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The Shape of Sola Scriptura [Paperback]

By Keith A. Mathison (Author)
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Pages   364
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.11" Width: 5.96" Height: 0.76"
Weight:   1.04 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 23, 2008
Publisher   Canon Press
ISBN  1885767749  
EAN  9781885767745  

Availability  65 units.
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Item Description...
In what shape do we find the doctrine of sola Scriptura today? Many modern Evangelicals see it as a license to ignore history and the creeds in favor of a more splintered approach to the Christian living. In the past two decades, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have strongly tried to undermine sola Scriptura as unbiblical, unhistorical, and impractical. But these groups rest their cases on a recent, false take on sola Scriptura. The ancient, medieval, and classical Protestant view of sola Scriptura actually has a quite different shape than most opponents and defenders maintain. Therein lies the goal of this book an intriguing defense of the ancient (and classical Protestant) doctrine of sola Scriptura against the claims of Rome, the East, and modern Evangelicalism.

Publishers Description
In what shape do we find the doctrine of sola Scriptura today? Many modern Evangelicals see it as a license to ignore history and the creeds in favor of a more splintered approach to the Christian living. In the past two decades, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have strongly tried to undermine sola Scriptura as unbiblical, unhistorical, and impractical. But these groups rest their cases on a recent, false take on sola Scriptura. The ancient, medieval, and classical Protestant view of sola Scriptura actually has a quite different shape than most opponents and defenders maintain. Therein lies the goal of this book-an intriguing defense of the ancient (and classical Protestant) doctrine of sola Scriptura against the claims of Rome, the East, and modern Evangelicalism. "The issue of sola Scriptura is not an abstract problem relevant only to the sixteenth-century Reformation, but one that poses increasingly more serious consequences for contemporary Christianity. This work by Keith Mathison is the finest and most comprehensive treatment of the matter I've seen. I highly recommend it to all who embrace the authority of sacred Scripture." -R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Excellent defense of the doctrine  Mar 25, 2008
Overall I was really impressed by this book. He creates a solid argument for the defensibility of sola scripture by differentiating between the varying views of the relationship between scripture and tradition. He argues that scripture does depend on tradition, but is superior to it (as opposed to the Catholic doctrine that they are equal, or the common Protestant doctrine that tradition should be ignored).

The only complaint I have is that toward the end it got exceedingly repetitive.

I also wasn't sure if his quotes from the early church fathers were taken out of context or not... I don't really have any reason to think that they were, I only wonder because people seem to use the fathers to support a huge variety of viewpoints.

Overall definitely worth the read, even if you disagree.
Synopsis and Summary  Apr 7, 2007
In order to establish a useful and reasonable context for an examination of the Classical Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, Keith Mathison first presents an historical overview of the Church's concept and understanding of authority. This he traces from the fathers of the Early Church, through the Middle Ages to the Reformation of the 16th century, and thence to the Post-Reformation and the present day.

Citing many of the fathers of the first three centuries after the apostles, Mathison demonstrates a clear consensus among them that what eventually became the New Testament Scriptures are the inscripturisation of the apostolic kerygma, and as such, together with the Hebrew Scriptures, are inherently authoritative and hence the final court of appeal for all controversies. It is clear that the Early Church understood inspired Scripture to have been entrusted to the Church and that it was to be interpreted in the Church and by Church according the regula fidei, the rule of faith. The regula fidei is the essence of the apostles' doctrine, the foundational and essential truths of the Faith drawn from what was first proclaimed by the living apostles, and then preserved for and committed to the Church in Holy Scripture. The regula fidei finds expression in the ecumenical creeds such as Nicea and Chalcedon. It serves the Church as a compass or guide to the faithful interpretation of Scripture and as a guard against heresy. The Early Church did not conceive of the regula fidei as a separate "tradition" or a second source of authoritative revelation in addition to Scripture, but rather as being of a piece with Scripture, having been deduced and derived from it as a concise summary of the apostolic kerygma.

This view that Scripture is the sole infallible authority for the Church, and that it is to be interpreted in and by the Church according to the regula fidei, the author terms `Tradition I.' This belief continued to be the consensus of the church throughout most of the Middle Ages. It was not until the early 14th century that a two-source conception of authority, termed by the author `Tradition II,' was clearly articulated. Tradition II holds that both written Scripture and some extra-biblical oral traditions are equally authoritative. It was during this period that the Roman church was particularly plagued by corruption and worldliness, and the Tradition II position was used to legitimize skirting the clear commands of Scripture on the authority of some oral tradition. From this point on, the Tradition I and Tradition II positions each had their adherents and they continued in parallel until the Reformation of the 16th century, when they at last came to a head.

As we come to the Reformation, it is critical in any discussion of the doctrine of sola scriptura to understand that Luther, Calvin and the other magisterial reformers were not pioneering a radically new concept of authority in their conflict with Rome, but rather were calling the Church to return to Tradition I, the consensus view for over a millennium. They were indeed reformers, not revolutionaries. To them this battle was unavoidable because the Roman church, upon the strength of Tradition II, had become a law unto herself, whitewashing heinous failures in faith and morals, and causing the sheep of the Lord to suffer under her yoke. While the opponents of the Reformation seek to characterize it as a reckless breaking away from the apostolic mother Church, it was in fact for Luther and Calvin precisely the opposite: an attempt to bring the Church back to her former apostolic state. The reformers' affirmations regarding the authority of Scripture appeared radical and novel to some only because they were made against the backdrop of a church that had become almost completely apostate, no longer submitting to the authority of her Lord in Scripture. The reformers used the slogan sola scriptura to appeal to Scripture alone as being divinely inspired and infallibly authoritative, over against Rome's claims of an equally authoritative tradition, by which she justified her wickedness. For the magisterial reformers this slogan was tantamount to Tradition I, viz. that Holy Scripture, alone infallible, must be interpreted in the Church and by the Church according to the regula fidei. Rome reacted against this threat to her unbridled authority by formalizing her Tradition II position at the Council of Trent in 1546. In the centuries since the council of Trent, Rome has gone the next step to what the author terms Tradition III, the view that neither Scripture nor tradition have final authority, but rather the present living Roman magisterium, thus making her doctrine more internally consistent with her practice. Whatever Rome says now is authoritative and supercedes all prior decrees. Hence it is now the task of her theologians to read today's pronouncements back into Scripture and oral tradition.

Though Luther, Calvin and the other magisterial reformers were not iconoclastic revolutionaries, there were others who pursued a more radical course after the initial break with Rome. Many of these rejected not only the Tradition II concept of authority (Scripture and oral tradition), but also Tradition I, the ancient view of the fathers, as well. They affirmed that the Christian should submit to no authority but Scripture as he understands it. This individualistic concept of authority tends to disregard the legitimate authority of the Church, the lessons of her history, and her ecumenical Creeds. Since whatever the individual believes the Bible to say is authoritative, the inevitable result is that the absolute authority of Rome is replaced by the absolute authority of the individual and his subjective understanding of Scripture. Unlike Tradition I this view has little or no regard for the regula fidei or the consensus of believers through the history of the Church. Hence ecclesiastical tyranny gives place to individualistic anarchy. This concept of authority the author aptly terms Tradition 0.

With these sad features of the radical reformation in mind, it is not difficult to understand why Protestantism has since been a history of schism and fragmentation. Fueled by this individualist doctrine, along with the 18th century Enlightenment emphasis on human reason as the basis of authority and the populist democratic principles of our new nation, the American evangelical Church in the 21st century is still predominantly in the grip of the Tradition 0 view of authority, and thus the fragmentation continues. Not only so, but most of those who are even familiar with the term sola scriptura wrongly believe that they are upholding the Reformation doctrine when in fact they are fighting against it. The misinformation is so pervasive that Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists who do battle against sola scriptura are almost always fighting against Tradition 0, rather than Tradition I. It is largely due to the manifest logical and practical untenability of Tradition 0, wrongly held to be the classical Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, that we find evangelicals in our day leaving Protestantism for Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Having provided an instructive historical overview and analysis of the Church's view of Scripture, tradition, and authority over the centuries, the author turns to examine what Scripture actually says about itself, tradition, and the Church. He does not undertake an exhaustive study on these subjects, but instead seeks to evaluate the particular texts that are most often used by the proponents of Tradition II and Tradition III to make their arguments. On the nature of Scripture he discusses Acts 17.10-11, 2 Timothy 3.16-17 and 2 Peter 1.19-21 et al.; on tradition Luke 1.1-4, Mark 7.5-13 and 2 Thessalonians 2.15 et al.; and on the Church Matthew 16.17-19, Luke 22.31-32 and John 16.12-15, et al. For each text, he addresses the arguments commonly drawn from it, e.g. that Peter's confession in Matthew 16 proves papal supremacy. In this particular case, even were Peter to be positively identified with "the rock," there is still nothing in the text, or elsewhere in Scripture, which legitimizes a human apostolic succession through Peter, which is to reside in the church at Rome. With each of the other texts, the results are similar, viz. that the proponents of Tradition II and Tradition III find more in them than is warranted by an honest reading. All of the texts examined display no inconsistencies whatever with the mainstream teaching of the early church, Tradition I.

In critiquing the respective positions of the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, and the modern evangelical churches vis a vis sola scriptura, the author demonstrates the theological necessity of this doctrine. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox positions result in an autonomous church, which undermines the sovereign rule of our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover they are not only biblically unjustified, but also historically and theologically untenable. And while the evangelical adherents of Tradition 0, or "solo scriptura" (Scripture, to me), may believe that they are honoring the classical Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (Scripture alone), they are in fact making an indefensible travesty of it. By setting aside the legitimate authority of the Church under the keeping power of the Holy Spirit, and hence discarding any sense of a normative interpretation informed by a regula fidei as expressed in the ancient ecumenical creeds, they in effect make the individual autonomous. Rather than relying upon Scripture alone as the infallible authority, they are actually relying on their own fallible, subjective and relativistic interpretation, and thus the Church is plagued with division upon division. There is only one concept of authority which does not inexorably lead to improper autonomy and manifest absurdity: the position held by the early Church for centuries, which the magisterial reformers sought to revive under the banner of sola scriptura. The criticisms raised by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists against sola scriptura, are nearly all made against the Tradition 0 caricature of the doctrine, a very handy straw man indeed. There have been no objections of substance to the doctrine of sola scriptura set forth which are not also objections to the faith taught by the apostles and the early fathers.

In conclusion, the author reminds us that the Spirit of Christ our Head alone is the final arbiter of truth. The Holy Spirit speaks infallibly in Scripture, and also speaks through Christ's body, the Church, to whom He has given His own authority. The voice of the Church is authoritative, while it is in submission to the Holy Spirit in Scripture, but the Church, though having real authority, is fallible because her members are fallible men. The fact of the indwelling Holy Spirit, He who was sent to "lead into all the truth," alone can account for the broad unanimity among the churches on what is indeed canonical Scripture. The Church did not, as Rome claims, authorize what is Scripture and what is not, and therefore has authority over Scripture. The Holy Spirit, the divine author of Scripture, bears witness to His own revelation in the hearts and minds of God's people, whose one accord on the canon is clear evidence of His work. There is a wonderful and perhaps not easily explicable reciprocal relationship between Scripture, the Church and the regula fidei, the Creed. The Scripture testifies to the identity of the Church and the truth of the Creed. The Creed serves as an hermeneutical guide to Scripture and, and provides a means by which the true Church may be recognized. And the Church by the power of the indwelling Spirit bears witness to the voice of her Shepherd in her recognition of the canon, and her faithful confession of the Creed.
A Book Summary-  May 9, 2006
In his book The Shape Of Sola Scriptura Dr. Mathison has provided the church with a very helpful defense and explication of the biblical doctrine of sola scriptura. The author's conviction is that the Magisterial Reformer's understanding of the relationship between Scripture, tradition, and the Church is substantially correct. This understanding, coined sola scriptura, has been vigorously attacked from the Reformation onward. Recent exchanges of debate betrays confusion over the historical data, involve an abundance of theological rhetoric, and one often witnesses the employment of confusing, and contradictory, definitions of terms. Dr. Mathison provides a sober look at church history, brings clarity to the debate with carefully constructed definitions of tradition, and outlines a consistent doctrine of the authority of Scripture and how it should relate to tradition and the church. With these overarching concerns his book is divided into four, logically related parts. Part one surveys history from the apostolic church to the present, with a close eye on what the fathers believed about tradition and Scripture. In part two, the focus moves from history to Scripture itself, whereby he examines what Scripture has to say about itself, tradition and the church. In part three, the author critiques aberrant views, and he carefully defines sola scriptura. Objections and practical concerns for the church are taken up in part four. Each part shall be examined in turn.

Part one takes the reader on a journey through the halls of church history. Dr. Mathison believes that it is necessary to gain some historical perspective if one is going to understand the present debate over the authority of Scripture. The focus of the historical expedition revolves around the all too ambiguous term "tradition." Far too often individuals have framed the debate in terms Scripture vs. Tradition. However, the issue is not Scripture vs. Tradition, but rather, Scripture and what kind of tradition? With this in mind, Dr. Mathison surveys the patristic understanding of tradition and Scripture from the early church up to post-Reformation developments.

Taking up Heiko Oberman's terminology, Dr. Mathison begins to explore the early church's understanding of tradition. He contends that there is a remarkable scholarly consensus that the early church viewed Scripture and Tradition as completely coinherent and in no way mutually exclusive concepts. The concept of "tradition," as used by men ranging from Irenaeus to Tertullian to Cryil of Jerusalem simply referred to the designated body of doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ and His appointed apostles brought in to the church; whether written or verbal. This understanding of tradition is coined Tradition I. In addition to being a one-source understanding of revelation, the early church interpreted the Scriptures according to the regula fidei, which is the correct hermeneutical context for doctrinal understanding; the regula fidei is the faithful, parameter establishing interpretation of Scripture. The interpretation of the church does not add a second source of revelation to the scene.

It isn't until the 4th century, the transitional period, which we begin to see hints of a two-source understanding of tradition, which is termed Tradition II. The defining mark of Tradition II is that it is a concept of tradition that allows for an authoritative extra-biblical source of revelation. Men such as John Chrysostom and Augustine may have held to Tradition II, but ambiguities in their writings leave this question open to debate.

Turning to the Middle Ages, Dr. Mathison explores some of the political, ecclesiastical, and hermeneutical shifts occurring throughout the Western Church and Western Europe. He observes the seminal movements towards Papal infallibility in the canon lawyers of the 12th and 13th centuries. More importantly, he notes with irony that it is the Franciscans acting as controversialists over some monastic disputes that most influenced the rise of Papal infallibility. The introduction of The Sentences in addition to the Gloss served to further complicate the relationship between Scripture and tradition. However, a study of the Middle Ages reveals that the consensus of the early Church continued on, with many of the theologians upholding Tradition I. William Ockham would be a clear example to the contrary. He explicitly embraced a two-source theory of revelation, namely, Tradition II.

In the third chapter of part one, Dr. Mathison examines the lives Martin Luther and John Calvin as representative of the Reformed position. He seeks to demonstrate that these men did not invent a novel doctrine, but were in step with the church before them in denying the existence of an equally authoritative extra-biblical revelation. Moreover, these men asserted that the Scriptures were to be interpreted in and by the Church and that it should be interpreted in step with the regula fidei. In the face of a worldly and politically powerful Papacy battle lines were drawn with the Reformers and two positions polarized with Rome adhering to Tradition II and the Reformers upholding Tradition I.

With the Reformation came a radical Reformation. Certain Anabaptist thinkers, labeled as "radical Reformers" insisted that not only was Scripture the sole infallible authority, but that it is the sole authority altogether. The Church, the regula fidei, and the church fathers are viewed as irrelevant by these teachers. They adopted a "me and my Bible only" mentality. This viewpoint is given the category Tradition 0. Later on in 18th century America, Anabaptist individualism combined with Enlightenment rationalism and democratic populism lead to the acceptance of Tradition 0 as the staple position for most American Christians.

Rome answered the Reformers by assembling a council in 1545 entitled The Council of Trent. When the Council decreed that, "these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions," Rome officially adopted Tradition II as its dogma. However, Dr. Mathison points out that Rome has progressed beyond this two-source theory to what is termed Tradition III. The two ideas of living tradition and binding authority of the teaching office of the Church, combined with the dogmatic declarations of the Immaculate Conception and the bodily assumption of Mary, and the definition of papal infallibility have moved Rome from a two-source theory to a single-source position. But this one-source position is quite different than Tradition I. What we see is a single source of revelation present in the Roman Magisterium. One might say that whatever Rome says is the apostolic faith.

In part 2, Dr. Mathison turns from an examination of history to the Scriptures themselves and inspects the teachings of Scripture on Scripture, tradition and the Church. When he examines a few of the most commonly appealed to passages on Scripture and Tradition he finds that the Catholic apologist is either prone to read their position into the text, or the apologist simply mishandles the data. In terms of exegesis, Dr. Mathison argues that the biblical data best fits with a Tradition I understanding. When the author turns to Scripture on the Church he spends a good deal of time on the highly controversial Matthew 16 passage. He points out that the early church fathers were anything but united in their understanding of Matthew 16, a point one would surely expect to be clearly understood if Peter was the first Pope. Moreover, the typical lines of argumentation raised by Roman Catholic apologists, such as the name change of Peter, the meaning of "on this rock," and the giving of the keys to Peter, all require the Roman Catholic presupposition before hand. In other words, the Papacy must be held in an a prior fashion. On the whole, Dr. Mathison shows that the Roman Catholic cannot anchor their interpretations in Scripture, but must bring their concept to Scripture in a truly eisogetical manner.

Part III is primarily polemical. Dr. Mathison begins with a critique of Roman Catholicism. He examines the concept of Tradition as a complementary source of revelation alongside Scripture. He reminds his readers that the concept doesn't find support in the early church. He then turns to Hodge's Systematic Theology for an 8 point outline of major difficulties faced by the Roman Catholic concept of supplementary Tradition. Next, the author displays a host of Papal errors which disprove the notion of infallibility.

Regarding Eastern Orthodoxy, Dr. Mathison looks at the canon, the Ecumenical Councils, and the fathers from the Eastern Orthodox perspective, only to explain how their views either contradict history or fall prey to self-contradiction. In the case of both, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism compromise the Lordship of Jesus Christ by assuming the place of supreme authority.

Moving from ecclesiastical authority Dr. Mathison looks at solo scriptura which, he argues, inevitably leads to the ascendancy of individual autonomy. He laments the current landscape of Evangelicalism that is largely dominated by solo scriptura, and he then proceeds to critique the position in terms of its Scriptural, hermeneutical, historical, theological, and practical problems.

In the final section of part III we see a positive presentation of sola scriptura. It is here that we are presented with the fully developed and fully defined doctrine of sola scriptura. He emphasizes that Scripture must be confessed and defended as the only infallible, final, complete, and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice. Sola scriptura also teaches that Scripture is the sole source of revelation; and Scripture is to be interpreted in step with the regula fidei; and be interpreted in and by the Church of Jesus Christ.

In the final section, part four, the author takes on common rebuttals to sola scriptura. He answers a host of objections, giving special attention to the question of the canon. He notes over and over again that most of the objections brought against sola scriptura stem from a misunderstanding of the doctrine. Combatants fling their arguments against Tradition 0, but not Tradition I.

Recognizing that the question of the canon is thorny, Dr. Mathison dedicates a large portion of the discussion to this issue. He urges his opponents to remember that one can be fallible and make inerrant judgments. Building upon this, Dr. Mathison reminds his readers that the Jewish "church" was fallible, yet they managed to preserve the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore, God can infallibly preserve His Word through His fallible Church.

In his closing thoughts, Dr Mathison looks at some practical issues surrounding ecumenism and creeds. He calls on the visible church to unite under the ecumenical creeds, noting that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate criterion of truth, and that He bears witness to the truth through a reciprocal relationship between the Church, the inspired Scriptures, and the voice of Christian creed. The Scriptures point to the true Church. The message of Scripture is seen in the regula fidei. And the Creed provides the hermeneutical parameters for the Church's interpretation of Scripture.

In conclusion, Dr. Mathison has presented us with a fine piece of literature that is worthy of digestion. The Church has been given some much needed direction, for it has been given direction from that deposit of truth that has once and for all been delivered to the saints.
This book and Birth Control  Mar 2, 2005
Along with other things, this book helps to illustrate how the modern Protestant view of Sola Scriptura is the cause of its radical acceptance of birth control. For 1900 years the regula fidei spoke with one voice on this matter and it was only until about 1930 that things began to change, largely because of the false notion of sola Scriptura advocated by most, non-historically-minded Protestants.

From a Calvinist, not Catholic
Jason Walsh
Very Good  Dec 2, 2004
This work was quite helpful in developing my understanding of Sola Scriptura. Whether or not you agree with the doctrine, I think it's useful to read this book so discussions on the topic can be more informed and productive; instead of spending inordinate amounts of time defining the doctrine or correcting misconceptions of its classical definition, that valuable energy could be spent actually engaging it.

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