Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – Lecture 5: The Reformation, Sola Scriptura and Tradition

Greg Strand – December 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will address the important topic of sola Scriptura and absoluta Scriptura, Scripture alone is the final and absolute authority, and how we move from Scripture to theology. As this is done, it is important to discern and assess how church history, historical theology and tradition are to be understood and aid in this process. The twin problems of Biblicism on the one side and traditionalism on the other has caused rifts and problems in the church of Jesus Christ. There is a place for and a way to move from the Bible to theology, with a consideration of tradition. Even though history or tradition does not serve a magisterial role, it does serve a ministerial role. And as a matter of fact, in practice all believers do this. Anytime we read Scripture and attempt to discern what it means with the goal of personally living out that truth, of applying it in our lives, we engage in this process. We desire to do it well, and to teach and model it well for the people of God.

The Reformation, Sola Scriptura and Tradition

One of the major rediscoveries and commitments of the Reformation was sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. This was not necessarily a novel idea, but the view that had generally been taught and accepted throughout history. The Reformers were fighting two battles regarding the doctrine of the Scriptures. On the one hand, they were responding to the notion of the authority of the Pope over against or as a competing authority to the Scriptures. On the other hand, they responded to the enthusiasts, those who wanted to elevate personal, subjective experience to have an authoritative role that compromised the authority of the Scriptures. Tradition played an important role in these debates. In fact, the Reformers used tradition to affirm the truth of sola Scriptura. This doctrine is not the same as solo scriptura or nuda scriptura, i.e., there are no other authorities. The key was that the Scriptures were the absolute authority. Evangelicals have not often treated history and tradition well. In this lecture, we will focus on sola Scriptura and the role tradition plays in our theology, with a twofold focus on what we learn from the Reformation in order to do theology and engage in theological discourse, and how we ought to respond to challenges to Scripture today.

Kevin has addressed this topic numerous times over the years. Here is a select list of a few of those important works (some he served as co-author, some as editor and the Four Views he contributed an essay).

First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002).

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005).

Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Influence Trends (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).

Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014).

Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015).

The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015).

Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016).

In Kevin’s most recent book, Biblical Authority After Babel, he addresses specifically the five solas of the Reformation. Last fall, at the EFCA Great Lakes District conference on the theme “The 5 Solas: Celebrating 500 Years,” he spoke on one of those solas, Sola Gratia.

Kevin has served on the TEDS faculty from 1986-90, from 1998-2009, and from 2012 to the present. What brought him back to TEDS most recently was his commitment to teach pastors for local church ministry, which is one of TEDS’s primary commitments and ministries as a theological educational institution. Kevin is the quintessential theologian, and is considered the premier contemporary evangelical systematic theologian. Kevin has served us in the past having spoken at our 2015 Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. As a fellow theologian, I am personally thankful for what I have learned and continue to learn from Kevin, both his speaking and writing. We are grateful he is able to join us at our Conference and that he will be addressing this important topic with us.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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