GOD'S WORD ALONE
The Authority of Scripture
Historians and theologians alike have long recognized that at the heart of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation were five declarations (or “solas”) that distinguished the movement from other expressions of the Christian faith.
Five hundred years later, we live in a different time with fresh challenges to our faith. Yet these rallying cries of the Reformation continue to speak to us, addressing a wide range of contemporary issues. The Five Solas series will help you understand the historical and biblical context of the five solas and how to live out the relevance of Reformation theology today.
In God’s Word Alone—The Authority of Scripture, scholar and pastor Matthew Barrett looks at the historical and biblical roots of the doctrine that Scripture alone is the final and decisive authority for God’s people. He examines the development of this theme in the Reformation and traces the crisis that followed resulting in a shift away from the authority of Scripture. Barrett shows that we need to recover a robust doctrine of Scripture’s authority in the face of today’s challenges and why a solid doctrinal foundation built on God’s Word is the best hope for the future of the church.
Introduction: Sola Scriptura
Part 1: God’s Word under Fire, Yesterday and Today
- The Road to Reformation: Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth Century
- The Modern Shift in Authority: The Enlightenment, Liberalism, and Liberalism’s Nemeses
- Today’s Crisis over Biblical Authority: Evangelicalism’s Apologetic and the Postmodern Turn
Part 2: God’s Word in Redemptive History
- God’s Word in the Economy of the Gospel: Covenant, Trinity, and the Necessity of a Saving Word
- God Speaks Covenantal Words: Creation, Fall, and the Longing for a Better Word
- God’s Covenantal Word Proves True: Christ, the Word Made Flesh
Part 3: The Character of God’s Word and Contemporary Challenges
- God Speaks with Authority: The Inspiration of Scripture
- God Speaks Truthfully: The Inerrancy of Scripture
- God Speaks to Be Heard: The Clarity of Scripture
- God’s Speech Is Enough: The Sufficiency of Scripture
Conclusion: Always Reforming according to the Word of God
This book—what a feast! Appetizing opening chapters recount how the Bible’s authority came to be trashed in the modern West, even in many church circles. Then comes the main course: how God’s saving work and presence have always intertwined with his written Word. Lastly, dessert: tasty slices of Scripture’s truth, clarity, and sufficiency. A world awash in error and self-destruction cries out for meaning and direction. This book shows why skepticism of Scripture is a bad idea, and why devoting ourselves to studying, living, and spreading the Word of God written—inspired, inerrant, and authoritative—holds such promise, for this world and the next.
Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri
God’s Word Alone is both a fitting tribute to its Reformation sola namesake and a constructive contribution to the doctrine of Scripture in its own right. Sola Scriptura has become something of a whipping concept in contemporary theology, but Barrett’s book goes a long way to correcting modern and postmodern caricatures of the doctrine. I particularly appreciated the chapters on the Reformers’ own understanding of Scripture as the supreme and final authority for the church and how this is rooted in its being the only wholly reliable authority, a consequence of its nature as divinely authored and inspired. Barrett here covers all the theological bases—biblical, historical, and systematic—as one might expect of a home run.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Perhaps the greatest crisis in the evangelical world today is the loss of any meaningful commitment to the functional authority of Scripture. While lip service is paid to biblical “inspiration” and perhaps even some sense of the Bible’s “infallibility,” the final, functional authority of inerrant Scripture to govern both our beliefs and behavior has gradually disappeared. This alone makes Matthew Barrett’s book on sola Scriptura so essential to the church in our day. If the Bible, and the Bible alone, isn’t our final and determinative authority, the church will have lost its bearings and be cast hopelessly adrift on the sea of personal subjectivity. It is a massive understatement to say this book is much needed today. I cannot recommend it too highly.
Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, OK
The 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing the ninety-five theses to the door of the chapel of the Wittenberg Castle provides an eminently suitable occasion to remind ourselves of one of the five solas of the Reformation: sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone.” Matthew Barrett takes his readers through some of the controversies surrounding the Bible that have arisen across this last half millennium and competently demonstrates the relevance of the doctrine of Scripture in our day. In the final analysis, the issue is revelation: What is the locus of God’s gracious self-disclosure—God generously giving up his privacy, as Carl Henry used to say?
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Matthew Barrett’s God’s Word Alone is a comprehensive discussion of the nature and role of Scripture. He deals with the church’s historical controversies, especially during the Reformation period, with the place of God’s speech during the history of redemption, and with all the topics of current discussion including inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency. Barrett’s knowledge is very broad and his position thoroughly biblical. I pray that God will give it a wide distribution.
John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando
The Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura teaches that the Bible is the only infallible and sufficient rule for Christian faith and practice. Matthew Barrett’s new study provides persuasive evidence that this doctrine is firmly rooted not only in the Reformation but in the early church and in Scripture itself. In very readable prose, Barrett graciously provides thoughtful and nuanced responses to the objections of critics of this doctrine. Moreover, he demonstrates that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has resided as a central teaching of the Western churches since the patristic era. This is a welcomed and much-needed resource for Christians in a day in which much confusion exists regarding the doctrines of sola Scriptura and biblical inerrancy. For this reason, the volume belongs in the libraries not only of teachers, seminary students, and pastors but laypersons as well. Highly recommended.
John D. Woodbridge, Research Professor of Church History and Christian Thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois
Matthew Barrett’s book on the authority of Scripture is a welcome addition to the growing number of recent books on Scripture. I loved the richly theological texture of the book. From beginning to end we are treated to a deep and careful reflection on what is entailed in the recognition of Scripture as the Word of God written. The Bible’s own teaching rightly has a prominent place. The teaching of the Reformers is appropriately a particular interest, given the series in which this volume appears. Modern and postmodern challenges, and the detailed, informed responses that have been made to them, are given due attention. Yet Barrett keeps drawing the lines of connection to the person and character of the God whose word Scripture is. Assaults on the Word of God go back to the garden of Eden. Ultimately they each involve an assault upon the person, character, and purpose of God even when this is not the conscious intent of those involved. Here is an articulate, informed, edifying, and persuasive account of why the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura should be taught, celebrated, and defended—not only against those who would deny it but also against those who claim to hold it while perhaps defining it in a way that unwittingly exalts the individual (“Scripture alone” doesn’t mean “me alone”). I expect to be recommending this book often.
Mark D Thompson, Principal, Moore Theological College, Sydney
Without belief in Scripture alone as our supreme and trustworthy authority, the very faith of the church must totter. Dr. Barrett has mounted an impressive defence of the key Reformation doctrine of Scripture, demonstrating just how vital it remains today. This book will do great good in grounding the faith of a new generation.
Michael Reeves, President and Professor of Theology, Union School of Theology, Oxford, England
Sometimes the doctrine of Scripture is treated as separate from the other doctrines of Christianity—as a sort of preamble to the faith. Helpfully, Barrett draws in the Bible’s own Trinitarian, covenantal, and salvation-historical themes to offer a persuasive alternative to various attempts to evade scriptural authority. It’s an argument, to be sure, but also an edifying essay that helps us to understand what we’re doing when we submit our reason to God’s judging and saving speech.
Michael Horton, J. G. Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; author of The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way
I welcome this fresh study of the formal principle of the Reformation—the belief that God’s written Word is the inspired norm by which all other religious authorities and traditions must be judged. Evangelicals are gospel people and Bible people, and this book shows why adherence to the latter is crucial for the advance of the former.
Timothy George, founding dean, Beeson Divinity School of Samford University; general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture
On the foundation of a careful examination of the confession of biblical authority and challenges to that confession from the Reformation through postmodern debates within evangelical circles, Barrett’s work sets for a nuanced proposal for the utterly reliable, error-free Scriptures which center on God’s coming to earth as Jesus Christ. Barrett’s Trinitarian presentation of the metanarrative from creation in Genesis to the last day in Revelation offers readers useful patterns for presenting and applying the Bible and its message within the twenty-first-century context.
Robert Kolb, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri
Every generation must think afresh what the foundations of its faith are. The Bible is the unchanging Word of God, but our perceptions of its role and relevance deepen as we confront new challenges that our mission to the world throws up. In this clearly presented and closely argued book, Dr. Barrett takes us through the main issues of our time, showing how and why they have arisen and offering ways and means by which they may be addressed. This is a key work and a valuable resource for pastors, teachers, and students alike.
Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University