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Fall 2018 · Vol. 47 No. 2 · pp. 276–278 

Book Review

God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture

Matthew Barrett. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016. 374 pages.

Reviewed by Doug Heidebrecht

Matthew Barrett’s God’s Word Alone is part of the 5 Solas Series (which he edits) exploring foundational Reformation doctrines. Barrett serves as Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.

God’s Word Alone is a defense of sola Scriptura, by which Barrett means, “the Bible is our chief, supreme and ultimate authority” (23). In the first section, Barrett highlights the Reformers’ assertion that Scripture, not ecclesiastical tradition, is the sole source of divine revelation. He describes how the Reformers’ high view of biblical authority was later undermined by reason (the Enlightenment), experience (liberalism), and relativism (postmodernism), while being defended by twentieth-century evangelicalism (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy). This historical survey is followed by a biblical theology of the “Word of God,” examining God’s covenantal revelation through the two testaments. The final section explores four characteristics of Scripture: authority, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency. {277}

Barrett grounds biblical authority in divine verbal plenary inspiration and interprets the biblical claim of being “God-breathed” to mean “the words of Scripture are God’s own words” (226). While he recognizes both divine and human authorship of Scripture, he holds the divine aspect to be primary. Barrett maintains that “Scripture is self-authenticating” and offers a survey of how inspiration was affirmed by Jesus and the biblical writers, which supports his claim that “we seek to ground authority in the greatest authority that we can find, namely, Scripture itself” (148). Barrett contends, “as significant as Christ is, God’s permanent revelation of himself comes to us in written form” (159). While Barrett acknowledges that Scripture’s authority is grounded in God as the divine author, his repeated references to the Bible as the “supreme and ultimate authority” give the impression that he is attributing to the Scriptures what ultimately belongs to the Triune God. His claim, that those who “locate authority in Christ [or] in the church . . . will be disappointed” because they “will be grounding God’s authority in something other than what God intended—his written Word” (263), suggests he underestimates the primary nature of God’s revelation in the second Person of the Trinity who claims, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).

Central to Barrett’s portrayal of the Bible is the concept of inerrancy, by which he means that the Bible, “in its original manuscripts, does not err in all that the biblical authors assert” (265). While Barrett expresses the desire to “read Scripture on its own terms and categories,” thus allowing “Scripture to speak for itself rather than placing an extrabiblical (and unbiblical) grid on top of Scripture” (150, 224), he admits that “the exact term, inerrancy, is not found in the Bible,” yet adamantly insists it “logically follows from what Scripture says about itself” (271–72). He also cautions against reading into the Bible modern views of truth, thereby reasoning that “truth and precision are not the same thing. Scripture can be completely truthful in what it affirms, without being totally precise” (268, 269). Inerrancy is the fundamental characteristic that links the inspiration of the Bible to its authority—“it is precisely because God’s Word is God-breathed and therefore inerrant (i.e. God does not breathe out error) that it possesses unconditional and final authority” (288). Barrett concludes that if Scripture errs, then not only is “Scripture deeply flawed” but “God himself is untrustworthy” (271). Barrett sees no dichotomy between the language of infallibility and inerrancy, since “both affirm Scripture’s truthfulness and reliability in everything it addresses.” However, he rejects a “limited inerrancy,” which only acknowledges the Bible is without error regarding its spiritual message (128, 287).

Barrett also affirms the clarity of Scripture—it can “be comprehended and understood by all who are aided by the Holy Spirit and by ordinary {278} means” (315). While he recognizes there are still passages in the Bible that are difficult to understand, nevertheless he asserts that clarity “is a property of Scripture itself,” and if there is a perceived lack of clarity, the problem lies with the reader “whose thought is confused, cloudy and sinful” (317). Finally, Barrett upholds the sufficiency of Scripture, which provides “all things necessary for salvation and for living the Christian life” (334). He does not maintain that the Bible provides information on every subject, but because it is the “supreme and final authority in all of life,” it is able to provide all the truth God’s people will need for salvation and godliness (339).

Throughout God’s Word Alone, Barrett addresses Roman Catholicism and postmodernism as the primary adversaries challenging the authority, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture. Alongside these opponents, he targets the radical reformers, who are characterized as those who disregard tradition altogether and hold to nuda Scriptura not sola Scriptura. It is difficult to imagine how Barrett, a Reformation scholar, can continue to perpetuate such a narrow caricature of sixteenth-century Anabaptism (which he only describes with references to Thomas Münster’s and Menno Simons’s Christological error). While Barrett provides a helpful overview of the biblical support for the authority of Scripture, his defensive posture unfortunately fails to offer a robust reflection on the practical implications regarding how the authority of Scripture shapes discipleship, the life of the church, and its witness in the world—beyond simply asserting it is true.

Doug Heidebrecht
Associate Professor of Mission and Theology
MB Seminary, Langley, BC

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