“Sola Scriptura”? What does that mean?


God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture
By Matthew Barrett
Zondervan, 2016, 402 pages

When it comes to theology, I like to keep things simple. Very simple. I often like to say I’m definitely a Theology 101 kind of guy. Thankfully, the Gospel is so simple even a child can understand it, although the Holy Spirit must first remove the spiritual blinders from our eyes and illuminate the truths of God’s saving Word to us.

Over the space of twenty months, Zondervan has released five books in its “The Five Solas Series” commemorating the Reformation solas in this, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The first book, “Faith Alone” (2015) – sola Fida – by Thomas R. Schreiner, was very good. The second, “God’s Glory Alone” (2015) – soli Deo gloria – by David VanDrunen was unfortunately a big disappointment. VanDrunnen removed that sola almost entirely from its Reformation context; no comparisons to Catholicism are made.

I just finished the third book in the series, “God’s Word Alone” (2016), – sola Scriptura – by Matthew Barrett. One of the foundations of the Reformation and subsequently, evangelical orthodoxy, is that all of our spiritual beliefs come from God’s Word. We neither take away from the Bible or add to it. That’s not to say that we turn a blind eye to all tradition (that would be “nuda Scriptura”) but tradition must ALWAYS stand in absolute subjection to God’s Word. Catholicism in contrast decrees that its traditions and magisterium (teaching authority) are on equal par with Scripture. As a consequence, unbiblical and even anti-biblical teaching can (and do) become dogma in Catholicism.

Why did the Reformers stand in opposition to Rome with sola Scriptura? Was sola Scriptura a 16th-century novelty or did God’s Word always affirm this principle? What does Scripture teach about itself regarding its authority in relation to the church and tradition? Barrett tackles all of these question and does a nice job.

This is NOT a breezy book for the beach. “God’s Word Alone” has some heavy lifting but not too much to dissuade a Theology 101 guy like myself. I love God’s Word and I’m so thankful the Lord speaks to me through His Word every day. This book increased my love and appreciation for God’s Word even more. We sometimes take our Bibles for granted but multitudes of believers were put to death because of their stand for sola Scriptura and the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Attacks against God’s Word and the Gospel of grace have been unceasing right up into the present day, currently under the guises of scientific enlightenment, post-modern relativism, experientialism (see TBN), and ecumenism.


Part 1: God’s Word under Fire, Yesterday and Today
1. The Road to Reformation: Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth Century
2. The Modern Shift in Authority: The Enlightenment, Liberalism, and Liberalism’s Nemesis
3. Today’s Crisis over Biblical Authority: Evangelicalism’s Apologetic and the Postmodern Turn

Part 2: God’s Word in Redemptive History
4. God’s Word in the Economy of the Gospel: Covenant, Trinity, and the Necessity of a Saving Word
5. God Speaks Covenantal Words: Creation, Fall, and the Longing for a Better World
6. God’s Covenantal Word Proves True: Christ, the Word Made Flesh

Part 3: The Character of God’s Word and Contemporary Challenges
7. God Speaks with Authority: The Inspiration of Scripture
8. God Speaks Truthfully: The Inerrancy of Scripture
9. God Speaks to Be Heard: The Clarity of Scripture
10. God’s Speech is Enough: The Sufficiency of Scripture

Conclusion: Always Reforming According to the Word of God

Down the road I’ll probably be reading the remaining two books in the series, “Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God” (April 18, 2017) by Carl R. Trueman and “Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior” (April 18, 2017) by Stephen Wellum.

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