Sola Scriptura and Western Hyperpluralism: A Critical Response to Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation

  •  Nico Vorster    


This paper discusses Brad Gregory’s claim that the Reformation era’s principle of sola scriptura is the ‘most important distant historical source of Western hyperpluralism’. After an explication of Gregory’s argument, the paper employs three counter arguments to Gregory’s claim. Firstly, it is argued that late medieval Europe was not a unified institutionalised society as Gregory suggests, but was characterised by doctrinal controversy, power struggles with the church and social discord. It would therefore be incorrect to regard the sola scriptura principle as the main historical origin of the fragmentation of Western society. Secondly, a series of intellectual revolutions from the 11th to 15th centuries played a pivotal role in the fragmentation of medieval Western society and the rise of individualist patterns of thinking. The rise of theological schools and universities, the discovery of printing and questions about the reliability of the Vulgate translation were three key factors that fractured medieval society. The sola scriptura principle was a partial phenomenon within this much larger intellectual environment. Lastly, it is argued that the sola scriptura principle was neither an invention of the Reformation, nor a novel idea, and that the Reformers did not employ the sola scriptura principle in the individualist sense that Gregory appears to belief. In the end it is a highly artificial and reductionist argument to describe the Reformation’s sola scriptura principle as the ‘most important distant historical source of Western hyperpluralism’.

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