I. Difference in Theology
When reading the works of both Bell and Luther it seems that there is a clear distinction between the two. Although a multitude of major differences exists between Bell and Luther, looking at one of the major doctrines will be sufficient to reveal that there is no theological unity amongst them. The five solas of the Reformation are “Scripture alone,” “God’s glory alone,” “Christ’s work alone,” “grace alone,” and “faith alone.” To be a part of this “movement” Bell would need to believe all these core doctrines. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that when addressed will show the differences between Luther and Bell. Luther’s reformation was against the Roman Catholic Church. And to be a part of this Reformation or as Bell puts it, “tradition” one must stand firm on the same core doctrine that had started it all. The question would be if Rob Bell believes in Scripture alone as a core doctrine.
II. A History Overview of the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura means “by Scripture alone.” It is the belief that the Bible is the Word of God and is clear to any reader. Scripture interprets Scripture and it is the sole source of Christian doctrine. Luther above all other theologians during the Reformation and today is known for standing firm on this doctrine. But Luther did not repaint this doctrine of Sola Scriptura but restored it back to its proper doctrine. Although Luther in the sixteenth century was first to bring the doctrine to the forefront, the apostolic and early church fathers held to the same doctrine. The apostolic fathers saw Scripture as their authority because they sat under the feet of the apostles and their writings. Keith Mathison states, “Scripture and tradition were co-inherent concepts.”
[1] The apostolic fathers would have not seen a difference in their doctrines because they were strictly all from the apostles and their writings. They did not need a systematic doctrine of Scripture alone, for they already believed in Scripture alone, for that is where their practices came from. During the second and third centuries the church fathers, mainly Irenaeus, fought for the correct view of Scripture and their traditions at the time against the Gnostics.[2] Also in the second century Clement of Alexandria wrote a letter called the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria. In chapters 16 and 17 of this letter Clement defends the absolute authority Scripture has over everything. In addition, men such as Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Athanasius, Hillary of Poitiers, and Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and Augustine all believed in the authority of Scripture and that Scripture was the only authority to be given in the life of the Christian faith.[3]
During the Middle-Ages when the development of the papacy had taken over, the need for Scripture declined. Between A. D. 500-1000 the popes and their councils replaced the authority of Scripture. Around A.D. 1300, the doctrine of the papal infallibility was in place, for there was no reason to have Scripture when people believed that the pope could tell them all they needed. With the late Middle Ages, scholasticism and humanism brought a whole new way of looking at Scripture. In the first 500 years of church history, the church was the sole truth of faith for it interpreted the Scripture. Now men like Thomas Aquinas and Duna Scotus began a new way of looking at Scripture. Their view differed in that they relied on extra-scriptural sources of revelation as equal and as authoritative as the Scriptures. This made a number of changes in the late 1300’s to many different areas for the church and empire.
As Scripture’s role changed during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s fight was to bring it back to its authority in the Christian faith. His intent was not to repaint the faith. Luther’s first hint of restoring the church’s view of Scripture was stated at the Diet of Worms, when he says:
Since the Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simply reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Luther would not die for anything but what he believed to be true in the Word of God. Luther as well as standing firm in his belief stood firm on restoring the Christian Church and reforming it back to its rightful state. Luther wanted to echo that which the ancient church had stood so strongly for. The 1500’s would become the time of this well-known doctrine. During the next 300 years Scripture was seen as the final authority, and not many questions arose.
Since the Reformation the doctrine of Sola Scriptura has been more heavily debated than ever before. The Enlightenment in the late 1800’s brought a philosopher mind-set and led to attacks of the revelation of Scripture. Then with the modern mind-set in America and movements like higher-criticism, people continued questioning what exactly was true in Scripture. In post-modern times we have individuals even asking what “truth” is because many people have been influences by these ideas or lines of thinking. Today’s postmodern culture has led to everyone’s own personal definition of truth. Exactly when the doctrine of Scripture alone came to be an actual doctrine in the churches can be argued. However, the importance is not when the doctrine came in to the church or not when someone repainted the view of Scripture but that Sola Scriptura has actually been a part of the Christian church since its origins.
[1] Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow: Canon Press, 2001), .21.
[2] Mathison, The Shape of Sola, 22-24.
[3] Mathison, The Shape of Sola, 19-48.
[4] Mathison, The Shape of Sola, 95.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s