ReformedSystematic Systematic Theology

Sola Scriptura Contra Mundum II: The Mechanics of Sola Scriptura

In the first article of this series we gave a brief definition of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and discussed the intellectual benefits of believing such a dogma. In short, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura posits that, at the present time, the Bible alone is the special revelation of God given to His people for their salvation and sanctification. This is a narrow definition. More broadly, Sola Scriptura is the only special revelation from God regarding the most ultimate issues pertinent to human experience (including but not limited to Philosophy, Psychology, and Political Theory). Mentally, the principal benefits of believing Sola Scriptura, are (1) Foundationally and (2) relative to freedom. As to the first, the Scripture furnishes the believer with the necessary conditions for the formulation of a coherent and substantial worldview. The Scripture includes doctrines regarding the origins of the universe (cosmology), the nature of human knowledge (epistemology), the nature of reality and the purpose of reality (metaphysics), morality (ethics), and salvation (soteriology). Further, contained within the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the implicit rejection of all other supposed authorities regarding ultimate matters (Catholicism, Rationalism, and Islam for example). In other words, the deliverance of Sola Scriptura is mental freedom from intellectual idols (this is intimitaly related to the constructive/deconstructive approach to apologetics: see my article “Ten Principles for a Distinctly Reformed Apologetic”).

The purpose of this article is to explicate the mechanism of Sola Scriptura. By mechanism, I mean that we’re delving into how Sola Scriptura works as a systemic-doctrine. To state it in the form of a question, we’re answering: “How does Sola Scriptura work as a rationally coherent system of interconnected parts?” The reason for explicating such a dogma is, principally, for the sake of clarity. Secondarily, it furnishes the Apologist and Polemicist with a answers to questions raised against the doctrine by its detractors. Thirdly, it causes the Christian, existentially, to marvel at the beauty of God’s own intelligence in the design of so lofty a Bible. Fourth, it provides intellectual peace to Christians made in the image and likeness of God desiring to know how the deep things of God work. Fifth, implicitly, the explication of such a doctrine, in all of its fullness, gives weight to the importance of the doctrine as a whole; if the parts which make up the totality of the doctrine are lofty, then the whole must be lofty. To be clear, we are not arguing so much for the truthfulness of the various aspects of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura so much as we are explicating the necessary doctrinal conditions for a fully formed and consistent doctrine of Sola Scriptura as a rational system. A rational system may be internally consistent yet not actually true. Yet if a rational system is incoherent it is necessarily false. In this article, we are arguing for the former, not the latter. The principal conditions necessary to the total workability of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura are: (1) The existence of a God with the capacity to provide verbal-revelation (the Principium), (2) the capacity of those being revealed a revelation to appropriate such a revelation (The Imagio-Dei), (3) the reality of that revelation in the form of the Old and New Testaments (the Bible), and (4) the finality of that Bible as the Word of God (Cessationism).

The Existence of the Revealing God: Sola Scriptura’s Principle Cause

In order for there to be an ultimate revelation from God, there must be an existent-God capable of providing revelation. Obvious enough, yet so often neglected is the question of God’s existence. The basis for our belief in the existence of God is manifold; God has, Himself in His Word testified to His certain existence through the created order (Rom 1:18-32, see my article “10 Principles of a Distinctly Reformed Apologetic,” the Principle of God’s Certain Revelation). His existence, part of His nature, and the moral duties of His creatures are all revealed, generally, to the mass of mankind (general revelation). His own certain revelation of Himself, therefore, is the basis of human knowledge of Him. Reasonably explicated, the existence of God, apologetically, is brought to bear on sinful men intent on suppression through the explication of reasonable argumentation (the arguments from cause, design, logic, morality, and ext.). God makes Atheists to be fools by denying them the ability to consistently deny His existence in any rational way. Being unable to account for the universe, logic, and morality, the Atheist is brought to shame. The intellectual idol of purported Atheism falls with great ease before the sword of God’s certain general revelation. In the depth of his conscience, the Atheist knows for certain the existence and power of the immortal God. He knows it is his duty to obey and glorify that God. He knows that through the birds, bees, the rocks and the trees that the God whom He hates constantly testifies to His own being, power, and righteousness. He knows He is accountable. He knows God has revealed Himself. He knows that God exists.

The Image of God: Sola Scriptura’s Existential Cause

Sola Scriptura is void if the recepients of God’s revelation are irrational or otherwise unable to receive His verbal revelation. Thankfully, since human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, created principally to live in communion with the God of all, they are, in fact, capable of receiving verbal revelation (they have capax receptus, a capacity for reception, in other words). As to their apparatus, men are rational, emotional, and volitional beings, like God. They think and reason. They distinguish truth from error. They think God’s thoughts after him, because God made them in His own image and likeness. Further, they are emotional beings. They like and dislike – they tie passion, after God, to realities which He approves and dissaproves of (I am not denying a form of the doctrine of God’s Impassibility). Further, they are volitional beings. They act on their environment. They choose between disjunctives. They eat. They talk. They read. Finally, they are linguistic beings; created by the Word of His power, being spoken into existence, humans speak in a derivitive manner. Language, verbal revelation and writing, is inherent to the created order and the constitution of human beings. This being the case, they are capable of receiving verbal-revelation from the God who decides to reveal Himself in that manner. They are capable of reasonably receiving the statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” utilizing the law of non-contradiction in order to know that this statement does not mean “In the beginning God did not create the heavens and the earth.” They distinguish, understand, and receive. All men, the common men, are able to understand the general scope of Scripture. The clarity of the Scripture in relation to the common man’s capacity to understand the general scope of the Bible is a necessary condition for the inner working of Sola Scriptura. To state it Theologically, if the Bible is not perspecuitable to the common man, Sola Scriptura is void and we’d be better off Catholic slaves, Rationalist wanderers, or relativistic intellectually limp-wristed ninnys.

The Holy Bible: Sola Scriptura’s Externalized Cause

Further, Sola Scriptura would be a void dogma if the Scripture itself didn’t exist. In order for Sola Scriptura to work as a system of mental thought, a revealing God must exist. In order for Sola Scriptura to be the truth, men must have the capacity to receive revelation. And finally, in order for Sola Scriptura to work, God must have actually given a verbal-revelation in the form of Scripture. Simply because God is capable of giving revelation, and because men are able to receive revelation, it does not necessarily deduce that God has, in fact, brought to pass the Scriptures in time and space. Thankfully though, due to the Holy Spirit’s work on our hearts we confess that God has, in fact, provided for us externalized and verbal revelation in the Old and New Testaments. Though a fully formed Apologetic as to the rationality of accepting the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God is beyond the scope of this article, pertaining to the system of thought alone, the reality of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God is a reality brought to bear by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit who has regenerated our hearts that we might, in fact, believe. The greatest testimony to the reality of the truthfulness of God’s own externalized revelation in the Holy Scriptures is the Holy Spirit’s own work of taking the certainty of what He revealed to us in general revelation (God’s existence, His righteous moral decree, and our failure to fulfill our duty), and using it vis-a-vis the Bible in order to present to us Christ as the antidote to our enmity with God. In other words, the Holy Spirit uses the certainty of general revelation to compel us to belief in the certainty of special revelation. His sheep hear His voice (the general revelation to special revelation dynamic).

The Cessation of New Externalized Special Revelation: Sola Scriptura’s Historical Cause

A fourth condition necessarily tied to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the cessation of new, externalized, special revelations from God (cessationism). Cessationism is a necessary correlate to Sola Scriptura. Continuationism is necessarily contradictory to Sola Scriptura. For the Continuationist, God is (1) continually giving God-breathed revelation in the form of verbal words, dreams, or visions or (2) giving a revelation which can be infallibly given by God and then fallibly distorted by prophets. As to the former, if it is true, Scripture alone isn’t the only infallible rule of life for faith and practice. Rather, Scripture, and present day prophecy, are the rules. As to the latter, though the space of the article works against a fully formed argument, the Scripture knows nothing of “fallible prophecy.” In order for one to hold together a consistent doctrine of Sola Scriptura, one must necessarily be a cessationist. Neither the pope, nor the televangelist, nor your well meaning Pentecostal Aunt can give you a new revelation from God if Sola Scriptura is true. If Sola Scriptura is true, Continuationism is false. If Continuationism is true, Sola Scriptura is false. For the sake of Consistency, Cessationism is a necessary correlate to Sola Scriptura.

Final Thoughts

Whether one believes in the reality of Sola Scriptura, one is pressed to deny the beauty of its intricacies. God is a verbally-revealing God. God has made man capable of receiving verbal revelation. God has, in fact, given a verbal revelation intelligible to the common man. And God has given that revelation, historically, in such a manner that it alone functions as the rule for the church. He has furnished us, freed us, and given us a consistent, beautiful, and understandable mechanism through which we can defend His wisdom against all other purported intellectual authorities.

“Sola Scriptura Contra Mundum!” 

 

 

 

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