Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine

Derek Thomas Articles

This book contains a collection of essays on the doctrine of Scripture (covering almost a quarter century of material from 1974 to1996) all of which add light and justification to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978 made by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI, Sproul served as a participating member). Few in our time could have written this book with such immediate authority as R. C. Sproul, a name now synonymous with the solas of the Reformation, sola Scriptura being, according to Melancthon, its "formal cause." The effect of the Chicago Statement has been and continues to be decisive. Publishing companies, seminaries denominations, leading theologians-all of these are judged by their adherence to the term "inerrancy."

Of the making of books...

A small forest has been utilized in the baking of books commenting in way or another on the Chicago declaration on inerrancy, including some closely associated with Reformation21's genetic history. James Montgomery Boice edited The Foundations of Biblical Authority (Zondervan) in 1978, the first of ICBI volume of substance. A small booklet by the same author, Does Inerrancy Matter?, quickly followed the following year. Mention ought also be made of another volume by Boice first published in 1984, Standing on the Rock: Upholding Biblical Authority in a Secular Age (Baker and subsequently, Kregel 1994).

1979 also saw the publication of Can We Trust the Bible? edited by Earl Radmacker, also an ICBI collaboration and containing sermons from the ICBI summit in 1978 (Boice's volume contained six papers delivered at this same summit). Norman Geisler edited a volume called Inerrancy a year later which contained some further papers from a previous ICBI summit and R. C. Sproul published a brief commentary on the Chicago Statement in 1980 called Explaining Inerrancy (republished again in 1996 by Ligonier Ministries) and is now Part 2 of this work under review here. That inerrancy became the litmus test by which seminary faculty were evaluated (and judged) is clearly seen by the publication of Inerrancy and Common Sense (in 1980 and edited by Roger Nicole and J. Ramsey Michaels), a festschrift in honor of Harold J. Ockenga and wriiten largely by faculty members of Gordon-Conwell. Three years later (1983) saw the publication of Scripture and Truth (Zondervan), edited by D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. This volume, together with a companion volume published in 1986, Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon, is still considered by many to be of superior quality and usefulness.

Others have entered into the debate, including: Ronald Youngblood, ed., Evangelicals and Inerrancy (Nelson, 1984); Earl Radmacker and Robert Preus, eds., Hermeneutics, Inerrancy and the Bible (Zondervan, 1984); John Hannah, ed., Inerrancy and the Church (Moody, 1984); Kenneth Kantzer, ed., Applying the Scriptures (Zondervan, 1987); Harvie Conn, ed., Inerrancy and Hermeneutic (Baker, 1988); Kenneth Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry, eds., Evangelical Affirmations (Zondervan, 1990); as well as the immensely significant and formative writings of J. I. Packer, including, Beyond the Battle for the Bible (Crossway).

Two other writers deserve mention here: Carl F. H. Henry's 6-volume series God, Revelation and Authority (Word 1976-1983; rpt. Crossway, 1999) and David Wells' No Place for Truth, or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (Eerdmans, 1993) in both of which the ramifications of inerrancy are considered.

More recently, three volumes deserve mention: Paul Helm & Carl Trueman, eds., The Trustworthiness of God: Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture (IVP, 2002); Don Kistler (Ed.) Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible (1995) with contributions by Robert Godfrey, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur and others, and Keith A. Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001).

At some crucial points, Sproul guides us carefully and assuredly through perilous waters. He is not ashamed to be called an "inerrantist," and this book urges that we follow him. As in all things, definition and clarity is vital and Sproul's methodical explanations (what inerrancy means, what it does not mean) has the sure touch of someone is "comfortable" with the language of inerrancy. Inerrancy means total trustworthiness because of its source-God as author (thus, Sproul's closing sentence, "We affirm that what Scripture says, God says" p. 193). It is this belief that keeps us on track amidst the exigencies of uncertainty aroused by postmodernism. Inerrancy safeguards meaning. It commits us to a method of grammatical-historical exegesis and ensures that in the process no one text can contradict another (since one at least of any two contradictory statements must be false). Thus, hermeneutical clarity can only be maintained by affirming inerrancy. Belief in biblical inerrancy - confidence, that is, that what Scripture says, God says, and reverent refusal to allow that God ever misinforms or misleads us - is thus integral to authentic Christianity; just as it was universal in the church until about two centuries ago.

Without inerrancy, biblical inspiration becomes problematic (chapter 7). Either you must redefine it to mean less than the divine origin and consequent truthfulness which for Jesus and the apostles was axiomatic (this has been the course recommended by James Barr and others for a quarter century now) or a way of distinguishing within the text what is inspired and what is not must be found (limited inerrancy and canonical reductionism). In either case, this is not Jesus' method-a point Sproul makes with ringing clarity (pp. 163-166).

Some may have laid more stress on Scripture's self-authenticating quality (Calvin's autopistos) and less on a more "classical" method of proving Scripture's authority (pp.72ff). But then its Sproul-ic qualities would be missing!

A classic book by a masterful preacher-theologian of our times! It needs to be on every minister's desk and every church book-table. And it's viewpoint deserves trumpeting throughout the evangelical church as an earnest plea for the recovery of the health of the church in the twenty-first century.

[Readers may want to go here for an Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Commentary on the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy]

R.C. Sproul - Phillipsburg, P&R, 2005
Review by Derek Thomas