Sometimes I really do feel like a lone voice in the wilderness. Since 1989 I’ve been preaching the same message: Rome’s apologists are focusing upon a glaring weakness in Protestant evangelicalism, and they are using it as effectively as the Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Trinity. I’ll admit, I’m normally ignored. But if the recent crop of new books from major Roman Catholic publishers like Ignatius Press and Our Sunday Visitor mean anything at all, they confirm this: I was right.
You see, sola scriptura is today the “Achilles heel” of the Protestant Church, not because it is indefensible (as our Roman Catholic critics assert), but because it is ignored. That is, our seminaries rarely speak of it, hence, our ministers normally assume its truth but are unable, when pressed, to give a reasoned response. We hardly ever hear anything about it from the pulpit: it’s like its the taboo subject. There is no reason for it, really. The doctrine is beautiful, biblical, historical, comforting—all the things Roman apologists say it isn’t. But they normally get away with ravaging sola scriptura through gross misrepresentation of what it really means simply because there are very few who know the doctrine well enough to call their bluff! The blame for Rome’s success in taking advantage of this blind spot in Protestant apologetics cannot be given to Rome’s apologists. Instead, the blame must be laid squarely upon the shoulders of Protestant theologians, leaders, and scholars, who have lost sight of what is really important, and as a result have let this vital truth “fall through the cracks” in our college and seminary training.
I do not, in making these comments, even speak to the liberalism that has crippled so many of our institutions of learning. Those denominations and churches that no longer even believe the Bible to be supernatural revelation abandoned sola scriptura (of necessity) a long time ago. I speak to the conservative, believing Evangelical institutions that still exist in our nation and overseas. One cannot believe in the sufficiency of Scripture if one does not believe in the inspiration of Scripture. Hence, I speak to my fellow brethren who still believe what the Lord Jesus said: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Sola Scriptura is not just a “marginal issue,” or a theological novelty to be discussed after a Systematic Theology class in seminary. It is fundamental, vital, and necessary to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without it, the very basis upon which the gospel is to be defined is changed, and, historically speaking, this has always resulted in the degradation of the gospel message itself. Without the affirmation that the Scriptures are the final court of appeal, we are left open for every kind of “teaching” that finds its origin and source in the heart of man. One need only look to Fatima or Lourdes for illustrations of what happens when sola scriptura is abandoned and denied. Look at the modern Roman Catholic doctrine of indulgences (see the document at: http://listserv.american.edu/catholic/church/papal/paul.vi/p6indulg.txt) for a frightening glimpse at what happens to the gospel of grace when human traditions and institutions become infallible organs of doctrinal definition.
The modern crop of apologists are exploiting the distractedness of the Protestant Church. They are not, in fact, providing much of a meaningful challenge to the actual doctrine of sola scriptura. Most refuse to actually deal with the doctrine as it really exists and as it is defined in the major confessions of faith. Their attacks on the doctrine are mainly so that they can promote their own viewpoint, which I call sola ecclesia, but without really having to bear the burden of proving their own case. It’s a matter of “well, your system doesn’t work, so ours is the only other possibility.” Despite the weakness of such argumentation, we are seeing people swayed thereby.
The books noted above by Mark Shea, David Currie, and Stephen Ray, all make the same argument: we left Protestantism for many reasons, but one of the most important was our inability to defend sola scriptura. Sadly, for each of them, they were unable to define the doctrine either, and, if you can’t define your beliefs, you will have a real hard time defending them! They were like so many other Protestants today: they assumed the belief, but they didn’t know the belief. As a result, they were converts ready to happen, boats without an anchor tossed on a sea that is all too ready to send you across the Tiber River into the hands of Rome.
It is not my purpose here to even begin to review these books, let alone provide a discussion or defense of sola scriptura. Instead, I wish to implore my fellow Protestant theologians, teachers, and pastors: we are the recipients of a tremendous gift of grace in our Protestant heritage. Sola scriptura is a vital part of that heritage, and despite how “counter-culture” it is to believe in such things as the sufficiency of inspired Scripture, we dare not allow this truth to remain in obscurity. We must rekindle the zeal of our forefathers for this vital truth. We must learn what the doctrine really says, so that we can point out the constant misrepresentations of it that are so prevalent in our society. But most importantly, we must love this truth so that we can speak of it from the heart. Nothing less is worthy of the great truth of the sufficiency of the Scriptures to function as the sole infallible rule of faith for Christ’s Church.