Evangelicals rightly affirm Sola Scriptura, the principle that the Bible is the final and ultimate authority in life and practice. Sometimes, however, this leads to the conclusion that tradition (or historical theology) is unimportant. Not always, but sometimes.
And this is disastrous biblically and practically.
In Ephesians 4:11–12, Paul writes, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (ESV).
So, God gave us spirit empowered teachers to equip the church. Do they stop having spiritual effectiveness after they die? No! Beside the fact that it is not death to die and the saints all live, Christians have passed on their theological wisdom in writings since the beginning and we can learn much from it.
The New Testament itself is an apostolic writing (cf. Eph 2:20). Paul wrote letters to churches, and they still guide the churches today. Jude uses the Book of Enoch as a source of wisdom for his inspired writing. In the Old Testament, the author of Kings refers to numerous written records in the course of his work.
Christians immediately started writing and passing along their wisdom. Clement of Rome and Ignatius wrote in the 90s, right at the end of the apostolic era. And their writings still give us wholesome spiritual food today, albeit they are not uniquely inspired like the Bible is.
But they do provide us wisdom and insight into the Bible that we must test by the Bible, which is a uniquely inspired and authoritative text.
It’s part of the DNA of the Bible and Christianity to pass on wisdom through writing.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Mark Driscoll called Jesus “God in a bod,” citing John 1:14 on January 12th, 2018:
Jesus is God in a bod “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jn 1:14 #JohnGospel
— Pastor Mark Driscoll (@PastorMark) January 12, 2018
While I cannot be certain, Driscoll’s statement leads me to believe that he has not considered the wisdom of earlier Spirit-filled leaders of the church. Had he done so, then he would have realized that this statement is practically disastrous. Matt Emerson responded:
Hey kids, this is called “Apollinarianism” https://t.co/W6UDy7aJ8p
— Matt Emerson (@M_Y_Emerson) January 12, 2018
Apollinarianism teaches that God took over the human body of Christ, although Christ had a human soul.
But the big problem with that is that Christ became like us every way except for sin according to Hebrews (2:14 with 4:15). And he did so, in part, because he wanted to heal our entire nature.
The fourth-century theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus, famously said, “What Christ does not assume, he does not heal.” If he didn’t have a human mind, then our minds are still in sin.
It’s not God in a bod. It’s God became flesh, flesh like ours in every way including mind and soul, yet without sin. And because he was without sin, he redeemed our sinful flesh. He healed our minds, not just our souls.
So, we ought to listen to Spirit-filled Christians whom God appointed as teachers of the church, whether they are alive in the body or away from the body. It saves us from disasters in theology; it underscores our salvation in Christ.
And ultimately, it serves Sola Scriptura because we learn how people from various ages and cultures interpreted the Bible. We can sometimes overcome our cultural blindspots by reading Syrian Christians from the 400s!