The importance of context when discussing biblical passages is certainly nothing new, but it’s important to constantly remind ourselves of this. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 is often cited, appropriately, as one of the biblical sources we have for the sufficiency of Scripture. You really can’t talk about sola Scriptura without citing it. And yet, many defenders of this biblical doctrine don’t often see the overall context of 2 Timothy itself which makes the argument for Scripture’s sufficiency all the more powerful.
As the Apostle Paul is writing this, he knows that he will soon taste death and that this epistle will likely be his last. In this situation, he gives Timothy essential instructions regarding the ministry of the church. These commands are perpetual to the church in all ages. As James White states on page 46 of his book, Scripture Alone:
Paul gives Timothy no indication that God will someday banish false teachers from disturbing the saints, at least not until that final day when the bride will be presented to her husband “having no spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). So what is Timothy to do, now that Paul will no longer be there to give him guidance? If ever there was a point where the apostle would refer to some kind of extra-biblical source of sufficiency, it would be here. If Paul believed we should look to a papacy, or to some Spirit-led prophet, or to some group of leaders, or to some new source of revelation, this would be the place to delineate this all-important source of aid for his beloved Timothy. What he does instead is perfectly in line with the teaching of Moses, the prophets, the Psalter, and, most important, the Lord Jesus Christ: He directs Timothy to the God-breathed Scriptures as the never-changing, always sufficient source of truth…
That is by far one of the best expositions (albeit brief) of 2. Tim. 3:16-17 I’ve ever read. Apostolic teaching on this issue is certainly clear. Not only is Scripture alone unique in its God-breathed attributes, but the church itself cannot stand without it. After all, it is the preaching of Scripture which produces the church (Rom. 10:17), not the other way around–sustaining the church from generation to generation.
In Part 1 of this article on tradition, we looked at the distinction between sola Scriptura and so-called “solo” Scriptura while emphasizing the necessity of tradition. Sola Scriptura does indeed mean “Scripture alone” as the ultimate authority of faith and practice, but this doesn’t mean that biblical interpretation is done in a vacuum. The practice of modern Evangelicalism appears to be the me-and-my-Bible approach of “solo” Scriptura in which all tradition is thrown out altogether or otherwise made subordinate to the interpretative whims of the individual.
With respect to the individualism found in modern Evangelical approaches to biblical interpretation, it is important to concede that Roman Catholic critics are at least partly right. There is most certainly an element of the “lone ranger Christian” at work here along with a very low view of the church. Membership in the local church is now seen as something loose or fluid, assuming that it exists at all. Yet where these same Roman Catholic critics err is their assertion that this situation in modern Evangelicalism is somehow representative of historic Protestant teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Aside from Scripture, the magisterial Reformers consciously and openly appealed to early church fathers as well. They made it clear that their efforts at reforming the church were not rooted in something novel, but had the backing of centuries of church tradition. Indeed, John Calvin relied heavily upon the testimony of early church fathers in his famous reply to Cardinal Sadoleto in which he articulated a systematic defense of Reformation doctrine. In particular he cited Chrysostom in echoing the warning to beware of those who promote new doctrines under the auspices of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit affirms what God has already spoken in the Scriptures rather than theological novelties. Both Rome and the Anabaptists had been guilty of the latter. Continue reading
We live in a day and age in which the church is having an identity crisis, much of which is rooted in a misunderstanding of the Great Commission. Like many problems in the church today, this one is nothing new. The 19th century saw the same problem in which many people started to see the role of the church as an agent of social change in the world. Responding to this trend, James Henley Thornwell said the following:
[The church] is not, as we fear too many are disposed to regard it, a moral institute of universal good, whose business it is to wage war upon every form of human ill, whether social, civil, political, moral, and to patronize every expedient which a romantic benevolence may suggest as likely to contribute to human comfort…. The problems which the anomalies of our fallen state are continually forcing on philanthropy, the church has no right directly to solve. She must leave them to providence, and to human wisdom sanctified and guided by the spiritual influences which it is her glory to foster and cherish. The church is a very peculiar society;…it is the kingdom of her Lord Jesus Christ.
This view stands in stark contrast to the sentiments of many modern Evangelicals who are not satisfied with the biblical purpose of the church: a ministry of the Word, sacraments, and discipline. Ditching these three marks of a church, Evangelicals have redefined both its nature as well as its purpose. Churches are now seen as agents of cultural change within the community, arms of larger political movements, and visible extensions of social welfare programs. Thornwell continues: Continue reading
In today’s milieu of theological discussions, it seems prudent to properly define our terms and ensure that all participants are on the same page. The onset of post-modernism certainly hasn’t helped matters and our discourse is often given over to confusion more than anything else. I’ve noticed this especially in discussions between Roman Catholics and Protestants regarding the issues of sola Scriptura and the proper role of tradition. There’s a great misunderstanding on each side both in terms of the definitions themselves as well as the history behind them.
The point of this article isn’t so much to refute Roman Catholic arguments as it is to help fellow Protestants to understand what sola Scriptura actually means while at the same time articulating an appreciation for tradition in its proper role. Many Protestants have an incomplete or even distorted view of what constitutes tradition. In a knee-jerk reaction against Rome, there are Protestants who deny that they have any kind of tradition at all. While having good intentions, they mistakenly assume that upholding the doctrine of Scripture-alone means eschewing tradition altogether.
Yet as Keith Mathison and others have demonstrated, there is a huge difference between sola Scriptura and so-called “solo” Scriptura. Roman Catholics and Protestants alike seem to miss the difference. This, I believe, is what has given rise to the “solo” Scriptura defense among Protestants who simply don’t know any better. Here we see the importance of church history along with a solid understanding of basic theological terms. The modern Evangelical church is woefully ill-equipped in this regard. Continue reading
I’ve never blogged about this issue explicitly since I’m still learning about textual criticism and the like, but attending the annual Keach Conference this past weekend shook up my thinking quite a bit. And that’s as it ought to be. The Christian life is not about staying in our comfort zones. At sundry times and divers manners, God sends things our way which help to shape our thinking. Those of us who came out of Arminianism into accepting the doctrines of grace know this very well.
The conference topic was the doctrine of providence (chapter 5 of the Confession) and part of this included a discussion on the providential preservation of the holy Scriptures. Prior to this conference, I was a typical 20-something Calvinist who used the ESV. I try not to be overly dogmatic when it comes to different translations, but I really liked the ESV. Such is not the case anymore, for textual bombshell was thrown in my lap which made me rethink my stance.
One of the speakers, Rev. Malcolm Watts, addressed the issue of God preserving His word over time. It was immediately apparent that he was an advocate of the Majority (or Byzantine) Text. He explained much of the history behind the competing Critical (or Alexandrian) Text and why he believes this text to be inferior–indeed, utterly corrupt. I had only a minimal understanding of these issues prior to the conference, but his presentation really popped some breakers in my mind. Continue reading
Today is John Calvin’s birthday, so I decided to present a quote from this saint who was used so wonderfully by God to reform His church. One of the many corrections in doctrine made during the Reformation was the proper relation between faith and works. In the following quote, Calvin expounds upon the reality that the Christian is sanctified by faith in order that he may obey God’s law:
Christ, by his righteousness, intercedes for us before the Father, so that we might be declared righteous, he being our advocate. In just the same way, by making us participants in his Spirit, he sanctifies us, in order to make us pure and innocent. For the Spirit of the Lord came upon him without measure–the Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of strength, of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord–in order that we might all draw from his fullness and receive grace from the grace given to him (cf. John 1:16).
Those, then, who boast of their Christian faith while being at the same time entirely without the Spirit’s sanctification, deceive themselves. For the Scripture teaches that Christ has not only been made righteousness for us, but also sanctification. As a result, we cannot receive his righteousness by faith without embracing at the same time that sanctification. The Lord, by that covenant which he made with us in Christ, promises that he will both take away our sins and write his Law in our hearts (Jer. 31:-34; Heb. 8:6-12 and 10:11-18).
Obedience to the Law is not, then, a work within our power to accomplish. The power to accomplish this work comes from the Spirit who cleanses our hearts from their corruption, and softens them to be obedient to righteousness.
Now the Law is of no use at all for Christians, outside of faith. In former days the outward teaching of the Law did nothing but accuse us of weakness and transgression. But since the Lord has engraved a love for his righteousness in our hearts, the Law is a guiding lamp to keep us from leaving the right road. It is the wisdom which trains us, instructs us and encourages us to become upright. It is our rule, and it will not tolerate being destroyed by wrongful liberty.
(From Calvin’s work, Truth for All Time, translated by Stuart Olyott)
After sitting through church history class last night, I got a much better picture of the various soteriological positions presented at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. This was the first time I heard of the phrase “hypothetical universalism” used to describe one of the viewpoints. I don’t want to confuse anyone, so let me lay out the ground of these four main soteriological views:
1. “Straight” universalism: everyone is saved and heading to heaven.
2. Synergistic universalism: Christ died for everyone, making it possible for them to go to heaven if only they will believe.
3. Hypothetical universalism: Christ died for everyone, but the Holy Spirit applies that salvation to the elect only.
4. Particularism: Christ died for His elect and the Holy Spirit applies that salvation to the elect only.
It is apparent to me that the “synergistic universalism” could conceivably apply to both Pelagianism as well as Arminianism. That’s why it makes sense to me that many Arminians end up moving over into outright Pelagianism. Some self-described Arminians I know are actually closer to Amyraldianism which falls under the category of “hypothetical universalism.” Continue reading