If you know anything about Protestant theology, you know that one of the most fundamental principles of that theology is Sola Scriptura, the idea that the Bible is the only completely trustworthy source of authority for Christian life and doctrine. Before I began studying Orthodoxy, I held tenaciously to Sola Scriptura (“Sola” for short), as do nearly all committed evangelicals. However, when I began to actually listen to arguments against Sola, rather than just dismissing them a priori, I found that they made sense. I was surprised at how quickly and completely I found myself abandoning Sola.
A few months ago, I was doing research on Scripture and Tradition for my upcoming book From Baptist to Bosnia to Byzantium, as well as for another book that I may or may not write in the future. In doing this, I re-read four of the books that had helped me along in my journey to Orthodoxy. Each of these books had an excellent chapter or two on Sola. All of the authors do a very good job of presenting one or two aspects of the argument against Sola, but none of them really covered the issue completely, at least in my opinion.
This is not intended to be a criticism of these books; after all, none of them are intended to provide a complete exposition of the Orthodox arguments against Sola. Each of the authors had a multitude of topics to discuss, and relatively little space in which to discuss them. Still, I wanted to have something more complete. So, I decided to write my own pamphlet on Sola.
After I had taken a good deal of notes, but before I actually began to write my pamphlet, I found something that made it unnecessary to continue my new project. I found an outstanding pamphlet on Sola that I had somehow missed when I had first began studying Orthodoxy. The pamphlet is 47 pages in length, and it is the best treatment of Sola that I have ever read. It is entitled Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology, and it is authored by my brother priest Fr. John Whiteford. I cannot recommend it highly enough. In my opinion, every Orthodox Christian in North America should get a copy of this pamphlet and study it, so that they can defend the Orthodox position on Scripture and Tradition against the objections of our evangelical friends, family, and colleagues. We should also keep an extra copy or two to loan to them.
Here is an excerpt from Fr. John’s fine introduction:
Protestants in search of theological sanity, of true worship, and of the ancient Christian Faith are practically beating on the doors of the Orthodox Church. They are no longer satisfied with the contradictions and faddishness of contemporary Protestant America. But when we Orthodox open the door to these inquirers, we must be prepared: these people have questions! Many of these inquirers are Protestant ministers, or are among the better-informed laymen. They are sincere seekers of Truth, but they have much to unlearn and it will require informed Orthodox Christians to help them work through these issues. Orthodox Christians must understand Protestants’ basic assumptions, but even more importantly, they must know what they believe themselves…Amen! Fr. John goes on to explain in detail exactly what Sola Scriptura means, and the manifold reasons why the Orthodox Church does not subscribe to it. By reading Fr. John’s pamphlet, you will become better informed, and I am confident that you will also be blessed. I know that I was!
Essentially all Protestant denominations believe that they rightly understand the Bible. And though they may disagree on what the Bible says, they generally do agree on how one is to interpret the Bible: on one’s own, apart from Church Tradition. If one can come to understand this belief, why it is wrong, and how one is rightly to approach the Holy Scriptures, then one can engage any Protestant of any denomination in a discussion of Orthodox Christianity with understanding (pp. 5-7).