Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation is a manifesto, exploring the sensibilities of theological retrieval. Michael Allen and Scott Swain seek to reclaim the role of tradition making as “the processes and products by which the church receives and transmits apostolic teaching not simply as human cultural activities and artifacts but also as fruits of the Spirit (p. 25).” Integral to this process is the recovery of Sola Scriptura back into the doctrinal family of divine action, “[Sola Scriptura’s] bastardization into a ‘no creed but the Bible’ approach to faith and practice has followed from its being removed from its theological family: other teaching regarding God’s self-communication; our receptive dependence before him in all areas of life, including the intellectual, relational and moral; and the churchly context of such self-revelation, relational growth, and spiritual formation. Sola Scriptura is taken by many to involve not only a claim for the Bible but also a claim against tradition and church (p. 49).” In this line of thinking, they argue, sola Scriptura has been turned into solo Scriptura – “A bastard child nursed on the breast of modern rationalism and individualism (p. 85).”
They go on to argue that two classic errors are evident in solo Scriptura: Donatism and deism. The Donatists were a group within the church of the fourth and fifth centuries who opposed the return of Christians who had caved under persecution back into the church. The Donatist believed that to invite these fallen brothers and sisters back into fellowship would pollute the purity of the church. “Zeal for biblical purity may well lead to overlooking the fullness of God’s involvement in ecclesial history and even his providential and spiritual leading of an imperfect but genuine church (p. 57).”
Secondly, solo Scriptura is deistic. “The involvement of God is entirely described in the past tense: God did reveal, God did speak, God did give us an inscripturated Word. The present tense is entirely immanent, however, and involved only our own activities: receiving, reading, studying, questioning, critiquing, and so on (p. 57).”
Allen and Swain conclude, “To be more biblical, then, one cannot be biblicistic. To be more biblical, one must also be engaged in the process of traditioning…It is one thing to affirm that the context for a doctrine of scriptural authority is the self-revelatory work of the Triune God as it takes shape amid the life of the people of God, over and against the reign of hermeneutical approaches that are covertly deistic or seemingly Donatist. It is another thing to shape and sustain doctrinal concepts that point to and emphasize that link between biblical command and sovereign divine lordship amid the kingdom of the redeemed (p. 84-86).”
In this compelling (and quotable!) book, Allen and Swain clear the ground for future maturity within the church in which it is possible to be both Reformed and catholic.