Biblical Authority after Babel

Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity

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"Provides a cogent response to those who see wisdom in the solas yet are also concerned about schism, secularism, and skepticism. Maybe Vanhoozer was put here for such a time as this."--Patrick Schreiner, The Gospel Coalition

In recent years, notable scholars have argued that the Protestant Reformation unleashed interpretive anarchy on the church. Is it time to consider the Reformation to be a 500-year experiment gone wrong?

World-renowned evangelical theologian Kevin Vanhoozer thinks not. While he sees recent critiques as legitimate, he argues that retrieving the Reformation's core principles offers an answer to critics of Protestant biblical interpretation. Vanhoozer explores how a proper reappropriation of the five solas--sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola scriptura (Scripture alone), solus Christus (in Christ alone), and sola Deo gloria (for the glory of God alone)--offers the tools to constrain biblical interpretation and establish interpretive authority. He offers a positive assessment of the Reformation, showing how a retrieval of "mere Protestant Christianity" has the potential to reform contemporary Christian belief and practice.

This provocative response and statement from a top theologian is accessibly written for pastors, church leaders, and students.

Introduction: Should the Church Repent or Retrieve the Reformation? Secularism, Skepticism, and Schism--Oh My!
"By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them": Assessing a Revolution
Narrating the Story of Protestantism
Repenting the (Unintended) Iniquities of Our Reformation Fathers
Fine-Tuning the Problem; Deepening the Dilemma
Always Retrieving? "Ressourcing" the Debate about Interpretive Authority
Why Mere Protestant Christianity Matters
1. Grace Alone: The Mere Protestant Ontology, Economy, and Teleology of the Gospel
Sola Gratia: What the Reformers Meant
Nature and/or Grace: Other Views
Triune Ontology and the Economy of Salvation
Sola Gratia for Bible, Church, and Interpretive Authority
2. Faith Alone: The Mere Protestant Principle of Authority
Sola Fide: What the Reformers Meant
Faith and/or Criticism: Other Views
The Principle of Authority
Sola Fide for Bible, Church, and Interpretive Authority
3. Scripture Alone: The Mere Protestant Pattern of Interpretive Authority
Sola Scriptura: What the Reformers Meant
Scripture and/or Tradition: Other Views
The Pattern of Authority
Sola Scriptura for Bible, Church, and Interpretive Authority
4. In Christ Alone: The Royal Priesthood of All Believers
Solus Christus: What the Reformers Meant
Christology and Ecclesiology: Other Views
The Royal Priesthood
Solus Christus for Bible, Church, and Interpretive Authority
5. For the Glory of God Alone: The Wealth of Holy Nations
Soli Deo Gloria: The Lord's Supper as a Test of Christian Unity
Church Unity: Other Views
Communion in the Church (and between Churches)
Soli Deo Gloria for Bible, Church, and Interpretive Authority
Conclusion: From Catholic Protestantism to Protestant Evangelicalism
"And in the Morning, It Was Leah!"
Protestant Evangelicalism: A Marriage Made in Heaven?
After Babel, Pentecost: The Households of God and the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity
The Gospel Alone: The
Solas in the Pattern of Protestant Evangelical Interpretive Authority


"In a season of Reformation remembrances, here comes a fresh appraisal of the core principles of historic Protestant Christianity. Written with conviction, nuance, and wisdom, this is Kevin Vanhoozer at his best--a treasure."

Timothy George, founding dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

"The Reformation was about countering what was wrong in Catholicism, but its central principles, the five solas, are not only negations. Reformational Protestantism is also about being for something. The solas are therefore principles for shaping a robust theology. It is this constructive task that Vanhoozer has undertaken in this book, and he has done so with rigor, vigor, and an infectious enthusiasm."

David F. Wells, Distinguished Senior Research Professor, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"More than a rousing three cheers for the Reformation--though it is that--Kevin Vanhoozer's new book is a sparkling proposal for Protestant unity based on the five solas and also based on a differentiation between central gospel truths that are absolutely required and areas where disagreement should not divide Protestants denominationally. This is a constructive proposal for the next 500 years, rooted in an appreciation of the past 500. Catholic theologians like myself, seeking paths for deeper ecumenical dialogue, need to listen to Vanhoozer's rigorous, gracious, and erudite defense of the truth of Protestant Christianity."

Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

"I've been waiting years for this book! In a theological landscape in which it's all too trendy to dismiss Protestantism, Vanhoozer takes a harder, braver route. He offers the church a compelling 'mere Protestantism' strong enough to give us hope going forward as we continue to seek, together with the tradition, faithfulness to God's good revelation to us in Scripture."

Beth Felker Jones, professor of theology, Wheaton College

"Kevin Vanhoozer properly calls for a Protestant ressourcement, encouraging us to rediscover some of the best wisdom from the early Reformers (think solas taken together) even as he challenges us to disentangle ourselves from some of the deeply problematic misunderstandings and outcomes that later arose in Protestant circles. He accomplishes what he sets out to do: to look back creatively in order to move forward faithfully. If you are a Protestant and you love Scripture and the church, please read this book!"

Kelly M. Kapic, professor of theology, Covenant College

"Are rumors of Protestantism's demise greatly exaggerated? May it actually be the case that the authority, unity, and mission of the whole church could be served precisely by reengaging with the Reformation solas rather than running from them? While wrestling frankly with the Reformation's unintended consequences, Vanhoozer makes a penetrating argument that must be taken seriously."

Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California

"The authority of Scripture in the life of the church is a perennial theme of debate. In this book, Kevin Vanhoozer links the subject to the five solas of the Reformation era, explaining the part that each one of them plays in our interpretation and application of the Bible today. Half a millennium later, he shows how there is still life in these classical formulations and why they should be recovered by the church today. Biblical Authority after Babel will be a stimulating discussion starter and will help to shape the evolution of Protestant hermeneutics in the years ahead."

Gerald Bray, research professor of divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

"At a time when the terms 'evangelical' and 'catholic' both face bewildering internal and external pressures, Kevin Vanhoozer helps to shine Scripture's light on an authentically Protestant path forward. Amid newfound interest in the Reformation solas, this book's distinctive contribution lies in discerning their hermeneutical import. This approach challenged me to think afresh about the gospel, Scripture, and the church at several points."

Daniel J. Treier, Blanchard Professor of Theology, Wheaton College Graduate School

"Protestants in general, and evangelicals in particular, are often challenged to manifest a robust grasp of the catholicity of the church. The difficulty of such a task can be compounded by (mis)understandings of sola scriptura, as well as of the authority of--and authority in--the church. In Biblical Authority after Babel, Kevin Vanhoozer summons evangelical Protestants to squarely face these and related issues in their particular stream of Christianity, and he proposes a way forward by both faithfully and creatively drawing upon the five solas of the Reformation. This is an astute and constructively thought-provoking book."

W. David Buschart, professor of theology and historical studies, Denver Seminary

"Protestantism has been charged with many schisms and with spawning modern secularism and its varied ills. While some have sought solace in other folds, Kevin Vanhoozer responds not by looking elsewhere for another defense but by doubling down through retrieval of basic principles of Protestant theology. Further, he shows that those reformational solas were themselves retrievals of earlier biblical faith and practice. Readers of Vanhoozer have learned to expect to be charitably guided and imaginatively provoked, and this book delivers similar wisdom and provocation."

Michael Allen, associate professor of systematic and historical theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

The Author

  1. Kevin J. Vanhoozer

    Kevin J. Vanhoozer

    Kevin J. Vanhoozer (PhD, University of Cambridge), one of the world's top theologians, is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He previously taught at Wheaton College and the University of...

    Continue reading about Kevin J. Vanhoozer


Christianity Today 2017 Book Award Winner
A Jesus Creed 2017 Church History Book of the Year

"A careful balanced study of each of the solas."

Scot McKnight,

Jesus Creed blog

"Vanhoozer ably proves there doesn't have to be a contradiction between a high view of the church, church tradition, and the Reformational solas. In sum, he makes a strong case for Protestants as convictional conciliarists. . . . Biblical Authority after Babel is a necessary and timely book. . . . [It] provides a cogent response to those who see wisdom in the solas yet are also concerned about schism, secularism, and skepticism. Maybe Vanhoozer was put here for such a time as this."

Patrick Schreiner,

The Gospel Coalition

"Vanhoozer responds to Protestantism's conventional criticisms without being defensive or dismissive. . . . Readers who have come to think of the solas merely as post-Reformation slogans may be surprised at how Vanhoozer excavates so much from them. By the sheer profusion of doctrinal delights, Vanhoozer makes good on his claim that 'the solas are essentially positive, rather than negative, insights into the presuppositions, implications, and entailments of the gospel.'. . . [This book is a] profound [exercise] in the most salutary kind of Protestant self-critique. Ideally, today's evangelicals will have the grace to apply [it] judiciously to the tasks of reform."

Fred Sanders,

Christianity Today

"Vanhoozer takes on the charge that Protestantism unleashed a cacophony of biblical, theological, and ecclesial perspectives upon the church. Biblical Authority after Babel offers a deeper understanding of the intention and meaning of the Reformation solas. This book will reward its readers, not only because of Vanhoozer's typically creative prose, but also because it offers a compelling account of biblical authority in a Protestant key."

Vincent Bacote,

Christianity Today

"Vanhoozer deals honestly, thoroughly, and confrontationally with the proposed case against the Reformation. . . . Unfortunately, the proliferation of interpretation under the banner of sola scriptura unwittingly undercuts the entire concept of sola scriptura. The idea of interpretive anarchy is a stinging criticism that should be considered among Protestants and Evangelicals. This is the issue Vanhoozer addresses head-on, offering a paradigm to move forward and to 'reclaim elements for a normative Protestantism from the ruins of present-day Protestantism by revisiting historical Protestantism' in the form of the five solas of the Reformation. . . . He brilliantly discusses the five solas, showing how they must be taken together as a body of theology instead of as separate principles, while at the same time driving each of them to their practical implications for ecclesiology. . . . The book moves with logical fluidity. It is written in a dense, theological style with just enough wit and humor to keep it interesting. It is a must-read for denominational or associational leaders as well as for those in Christian higher education institutions."

Mike Augsburger,

Journal of Ministry and Theology

"This book is a challenging read, but it offers a wide range of riches to persevering readers. There are some marvelous theological one-liners, and a series of fascinating 'sidebars.'. . . This volume is warmly commended for many reasons, and particularly for: (1) its advocacy of an authority principle founded in the Triune God which is articulated externally in Scripture and internally in the believer by the Holy Spirit; (2) its strong focus on the importance of respecting catholicity both historically in tradition, and contemporaneously in conferring with other interpreters; and (3) its assertion that biblical interpretation is less a procedure that readers perform on the text than a process of spiritual formation that the text performs in readers."

Fergus Macdonald,

Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology

"Vanhoozer's defense of the Reformation is humble and convincing--and with his sharp wit often on display, a delight to read. . . . While Vanhoozer certainly flits nimbly through the vast theological, philosophical, and linguistic literature on hermeneutics (his faithful readers will expect nothing less), one finds oneself holding not a book of theory to be shelved next to Ricoeur and Gadamer but a charter to be scribbled in, bookmarked, and propped nearby for easy reference. . . . As a proposal for a way forward for Protestants seeking not just to affirm but to practice biblical authority, Vanhoozer has given us a very promising starting point. It deserves to be read and discussed across the Protestant spectrum, a fitting start to what will hopefully be a thriving continual confluence of believers toward greater biblical insight."

Jacob Thielman,

Calvin Theological Journal

"[Vanhoozer's] little book is a prolonged meditation upon how the solas might shape Protestant theology, and in particular, Protestant biblical interpretation. . . . The result is a greater appreciation for the Reformational inheritance and a clearer footing for which to understand classical Protestant convictions. . . . The singular value of this book is the creative way in which he reappropriates otherwise familiar concepts--faith alone, grace alone, etc.--into creative interlocutors for issues in modern theology. . . . Vanhoozer is to be commended for his creative vitality when it comes to presenting the Old Protestantism for those of us who live in the New. In this way, his book is a model for utilizing the riches of history to address contemporary issues in biblical and systematic theology."

Scott A. Corbin,

Books at a Glance

"Many times a book like this, written from a particular Christian perspective, relies on cartoonish, caricatured descriptions of ideas and perspectives of those representing differing conclusions. Vanhoozer avoids said pitfall. With irenic charm Vanhoozer makes his way between those through whom he weaves his own telling of the solas. . . . The plurality of Protestant interpretations is a constant source of defensiveness, internecine squabbles, and denominational battles. No matter whether a pastor aligns with Vanhoozer's Reformed frame of reference, this book will provide a good resource, even a refresher for many, for thinking through the interdependent doctrines that comprise an argument for the authority of Scripture. . . . Recommended."

Todd Littleton,

LifeWay Pastors blog

"As I worked through [Vanhoozer's] argument, I found much that I could affirm wholeheartedly. He begins, not with scripture but with God's gracious initiative. I heartily affirm his call to a humble faith that refuses to idolize certainty but equally steers clear of skepticism and relativity. He steers clear of the caricatures of biblicism that are rightly criticized. And I found his vision for unity that is not uniformity bracing. . . . Might his framework begin to inform the practice of local congregations more, around a disposition to commune and confer with fellow believers across denominational, cultural, and other differences, and to read scripture together in ways that enrich and renew each other, as an expression of our shared convictions around the grace and gospel of God? Might it also inform our disposition toward one another, where we determine not to suspect and criticize each other but to confer with and learn from each other, and seek to hear together what the Spirit is saying to the churches? While it might not rectify all the problems critics see in Protestant Christianity, it might be a start toward a catholicity that begins to prepare us for the coming of the Bridegroom."

Bob Trube,

Bob on Books blog

"Worth reading and accessible to non-specialists. . . . Vanhoozer offers a deeply considered theological appropriation of the insights of the Reformers, and he opens space for Protestant believers to have confidence in our doctrines about faith and the kind of knowing that faith involves (informed, robust, and Spirit-given)."

Benjamin Lappenga,

In All Things blog