Notes from Kevin J Vanhoozer: Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity, Grand Rapids, Brazos, 2016.

Kevin Vanhoozer is a Reformed Systematic Theologian and Philosopher and the research professor of systematic theology at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Wisconsin. This book is written largely in response to recent arguments that the C16th Reformation, by its doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” has introduced a tidal wave of different Christian denominations (about 35 000 at the last count and rising). In addition some Reformation critics argue that not only did the Reformation invite  Biblical interpretational anarchy it also led inexorably to secularisation by calling into question the authority of the one church with its official teaching magisterium. Two books which Vanhoozer  frequently references and seeks to respond to, are:

Alister McGrath: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution – A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, New York, HarperOne, 2007, [which focuses on the dangers of biblical interpretive anarchy and:

Brad S  Gregory: The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularised Society, Cambridge MA, Bleknap Press of Harvard University, 2012 [ which led to the loss of any shared framework for the integration of knowledge -> Protestant pluralism -> Post-modernism [Gregory p.327] He also notes as significant Richard Popkin: History of Scepticism: From Savaronola to Bayle, revised and expanded edn,, Oxford, OUP, 2003.

Vanhoozer sets himself the task of using Retrieval Theology to recover and defend the four “solas” of the Reformation. “Retrieval theology” is the name for “a mode or style of theological discernment” that looks back in order to move forward. [quoting W.David Buschart & Kent D.Eilers: Theology as Retrieval: Receiving the Past, Renewing the Church. (Downers Grove Il, IVP Academic, 2015]. The four “solas” are: Grace alone; faith alone; scripture alone; and in Christ alone. Vanhoozer then adds a fifth “sola”, the Glory of God alone.  Finally he concludes with a chapter in which he seeks to establish evangelicalism as the standard bearer of Protestantism.  In addition to the five “solas” Vanhoozer further sets out a series of twenty “theses” which effectively summarise and outline his general defence of Protestantism in regard to the interpretation of the Bible.

The theses are listed without comment below followed by some more general comments and notes from his book. Whilst the theses may sound a little odd at first once you think about them they actually do summarise, in my view, what many Protestant Christians understand about reading the Bible and their relationship with Christians of other denominations. I have bolded some of the theses which I think are important for critics of Protestantism to understand.

  1. Mere Protestant Christians agree that the many forms of biblical discourse together make up a single unified story of God’s gracious communicative initiations. (p62)
  2. Mere Protestant Christians agree that the Bible is fundamentally about grace in Jesus Christ. (p63)
  3. Mere Protestant Christians believe that the Bible, the process of interpretation and the interpreters themselves are all parts of the triune economy of grace. (p64)
  4. Mere Protestant Christians are themselves interpreters who are themselves caught up in the triune economy of light and who therefore read the Bible as children of light (p66)
  5. The authority principle of mere Protestant Christianity is the say-so of the Triune God, a speak-acting that authorizes the created order and  authors the Scriptures, diverse testimonies that make known the created order as it has come to be and to be restored in, through, and for Jesus Christ. (p104)
  6. As persons created in God’s image and destined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, mere Protestant biblical interpreters believe that the Spirit both summons them to attend and authorizes them to respond to the voice of the Triune God speaking in the Scriptures to present Christ.  (p104)
  7. Mere Protestant biblical interpreters believe that they will have a better understanding of what God is saying in Scripture by attending to the work of other interpreters (and communities of interpreters) as well as their own community’s work. (p105
  8. Mere Protestant Christians believe that faith enables a way of interpreting Scripture that refuses both absolute certainty (idols of the tower) and relativistic scepticism (idols of the maze). (p105)
  9. The mere Protestant pattern of interpretative authority begins with the Trine God in communicative action, accords first place to Scripture interpreting Scripture (the canonic principle), but also acknowledges the appointed role of church tradition (the catholic principle) in the economy of testimony. (p143)
  10. “Sola Scriptura” is not a recipe for sectarianism, much less an excuse for schism, but rather a call to listen for the Holy Spirit speaking in the history of the Scripture’s interpretation in the church. (p145)
  11. “Sola Scriptura”  entails not a naïve but a critical biblicism. (p146)
  12.   A mere Protestant practice of “sola scriptura” constitutes a catholic biblicism. (p146) A mere Protestant practice of “sola scriptura” constitutes a catholic biblicism.  [ie mere Protestant interpreters do well to consult and be guided by the theological judgments of earlier  [and current] generations of Christians and of Christian communities in other parts of the world.
  13. Mere Protestant local churches have the authority to make binding interpretative judgments on matters pertaining to statements of faith and the life of the church members insofar as they concern the integrity of the gospel. [i.e. “the power of the keys”]
  14. Christ authorises both the congregation as a whole and its officers in particular to minister the same word in different ways. [p174]  [eg baptism?]
  15. Christ authorises the local church to be an authoritative interpretive community of the Word of God. [p175]
  16. Mere Protestant local churches have an obligation to read in communion with other local churches. [p176]
  17. Mere Protestant Christianity, far from encouraging individual autonomy and interpretive anarchy, calls individual interpreters to join with other citizens of the gospels as members of a universal royal priesthood and local embassy of Christ’s kingdom in order to represent God’s rule publicly. [p210]
  18. Mere Protestant Christianity is a confederacy of ‘holy nations’  (local churches) united by a single constitution, and committed to reform and renewal through a continued rereading of Scripture.  [p210]
  19. The genius of mere Protestant Christianity is its distinct converse (i.e. conversational “conference” ) generated and governed by Scripture, and guided by a convictional conciliarism that unites diverse churches in a transdenominational communion. [p211]
  20. The glory of mere Protestant Christianity is the conference and communion of ‘holy nations’  [local churches], itself a gift that glorifies God in magnifying Jesus Christ.

The following notes are taken from Vanhoozer’s book with occasional comments from me.


p3. The story of the Reformation and  Protestantism in general  can be told in differerent ways with different emphases, some positive, some negative.   Vanhoozer notes 10 different stories

(1) Ephraim Radner: “The end of the Church”. Vanhoozer notes  the argument  by Radner in The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West , Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1998 that a divided church is a church without the Holy Spirit, and thus a church that is unable rightly to read Scripture.    Radner’s view it seems to me is at odds with Scripture itself which clearly demonstrates serious division within the New Testament church e.g. between Peter and Paul at Antioch, between Paul and John Mark over the mission of the Church, between Jewish and Gentile Christian churches, between Euodia and Syntyche and so on. It also implies that the Western church was in the past united but that is to ignore the  Nestorian, Arian, Marcionite, Donatist and Pelagian controversies to name a few, let alone the tragic C11th  separation of Eastern Orthodoxy from the West and the Conciliar/Papist debates again just to name a few major divisions. (p4)

(2)  Friedrich Schleirermacher: “the introductionn of academic freedom”.  In an address to the theology faculty of Berlin, on the occasion for the 300th anniversary of the Reformation (November 3, 1817) Scheliermacher praised the Reformers for introducing academic freedom into theology, namely, the critical (i.e. scholarly) principle that is the only antidote to (Roman Catholic) dogmatism. (p5)

(3) Wilhelm de Wette:  “Political Freedom”. The spirit of Protestantism …leads necessarily to political freedom. (p5)  [cited from T A Howard & M A Noll: “The Reformation at Five Hundred: An Outline of the Changing Ways We Remember the Reformation.” in First Things, 247 (November 2014):43-48.

(4) G W Hegel: “The freedom of humanity”  Hegel viewed the Reformation as an essential step in the history of the Geist toward freedom:”This is the essence of the Reformation: Man is in his very nature destined to be free.”  [cited from Hegel: The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree, Mineola,NY, Dover, 1956 p417]  (p5)

(5)  Ernst Troeltsch: “individualism”. Troeltsch argued Protestantism’s progress is a matter of basing beliefs not on an external authority but on inner personal conviction: “Protestantism became the religion of the search for God in one’s own feeling, experience, thought and will.”   (p5) [ cited in Troeltsch: Protestantisim and Progress: The Significance of Protestantism for the Rise of the Modern World, Philadelphia, Fortress, 1986]

(6)  Paul Tillich: depicted the “Protestant principle”  as dialectical: a prophetic “no” to any earthly authoritarianism, and a creative “yes”  to the ground of being (love)  that empowers new shapes of human freedom. (p5) [cited from Tillich: The Protestant Era, Chicago, UCP, 1948]

(7)  H Richard Niebuhr: “Constructive Protestantism”.  Richard Niebuhr’s The Kingdom of God in America, (1939) is an account of the arrival of English Protestants in the USA to form the  Massachusetts Bay Colony. He describes how Protestants confessed the direct rule of God, apart from any institutional mediation, but it was not clear how God’s Word was to order society.  “The new freedom was not self-organising but threatened anarchy in every sphere of life.”  (p6) [cited from H R Niebuhr: The Kingdom of God in America, 1937, repr. Middletown CT, Wesleyan University Press, 1988, p43] The resultant chaos especially following the trial of Mrs Anne Hutchinson for disturbing the peace “ and her subsequent banishment to Rhode Island, almost destroyed the Massachusetts settlement completely.

(8) Alister McGrath: “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”.  Molecular chemist turned systematic theologian and historian McGrath borrowed his title from Daniel Dennett’s title of his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, [London, Penguin, 1995] McGrath used the biological idea of mutation to describe Protestantism as a meme: an idea, value, or practice that spreads from person to person, culture to culture, nation to nation,  through not genetic, but cultural replication…[this factor ] ..accounts for the unpredictability of new developments (such as Pentecostalism) and its capacity to adapt to new situations.  [cited from A McGrath: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, New York, HarperOne, 2007]

(9) Brad Gregory:  “Secularization”   …the unintended consequence of the Reformation’s refusal of the church’s final say-so was the loss of “any shared framework for the integration of knowledge” …leading eventually to religious wars over disagreements as to precisely what Scripture said, and eventually, to the Enlightenment’s elevation of “sola ratio”  (reason alone) to the position of unbiased referee,…demoting faith to the realm of private (subjective) opinion. (p11) [quotation cited from Gregory: The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularised Society,  Cambridge, MA, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2112.]

(10) Hans Boersma & Peter Leithart:  “Schism”.  Boersma laments the Reformation as “fissiparous”  (inclined to cause or undergo division into separate parts or groups). He regards  the Reformation not as something to be celebrated but as something to be lamented….turning away from the allegorical to the natural and losing the sense of mystery, the supernatural, the sacramental and creating modernity as well as tearing apart the previously seamless body of Christ, the church. [cited from Boersma: Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2011, p85;

Leithhart  criticizes Protestantism’s tendency to “just say no”  as simply identifying itself oppositionally, in contrast to the “other “ of Roman Catholicism. He quotes T S Eliot: The life of Protestantism depends on the survival of that against which it protests. [in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, (London, Faber & Faber, 1949 p75). Protestantism/evangelicalism is always against something. (p13f)  and Peter J Leithart: “The Future of Protestantism: The Churches Must Die to be Raised Anew”, First Things, 245(August/Septmember 2014):p23-27.  Leithart goes on to say we are all in it, not just Protestants,. None of the strategies for building consensus —neither Protestant nor Catholic—-have been successful in uniting the whole church. 

p16  …the distinction between “fundamentals”  and “little things” brings us back to what many consider the Achilles heel of Protestantism: the lack of centralised interpretative authority….the formal problem…the lack of a consensual criterion for discerning whose interpretation of Scripture is right.  

p17….Sociologist Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, (Grand Rapids, Brazos, 2011) argues that the problem is not the Bible but biblicism. He  defines “Biblicism” as a theory about the authority of the Bible that posits its clarity, self-sufficiency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability….Biblicists must be in denial if they cannot see what everyone else sees: on important matters the Bible apparently is not clear, consistent, and univocal enough to enable the best-intentioned, most highly skilled, believing readers to come to agreement as to what it teaches.  (p.ix)  In response Vanhoozer argues the way forward is not to abandon biblicism but to distinguish between a naïve and a critical biblicism, between a pervasive interpretative problem, on the one hand, and a unitive interpretative plurality, on the other. (ie a plural interpretative unity).  I think he means in the end, a unitive and peaceful agreement to differ in interpretation …but who decides which things matter and are critical  and which should not disturb unity??eg the same-sex marriage issue.

cf John Dryden: Religio Laici, 1682

The Book thus put in every vulgar hand,

Which each presumed he best could understand,

The common rule was made the common prey,

And at the mercy of the rabble lay. 

p18. Catholic critics argue against “sola scriptura” on the grounds that Protestants disagree about interpretations. e.g. Devon Rose: If Protestantism is true, all we have is fallible opinions about infallible books. [cited in Rose: The Protestant Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism, San Diego, Catholic Answers Press, 2014]

Yet the reality is that Roman Catholic scholars themselves disagree about interpretation (eg Hans Kung) and of course many Roman Catholics ignore “official” Roman Catholic dogmatic pronouncements e.g. on birth control.

p20  A further problem is what theorists have called extreme interpretative egoism…the view that privileges my interpretations simply because they are mine.

p21. Literary critics such as Stanley Fish of course argue that textual meaning [in general, in any literary text] is a function of the interpretive assumptions that happen to be in force in a particular interpretive community. …There is no single way of reading that is correct or natural, only “ways of reading” that are extensions of community perspectves. (p21f)

p25 In defining the purpose of his book Vanhoozer states the following: The present work contends that retrieving the five Reformation solas helps to address the contemporary problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism, and retrieving the priesthood of all believers (ecclesiology) helps to address the problem of the authority of interpretive communities….Together, these two principles will enable us to retrieve a third, what I will call the final principle of the Reformation, namely, catholicity;  a differentiated or “plural”  interpretive community, a rich communion that is both creature of the Word of God and fellowship of the Spirit.

p28. The solas are not a substitute for credal orthodoxy but its servants. The solas do not develop the doctrine they presuppose it….They also provide resources with which to respond to the charge that the Reformation unintentionally loosed interpretive anarchy up.on the world. In subsequent chapters I argue that the solas provide a pattern for reading Scripture theologically that enables Protestant unanimity on theological essentials, and thus the possibility of genuine fellowship in spite of secondary and tertiary doctrinal differences.

p29f.  To put it more provocatively: in retrieving the royal priesthood of all believers, I am pursuing what amounts to a virtual sixth sola : sola ecclesia (church alone)….Church alone what? The short answer: the church alone is the place where Christ rules over his kingdom and gives certain gifts for the building of his living temple.

p30. Philip Schaff shocked his audience when, in an 1844 inaugural address on “The Principle of Protestantism” to the German Reformed Theological Seminary at Mercersburg (Pennsylvania), he declared the Reformation to be the “greatest act” of the catholic church. Schaff judged the Church of Rome to be subcatholic in refusing to acknowledge the Reformation as its legitimate child. This is not to say that he gave Protestant churches a free pass. He identified the great defect of modern Protestantism as its sectarianism. 

p31  Protestantism has always suffered from two dangers identified by Andrew F Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith, Maryknoll NY, Orbis, Edinburgh, T & T Clark p74….Walls identifies the dangers as pride (the instinctive desire to protect our own version of the Christian faith ) and indifference (the postmodern decision that no one can know for sure, so why bother ruling some versions out). Catholicity is not chaos, however. It is the standing challenge for the church to display its unity in Christ despite its differences. ….however, catholicity need not entail institutional unification.

p32   The problem is that evangelicalism itself has become a fractious, fissiparous …movement that began as a renewal of confessional Protestantism but that now too often attempts to maintain itself by seeking renewal by means other than confessional theology. However renewal without a direct object — the gospel as articulated by the Protestant confessions — is energy poorly spent….Bereft of an institutional means to deal with difference,  evangelical cells simply continue to split : not “divide and conquer” but “divide and rancour”. This is Protestantism’s dangerous idea at work!

p33  Exegesis outside the church will ultimately yield no unity—one must not only be a person of one book but of one church—the unity in diversity that local churches have in Christ…In this book I present the solas as seeds for a perennial reformation of the church. The kind of Protestantism that needs to live on is not the one that encourages individual autonomy or corporate pride but the one that encourages the church to hold fast to the gospel and to one another. The only good Protestant is a catholic Protestant — one who learns from, and bears fruit for,  the whole church. 

p35 ..revelation and redemption precedes the work of interpretation..

p36.  Although all three persons [of the Trinity] are involved in everything that God does, we may assign to the Father the ontology of grace, the giving of the love that creates (originating grace); to the Son the economy of grace, the giving of the life that redeems (saving grace); and to the Spirit the teleology of grace, the giving of the light that sanctifies (illuminating grace). Vanhoozer notes in fn 2 p36 that although everything that God does is the work of all three persons, it is fitting to ascribe certain actions, to particular divine persons on the basis of what we observe in the outworking of God’s plan. (i.e.the economy). The technical term is “appropriation” .   Phew! Not sure about the value of such “separation of functions”!

p38f Vanhoozer quotes  Roland Bainton quoting  Martin Luther’s own words [presumably Bainton translated the German himself]:…then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies [acquits] us through faith[fulness]. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage in Paul became to me a gate to heaven… [Roland H Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York, Mentor, 1950 p49f] Vanhoozer comments Luther had discovered the passive righteousness, and the freedom of the Christian, in the active righteousness, the effective promise of God. [ I am not sure I understand Vanhoozer’s distinction between passive and active righteousness. Righteousness is after all “acquittal” ..I presume active righteousness is effectively the sanctification that occurs when we accept God’s acquittal through faithfulness. (πιστις  = pistis = faith or faithfulness)

p40 ..Grace contradicts every system of religion precisely because God’s free mercy cannot be predicted, calculated or manipulated.   So also Rob Bell!

p41  Vanhoozer takes a standard Reformed view of natural theology.  Theologians of glory [natural theologians unnamed] extrapolate from what they see in nature to the supernatural being of God. This is natural theology freed from the discipline of revealed theology, an autonomous endeavour who’s principal method is the analogy of being. Natural theologians identify God-like properties in creation  and then extrapolate and inflate them until they reach infinite proportion, at which point they describe God’s being as all-good, all -powerful, together with all the other God-making properties. 

This is harsh in my view and does not take into account Romans 1:19 [What can be known of God, you see, is plain to them. Ever since the world was made, his eternal power and deity have been seen and known in the things he made, since God has made it plain to them. As a result they have no excuse…and then in Romans 2:1 So you have no excuse —anyone, whoever you are, who sits in judgment….[ Translation from Tom Wright: The New Testament for Everyone, London, SPCK, 2011, p 338f]

Vanhoozer does soften his position in fn16 p41 noting Reformed theologians display a certain ambivalence [there was no ambivalence at all with Karl Barth…Nein!] about natural theology. Paul speaks of “what can be known about God (Romans 1:19) in nature. However Calvin insists, first, that such knowledge (i.e. of God’s existence and power) is not saving… With all due respect to Calvin, he seems to have misread Romans 1:19. Paul says “they have no excuse” …according to Paul, God is taking natural theology very seriously…”they have no excuse” …they could have been saved… hmmm…more work to be done on natural theology for those who have not heard the Gospel of Christ or who have heard it poorly delivered methinks!

Vanhoozer goes on to quote Luther at his Heidelberg Disputation:  A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. [p41] Vanhoozer then quotes Freud: “Religion” —the theology of glory —is indeed what Freud says it is : the future of an illusion, namely the idolatrous preference for one’s own thoughts about God. p41f [Sigmund Freud: The Future of an Illusion, trans. & ed. James Strachey, New York, W W Norton, 1989] …And yet does not Psalm 19 say clearly The Heavens declare the glory of God…much more work to be done here!  Personally I think the future of natural theology is much more positive than the future of Freud!

p43  Luther resists the idea that Christians read the Bible as they would any other text…”there is a priority of Scripture itself over its readers and hearers. Vanhoozer notes For Luther, it is not so much that individuals justify this or that interpretation; rather, a theologian “is a person who is interpreted by Holy Scripture, who lets himself or herself be interpreted by it.” quoted in Oswald Bayer: Theology the Lutheran Way, ed. and trans. Jeffrey G.Silcock and Mark C. Mattes, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2007.  Vanhoozer further notes that Luther points out that the Gospels themselves can be (wrongly) read as law if the interpreter depicts Christ as an example of how to live one’s life. Readers who make this error make a Moses out of Christ. “What would Jesus do?” is  not yet to proclaim the gospel.

p45 – 46 But did the Reformers deny the sacramental -hierarchical picture of the world that went with the authority of the church Magisterium?  Vanhoozer argues that eveything depends, however, on what we mean by “grace” and how it relates to nature in the first place.  It is a significant question, pertaining to what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls “the last essential difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. 

Vanhoozer  quotes Thomas Aquinas: Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.

p47   Vanhoozer notes that Scholastics deployed the concept of pure nature to counter the Protestant teaching about the total depravity of human nature….It was Henri de Lubac, one of the important figures influencing Vatican 11, who first called attention to the trajectory that led from pure self-enclosed nature to modern secularism…Several of the leading Catholic theologians involved in Vatican 11 themselves lay at least some of the blame on the scholastic and neo-scholastic misreadings  (on their view) of Aquinas. When nature is viewed as oure or autonomous grace becomes ontologically “second order,” and the result is what Karl Barth rightly described as the “secular misery” of modern theology.  [Dogmatics, 1/1 pxviii]

p48  For de Lubac, the notion of pure nature is a nonstarter, for planted deep in human nature is a desire for God. [Surnaturel: Études historiques, Paris, Aubier, 1946] Vanhoozer quotes Leihthart that Neoscholasticism’s view of a supernatural realm “outside and above” nature actually “contributes to the triumph of atheism by making the supernatural superfluous to man’s existence.” [Peter J. Leithart, Athanasius, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2011.] Vanhoozer continues: In de Lubac’s view, “secular humanism” is a contradiction in terms, for human beings by nature have a desire for God, who transcends nature.  The idea of a closed order of nature is nothing more than a metaphysical fiction….de Lubac  and the nouvelle théologie…held that “natural” being participates in and is oriented toward God, even in its fallenness…..Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, proposes the concept of a “supernatural existential” to signify how human beings are constitutionally open to receiving grace, whether or not faith is present. (fn. 45) [cf Rahner’s idea of “anonymous Christians”?]

p49   Vanhoozer notes that both neb-scholastics and their nouvelle detractors appear to chalk up humanity’s distance form God to their createdness, not fallenness. On the contrary: the problem is not that God (or the supernatural) is “external” to creation but rather that the whole realm of creation has become alienated from God through sin. [and it is, in my view, the Biblical position that this “sin/rebellion” was in the world prior to humanity e.g. the narrative of the bent serpent in Genesis 3 and Paul’s references to the fact that we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.. [Ephesians 6:12].

Vanhoozer and Reformed theology in general distinguishes between the grace of participation in being (created existence) , and from the special grace of participation in Christ (covenant existence), and from the further grace associated with the Spirit’s illumination. My personal view is that what Reformed theology calls “covenant grace” and the further “illumination of the Spirit” is for vocation, not predestination (ie Israel as a “light to the nations”  [Isaiah 49:6] and Christians “called to God’s service in Romans 8:28. Otherwise there is the perennial problem of the billions of individuals who have never heard or did never hear of the loving call of God for their lives to be lived in and with His Spirit.

p50f  Vanhoozer writes: We are not to read the Bible like any other book, as if it were an element in the immanent economy of natural reason, but rather with eyes and ears opened by grace, open and operative in the communicative domain of the Triune God….it is to the praise of God’s glorious grace that he has chosen us in Christ  “before the foundation of the world” .  [Ephesians 1:4] In my view,   for vocation, not for predestination to heaven!

p52  Vanhoozer notes that Theologians do well not to speculate about God’s immanent being…but p52  is a serious discussion about the nature of the interpersonal communications in the Godhead….

p53 …grace is not some third thing between God and human beings, a supernatural substance or power that gets infused into nature to perfect it. Rather, grace is the gift of God’s beneficent presence and activity—that is, the communication of God’s own light, life, and love to those who have neither the right to them nor a claim on God.  All the more reason, in my view, why Christians have a responsibility to use these gifts to reach out to others and play our part in the renewal of the kingdom of God on earth as indeed many selfless men and women are doing in the world today.

p54-5  According to Jonathan Edwards, the end for which God created the world was self-communication. [Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol 13, The “miscellanies,” ed.Thomas A. Schafer, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1994, p277] Vanhoozer continues..Creation is fundamentally a theatre for God’s glory, a place where God can be seen to be God by those who are not God…Again in my view these sentiments are all very fine but can mean nothing to those whose lives have been tortured by murderers, or bombed to bits in war or subjected to bitter slavery, or suffer incurable birth defects or illnesses,  or who have subjected themselves to the slavery of drugs etc. If the world is at present in Edwards’ theory the “theatre of God’s glory” it is in fact a “theatre of terror and horror and starvation” for many in the world today.  We who share in what Vanhoozer calls the mystery of Jesus Christ have vast responsibilities for the use of our time and gifts and resources.  Yes, I agree with Vanhoozer, that we have been transferred into the kingdom of the Son (Col.1:13) but we have been transferred for a very serious vocation indeed which will involve participation in his suffering.

p56 Vanhoozer writes of God’s covenant love and grace towards Abraham and notes This Abrahamic promise lies at the heart of the covenant of grace, and it is associated with a second Hebrew term, חֶסֶד  [hesed] (steadfast love), God’s special covenant kindness.  This is the blessing that is to be the light to the Nations.

p57 God freely sets in motion both creation and redemption, the latter a process of self-communication what would prove to be unsurpassingly costly. For Jesus Christ is the gratutitous promise of God made flesh, the חֶסֶד, the steadfast love, the the shining face  [שְׁכִינָה] and λογος Word of God, up close and personal, “full of grace and truth (John 1:14; Exodus 34:6-7)…What Christ communicates is his filial status and relationship, something that we could never attain by our own dint of effort. [all of this for our vocation, not for our predestination!]

p58 Jesus Christ is the shining face [שְׁכִינָה] of God, in whose light (and through whose Spirit) the church lives, moves and has its being…….the Word , who directs our knowing  and the Spirit, who directs our doing.

p59  Vanhoozer quotes Bonhoeffer: the church is God’s new will and purpose for humanity. [Sanctorum Communio:A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, ed. Clifford J Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss & Nancy Lukens, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol 1, Minneapolis, Fortress, 1998 p466.]….Vanhoozer notes: Alfred Loisy’s famous observation that “Jesus announced the Kingdom and what came was the Church” implies a discrepancy! [Loisy, L’Evangile et l’Elise, 2nd ed., Bellevue, 1903 p155]  Hmmm!

p60  The grace of God’s self-communicative activity results in the grace of communion: a communion of the Trinity, but also of the saints. It is the special task of the Holy Spirit to create a “fellowship of differents”. [taking a phrase from Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2014.

p61 The teaching ministry of the church is itself a gift of the risen Christ, an important part of the economy of God’s grace…in response to the basic criticism ..that the Reformation’s emphasis on “sola scripture” and the priesthood of all believers desacralized the church…

p62 Christianity is not primarily a system of ideas but an account of how the Creator has reached out with both hands, Son and Spirit, to lift up a fallen world in a loving embrace….Mere Protestant Christians may differ over precisely how to read the story and what it means, but not about the main persons and events.

p63  There is one gospel, but four Gospels, just as there is one mere Protestant Christian understanding of the gospel story but several denominational interpretations as to its precise meaning. Even the New Testament authors tell the story of Jesus in different ways, but they all tell the story of Jesus…..Everything depends on a distinction between doctrines of differing dogmatic rank … In fn 80 Vanhoozer notes: I am aware that one person’s (or denomination’s) second-order doctrine is another’s cherished first-order truth. Interestingly, for Paul the things “of first importance” included Jesus dying for our sins and being raised on the third day (1 Cor.15:3-4)—events in a story rather than particular interpretations of these events.

p64  Vanhoozer quotes Luther: Unless one understands the things [res] under discussion, one cannot make sense of the words {verba]…Vanhoozer then notes: It is worth observing that in viewing the Bible as fundamentally a discourse about the mystery of God’s grace revealed in Christ, we are following the interpretive lead of Jesus himself, who consistently explained his person and work by reference to the Old Testament, as the fulfilment of previous divine communicative initiatives.  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  (Luke 24:27).

To rely on one’s own native interpretive powers is to succumb to the temptation of a “hermeneutics  of glory” —that is, the expectation that one can discover God’s Word through one’s own natural exegetical abilities…Many in the modern academy read the Bible, in the words of the C19th Oxford  biblical scholar Benjamin Jowett, “like any other book”.  [The Interpretation of Scripture and Other Essays, London, George Roultledge & Sons, 1907 p1-76] much that Michael Legaspi links the modern rise of biblical studies, a specialist discipline, with the “death” of Scripture, [The death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies, Oxford, OUP. 2010)

p65  To read the Bible through the lens of an interpretive framework derived from elsewhere than Scripture is to insert both text and interpreter into a this-worldly economy of criticism (nature) rather than a triune economy of revelation (grace). Whilst I understand where Vanhoozer is coming from in this statement if needs to be balanced by the importance of understanding the various literary genres of the Biblical text.  Poetry and epic story (eg Genesis 1 – 3) cannot be read as scientific history …to do so leads to misunderstanding. cf Blocher: The interpretation of the Bible must not be overshadowed by the hypotheses current amongst scientists today. Moses knew nothing about them and we must put them out of our minds if we are going to understand his meaning properly without inteference in the meaning of the divine Word. But after that it would be irresponsible to extend this methodical neglect. The universal reign of the one true God forbids such schizophrenic compartmentalisation. The believer can avoid neither cautious critical examination of the theories nor the task of linking his conclusions to the teaching of divine revelation. Everybody, obviously, must do this within the limits of his own calling. [Henri Blocher, In The Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, Leicester, Downer’s Grove, Inter-Varsity Press, 1984. The quotation is from the Appendix: Scientific hypotheses and the beginning of Genesis, p213]

Vanhoozer notes that grace restores interpretive agents to right-mindedness and right-heartedness and reorients interpretive acts to their proper end: receiving Christ into our hearts and minds. [ it could be argued that Vanhoozer’s remark above can be read as “if you don’t agree with my interpretations (or my interpretive community’s interpretations) you are obviously not grace – filled!“ Hmmm.

p66  …we must give our full attention to what the Lord is saying to us in Scripture rather than try to discover what we wish he had said!  Vanhoozer’s fourth “thesis” states that  Mere Protestant Christians are interpreters who themselves are caught up in the triune economy of light and who therefore read the Bible as children of light. While I agree with this in theory, the reality is that different “children of light” will still interpret biblical words differently e.g. אָדָם = Adam in Genesis 1 – 3.  Does it mean “mankind” or “Adam” the individual historical person.  Many translations mix it up  depending on the context but it is still a matter of significant debate.

p68  Grace is what accounts for the life and light of God ad intra being poured out ad extra on undeserving sinners.   This is an interesting sentence. John 1:9 states that Jesus is the true light, which gives light to everyone.  Indeed, everyone is an “underserving sinner” God’s grace is freely given to all..not just some specially “chosen” ones.

p69 The Spirit illumines the faithful, opening eyes and ears to see and hear the light of the world, the Word of God dazzling in the canonical fabric of the text:  God’s unmerited favour toward us shining in the face of the biblical Jesus.  Not sure about the underlined clause…not all of the fabric of the biblical text dazzles unless with the help of some heavy handed allegorization.

p75  Vanhoozer notes that Luther’s appeal to the original text —an exercise in philology — overturned the tables  of Scripture’s Latin translators. At first, Luther was unaware that he had unleashed a conflict over interpretive authority; he was convinced that his critique of indulgences would receive papal support. His critics quickly disabused him of his notion that philology trumps papal authority, and Luther eventually (and somewhat reluctantly) came to see with increasing clarity that the real issue underlying everything else was the locus of authority — the source of authoritative statements of the truth of the gospel.

p78 Vanhoozer challenges those who justify their scriptural  interpretation by direct appeal to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Direct appeal to the Spirit’s authority are shortcuts that lead back to another kind of abbreviated Protestant principle, where Spirit effectively eclipses Word.


p79-83 What authorises mere Protestant Christianity? The answer, I suggested, has something to do with philology and pneumatology —-with the Spirit using words to effect faith.  Vanhoozer proceeds to look at three alternative authorisations:

  1. Mediaeval allegorizing …problematic, because Scripture can be made to mean pretty much anything the interpreter wishes it to mean (p79f)
  1. Modern historical criticism …cf Spinoza: the rule of [biblical] interpretation must be nothing more than the natural light of reason which is common to all men, and not some light above nature or any external authority.  [Theological-Political Treatise, ed. Jonathan Israel, trans. Michael Silverthorne and Jonathan Israel, Cambridge, CUP, 2015, p116]. Cf Rudolf Bultmann [who] believed that he had inherited the Reformer’s exegetical mantle: “ Indeed, de-mythologizing is a task parallel to that performed by Paul and Luther…the radical application of the doctrine of justification by faith to the sphere of knowledge and thought. [Rudolf Bultmann: Jesus Christ and Mythology, New York, Scribner, 1958, p84] Like justification by faith, demythologizing “destroys every longing for security”. [ibid] Bultmann views faith  as radical insecurity, epistemological as well as existential, and thus the demand to abandon every effort to make our existence, or our knowledge of God, secure. Gerhard Ebeling, one of Bultmann’s students, went even furthere, arguing that the historical-critical method is the hermetical counterpart of sola fide, and hence a distinctly Protestant form of biblical interpretation. The reality of all this is that there are “Conservative” and “Liberal” biblical scholars and they come to equally radically different conclusions. (p80f)
  1. Postmodern Pragmatism pp81-83… Christians today inhabit a situation in which there are not only multiple biblical interpretations but also multiple ways of reading the Bible jostling for position in the academy….we live in a time of pervasive intepretive plurality….The one indubitable fact about biblical hermeneutics is that its interpreters do not agree on what the text means. Consequently, what begins as faithful criticism ends in interpretive pride, and often violence: “Anxiety about relativism morphs into arrogance.” [Merold Wesphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church:  The Church and Postmodern Culture, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2009, p47 ]
  1. James K A Smith, a philosopher at Calvin College, agrees; the knee-jerk reaction to relativism is to seek absoluteness, but the claim to have absolute or even objective knowledge comes close to claiming that one knows what God knows. Smith thinks that we need to come clean and acknowledge the finitude and contingency of our creaturehood, and thus the relativity of our perspectives and interpretations, of texts and everything else.
  1. If individual interpreters cannot achieve objectiviy thorough philology, what stops the slide into interpretive relativism? The short answer: faith community traditions. Westphal draws on the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadder to remind us that we are not autonomous but rather traditioned individuals., members of communities that shape the way we see, think, and talk about things. [op.cit.p74] . This position is postmodern because it rejects the autonomy of modern liberal individualism, and pragmatic because what bears authority is not universal reason but community practice. The basic idea is that of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Meaning is use, and we learn how to speak about things by participating in language games  associated with a community’s form of life.
  1. There is much to appreciate in this postmodern retrieval of community tradition. Yet the problem—the conflict of interpretations and interpretive communities remains: for if our grasp of meaning and truth, and our sense of what makes for a “good” interpretation, depends on the faith community to which we happen to belong, then for all intents and purposes what bears interpretative authority is the interpretive community.  But which one? It is highly ironic that Protestants, of all people, are now appealing to sola fide in support of the authority of interpretive communities. Moreover, it is far from clear how postmodern pragmatists could explain Martin Luther, or any person who launches a prophetic critique against the tradition of interpretive community that formed him or her.

p84  The principle of authority. he principle of authority… Authority gets little respect.  A 2014 Gallup poll showed that public faith in the US Congress had reached a historic low, with just 6 per cent of Americans approving. I wonder what the percentage is in the Trump era!

p86  Who are the Biblle’s authorised interpreters, and who/what authorizes them?

p88   Adam and Ever were the first heretics (I use the word in the sense of its Greek verbal derivation,  ἁιρεομαι (haireomai) , “to choose for oneself”.

p90f The authority principle in Christianity the triune God in communcative action. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word who was with God and was God, made flesh…Jesus alone is thus both able and authorised to reveal the Father: he is the image of the invisible God…This explains why all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. (Matt.28:20)….in the light of this claim, it is easy to understand why some theologians want to locate all authority in Christ. For example, P T Forsyth wants to locate authority not so much in the Bible as in the Gospel, alluding to William Chillingworth’s famous phrase even as he turns it against him: “The Gospel and the Gospel alone, is the religion of Protestants….fn62. Chillingworth wrote: “The Bible, I say the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants.” [Works of William Chillingworth, p46] Perhaps Bernard Ramm had Forsyth in mind when he wrote: “The difficulties of a single principle of authority (rather than a pattern of authority) appear clearly in discussions of the authority of Jesus Christ. Frequently the authority of Christ and the authority of the Scriptures are opposed. [Ramm, The Pattern of Religious Authority, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1957, p46]

Vanhoozer notes: This opposition of sola scripture and sola Christus is deeply to be regretted—and studiouslly to be avoided). The Gospels show Jesus delegating authority to others. The apostles are authorised interpreters of Jesus’s person and work, inscribers of the meaning of the Christ event whose written discourse is part and parcel of the triune economy of communicative action. [fn.65 :Though I cannot argue the point here, I believe that “inspiration” qualifies not the disciples as persons but their written discourse. cf Paul to the Corinthians: Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? [1 Cor.9:1]

p92 Apostolicity is one of the four traditional marks of the church, along with oneness, holiness,  and catholicity. Minimally, apostolicity means that a church in whatever place and time must be in line with the apostles if it is to be considered genuinely Christian.  

p93 …on the other end of the spectrum, is the scholarly option, which locates authority with the expert. We live in an age of specialisation. Does having knowledge —epistemic authority—superior intellectual knowledge —on ancient Near Eastern archaeology, for example, constitute scholars as authorised biblical interpreters?

The third option is fundamentalism. Fundamentalists refuse to bow the knee either to popes or to modern biblical scholarship, emphasizing instead the exclusive authority of the Bible —a read by fundamentalist leaders. Well, they don’t say that exactly, but this is precisely the concern of both evangelicals like Bernard Ramm [The Witness of the Spirit, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1959] and liberals like James Barr, [Fundamenatalism, London, SCM, 1981]. They worry that fundamentalism is an interpretive community that covers its own presuppositional tracks. Their leaders proclaim,”The Bible says,” but then they deliver their own tradition-bound interpretations (of course, fundamentalists are not the only ones guilty of that). “Only by concealing their role as interpreters are fundamentalist authorities able to wield their immense power over ordinary believers. [Kathleen C. Boone: The Bible Tells Them So: The Discourse of Protestant Fundamentalism, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1989, p89]

p95f “Extreme epistemic egoist” … a person who refuses to take anything on authority. [ Linda Zagzebski: Epistemic Authority: A Theory of Trust, Authority, and Autonomy in Belief, Oxford, OUP, 2012]  Interestingly, extreme epistemic egoists can be either rationalists of fideists: they can stubbornly rely either on their own reasoning or on their own believing,  independent of any reasons….Alvin Plantinga defines “fideism” as “the exclusive reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a disparagement of reason.”  [Ed. Alvin Plantinga & Nicholas Wolterstorff: Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, Notre Dame IN, UNDP, 1983, p87] Vanhoozer notes; is irrational —less than epistemically conscientious—to trust one’s own epistemic faculties and not those of others. [Richard Foley: Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others, Cambridge, CUP, 2001]

p98 It is noteworthy that Plantinga identifies the content of faith with “the central teachings of the gospel” rather than with particular doctrinal (and denominational) definitions. He here follows Jonathan Edwards’ emphasis on “the great things of the Gospel”….The emphasis is on the story, not its possible interpretations. fn98 Plantinga insists that Christian belief about the gospel is warranted simply on the basis of hearing/reading the biblical testimony, quite apart from historical evidence or argument.  [A Plantinga: Knowledge and Christian Belief, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015 p65].

p99 Vanhoozer notes: In the light of the preceding, it therefore seems that the all-too-common tendency to tar Protestant Christianity with the brush of epistemic autonomy is seriously misguided. Sola fide is not a hammer with which to reinforce the authority of one’s own private judgments. It accords better with Zabzebski’s thesis about the importance of trusting others….The pertinent question remains: Which others? The apostles of course, because their testimony is that of Spirit-guided eyewitnesses. But whose interpretation of the apostolic message? No one can serve two martyrs (from Greek  μαρτυς = martus = “witness”). No one can avoid placing one’s faith in some authority whether oneself or another.

p99f An epistemically conscientious person will admit, “Other normal, mature humans have the same natural desire for truth and the same general powers and capacities that I have. [Zabzebski, op.cit p55] When it comes to biblical interpretation, the question is whether other normal, mature humans are also being guided into all truth. Stated differently: Are all interpretive communities created—and redeemed—equally? Obviously, I cannot examine every Christian interpretive community. It will suffice to distinguish those communities that nurture a primary trust in their own authorised interpreters and interpretations and those that nurture a primary trust in Scripture’s self-interpreting authority.

p100-103 All knowing begins with what Michael Polanyi calls a “fiduciary framework” (fiduciary = pertaining to fides, “involving trust”): an interpretive framework that one takes initially on faith until it proves itself by yielding a harvest of understanding. [M. Polanyi: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, corrected ed. Chicago, UCP, 1962, p266] …The church is not like other interpretive communities. Its reading must not be a text for its own purposes. For the church is “a creature of the Word”—an interpretive community that exists not to have its own way with the text but to let the Word have its way with the interpreters….What kind of authority does the church have?…the church is a mother that teaches her children to trust the truth.. [Hank van den Belt: The Authority of Scripture in Reformed Theology: Truth and Trust, Leiden, Brill, 2008,p325] “A society which wants to preserve a fund of personal knowledge must submit to tradition.” [M. Polanyi, op.cit. p53]

p105 Biblical study alone can become one more variation on the theme of justification by works—scholarly works. It is equally misguided to appeal to the Holy Spirit as an interpretive shortcut, like some get-out-of-hermeneutical-jail-free card. “Faith alone’” was never meant to encourage epistemic egoism.

p106  Pride in the “assured results” of critical reason is the besetting temptation of modern biblical scholarship.

p110 While it is true that a certain degree of doctrinal chaos came after the Reformation, it is fallacious to argue that sola scriptura  was the primary reason. Vanhoozer has a right to object. There was a high degree of doctrinal chaos well before the Reformation. Consider the Arian, Nestorian, Donates and Pelagian controversies just for starters. Throw in the C11th split with the Eastern Orthodox Church and the authority debate between conciliarists and papal supporters and the Redormation starts to look small in comparison. It was also inevitable with the growth of European nationalism shaking up the basis of the Holy Roman Empire. As Vanhoozer notes: One cannot infer that one event caused another simply because the alleged cause came before the alleged effect. fn 4 the technical term of this logical mistake is post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this therefore because of this) or to confuse chronology with causality.

p110  Sola Scriptura does not mean Scripture apart from the community of faith or  even Scripture independent of church tradition….it is an element…in the pattern of authority.

p111 The Reformers had Rome to the right of them and enthusiasts to the left of them; they therefore had to hammer out their understanding of Scripture’s authority against those who exaggerated human tradition, on the one hand, and those who exaggerated the immediate revelations of the Spirit, on the other….Luther had a suggestion: the Spirit speaking in the Scriptures is his own interpreter. In addition, the Word is in a certain sense its own best interpreter. “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

p114  Scripture is materially sufficient (“enough”) because God has communicated everything we need to know in order to learn Christ and live the Christian life. 

p116 The Reformers never meant to imply that the Bible does not need human interpreters.

p117 is not that the church interprets Scripture but that Scripture interprets the church….Similarly, “it is the Scripture that comes to interpret the exegete.” [Gerhard O. Forde: A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, ed Mark C. Mattas and Steven D. Paulson, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,2004, p71]

p119 The nineteenth century saw an increase in papal authority, marked by lengthy encyclicals and culminating with the dogma of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council (1869-70)…Nothing essential has therefore changed with regard to Rome’s sola magisterium since the Reformation. 

p120 What Luther protested was not Roman Catholic tradition as such but the departure from received tradition…the notion, common in the church fathers, that the Rule of Faith provided a “single exegetical tradition of interpreted Scripture. 

p121 It may seem as though one is espousing a high view of Scripture, but in fact solo scriptura is not biblical: “Scripture itself indicates that the Scriptures are the possession of the Church and that the interpretation of the Scripture belongs to the Church as a whole, as a community…Solo scriptura is something altogether different from sola scriptura: the latter affirms “that our final authority is Scripture alone, but not a Scripture that is alone. [Keith A Mathison: The Shape of Sola Scriptura, Moscow ID, Canon Press, 2001, p240.]

p122 Vanhoozer quotes Stanley Hauerwas [who] identifies sola scriptura as the “sin of the Reformation” because it is the doctrine that opened up what we have described as the Pandora’s box of Protestantism, namely, the unchecked subjectivism that follows from the assumption  “that the text of the Scripture makes sense separate from the Church that gives it sense. [Hauerwas: Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America, Nashville, Abingdon, 1993, p155]   Vanhoozer argues in response that sola scripture  serves the church precisely by preserving intact the distinction between text and interpretation, and thus the possibility that the prevailing cultural practices and linguistic habits may be challenged and corrected by Scripture.

p123 Vanhoozer defines “interpretive authority” as the right to authorise what should be said and done on the basis of Scripture. [p123]

p124 We can all think of examples of theologians who come to the text with a system of conceptual categories already in place and then proceed to bend the text to their wills, forcing it into some procrustean philosophical bed…I condone no approach to interpretation that forces the Bible to conform to a prefabricated ideological mould. On the other hand I don’t think that sola scripture is a general hermeneutical principle..

p124f  Does sola scriptura favour biblical theology over systematic theology?  Vanhoozer says “No!” Don Carson says “Yes!”  Vanhoozer quotes Carson: Systematic theology attempts to organise what the Bible says according to some impose a structure not transparently given in Scripture itself. In contrast, biblical theology works inductively uncover and articulate the unity of all the biblical texts taken together, resorting primarily to the categories of those texts themselves.  [D A Carson, “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology,” in New Dictionary of the Bible, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, Downers Grove II, InverVarsity, 2000, p101.] Vanhoozer sees it differently, such that sola scripturea authorises biblical and systematic theology alike…

p127 Sola Scriptura is not simply a principle, but a practice. The practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture…..Canon is the crucial concept, for it refers to the means by which God rules his people. Canon involves authority (κανων = kanōn = “measuring rod” or “ruler”), interpretation ..and community (i.e. those interpreters fro whom just these books are authoritative scripture.

p128  Paul refers to all who walk by this rule, (Gal. 6:16)…Philip personifies canon  the work of biblical and systematic theology, connecting the dots of redemptive history, explaining how they converge on Christ…and he…personifies canon consciousness and exemplifies “ruled reading” of Scripture when, in imitation of his master, Philip starts with Isaiah and proclaims to the Ethiopian eunuch “the good news about Jesus”. (Acts 8:35)…This is also the purpose of the ancient Rule of Fatih (regula fides): to encourage canon-conscious and Christ-centred reading. [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:8, 10]

p129 The Father works his sovereign, merciful, wise will to reign over his people in Christ through the Spirit by means of the Bible in the church. 

p130 Catholicity (Greek κατα = kata = with respect to + ὁλοσ = holos = the whole) pertains to the church universal, but everything depends on how we construe wholeness.  The Reformers reacted against the narrowing of catholicity to the institution centred on Rome…Mere Protestants are catholic Christians too, though they conceive catholicity differently…the whole in question refers to the communion of those who hear and respond in faith and obedience to their Master’s voice speaking in the Scriptures. [of course those who have never seen or heard of the Scriptures nevertheless have “the heavens declaring the glory of God and also the Holy Spirit speaking in their hearts with their conscience convicting and guiding them about what is right and what is wrong …if they have not bludgeoned it into submission to their will]

p131 Vanhoozer seems to struggle a bit with the Jerusalem Council and James’ words in Acts 15:28 ..” it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” . Vanhoozer comments: We can infer that this unanimity was a sign of the Spirit’s presence and activity in guiding the community to interpret the acts of God in light of the Scriptures in a way that was consistent with the truth of the Gospel.  Acts also has Peter being taught by a vision of unclean animals rather than “by Scripture” although of course this story is now part of our Scripture.

p133 The Reformation should be seen as at one and the same time a reaction to the failure of the Conciliar Movement and a perpetuation of conciliar ideals by other means.

p134 McNeill points out that the “Protest” of the Diet of Speyer, so often trotted out as clear evidence of the Reformers’ putting all their dogmatic eggs in the basket of individual conscience, is instead “the reiteration by the Lutheran princes and cities of the conciliar principle inculcated by Luther himself. [John T McNeill: Unitive Protestantism : The Ecumenical Spirit and Its Persistent Expression, Richmond, John Knox, 1964, p106]

p136f. A church council is not an individual, as is a conductor, but rather a corporate personality.  This better reflects the Reformers’ belief that the welfare of the whole church resides in the whole church…The Reformers’ main objection to Roman Catholicism was not its catholicity but its centrelines on Rome. The Reformers believed that they were more in line than Rome when it came tradition, for they (the Reformers) believed what the early church believed about tradition, namely, that it was the church’s consensus teaching on Scipture’s fundamental story line. Indeed, the one thing on which patristic and mediaeval theologians were agreed was the notion that doctrine must be grounded in Scripture…Rome is is downright sectarian in its insistence that there were some truths or customs handed on orally to the apostles alongside Scripture.

p139 ..tradition has no independent authority…..Tradition is not the Word of God; it is testimony to that Word…tradition bears the authority of a witness rather than a judge.

p140 If we are epistemically conscientious and spiritually honest, we have to admit that other Spirit -guided believers are seeking to bear faithful witness to Scripture as much as we are. 

p141  Still, the authority of tradition is provisional….like memory, tradition too is a reliable belief-producing mechanism when corporate witnesses are testifying properly in the church, the environment that is not only designed but sustained by the Holy Spirit precisely for the purpose of guiding believers into the truth of Scripture’s own testimony to Christ.

p142. To be a person of good theological judgment is to be a good listerner—above all to the voice of God speaking in the Scriptures, the writings of God’s commissioned witnesses.

p144 Scripture alone is the supreme authority, but God in his grace decided that it was not good for Scripture to be alone. He thus authorised tradition….Not everything is the history of theology is worth preserving, but what we must not neglect are the efforts of those who have gone before us to listen to, and hear, every word that has come out of the mouth of God and was written in Scripture.

p145 Naive biblicism confuses sola scriptura with solo scripture. So do many of its critics. While the Bible is the final and primal authority for making theological judgments, strictly speaking it is not alone. “Critical biblicism” affirms the supreme (magisterial) authority, determinate meaning, and unified truth of Scripture (= biblicism) while acknowledging the secondary (ministerial) authority, plurality, and fallibility of human interpretations (= critical). The critical biblicist appeals to biblical authority in the manner of a critical realist. Scripture interprets itself, but there is no guarantee that one’s grasp of what Scripture says coincides with Scripture itself.

p146 “Catholicity is the only option for a Protestantism that takes Sola Scriptura seriously.” [Peter Leithart, online comment noted in fn128 p146]

p147 “Where Christ is, there is the catholic church”. Ignatius. …those who cherish the gospel must also cherish the church, for the church is an implication of the gospel, a figure of its τελος [ = telos = end, destiny, completion,] giving body to the lordship of Christ.

p148 Christ authorizes a royal priesthood of believers not only to proclaim the gospel but also to put hands and feet on it. I therefore propose to treat solus Christus in connection with corpus Christi: the body of believers in the midst of which the risen Christ exercises his rule on earth…A Protestant ecclesiology [is] rooted in the singular gospel that nevertheless affirms the church’s uniity-in-diversity.

p149 Theology is the joyful science of describing astounding reality that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. In fn8 p149 Vanhoozer notes that Goldsworthy focuses on “Christ alone” as providing the interpretive key to Scripture and the whole universe. [Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation, Downers Grove ll, IVP Academic, 2006 p47f.]

p153  fn25 Lesslie Newbigin identifies the “virtual disappearance of the idea of the Church as a visible unity “ as the “second distortion” of Protestant ecclesiology, the first being an overintellectualizing of the content of “faith”. [The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church, New York, Friendship Press, 1953, pp53 -58]

p154 Vanhoozer notes the danger of radical anti-clericalism and quotes Brown: the danger inherent in sectarian Christianity is that it will assume that the treasure can be possessed apart from earthen vessels, and that therefore the vessels are no longer necessary. [Robert McAfee Brown: The Spirit of Protestantism, Oxford, OUP, 1965]

p155 …Christ’s work had as its aim the establishment of a church….for the church is the concrete social form that one’s personal relationship with Jesus takes…As Luther said: “God’s word cannot be without God’s people and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word. [ Luther: On the Councils and the Church, 1539]

p157 Significantly, the word “priest” is never used to refer to the church’s ministers…. Vanhoozer notes Some Southern Baptists have the priesthood of all believers to the Baptist concept of “soul competency”—that is, “all persons have an inalienable right of direct access to God.”  But as Timothy George rightly points out, soul competence is a “natural” capacity the soul has for God, whereas the priesthood of all believers refers to Christians only. [Timothy George: The Priesthood of all Believers and the Quest for Theological Integrity”, Criswell Theological Review, 3, 1989, p284f.

p158 Vanhoozer notes that in the New Testament, the term is a “priesthood of gathered believers” (plural), never a singular priesthood. The phrase is not a charter for rank individualism.

p159  Vanhoozer notes that every Christian is a priest to every other Christian. The “priesthood of all believers” does not imply individuality; it necessitates community… a congregation …for the building up of the body of Christ…hence the importance of the vernacular translations, sermons, Bible study and reflection.

p160 Vanhoozer notes O’Donovan’s comment that the church is the community that lives under the authority of him to whom the Ancient of Days has entrusted the Kingdom. [Oliver O’Donovan: The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology, Cambridge, CUP, 1996, p158] Vanhoozer notes that the church is a political community: Augustine called it the πολις  (polis), or city of God. …the church does not will itself into existence,not does it exist by permission of the state; rather it “exists by the express authorisation of Jesus.” [Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, Wheaton, Crossway, 2012, p21]

p163 Vanhoozer notes that the church is made up of those who are both already and not yet seated with Chrsit in the heavenlies, where they are blessed with every heavenly blessing. But to leave the church in heaven is to fall prey to a deceit view, for the church is also a local and historical concrete entity, an earthly embassy of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, a visible gathering…the church on earth is “polity-ized.” 

p167  Vanhoozer writes: What sets the steward or pastor apart is the divine call, which the congregation duly recognises and authorizes: “It is true that all Christians are priests, but not all are pastors. For to be a pastor one must be not only a Christian and a priest but an office and a field of work committed to him. This call and command make pastors and preachers. [Martin Luther: “Sermons on Psalm 82”, 1530]

p168 Vanhoozer notes: As a seventeenth century Reformed theology text puts it: the right of public interpretation of Scripture and of adjudging the truth of interpretation in public do not belong to all, but only to those who have been supplied with both the gifts and the calling to the task.” [ Synopsis purioris theologiae, cited in Richard A Muller: Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca.1520-to ca.1725, 2nd edn. 4 vols. Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2003, vol 2 p469]

p171 Re “the power of the keys”. Vanhoozer quotes Leon Morris: “Jesus meant that the new community would exercise divinely given authority both in regulating its internal affairs and in decided who would be admitted to and who excluded from its membership.” fn101 in Morris: The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1992, p427]

p180 Mere Protestant churches have nothing to do with health-and-wealth gospel that has unfortuntely become one of Nother America’s major exports. 

p183.  Vanhoozer notes: With Calvin, I lament the “unhappy contests” that have divided Christians over the interpretation of Jesus’ words  “This is my body”.

p186-213  Vanhoozer notes that the question has been asked: Can Protestants be Prostestant, and yet also be committed to the unity of the Church? I think the question could also be turned around. Can Roman Catholics be Roman Catholic , and yet be committed to the unity of the catholic church?  Vanhoozer analyses the unity of Protestantism under the headings of Ecumenism (“The One”); Sectarianism (“The many”]; and Denominationalism (“The Fissiparously Many”] All are unsatisfactory. Denominationalism can be “weak”, “radical”,  “strong”. There needs to be communion in the church (and between the churches) …a communion of communions.

p188 Protestant Chrisitianity is not sectarian but there is no adequate definition of ‘sectarian’…one person’s sect is another’s denomination. 

p189 Vanhoozer notes that zeal for the Gospel is more important zeal for the denomination.

p190 Vanhoozer quotes Barry Ensign-George: No denomination is ever the full embodiment of the church universal in this time. [in Denomination: Assessing an Ecclesiological Category: Ed. Paul M Collins & Barry Ensign-George, 1 – 21, London, T & T Clark, 2011, p7]

p191 Where the gospel is, Christ is; where Christ is, there is the church.

p194 Vanhoozer notes: Binding and loosing —otherwise known as fraternal admonition or what the first Anabaptists called “the rule of Christ” — is a central church practice, derived from Matthew’s teaching in Matthew 18:15 – 20 about how the church should deal with a  recalcitrant sinner….John Yoder claims that “the process of binding and loosing in the local community of faith provides the practical and theological foundation for the centrality of the local congregation.  [John Howard Yoder: The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical, Ed. by Michael G. Cartwright, Scottdale PA, Herald, 1994, p352.

This process however can sadly and tragically be misused by sectarian cult and church leaders who set one set of rules for their church members but do not do not apply them to themselves especially in the areas of money and sex.  See especially Morag Zwartz: Apostles of Fear: A Church Cult Exposed, St Mary’s SA, Paranesis Publishing, 2008. Vanhoozer also notes in fn42, p194. “Sadly, it appears that Yoder may not have practised the politics of Jesus consistently. In 2104 the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary issued a formal condemnation of Yoder’s sexual victimisation of women. See further Rachel Goosen’s article “The Failure to Bind and Loose: Responses to Yoder’s Sexual Abuse”, The Mennonite Journal, 2 January 2015. [website noted p194fn42]

p195 Vanhoozer notes that church unity is based not only on agreements  but also on the awareness that disagreements need not lead to division but, rather, prove the existence of a reconciling community.

p197f  Vanhoozer challenges the view of D. Broughton Knox and Donald Robinson, that when the New Testament speaks of ἑκκλησια (ekklēsia), it refers to either a local or a heavenly gathering (with an emphasis on the activity or actuality of the gathering). According to Knox and Robinson, there is no evidence of a ‘third place”, an earthly ecclesial entity larger than a local congregation. In fn.63 Vanhoozer notes: Donald Robinson …admits that Acts 9:31 seems to refer to a regional as distinct from a local church. However, “as the context beginning at 8:1 reveals, this is still the Jerusalem church, attenuated or dispersed through persecution. But the conception of a church which extends territorially while remaining the same church, however it may appeal to our modern frame of mind, has no further development in the NT.” [ed. Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson: Donald Robinson: Selected Works, Vol.1, Assembling God’s People, Camperdown NSW, Australian Church Record: Newton NSW, Moore College, 2008,pp 216-17] Vanhoozer rejects this view on the grounds that the textual evidence for Acts 9:31 supports the reading “church” rather than “churches”. Metzger notes: The range and age of the witnesses which read the singular number are superior to those that read the plural. [Bruce M Metzger: A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, London, United Bible Societies, 1971 p367 although his “B” rating for the singular does indicate that there is some degree of doubt concerning the reading selected for the text. [Metzger p.xxviii]. Vanhoozer notes; Might there be biblical support after all for the notion of one, translocal, visible church?

p200 Vanhoozer challenges and “corrects”  McGrath’s mutation analogy for Protestantism in Christianity’s Dangerous Idea. Vanhoozer writes:  Protestantism is not the virus that divides and attacks the body; it is the antibodies that set to work attacking the bodies’ infections. 

p201 Vanhoozer notes the 1973 Leuenberg Agreement in Europe reaffirming the unique mediation of Christ at the heart of the Scriptures and that “the message of justification [acquittal] as the message of God’s free grace is the measure of the Church’s preaching…as of today, [2016?] over one hundred Protestant denominations have signed the Leuenberg Agreement and are now known as the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE). [The Leuenberg Agreement can be found at

p202. The most difficult challenge for churches not  agreeing to sign up to the Leuenberg Agreement remains the formulation of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

p204 Vanhoozer notes: The telltale sign of Christian unity is our love for Christ and for one another in Christ …not “agreement with them in every matter of theology.”  [W.David Buschart: Exploring Protestant Traditions: An Invitation to Theology Hospitality, Downers Grove Il, IVP Academic, 2006, p260.

p207 Vanhoozer uses the literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of reading a text with “outsiders” to assist churches and theologians to achieve conciliarism in biblical interpretation. Vanhoozer notes:There is one gospel, but it takes many voices from various times and places, perhaps even different confessional traditions, to apprehend and comprehend fully its meaning….Christians too are finite and do not know everything at once

p210 Catholicity helps to address, even cure, the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism by countering it with comprehensive interpretive unity —at least as concerns the economy of the gospel.

p211f. Vanhoozer uses the work of George Steiner, a humanist and author of The Idea of Europe: An Essay, [London, Overlook Duckworth, 2015] to defend Protestant pluralism. Steiner admits that the idea of Europe may have run its cours  (some are saying something similar about Protestantism. He is aware that the Contintent has produced both great poets and terrible dictators, classic works of art and wars of ethnic cleansing..Yet Steiner identifies the real genius of Europe with what William Blake terms, “the holiness of the minute particular”: “It is that of linguistic, cultural, social diversity, of a prodigal mosaic which often makes a trivial distance, twenty kilometres apart, a division between worlds. [ibid. p59]. The genius of mere Protestant Christianity, similarly, is its great unity-in-diversity.

p215f  ..the genius and glory of mere Protestant Christianity —is best realised in the transdenominational movement known as evangelicalism. The true catholicity of the church is a catholicity determined by the gospel….even though critics like Darryl Hart  contend that “evangelicalism is a construction of religious historians…nothing more than a generalization. [Darryl G Hart: Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2004 p29, 196] Cf Mark Noll: The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. [Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1994,p3]

p219 Evangelicalism is a booster shot in the arm to a tired and decrepit Protestantism, opening up the possibility of a unity of confession on first-order doctrines but not necessarily on second – and third-order doctrines. At the same time the evangelical movement has become riddled with cultural cancers: that to a doctrinally deprived immune system, it has also caught a social disease, MTD (moralistic therapeutic deism). Protestantism can now return the favour by supplying confessional stem cells to the compromised evangelical body.

p223. fn 24 Many rivulets and tributaries feed into and proceed from the river of Protestant evangelicalism, including Puritanism, Pietism, and, most recently, Pentecostalism.

p224 ..each Protestant church seeks to be faithful to the gospel, but no one form of Protestantism exhausts the gospel’s meaning….There is one gospel, but several interpretive traditions.

p225  …church unity is ultimately eschatological…

p226 ..the Protestant churches must evince the fruits of the Spirit …humility, gentleness and patience.

p227 …until such time of consummated catholicity, however, when God will be all in all, the church must make do with Pentecostal  (i.e. plural) unity.

p229 …Every Protestant evangelical is a martyr to the Word in the double sense of (1) witnessing to what God says rather than one’s own interpretations, and (2) suffering the conflict of interpretations with other Bible-believing Christians. 

p230  Vanhoozer quotes Anthony Thistleton: “if the only viable criterion of meaning is that which coheres with what their reading community regards as conducive to “progress,” all interpretation becomes corporate self-affirmation,” [Anthony Thistleton: Can the Bible Mean Whatever We Want it to Mean? Chester UK, Chester Academic Press, 2005,p18] Vanhoozer comments: wretched interpreter that I am! Who will deliver me from this corporate will to interpretative power?”

p232 Vanhoozer notes that  historian David Bebbington lists four characteristics of Protestant evangelicalism ..crucicentrism, biblicism, conversionism, and activism. [David W Bebbington: Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, London, Unwin Hyman, 1989,pp2-17. Vanhoozer would add multi-denominationalism.

p233 Protestant evangelicals believe that one’s fidelity to the church must be measured by the degree of the church’s fidelity to the gospel.  [Brown, op.cit. p217]