The Bible Alone

January 12, 2013 in Theology · 19 comments

The Bible alone

Mark Driscoll recently tweeted: “The Bible alone gives us the insight we need to understand what’s going on in the world…and what’s going on in us.”

I realize a single tweet isn’t a full expression of systematic theology, but the idea expressed in that one sentence sums up much of what is wrong with modern American evangelicalism.

Sola scriptura is one of the foundations of the Reformation — but Driscoll’s tweet doesn’t affirm sola scriptura, it affirms solo scriptura or nuda scriptura.

Sola scriptura is the belief that the Bible alone is the final and infallible authority in matters of Christian faith and that tradition, reason and emotions, though important, must ultimately be evaluated in light of Scripture.*

Solo scriptura is the belief that the Bible alone is authoritative in determining matters of Christian faith — that the Bible, by itself, is totally sufficient for guiding our faith and practice.

At first glance this distinction may not seem important, but I think it is vitally so. As soon as we assert that “the Bible alone” is our only authority, we’re essentially saying that 2,000 years of God’s work in the lives of other Christians doesn’t matter, that the wisdom of our peers, our mentors and our leaders doesn’t matter, that the work of scholars and archaeologists doesn’t matter and that our own intuitions and emotions and reasoning don’t matter. When we reject all those things we are, in a very real way, rejecting God. We’re making an idol out of our own personal understanding of the Bible — we’re substituting our idiosyncratic experience of reading Scripture for the full revelation of God through history and in the world around us.

Maybe all of this isn’t what Driscoll meant. I wouldn’t have had any issue with his tweet if he had omitted the word “alone.” But he said what he did and in doing so he’s perpetuating an understanding of the role of Biblical authority that is not only dangerous and irresponsible…it’s also downright unbiblical.

*Update: see my post “Some thoughts on Sola Scriptura” for further clarification of that term.

19 comments… read them below or add one

darian burns January 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Great post! Thanks.

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mickholt January 13, 2013 at 5:59 am

I started to agree completely that the use of the word “alone” could cause some issues. Then I thought of the people in places where the Gospel has never been heard and they have no knowledge of the events of the last 2 millennia. Those people do not need to be taught 2000 years of history to understand sin, to understand the fact that we’re born separated from God or that the answer to reconciliation with God is found in the Bible. God, However, can use whatever means he wants – He’s not limited by our thinking – to reveal Himself. He chooses to use other means such as the birth of a child, a sunrise or the trees – just to name a few. But Christ said “No man come unto the Father but by me (John 14:16 KJV)” and those words are found in the Bible.

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Dan January 13, 2013 at 9:45 am

I certainly agree that God “can use whatever means he wants” to reveal Himself. And as you point out, He does use all sorts of means to do so. Of course one doesn’t need to know 2,000 years of church history to come to God — but neither does one need the Bible. In fact, most Christians become Christians not through an isolated reading of the Bible, but through a word-of-mouth discussion with another Christian.

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Al January 14, 2013 at 10:10 am

The worst words in the Bible are those in John 14:16, “No man comes unto the Father but by me”. Wars have been fought because of them, with the righteous indignation of the perpetrators used as a just cause for killing the ignorant heathen.

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mickholt January 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Al, I do not condone the wars or killing that has been justified by this or any other passage of scripture any more than I approve of any atrocity committed by men in this generation, future generations or those of the past. Man has always and will always misuse God’s word, or any other word, to accomplish their – not God’s – goals – look at the “prosperity gospel” preachers. We are, by nature, evil creatures born into a sin filled world where we’re all too happy to participate. In no way does this diminish God’s word or change what Jesus said. We do not have to like the truth for it to be just that – the truth.

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Dan January 14, 2013 at 10:48 am

That’s John 14:6, not 14:16…and here’s a good video discussing that verse: Christian vs. Non-Christian: Who Gets Into Heaven?

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mickholt January 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm

I did have the wrong scripture quoted – again typing hungry – but it was the words I intended to use. Not sure if I saw the right video. The gist of what I saw seemed to be espousing universalism and I do not subscribe to that.

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Ellen K. January 13, 2013 at 11:29 am

Seems to me sola scriptura shares a major weakness with solo scriptura. The Bible is given to us by other humans. It is on human authority that we trust the Bible. How can we say the Bible is infallible if we can’t say the people (or parent, pastors, etc, and their predecessors) who gave us the Bible are infallible?

Logically, the Bible cannot be the final authority. Because it cannot stand on it’s own authority. If a person believes the Bible is true and infallible it is because either God has personally revealed this to that person, or else because they were taught this by other humans. And I’m pretty sure the latter, being taught it by other humans, is a lot more common.

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Ellen K. January 13, 2013 at 11:33 am

Oops… even with proofreading a typo snuck in. The first word within parenthesis should be “our”.

Personally, for me, I consider the finally authority to be my conscience in conversation with the Holy Spirit, informed by the church and by scripture (although, scripture is part of the church) and by my knowledge and observations of the world around me.

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Ellen K. January 13, 2013 at 11:36 am

Right… I should add on when correcting a typo… final authority, of course.

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fireboy48 January 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Sola scriptura has been on life support for years and, with the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community, the plug is slowly but surely being pulled. The sooner we let this outdated doctrine go, the better. Personally, I think we should smother it with a pillow and be done with it.

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Dan January 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm

I don’t see sola scriptura as being necessarily tied to the acceptance of LGBTQ persons. I understand many Christians think Biblical authority is threatened by LGBTQ inclusion…but it needn’t be.

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Al January 14, 2013 at 9:40 am

Holding to the opinion that the Bible alone gives us the insight we need to understand the world around us is like going through the world with blinders on. This attitude denigrates other spiritual and intellectual traditions by acting as though the only source of wisdom is the Bible; it’s a form of selective tunnel vision that only allows for a small, narrow idea about what it is to be alive.
What is the point of our experience in the world if it isn’t to make sense of that experience through whatever means are available to us?

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spiritanointed January 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

Personally, I believe the canon needs to be opened. God gave us prophets for a pretty great reason (Eph 4:11-13) and yet the New Testament only contains one prophetic work? Where is all the church’s sacred poetry? Even some more history than Acts? It’s crazy. The sooner we open up to what the Spirit is saying to the Church NOW, the better, imho.
But who decides what goes in, right? Well, back in the day they had fancy church councils do it. But, we are so fractionalized.
I guess we just need to let the Spirit do it. Hope that the true prophets and teachers and apostles are out there writing, and trust the Spirit to lead us to their works.
That’s what I’ll do 😉

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Ford January 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Holy cow! This post reflects with remarkable clarity all that I have, for years, strained to express on this topic. Thank you for writing it. Now…how do you feel about the adjective “bible-believing” (i.e., bible-believing church, or bible-believing Christian).

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Dan January 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm

No..thank you!

As to the adjective “bible-believing”… I think that term is entirely unhelpful. It is divisive (“we’re the true Christians, unlike those other non-bible-believing heretics”) and to me doesn’t really say anything meaningful about the specific nature of the “bible belief” — though in practice it generally is code for “we believe in our own literal, dogmatic and exclusionary understanding of the inspired, inerrant and infallible Bible and anyone who disagrees with us is anathema.”

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Ford January 14, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Totally agree with the whole thought. Unfortunately, I’m not sure some inerrantists (is that a word?) would be chagrined at your last statement. Sometimes the ignorance seems impenetrable.

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Mickholt January 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm

In looking back at my original post I realize that my use of the word “then” changed the direction I meant to take which was, for the most part, agreement – not confrontation and I did not get back on track – one should never type hungry. I was trying to say that the Bible along with the types of things I listed reveal God, always as He chooses. In fact, for the most part, I point out the ways people can see God without seeing a Bible or another person for that matter – and I didn’t mean to be snarky if I came off that way. However, as someone that does not have a family history of following Christ and no oral history to practice or pass on, the Bible is essential, I would say it is indispensible, for my faith – and my wife and son’s – to grow but we also pray and talk to other Christ followers. God, Himself, says in Proverbs to seek “wise counsel.” To me, that means to look beyond or outside the Bible – to talk to other, more mature Christ followers – a pastor, a priest or another Christian that has been through the stage of life you’re currently dealing with.

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Dan January 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for that clarification. “One should never type hungry” is a great maxim to live by! And I would also agree that the Bible is essential to Christian faith.

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