In a previous blog I introduced the recent book by Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos, 2011). The book is a thorough critique of “Biblicism” as the author finds it practiced in much of the Evangelical world. One of the ten qualities of Biblicism he describes is “Solo Scriptura.”

This is an obvious play on the term sola Scriptura which was used by the Protestant Reformers to reference their understanding of the authority of the Bible. For the Reformers the Bible had a unique status as the touchstone of truth superior in authority to philosophy, tradition, or the church’s magisterium. This did not mean, however, that Scripture was their only authority. In varying degrees in the different wings of the Reformation the theological traditions of the church, particularly the patristic writers and the early creeds, were valued and acknowledged.

But this historically informed approach to the Bible has been lost to much of the Evangelical (and Fundamentalist) wing of the church. Sola Scriptura has become Solo Scriptura—only the Bible.  Christian Smith defines it this way:  “The significance of any given biblical text can be understood without reliance on creeds, confessions, historical church traditions, or other forms of larger theological hermeneutical frameworks, such that theological formulations can be built up directly out of the Bible from scratch” (p. 4).  This outlook fits nicely with another element of popular interpretive wisdom that Smith calls “Democratic Perspicuity.” According to this wisdom, “any reasonably intelligent person can read the Bible in his or her own language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text” (p. 4).

In a previous post I discussed Smith’s central concern:  pervasive interpretive pluralism.  Evangelicals have a history of divisiveness, in part because they can’t agree on what the Bible says over a wide range of topics. Solo Scriptura contributes directly to this problem because it reinforces in the arena of biblical interpretation the individualistic tendencies of the wider culture.

I believe Smith has laid his finger on a sore spot in the Evangelical church. When Biblical’s faculty revised its doctrine statement in 2006, this was a concern we chose to address.  One of our four major “convictions” is “The indispensable significance of the Christian Tradition.”  We find this tradition summarized particularly in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed to which all of our faculty subscribe.  Here is our reasoning:  “We subscribe to these statements because we value the historical interpretive work of the church and wish to identify with the great cloud of witnesses upon whose work we are dependent. We believe that by embracing and functioning within these ancient guidelines we can create a safe place for faculty and students to explore the mission of God in relation to contemporary culture.”  Like the Reformers we want to practice a nuanced version of Sola Scriptura . . . not Solo Scriptura. 

If you wish to read our entire statement of Theological Convictions, look here:

Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand children.



0 # Mahlon Smith 2012-02-13 19:33
I have found the tendencies you speak of to be quite true. Recently I did a little study through major Baptist confessions of faith. When I attempt to formulate a doctrinal statement apart from conversation with past confessions (or current statements such as the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message), I run the risk of spiritual pride. Pride is the root of all heresy. Ironically, in our attempts to avoid heresy by being "solo scriptura", we drift into the realm of bigotry and theological myopia.
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0 # David Dunbar 2012-02-13 21:46

Great comments! I agree. Too often we act like "star" athletes who disregard the contributions of team mates who make their performances possible. In a similar way we interpret the Bible without awareness that we stand on the shoulders of many thoughtful saints who traveled the path before us.
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0 # LeRoy Whitman 2012-03-26 10:22
Well stated. On the other side, James Jordan notes that while enunciating a Christian worldview within our culture is important, having a Biblical worldview is a deeper reformation. It takes the Bible's metaphorical (real, spiritual) worldview seriously. Across ages, there was a prophetic remnant who enunciated faith. His book Through New Eyes is worth reading - if not for details, for the viewpoint. There is still no SOLO, but Sola is more serious this way. (The first section and last chapter are sufficient to grasp the concept.)
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