereby God makes himself known “in his works, in their creation, as well as in their preservation and control.” God’s universe is set “before our eyes as a beautiful book, wherein all creatures, small and great, serve as signs to lead us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his eternal power and Godhead.” This revelation cannot, however, save mankind from sin—it can only convince sinful mankind of the existence of God and leave the unrepentant world without excuse (p. 153).

Interacting with the Dutch Puritan, Herman Witsius, Muller also says:

Witsius can even declare that the faint glimmerings of the natural light provide a “foundation” on which the gospel can build: “for as grace supposes nature, which it perfects; so the truths revealed in the gospel, have for their foundation those made known by the light of nature.” Although Witsius here addresses calling and, specifically, the character of the natural knowledge that seems to call human beings to God, only to leave them without excuse in their sins, he also, like Turretin and Owen, raises the issue of the positive relationship of natural reason and the truths it knows to revelation and supernatural theology (PRRD, vol. 1, 301).

Along these same lines, Francis Turretin writes:

We grant that in natural theology by the light of nature some such [first principles] do exist upon which supernatural theology is built (for example, that there is a God, that he must be worshipped, etc.) (Institutes, vol. 1, 10).

Conclusion

Sola Scriptura must be defined correctly, not only to avoid subjecting Scripture to the dictates of men, but also that we might retain the requisite tools (assumptions) and categories needed in order to make sense of the Scriptures in the first place. The laws of logic, the existence of God, God’s creation, God’s law, and the felt need of redemption (a need which only Scripture and its gospel can meet) provide pretext not only for the interpretation of Scripture, but also for the necessity of Scripture in man’s great need of redemption. Why is the Bible important? Because it is the voice of the God everyone knows (Rom. 1), and it offers salvation from the transgression of the law everyone knows (Rom. 2).

What Fired Nurses & Theological Neocons Have in Common

What Fired Nurses & Theological Neocons Have in Common

COVID is real. Overcrowded hospitals are real. The situation is so overwhelming, in fact, hospitals have—that’s right—decided to fire in-demand medical staff for refusing to take the crack-pot-sponsored COVID vaccine. There’s nothing that sends the message of distress quite like eliminating the solution to the alleged problem—nurses. But hospitals aren’t the only ones fulfilling their own doom-and-gloom prophecy. Modern theological conservatives are doing the very same thing.

The Flawed Battle Cry

“Put away disputes about your confessional doctrinal distinctives. The enemy is at the door!”

Such is the clarion call of the anti-social justice warriors who, rightly, decry things like intersectionality, critical race theory, and standpoint epistemology. I count myself among them, and would fight tooth-and-nail alongside them. However, to fight theological liberalism by adopting the very tactic which characterizes theological liberalism—unity above doctrinal distinctiveness—is to fight fire with, well… fire. But this has been the nagging habit of 20th to 21st century fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has an uncanny ability to cede ground to the enemy by actually adopting the enemy’s terms in order to fight the enemy. Or, by running away from the enemy hoping the evasive maneuvering will forgo coming back to bite them—another less-known tactic of the left (think firing nurses in spite of the available evidence).

Putting away doctrinal distinctives does, admittedly, seem like a more expedient solution. If theological conservatives are so encumbered by the weight of a nuanced theology proper, ecclesiology, or baptism, they’ll be slow to the punch. Because of this, all the extra baggage of Christianity that slows them down needs to be moved aside so they can conquer this monstrous foe.

But, I have to ask, When this common foe is conquered (and it will be), what then? Say the neocons defeat this common enemy, and the collective thinking shifts within the next three years, but they’ve lost the doctrine of the unity of God, the Trinity, the church, sacramentology; what, at that point, was all the fighting for? How could unity continue to exist post-victory if the defeated foe was the only thing functionally giving rise to unity?

What if the neocons are in the midst of a doctrinal pandemic, and this is the moment where they choose to retain or fire their nurses? What if the enemy was borne from the very tactic they’re using to fight it in the first place? The Baptist Faith and Message (2000)(henceforth, BFM, 2000) is, after all, the document which has allowed heretical anthropology, like critical race theory, to echo through the halls of SBC seminaries across the country. And what is the modus operandi of the BFM, 2000? Inclusivity. Put away the doctrinal nuance in order to encourage unity on the “essentials.” This has, of course, resulted in the allowance not only for Arminianism, but also for the denial of original sin.

A Way to Keep the Nurses While Fighting the Virus (A No-Brainer)

The illusion of victory is strong. And sometimes it comes in the form of long-term integrity exchanged for present unity; the former being a virtue which, if lost, results in the automatic defeat of any church, denomination, or association. So, instead of sacrificing integrity upon the altar of having-the-biggest-team, I propose a very simple solution: fight over the doctrine of God. And when you’ve won that battle, fight over church polity. Once that is resolved, fight over baptism, (and marshal as many memes as possible in doing so). The team you have left is the dream team, capable of surviving anything (and is most likely going to be your local church).

“But, but, then we will lose the battle against critical theory!”

Uhm, no. You will cease addressing critical theory on the critical theorist’s terms. And if this bothers you, you probably have not yet sent your drone up for a more comprehensive view of the battlefield. The battlefield is complicated, but there are three main groups: people who know what they’re talking about and hate Jesus (the deceivers), people who love Jesus but are currently deceived by the deceivers (the ignorant), and people who know what the deceivers are pushing and oppose it with every ounce of their being (the educated).

The educated only need to persuade one (not both) of the other demographics. The deceivers are the debate opponent, which means their minds aren’t the ones to be changed The ignorant are the audience, and thus, their minds are the ones for which conservative Christians must fight. To further expound, the ignorant, in this case, are usually the people in the pew. Imagine, then, all those “ignorant,” pew-sitting people having a pastor who they see bypassing the doctrine of God, ecclesiology, baptism, etc., in order to fight a common cause. Short of eliciting the response, “This guy’s a coward,” it may engender a feeling among them that those doctrines are practically powerless in the current battle.

Is this the message the new conservatives want to send laity? Do they really mean to say that doctrines which once earned faithful Christians poverty, imprisonment, and a burning stake are powerless in some modern battle the victory of which could have been won by a single 17th century boy’s school? Give me a break! It stands to reason that if the orthodox are taken up with wholesome matters, they will not be taken up by anything else. If we all loved good doctrine as much as we love bashing the next critical theorist, critical theory wouldn’t even be a threat. Why? Because the robust confessional doctrine—from the nature of God to the nature of man to the nature of last things—would be in constant view. If this had been the church’s posture yesterday, critical theory would not be a problem today.

Conclusion

Just like our hospitals should drown any pestilence in the expertise of nurses, the church should be drowning stupid ideas in a pool of high-octane theology. Instead, we’re pouring the gas out before we get to the burn site. By the time we show up, there’s no fuel for the fire. Setting doctrine aside to fight a common enemy is no different than emptying the magazines just before a firefight. Theologians and laity alike surrender the very ammunition needed to win. Instead, I propose Christians adopt a confession from a careful, studious and prayerful inquiry leading to genuine conviction—this all being done within the context of a local church. Then… fight for that confession in as much as you believe it represents the biblical teaching of those various theological areas.

This is not only one way to fight the onslaught of liberalism and critical theory. It is the only way. “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever (Ps. 119:160).”