Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Solo Scriptura? Tradition 0?
09/28/2005 - James WhiteThe recent Christian Apologetics Journal review of James White's book The Roman Catholic Controversy has this curious observation made by the reviewer, Ralph MacKenzie:
White states that "the doctrine of sola scriptura is based on the nature of the Scriptures as the Word of God" (62). To demonstrate that this doctrine was held in the church prior to the Reformation, he quotes from Basil of Caesarea (c. A.D. 330-379) (55). Unfortunately, many evangelicals, intent on protecting sola scriptura from its Catholic alternative, have embraced who [sic] Keith A. Mathison terms "solo" scriptura. This is the attempt to interpret without recourse to the ecumenical councils and creeds, classically called the regula fidei ("rule of faith").The observation is curious for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that it is vague as to whom he is referencing. That is to say that a fair reading could give the idea that MacKenzie is refreshed that Dr. White demonstrated that the early Fathers believed in sola scriptura and that he lamented that some evangelicals fall into the error Mathison articulated. However, a fair reading could also give the impression that MacKenzie is suggesting that Dr. White is adhering to solo scriptura.
That MacKenzie did not offer specifics to whether or not he believed White was guilty of "solo Scriptura" and therefore offered no specific examples, one can only speculate as to the answer unless MacKenzie clarifies his position. White has noted the strangeness of reviewing a book that is almost 10 years old. One can understand that two reviews of works on sola scriptura in the same journal might be considered redundant, but considering that 1) outside of Dr. White, the earliest work examined was 2001 (all reviews but one were by MacKenzie), and 2) MacKenzie had no problem consulting the current views of an endorser, then it might not be out of sorts to compare with more current writings of the writer under review.
Regardless of whether it was directed toward White or not, it is clear that one who adheres to solo scriptura, in MacKenzie's view, is in error. But, it is this that is most curious for in the very same journal Dr. Geisler embraces a form of solo scriptura. Geisler writes:
Bypassing minor criticism that does not effect (sic) the central thesis of the book, the most important criticism of the book centers around its misunderstanding and rejection of what he calls "Tradition 0." Mathison does not leave room for the position that tradition (including early Fathers, Creeds, and Councils) can be held as having value without being held as authoritative. That is, he does not see that early tradition can be a helpful and supplemental source in interpreting Scripture without it being an authoritative source.Geisler, Norman. "A Critical Review of The Shape of Sola Scriptura" Christian Apologetic Journal Vol 4, no. 1 (2005):120
In his critical review, Geisler cites Mathison as following Heiko Oberman in referencing four views of tradition: Tradition 0 which Mathison calls solo scriptura, Tradition 1 which concedes interpretive authority to tradition (Mathison considers this to be the view of the Reformers) and Tradition 2, which refers to Scripture and tradition with infallible teaching authority to interpret Scripture. The final expression of tradition, Tradition III is that of an infallible Pope and Teaching Magisterium.
However, in citing the problems of Mathison's view Geisler indicates that his expression of Tradition 0 does not consider the view that sees tradition as helpful, insightful, and useful in interpretation, but it is not necessarily binding or authoritative in its interpretation. This view which, keeping consistent with Oberman/Mathison, I have coined as Tradition .5, is more or less Tradition 0 with some qualifications.
This understanding of Tradition is spelled out further. In Geisler's section in addressing the misunderstanding of the use of Tradition Geisler indicates that Irenaeus believed that proper orthodox Christianity could be deduced from correct interpretation of the Scriptures alone. He further references Thomas Aquinas as accepting the words of the Apostles successors only insofar as they are holding fast to the writings of the apostles and prophets.
A useful question, then, in understanding MacKenzie's comment regarding Dr. White is whether or not Dr. Geisler suffers from this perspective. Does Dr. Geisler view sola Scriptura any differently than Dr. White? If not, then it would seem that MacKenzie's rebuke is equally leveled against Dr. Geisler, qualifications to the view or not. If Dr. Geisler's qualifications exempt him from this criticism then why does it not for Dr. White as well (assuming, for the sake of argument, that MacKenzie's criticism is being applied to Dr. White)?
To be sure, there are still discussions and debates over the role of tradition within Protestantism, even among Reformed folks. Done properly, much of this discussion on a historical/theological level can be quite useful...and this does not exclude Dr. Geisler's observations of the Anabaptist confessions (though he would not identify himself as Reformed).
To close, it may well be worth considering the words of Dr. Muller on this important issue of the Reformation:
Finally, it ought to be noted that sola Scripturawas never meant as a denial of the usefulness of the Christian tradition as a subordinate norm in theology. The views of the Reformers developed out of a debate in early medieval theology over the relation of Scripture and tradition, one party viewing the two as coequal norms, the other party viewing Scripture as the absolute and therefore prior norm, but allowing tradition a derivative but important secondary role in doctrinal statement. The Reformers and the Protestant orthodox held the latterview, on the assumption that tradition was a useful guide, that the trinitarian and christological statements of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon were expressions of biblical truth, and that the great teachers of the church provided valuable instruction in theology that always needed to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. [Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 284.]