God’s Word Alone is part of the 5 Solas series published by Zondervan and edited by Matthew Barrett. This work is dedicated to Sola Scriptura often called the formal principle of the Reformation (whereas Sola Fide is known as the material principle). Barrett defines Sola Scriptura as “only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church” (p. 23). He is careful to distinguish it from Nada Scriptura, meaning no other authority, except Scripture exists which unfortunately some have confused with Sola Scriptura.
In order to better understand the origins, development, and contemporary relevance of the doctrine of Scripture alone the book is organized around three steps:
First is a look at church history and the development of this doctrine prior to the Reformation in which the primary challenge to Scripture alone was the claims of Roman Catholicism. Rome, historically as well as today, vests ultimate authority in both Scripture and Tradition (p. 73). More, Rome offers a “three-legged stool of authority consisting of Scripture, tradition and magisterium” (p. 348). In reality, however, the voice of the church trumps Scripture. After the Reformation the strongest opponents to the Bible’s supremacy within Protestantism were shifts in authority stemming from the Enlightenment, which turned from Scripture to reason and science (p. 79), and Romanticism, which looked to experience (pp. 87-99). These, in turn, spawned theological liberalism beginning in the 18th century. Resistance came from Karl Barth, and his neo-orthodoxy (pp. 100-107), and the theologians from Old Princeton (pp. 107-114), but much of Protestantism continued its march away from biblical authority. Today postmodernity adds to the resistance efforts against Sola Scriptura (pp. 115-150).
Secondly, the author traces God’s Word throughout redemptive history, in essence demonstrating that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. While general revelation reveals a great deal about God (pp. 154-156), and is sufficient to condemn us (p. 157), specific revelation is necessary for salvation. Therefore, through various means (pp. 158-159) God has communicated to humanity, most importantly through Christ. However, “apart from God’s written revelation, we have no access to Christ” (p. 159). This section explores “the Covenantal Trinitarian pattern of God’s speech that progressively unfolds from Old to New Testament, reaching its climax in the person and work of Christ” (p. 163).
Finally, in the third part of the book specific characteristics of God’s Word are examined and contemporary challenges confronted. Here we find excellent discussions concerning the inspiration of Scripture (pp. 225, 263), showing that Jesus, the OT, as well as the NT authors, all supported inspiration (pp. 240-263). But while inspiration is claimed by many modern evangelicals, inerrancy is not always given the same respect. Barrett defines inerrancy as “when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences” (pp. 265, 268). He then supports inerrancy biblically (pp. 274-285) and defends it against the limited inerrancy view that has found much acceptance today (pp. 293-297). Limited inerrancy teaches that while issues of faith and practice within Scripture are without error, other matters such as specific people and historical events may not be factual. Next is the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture (pp. 302-331). Inspiration and inerrancy matter very little if the Bible cannot be understood. That does not mean there are not difficult passages and concepts within Scripture, but overall the Bible can be comprehended by the average reader. A distinction is made between external clarity, in which “anyone and everyone can read the Scriptures for themselves and see what they say” (p. 320), and internal clarity which requires the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to remove our spiritual blindness and reveal Christ and His saving work to the reader (pp. 317-324). Finally, the sufficiency of Scripture is discussed (pp. 332-345). Sufficiency is defined as “all things necessary for God’s glory, salvation, and the Christian life are provided for God’s people in the Scriptures” (p. 335). A trio of nemeses to sufficiency including tradition, science/reason, and experience/culture is refuted to demonstrate that God’s Word is truly sufficient and authoritative (pp. 345-370).
Barrett states that only since the 19th century has the truthfulness of Scripture been questioned within the Christian community (p. 22). The authority of Scripture and Sola Scriptura has been defended by many since the time of the Reformation, and more recently by means of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (1978) and the Cambridge Declaration (1996) (pp. 25-26, 126-129, 291). God’s Word Alone is another source that should have wide use in the ongoing battle for the Bible.
God’s Word Alone, the Authority of Scripture by Matthew Barrett (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016) 402 pp., paper $24.99.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel