Friday, February 29, 2008

Sola Scriptura

In the third part of his extensive history of the church (2000 years of Christ's Power, Grace Publications), Dr Nick Needham points out that the attitude to tradition held by the average modern evangelical would not be recognised by the Reformers.

It was Heiko Oberman who classified two positions on the role of tradition and the relationship to the concept of Sola Scriptura; and Alasdair McGrath who added the third. Dr Needham describes these in the following terms:

  • Tradition 2: an authoritarian reverence for the history and traditions of the Church; the Catholic church at the time of the Reformation elevated theological tradition to an untouchable status.

  • Tradition 1: a critical reverence for the history and traditions of the Church; this was the position taken by the Protestant Reformers - they treated Christian theological tradition with deep care and respect, although they did not give it a blind or uncritical allegiance.

  • Tradition 0: little or no respect for the Church's history or traditions; this position was associated with the Radical Reformation - a Christian must read the Bible with fresh eyes, as if no-one else had ever read it before. Modern Evangelicalism often interprets 'Scripture Alone' in this sense.
For more on Oberman's study and the relationship between sola scriptura, tradition and ecclesiology, try “What Are We Trying to Conserve?: Evangelicalism and Sola Scriptura,” Evangelical Quarterly 76.4 (2004).