From time to time I’ve experienced or observed this: Someone asks for book suggestions about a certain biblical or theological topic and…several people answer with “the Bible” and there is also a certain haughty tone to their reply. “Duh, the Bible!” Why would you need anything but the Bible? Shame on you for wanting sources besides the Bible.
Sigh. Of course, the Bible is the primary source for our beliefs, and we don’t want to neglect it, but we often need more than that. Perhaps sola scriptura is being taken too literally? Even the Reformers wrote about Scripture – should we not read them? Should we throw John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in the trash?
We always need the community of faith – present and past – to help us stay on track. As the saying goes, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, and we can repeat biblical or theological error that was already dealt with in the past.
The Bible is infallible, but not us. We can misunderstand, have biases, and ulterior motives as we read Scripture. We need the community of faith, that is – other believers, whether in person or their printed words – to help and guide us as we read and study Scripture. Another person will see things we don’t, and certain books can help us better understand the Scripture. (Of course, we can become overly dependent on other sources and we do need to carefully read and observe the Scripture for our selves.)
The need for sources outside of Scripture does not conflict with “all things necessary for salvation and about faith and life are taught in the Bible with sufficient clarity so that the ordinary believer can find it there and understand it.” – This stands. The Bible is not inaccessible to ordinary people. You don’t need advanced degrees or a high IQ to read and understand Scripture.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t need help and guidance from others. A mentality of “the Bible and me” can go terribly wrong. The church is the “New Covenant community of the Spirit” (as it was defined in a class I took) and we need each other. Read your Bible but read other books too.
Final clarification: I am responding to a certain problem in this post. Because, of course, the opposite can happen too – the church or Christian community can go wrong – and need the Bible to get back on track. Indeed, that was the essence of the Reformation, but the Reformers did not abandon the community of faith but were trying to reform it. See – that is the point – we need Scripture and community.