Following are a few excerpts which will give you an idea of Mathison’s treatment of the subject of Solo Scriptura:
“The twentieth century could, with some accuracy, be called a century of theological anarchy. Liberals and sectarians have long rejected outright many of the fundmanetal tenets of Christian orthodoxy. But more recently professing evangelical scholars have advocated revisionary versions of numerous doctrines. A revisionary doctrine of God has been advocated by proponents of “openness theology.” A revisionary doctrine of eschatology has been advocated by proponents of full-preterism. Revisionary doctrines of justification sola fide have been advocated by proponents of various “new perspectives” on Paul. Often the revisionists will claim to be restating a more classical view. Critics, however, have usually been quick to point out that the revisions are actually distortions.
Ironically, a similarly revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has arisen within Protestantism, but unlike the revisionist doctrine of sola fide, the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has caused very little controversy among the heirs of the Reformation. One of the reasons there has been much less controversy over the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura is that this doctrine has been gradually supplanting the Reformation doctrine for centuries. In fact, in many segments of the evangelical world, the revisionist doctrine is by far the predominant view now. Many claim that this revisionist doctrine is the Reformation doctrine. However, like the revisionist doctrines of sola fide, the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura is actually a distortion of the Reformation doctrine.”
“Part of the difficulty in understanding the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura is due to the fact that the historical debate is often framed simplistically in terms of “Scripture versus tradition.” Protestants are said to teach “Scripture alone,” while Roman Catholics are said to teach “Scripture plus tradition.” This, however, is not an accurate picture of the historical reality. The debate should actually be understood in terms of competing concepts of the relationship between Scripture and tradition, and there are more than two such concepts in the history of the church. In order to understand the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura we must understand the historical context more accurately.”
Here Mathison begins to summarize three views on the relationship between Scripture and tradition, borrowing clever labels from Heiko Oberman:
Tradition 1: “In the first three to four centuries of the church, the church fathers had taught a fairly consistent view of authority. The sole source of divine revelation and the authoritative doctrinal norm was understood to be the Old Testmanet together with the Apostolic doctrine, which itself had been put into writing in the New Testament. The Scripture was to be interpreted in and by the church within the context of the regula fidei (“rule of faith”), yet neighter the church nor the regula fidei were considered second supplementary sources of revelation. The church was the interpreter of the divine revelation in Scripture, and the regula fidei was the hermeneutical context, but only Scripture was the Word of God.”
Tradition 2: “The first hints of a two-source concept of tradition, a concept in which tradition is understood to be a second source of revelation that supplements biblical revelation, appeared in the fourth century in the writings of Basil and Augustine. . . It is not absolutely certain that either Basil or Augustine actually taught the two-source view, but the fact that it is hinted at in their writings ensured that it would eventually find a foothold in the Middle Ages. This would take time, however, for throughout most of the Middle Ages, the dominant view was Tradition1, the position of the early church. The beginnings of a strong movement toward Tradition 2 did not begin in earnest until the twelfth century.” Willaim of Ockham was one of the first medieval theologians to officially adopt this two-source view of revelation in the fourteenth century.
Mathison shows how the Reformation, in part, was a move back to “Tradition 1,” the view that Scripture was the sole source of divine revelation, to be interpreted by the church within the context of the regula fidei, the hermeneutical tradition, if you will.
“To summarize the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, or the Reformation doctrine of the relation between Scripture and tradition, we may say that Scripture is to be understood as the sole source of divine revelation; it is the only inspired, infallible, final and authoritative norm of faith and practice. It is to be interpreted in and by the church; and it is to be interpreted within the hermeneutical context of the rule of faith.”
I, myself, wrote on the Reformation of Tradition 2 once.
Now here’s where the trouble starts in relation to misunderstanding the idea of Sola Scriptura:
Tradition 0?: “At the same time the magisterial reformers were advocating a return to Tradition 1 (sola Scriptura), several radical reformers were calling for the rejection of both Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 and the adoption of a completely new understanding of Scripture and tradition. They argued that Scripture was not merely the only infallible authority but that it was the only authority altogether. The true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei were rejected altogether. According to this view, there is no real sense in which tradition has any authority. Instead, the individual believer requires nothing more than the Holy Spirit and the Bible.”
Is this beginning to sound familiar? I thought so.
Now, back to my own opinion, and application of these historical matters. It was the 1644 edition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith that complains that their movement is “commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptists.” Having adopted fully Reformed theology, including the doctrine of paedobaptism, when I compare how the Baptist tradition from its very inception, so completely embraced Reformed theology with the full scope of understanding of these doctrines in accord with “Tradition 1,” the ancient view that Scripture alone is divine revelation, to be interpreted within the traditional hermeneutic of the regula fidei. But then, when one examines the teaching of these otherwise Reformed Christians on baptism, hints of tendency toward “Tradition 0,” the Anabaptist view of the relationship between Scripture and tradition, begin to emerge.
This is what I meant by “The Baptist Version of Sola Scriptura.” I don’t “falsely” claim that Baptists are Anabaptists, I just think they took baby steps away from Reformation and toward Anabaptism on baptism (and maybe congregationalism?). That’s all. But rank and file Baptists, like many otherwise evangelical paedobaptists, have moved with the spirit of the age to embrace the modern revisionist tendency toward “Solo Scriptura.” And I think that’s a problem. Work must be, and is being, done to correct this problem here and there. That’s why I like to publicize the Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.