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When I first began in full-time ministry I remember thinking that it would be important for me to spend significant time studying apologetics, especially the defense of the Bible. This was an unexpected blessing in so many ways. The most substantial blessing was that my faith was strengthened to cling to the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Of course, I found myself more equipped to defend the Bible against those who sought to undermine its authority. While I enjoyed many evangelistic opportunities, I was not, after all, primarily an apologist. I was a pastor in a local church.

As I reflect over the last 10 years it is striking that most of my defense of the Bible does not have to do with its truthfulness but its sufficiency. And further, the context for these discussions has been among professing Christians. Does this surprise you? The more I talk with other pastors the more I find this to be true: the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is under attack both explicitly and implicitly.

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture simply means that the Bible is enough. The Scriptures contain “all of the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.” (Systematic Theology, Grudem,) p. 127. You can see this doctrine taught in passages like 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and Psalm 19:7ff.

Most evangelicals don’t often have issues with the first of these 3 spheres that Grudem lays out. Salvation is revealed to us “outside in” not “inside out”. We hear, understand, and believe the gospel—that external word. However it is the other two that become more difficult to nail down.

Here are 3 common attacks upon the sufficiency of Scripture over the years.

The dangerously deceitful but nevertheless authoritative “Lord Feeling.” Let’s say that someone wants to do something—even something good like be a pastor—and they encounter objections from members of the congregation. What do they do? Well, they have to evaluate the objections. Should one listen to those who know him best? Should they evaluate his character and gifting of ministry? Yes, it would seem so. There must be some evaluation of a man’s character and gifting for ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1). But let’s say that the perspective pastor does not like the answer he is given so he packs up and moves down the road to another church to pursue the ministry. Instead of feeling like submitting to the biblical authority he submits to “Lord feeling”. He feels like doing something else. What does this say about his view of the sufficiency of Scripture? It would seem to indicate that he is not fully on board with this doctrine.

“Yeah, I’ve decided not to do that.” Let’s say that someone has conflict with another church member; they are sideways with one another, as is apt to happen in a context where there are a bunch of sinners. Upon discussion with Joan, Sally opens up and says that she really has something against Barbara. Joan asks if it is sin and suggest that Sally go an talk to Barbara. In response Sally says that she does not want to go and talk with her and instead decides to distance herself and eventually leave the church. Even when pressed with what the Bible says, the professing Christian decides to do what she wants to do instead of what the Bible says. Instead of trusting and obeying God and his word she submits to her own word. I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “It’s not the unclear passages in the Bible that give me such a problem, it’s the clear.” The sufficiency of scripture teaches us that we are a people under authority. We don’t make the laws but obey them.

The unmeasurable and devastating emotional blackmail. Have you ever been guilty of this? I know that I’ve been on both sides of this. It goes like this: we think that people are not loving enough or gracious enough or kind enough. We say things like, “I am not feeling loved, appreciated, or valued.” These words weigh a lot because there is pain and there is a propensity to sin. In other words, we often hurt others and feel hurt ourselves. However, we need to be very careful that we are not elevating a subjective standard that is far beyond anything that Scripture gives us. John Piper makes this distinction, “Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them.” We have to be very careful that the Bible is the standard and not some extra biblical, undefinable, subjective standard. Calling it “emotional blackmail” Piper goes on to say,

Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, ‘If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.’ There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.

How does this undermine the sufficiency of Scripture? It does so because the Bible gives us the basis for interpreting what loving behavior actually is. There is fruit that corresponds with love. And sometimes it doesn’t make us feel very good.

These are just three ways in which the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture are commonly attacked in churches. We could go on to talk about biblical decision-making vs. evangelical mysticism; fasting from the Bible; ignoring the community of the word; and countless other examples.

The bottom line is that while we may often say that the Bible is sufficient we far too often shelf sola scriptura for what I labeled sola experienca. Sola experienca does not promise to sanctify anyone–in fact it only stirs up division. When we trade out sola scriptura for sola experienca we not only lose the power to sanctify but the essence of what it means to live as a Christian. On the other hand, the Christian worldview drives us to an external word—not only for conversion but also sanctification. This external word is the Bible. It is remains as sufficient as it is authoritative.


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14 thoughts on “Common Evangelical Attacks Against Sola Scriptura”

  1. JD says:

    Interesting that your first defense was not scriptural. Points out that if the bible was sufficient there would be no need for preachers, writers, analysis – there would only be a need for bible readers. “The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture simply means that the Bible is enough. The Scriptures contain “all of the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.” (Systematic Theology, Grudem,) p. 127.”

  2. Falcon 78 says:

    The whole doctrine of Sola Scriptura was a creation primarily by Martin Luther, and generally a product of the Reformation. The Church–the Church–had taught for 1500 years–15 centuries–prior to that it was a combination of tradition AND Holy Scripture. This is from the same Church that could be traced directly to Christ’s mission for the Apostle Peter (“upon this rock I will build my church.”) to shepherd his Church on earth after the Ascension. Was it they, and all the fathers of the Church prior to Luther that got it wrong for 15 centuries? I don’t think so.

    1. Michael F. says:

      Um… you’re off slightly… The idea of including tradition in the conversation is ok, but must be articulated more accurately in my humble opinion. Yes, the Reformation might have given it the name “Sola Scriptura” but the true Church that Jesus built upon Peter did not in any way do things based on Church traditions at all… That crept in later as corruption and manipulation from the Catholic church twisted how the Church taught and trained their followers… The original Church was first built upon Jesus’ teachings and how He revealed the Truths about Himself spoken to Him in the OT to His disciples (Luke 24:44-45) and then later through the Epistles written by Paul and the other Apostles… So Sola Scriptura wasn’t really created by Luther and the Reformation, By God’s Grace they just recaptured it and put it back in its rightful place. .. And I am thankful God raised them up to do so.

      1. Chuckt says:

        Michael,

        Jesus did not check what tradition said but quoted scripture:

        But he (Jesus) answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.-Matthew 4:4

        Matthew 7:24 ¶ Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

        Matthew 7:25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

        Matthew 7:26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

        Matthew 7:27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

        If we look at tradition, the Catholic bible doesn’t have “to be” in italics in 1 Corinthians 1:2 because they aren’t letting their followers know the reason it is in italics. “To be” is in italics because it isn’t in the Greek. We’re all saints and it is an example of added tradition that was added to God’s word because men lie and the lie continues today.

        Chuck

    2. Chuckt says:

      Falcon,

      I believe the scriptures are the oracles of God.

      Sola Scripture started with Jesus in many places of the Bible.

      The reason God wrote it down is because men lie and God is the ultimate authority above everyone else so I’m just going to listen to Him and I really don’t trust men because they lie W.E. Vine in his dictionary suggests that the meaning of Hebrews 13:17 doesn’t mean that I have to follow a man.

      I also think the idea of works is false because if we could work our way out of heaven, why do we have to die because we should be able to work our way out of our earthly debt if we could be saved by works at all. But you know that you can’t.

      Chuck

    3. Neo says:

      Does “The Church–the Church” refer to wall-building Francis and is near daily unitarian flavor of silliness?

  3. John Hutchinson says:

    I reject the ecclesiastical doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. For Scriptures themselves makes references to things outside of themselves, including historical references. And if one does not understand the true meaning of those external references, than one’s understanding of Scriptures will become askew. This includes language. Stoichea in Col 2:8 means elements, if one references pre-existing pagan writings. But because of seminarian speculations over the last 200 years on the so-called Colossian heresy, the word has now been often translated into elementary spiritual forces. The same seminarian and ecclesiastical perversion of Scriptures applies to dikaisune. The Greek writings are clear. It means justice not righteousness. Paul did not write an accompanying set of Kantian definitions, but wrote into the common and pre-existing semantic understandings of words understood by the people. Therefore, even the language in the Scriptures is subject to understandings of language external to the Scriptures.

    “Instead of feeling like submitting to the biblical authority he submits to “Lord feeling”.”
    This presumes that the congregation is faithful to Scriptures. In this day and age, I would not carte blanche trust the Biblical fidelity of any congregation and/or its leadership. Therefore, the writer is not recommending the submission to Biblical authority as his conscience and understanding dictates, but to ecclesiastical authority. If the pastor moves down the road, it is to his true Master to whom he is subject and will be judged, not to some priestly mediator like the congregation or its elders.

  4. ro says:

    As a devout protestant, I reject your interpretation of Sola Scriptura.

  5. Phil H says:

    If not only the Holy Scriptures then what else? Where else do we have to turn?

    1. Michael F. says:

      Out of all the comments posted yours was the only one that had any sense to it from a truly Christian perspective…

      1. Phil H says:

        Thank you Michael F. My personal concern for some time has been that, with the advent of the internet, virtually everyone and their brother is out there with their opinions. Everyone’s a critic. It’s bad enough on the secular sites but I find it happens too frequently on Christian sites as well. We are truly bombarded with information overload.

        And I’m truly grateful for the scriptures. As well as those who have painstakingly worked to give us accurate translations and sound doctrine.

  6. Austin says:

    Erik,

    It will probably be helpful to provide some clarifying statements about Sola Scriptura. Some readers/commenters seem to confuse it with meaning “if I turn to pastors, Christian books, sermons, traditions, Christian friends- anything other than Scripture for authority in following Jesus and His commands, then I am being disobedient because they are not ‘scripture alone’.” But this is obviously not the intended meaning. We need to examine all things in the context of Scripture to see if they are true- like the Bereans in Acts 17:11.

    Could you write a short reply explaining why, as Christians, we are to base all of our actions off of the Bible so we do not believe any unbiblical, extra-biblical, or anti-biblical doctrines? Thanks.

    1. Chuckt says:

      Austin,

      According to Wikipedia, there are 31,102 verses in the Bible. If you only teach two verses on Sunday and assume that there are 52 weeks a year that you can teach then it would probably take about 300 years to teach the Bible. I’m astounded that we can’t know all of the teachings from the Catholic church on faith and morals. So if you don’t have it written down then how will we accurately get them from Jesus and how long would it take to teach them? If it is anything compared to the Bible, the Catholic church isn’t teaching them. And how can the Catholic church teach faith and morals when there is a BBC article saying that Pope Francis said:

      [Quote]Pope Francis has been quoted as saying that reliable data indicates that “about 2%” of clergy in the Catholic Church are paedophiles.[Endquote]

      “In the interview, Pope Francis was quoted as saying that the 2% estimate came from advisers. It would represent around 8,000 priests out of a global number of about 414,000.”
      http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28282050

      So how can the church teach faith and morals if the Church has about 8,000 pedophile priests?

      The fact that there isn’t a comprehensive list of faith and morals from history tells me your church didn’t write them down and doesn’t know them.

      1. Austin says:

        Chuckt,

        Sorry if my comment was confusing. I am fully convinced in the authority of Scripture and how that needs to play out in my life. I was just asking Erik to help clarify some things about the viewpoint of sola scripture for other readers.

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Erik Raymond


Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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