In commemoration of the Reformation's 500th Anniversary, Willem J. Ouweneel offers a few words on Sola Scriptura from his upcoming book, The World is Christ's.
The Reformation entailed the rediscovery of the sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone,” in all matters of Christian doctrine and Christian practice. Protestants recognize many authorities above them—parents, elders, magistrates—but each of these authorities is seen as subordinate to the Scriptures. Indeed, the main discovery of the Reformation was the insight that Scripture has divine authority over the entire human life, both individually and societally—not only over the domain of grace (the sacred realm), but also over that of nature (the secular realm). Total natural depravity demands a total redemption of the person, and hence also a total reformation of human life and society under the guidance of God’s Word and Spirit.
The natural awareness of God was no longer viewed as depending upon scholastic proofs of God but as a deep, inner consciousness (sensus divinitatis)—in the heart, not in the ratio (reason)—of God beyond us, although this consciousness was corrupted by sin. This implied a rejection of natural theology. In this way, the Reformation gave its own revolutionary answer to the medieval problem of authority in matters of faith. The answers are no longer viewed as depending on a more or less autonomous ratio (contra the earlier and later rationalists and humanists), nor on the authority of “the” church (contra Roman Catholics, including the Counter-Reformation), nor on the mystical experience of one’s own soul (contra the medieval, but also the later Catholic as well as Protestant mystics), but only on Scripture. This was thought to be true not only for theological issues but for all matters of life and society.
Willem Ouweneel, The World is Christ’s: A Critique of Two Kingdoms Theology (forthcoming from Ezra Press, 2017).
- The term comes from Calvin, Institutes 1.3.1.