"While the ballroom sessions of the first day of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting had more attendees, no session was as packed as J.P. Moreland’s “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.” While the average breakout session seems to be attended by fewer than 50 people, easily more than 200 packed the room to hear Moreland’s talk, with dozens standing and more listening outside the door.The title of this interesting blog posting by Ted Olsen from Christianity Today caught my eye. As a member of a denomination that has its roots in the Reformation, I know that Scripture is a key revelation of God. As an elder I have already publicly affirmed that I believe that "... the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments [are], by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to [me]."
It’s little wonder why so many people attended. ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture. The first part has not been controversial of late, but the second was the focus of the society’s recent fight over open theism and was named as a reason why Francis Beckwith could not remain as ETS president after his conversion to Roman Catholicism.
In short, to accuse evangelicals of over-commitment to the Bible at ETS would be like accusing environmentalists of talking too much about climate change at a Sierra Club meeting. But Moreland, who has gained some prominence as a philosopher and apologist, wasn’t pulling any punches. ..."
So, having heard from a variety of sources in and out of the PC(USA) that the Scriptures are inherently the words of humans, and thus not to be taken as "gospel", I had to wonder if we were going to see a debate within evangelical circles as to whether or not the Scriptures are the standard that has brought the Church intact through nearly 2000 years of pressure and persecution. (I should note unequivocally that the PC(USA) in its confessions stands clearly with the Reformation, and thus I consider my denomination to be squarely within the Evangelical tradition.)
So what was Moreland driving at in his presentation? Well, he holds that there is truth to be learned outside Scripture (to indulge in, perhaps, an oversimplification. He makes a good case, using archaeology as a vehicle for showing how the Bible can point us in a particular direction, but the observations on the ground can add much to the accounts in Scripture. The point here is that one cannot limit oneself to searching for truth only in scripture, and I have to agree.
I also concede that there are difficult passages such as First Samuel 6:19, where different translations, using different textual sources come up with a different numbers. Did the Lord strike down 70 men or 50,070 men? Does it really make a difference theologically?
Olsen quotes Moreland as suggesting that, when faced with trying to engage secularism, evangelicals retreated into "private language games and increasingly detailed minutiae" instead of coming to grips with the world outside Scripture. This, in many ways, echoes Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in which Noll details the rise and fall of intellectual evangelicism.
All in all, I don't see anything here that threatens a good reformed understanding of Scripture. The search for truth can take us down many roads, but the Scriptures remain the standard by which all truth is measured. I will still be suspicious of any purported truth that requires me to reject any portion of Scripture, but I will always be willing to engage in discussion about how to interpret Scripture.
And that is what sola scriptura means to me.