Robert Webber 1

Robert Webber’s comments in Listening to the Beliefs of the Emergent Church lead me to take a book by him off my shelf which had been there for a few years: Ancient-Future Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999). I looked back through my underlinings and dog-ears to find some quotes. Several came to mind. One is on page 177:

The debate of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries paved the way for the Reformers who chose the doctrine of sola scriptura. The Reformers pulled Scripture away from the church, separated it from tradition, set it over against popes and councils, and made it stand on its own.

I question whether the Reformers pulled the Bible away from church tradition. It is more likely that they returned to the original interpretations of Scriptural authority held by the Early Church Fathers. Keith Mathison in his excellent book The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, Indiana: Canon Press, 2001) shows that the interpretation of the early church on Scriptural authority (what Webber rightly refers to this as “The Rule of Faith”) did not contradict the Apostles. When tradition and Scripture agreed, there was no need to reconcile them. To quote Mathison from page 150-151:

Scripture is the sole infallible authority and the sole source of revelation, but it must be interpreted in and by the Church within the hermeneutical boundaries of the rule of faith (Christian orthodoxy – as defined for example in the Nicene Creed). A doctrine of scriptural authority separated form its apostolic ecclesiastical [having to do with the church of the apostles] and hermeneutical [method of interpretation of the Bible] context is neither Reformational nor Christian…The New Testament was the “inscripturisation” of the
apostolic proclamation, and it together with the Old Testament was the sole source of revelation and the only doctrinal norm…

What about tradition’s authority? Returning to Weber, page 177:

However, the Reformers began another cycle of tradition within their churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican) in which the Reformers themselves were viewed as authoritative interpreters of Scripture. Each Reformation tradition was marked by a particular confession that functioned in an authoritative consensus on the teaching of Scripture…

The confessions of the Reformation are of a different character than described by Webber. Some quotes from the major confessions of the Reformation follow.

This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. This being the case, they judge harshly who insist that our teachers be regarded as heretics.

The Augsburg Confession, Article 21, 5

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

The Westminster Confession, Chapter 1, 10
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, Article 6

How can confessions to be set up as an “authoritative consensus” as Weber states when the confessions themselves state that the Scriptures are the authority? It is also worthy of note that the Augsburg Confession cites church tradition as well (It is rightly said of Luther that he was more catholic than Rome). I learned of the Early Church Fathers when I read about them in John Calvin’s Commentaries. He cites them often.

It is a wrong approach to ignore the opinions of those who have gone before us. It is a wrong approach to ignore the opinions of experts in the filed of Biblical interpretation. It is wrong to rest authority in a modern church’s or group’s consensus on the issues at hand. It is wrong to ascribe infallibility, or freedom from error, to any source other than the Scriptures themselves.


L P Cruz said...


Thanks for the Weber inter action, I really did not know about him until I heard about his influence on evangelia in the news.

J. K. Jones said...

You are welcome.

Weber writes well, makes some good points about worship style, but gets off base in some areas.

I understand he has passed away (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/aprilweb-only/118-12.0.html). We should pray for his family and friends.

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