Written by Dr. David Dunbar
Monday, 13 February 2012 00:00
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: http://biblical.edu/images/stories/admissions/convictions0808.pdf.
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.