Zondervan has now made available R. Albert Mohler’s Foreword to Matthew Barrett’s new book, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, which is part of The 5 Solas Series, also edited by Matthew Barrett.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has been recognized by such influential publications as Time and Christianity Today as a leader among American evangelicals. He is the author of several books, including Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (Multnomah); Desire & Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance (Multnomah); Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists (Crossway); He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Moody); The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness (Multnomah); and Words From the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments (Moody).
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I am tremendously grateful for the literature that faithful Protestant and evangelical scholars are producing that advances the great truths recovered by Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers. We must always remember that what was at stake in the Reformation was nothing less than the authority of Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many historians note that two driving principles served as the engine to Reformation theology. The material principle of the Reformation was sola fide—the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This central emphasis in Luther’s theology was not only the truth of the gospel that liberated him from perpetual guilt and “swung open the gates of heaven” but it was also the public rally point for the Reformation. The truth that sinful man could be justified by faith alone, apart from works of the law and apart from the sacramental system of Rome, ignited the firestorm of the Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe.
Yet behind this “material principle” of the Reformation was a deeper and perhaps even more fundamental commitment—sola Scriptura, or the affirmation that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority for life and doctrine. Historians refer to sola Scriptura as the formal principle of the Reformation, the doctrine that shaped the contours of Reformation conviction. It was this commitment to the ultimate authority of Scripture that gave the Reformers the courage to separate with Rome in their proclamation of the gospel.
True Christianity and true gospel preaching depend on a firm commitment to the authority of Scripture. That is why, since the time of the Reformation, the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture have been under constant attack. In the Enlightenment, modernist philosophers like Descartes, Locke, and Kant confronted Western culture with a series of questions that ultimately transformed the notion of truth in the Western mind. The result was a totalitarian imposition of the scientific model of rationality upon all truth, the claim that only scientific data can be objectively understood, objectively defined, and objectively defended. In other words, the modernist worldview did not allow for the notion of special revelation and openly attacked the possibility of supernatural intervention in world history. Modernity thus presented the church of the Lord Jesus Christ with a significant intellectual crisis.
In the United States, there was a quintessentially American philosophy that developed, known as pragmatism, that also challenged the ultimate authority and truthfulness of Scripture. Pragmatism was the idea that truth is a matter of social negotiation and that ideas are merely instrumental tools whose truthfulness will be determined by whether they meet the particular needs of the present time. In the eyes of the pragmatists, ideas were nothing but provisional responses to actual challenges, and truth, by definition, was relative to the time, place, need, and person.
As most of us are aware, modernity has given way to postmodernity, which is simply modernity in its latest guise. Postmodernism is nothing more than the logical extension of modernism in a new mood. Claiming that all notions of truth are socially constructed, postmodernists are committed to total war on truth itself, a deconstructionist project bent on the casting down of all religious, philosophical, political, and cultural authorities. A postmodernist ahead of his times, Karl Marx warned that in the light of modernity, “all that is solid melts into air.”
The only way to escape the rationalist claims of modernism or the hermeneutical nihilism of postmodernism is the doctrine of revelation—a return to the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Christians must remember that in the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture bequeathed to us by the Reformers, we can have confidence in God’s Word in spite of the philosophical and theological problems of the age. God has spoken to us in a reasonable way, in language we can understand, and has given us the gift of revelation, which is his willful disclosure of himself. As Carl F. H. Henry stated, special revelation is nothing less than God’s own forfeiture of his personal privacy so that we might know him.
Indeed, the war against the authority and truth of Scripture has been raging since the Reformation and has continued into our own generation. Back in 1990, theologian J. I. Packer recounted what he called a “Thirty Years’ War” over the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. He traced his involvement in this war in its American context back to a conference held in Wenham, Massachusetts in 1966, when he confronted some professors from evangelical institutions who “now declined to affirm the full truth of Scripture.” That was fifty years ago, and the war over the truthfulness of the Bible is still not over—not by a long shot.
As Evangelicals, we must recognize that as the theological heirs of the Reformers, we cannot capitulate to revisionist models of the doctrine of Scripture. An affirmation of the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible has stood at the center of the Reformed faith since the sixteenth century. We are those who confess along with the Reformers that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. Scripture alone is the ultimate authority for life and doctrine. In a sense, Reformed theology hangs on the accuracy of that singular proposition.
The theology of the Reformation cannot long survive without the church’s explicit commitment to the authority of Scripture above all else. Without the authority of Scripture, our theological convictions are merely conjectures and our preaching becomes nothing more than a display of human folly. As the Reformers understood and taught, sola Scriptura is vital for the life of the church. Scripture is the fount from which flows all faithful preaching, discipleship, and worship.
Matthew Barrett’s God’s Word Alone is a faithful restatement of the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura. Barrett carefully and compellingly argues for the divine inspiration and ultimate authority of Scripture. Barrett also shows that Scripture claims for itself the attributes of inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency. He does all of this with careful attention to the modern theological challenges that have attempted to overthrow a biblical doctrine of Scripture. This is the type of book of which the Reformers would have been proud. This is the type of book the church needs today.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, my hope is that the theology of the Reformers finds new life in the modern church. The health of the church is directly connected to the strength of our commitment to the authority and truthfulness of Scripture. Let this book fuel that commitment, strengthen your confidence in God’s Word, and compel you to be faithful to the gospel.