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Good defense agaist Catholicism, but the debate has moved on
on August 24, 2005
As the title implies, Scripture Alone is a book which seeks to explain and defend the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. White focuses primary on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, which he defines as follows:
The Scriptures are not in need of any supplement; their authority comes from their nature as God-breathed revelation; their authority is not dependent upon man, church, or council. "The Scriptures are self-consistent, self-interpreting, and self-authenticating. The Christian church looks to the Scriptures as the only infallible and sufficient rule of faith, and the church is always subject to the Word, and is constantly reformed thereby." (28)
The length of this definition shows that there are several areas involved in the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture, and White tackles them well.
He takes an interesting approach in the book. Much of the book contains argument and explanation, as would be expected. But perhaps a quarter of the book is comprised of dialogues between two people. While the dialogues are fictional, they are based on White's extensive experience debating issues of Christian theology with people of other faiths. The dialogues not only contain sound teaching, but also give the reader an idea of how the doctrinal issues the book deals with might play out in every day life. They do, however, present a somewhat unrealistic illustration. The Christian in the dialogue always has the perfect response and the right quote, whether from Scripture or the Church Fathers. While it is hard to imagine how White could write it any differently, this is not always an accurate picture of real dialogue.
White manages to cover quite a bit of material in just over 200 pages, giving a clear survey of issues surrounding the formation of the Canon, allegations of corruption and internal contradictions of the Bible, and the relationship between Scripture and the church/tradition. Two chapter deserve particular mention. Chapter 3, "Forever Settled: The Nature of God's Holy Word", covers the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. White discusses the standard passages on these important topics, and clearly brings out B.B. Warfield's classic teaching on the "God-breathed" nature of Scripture. What is perhaps unique about White's explanation here is how well he shows the connection between the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture to the sufficiency of Scripture. He points out that Paul wrote his last epistle, 2 Timothy, to his young protege Timothy, instructing him how to carry on the work of the gospel in the post-Apostolic period. Considering this context,"If Paul believed we should look to the 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." (46-47)
Chapter 10, "The Lord Spoke to Me, Saying..." is perhaps worth the price of the book by itself. The entire chapter is a dialogue between two Christians, beginning with these words: "It was just fantastic, Josh. I really hadn't known what to do, so I opened my Bible to the Psalms and started reading. And right then, God spoke to me. He told me to buy the Deep Spirit Study Bible in teal and genuine leather! It cost an arm and a leg, but I'm sure the Lord will provide." Through the course of this conversation White communicates several crucial ideas. God speaks through Scripture, not apart from it. The teaching of those who claim "the Lord spoke to me" must be tested against Scripture, and quite often these claims simply don't stand up. The Spirit of God does indeed speak to Christians today, but he does so in concert with the Word. Claiming that "the Lord spoke to me" effectively puts us on par with Scripture, for this is the formula the Old Testament prophets used to introduce their message from God. Such claims call into question the sufficiency of God's Word, even when they are spoken by people who (at least in theory) affirm that Scripture is totally sufficient.
My biggest disappointment with Scripture Alone is that White focuses much of his argument against various Roman Catholic teachings. While the historic debate over Sola Scriptura is certainly between Protestants and Rome, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is under attack today from several other quarters, many from within evangelicalism itself. White's experience debating and otherwise responding to the claims of Roman Catholics surely influenced his focus here; I wish, however, he would have spent more time on other challenges to the sufficiency of Scripture which are more pressing today. The interface of science and Scripture, for example, is not addressed in this book at all, and yet topics of this nature are in the national headlines constantly.
As a whole, White's book is a good contribution to the discussion of the sufficiency of Scripture. He is clear and convincing on the issues he addresses, and does the reader a great service by pointing to other resources for further reading on several topics. White notes in several places that the doctrine of Scripture is of primary importance: "every attack upon the Christian faith includes, in some form or another, a denial of sola scriptura" (25). "Almost every single collapse involving denominations and churches in regard to historic Christian beliefs can be traced back to a degradation in that group's view of the Bible as the inspired and inerrant revelation of God's truth" (43); and "Almost every denial of biblical sufficiency finds its root in a misunderstanding of, or more likely, a direct rejection of, the true nature of Scripture (44). The issues addressed in this book are not of only "academic" importance, nor should they be of importance only to scholars. Every Christians has a vested interest in the doctrine of Scripture, its inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency. This book helps bring these issues to Christians of every stripe.