My Rating – Probably not worth your time
Level – moderate (having a little knowledge church history is helpful), medium to long (just under 400, but longer than needed, as it was a bit redundant).
If, based on the title and subtitle, you expected a book that mostly had a historical focus that placed itself in the time of the Reformation or a book that was mostly about the authority of the Bible, this is not the book you are looking for. More on why not in ‘My Thoughts’ below. The book is broken into three parts with three to four chapters in each. Part One is called ‘God’s Word Under Fire, Yesterday and Today’ which includes chapters on the Reformation, the modernist shift, and today ‘Crisis over Biblical Authority’ (which is mostly about inerrancy). Part Two is called ‘God’s Word in Redemptive History’, there are also three chapters and they go through the redemptive history of the Bible – these chapters have much of the internal apologetics you would expect to find in a book like this. Part Three, ‘The Character of God’s Word and Contemporary Challenges’, is four chapters – Inspiration, Inerrancy, Clarity, and the Sufficiency of Scripture. There is also an intro and conclusion, as well as a ‘series notes’ (this is book one of five on the Solas published at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation), and a forward.
This is probably the most mixed review I’ve ever written. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this book, nothing I would particularly disagree with (perhaps with the exception of a possible implication that you are not a Christian if you do not believe in inerrancy – as defined by certain people). However, this book really is a missed opportunity. Barret is a great writer and I’ve heard him in a few interviews, and always really like what he has to say. Part of my excitement for this series was based on him being the series editor. That being said, I can’t really recommend this book. The main issue being so much of the focus was on inerrancy. If you cut 100 pages of inerrancy discussion out of this, it would still be longer than any of the other four books in the series. The fact that Mohler wrote the forward should have made me aware what the real focus would be. Not that I disagree with inerrancy, per se, but if the you are going to make a book in a series longer than two others (Grace, and Glory of God) combined, it should really focus on Authority, which was the main issue during the Reformation.
Inerrancy certainty matters, but I was expecting a book on the authority of Scripture, especially as it related to the Reformation. Of course, the view of inerrancy in this book is based on the Chicago Statement, which is often interpreted in extremes, being at once so narrow as to seemingly be an argument for the inerrancy of particular interpretation, or qualified and excused to be so broad as to be meaningless. I can’t be the only person who is tired of the Evangelical obsession with Chicago Statement inerrancy. Go read Five Views on Inerrancy , if you are unsure what I’m talking about (I’ve also written a longer post, On Inerrancy, if you have time).
That being said, Chapter 1, ‘The Road to the Reformation’, and Chapter 10, on sufficiency of Scripture, are great. I’d recommend everyone read them. I also really appreciated Chapter 2, ‘The Modern Shift in Authority’, which dove into our time since the Enlightenment and the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy. I think that chapter is a value addition to the historical point of authority, as during the Reformation the issues was Scripture vs. Scripture plus Tradition/Councils, whereas now it is more of Scripture (or even Scripture plus) vs myself (self being the ultimate authority in modern life). He also does a good job throughout the book pointing out that Scripture alone does not mean only scripture, which I think is another important modern concern (as we so often in the American Evangelical streams are anti-intellectual and will often reject creeds and catechisms).
Part two of the book was a little odd. It was well written and a great mini-study on redemptive history, but it didn’t really feel like it fit very well. Finally, Part 3 was what you would expect in this book, outside of more historical notes/narrative. I think there is an odd contradiction made in the sufficiency chapter vs the inerrancy, in that we are seemingly alright with one’s focus being only on spiritual matters while rejecting the idea that it wouldn’t be narrowed in another. The clarity chapter did well in pointing to the nuance in understanding scripture, maybe the best I’ve seen it handled. Inspiration was also well written, but I can see the critiques that we are arguing a circular logic in that we believe the Bible is true because it says it is. It might have been nice to see some more apologetics on the trustworthiness of Scripture.
Ultimately, the book fails in what is seemingly its purpose, to argue for the authority of Scripture. One of the reasons I mentioned above that Part Two didn’t seem to fit, is because there are many people who would wholeheartedly agree with everything written in this part, but they play little role in authority, with the exception of the last chapter, on Christ. Similarly, there are many who believe in inerrancy, yet not authority. Most Catholics believe that the Bible is the word of God, yet not the ultimate authority, as do many modernist or Mainline Christians who put their experience over and above Scripture (sometimes without even realizing it). This obsession with arguing the nuances of Chicago Statement inerrancy is really an intra-conservative (possibly, broadly reformed) protestant disagreement. In the grand scheme of life, this is a small segment, and we continue to ignore everyone outside at our own peril. While the book is good, it is mostly an apologetic for inerrancy, narrowly define, with some quality historical notes and other attributes of scripture discussed alongside. So, if you are looking for a book on Sola Scriptura that focuses on the authority of Scripture, this book is probably not worth your time.