By Rebekah Connell ’15
The Conference on Faith and History, held biennially and hosted this October at Gordon College, provides a forum for scholars of Christianity and history to learn from one another. Professors, scholars and students from all over the country bring their questions and insights. The intermingling of so many levels of scholarship is a big part of what makes the CFH such a valuable experience. It was a unique privilege for Gordon students and professors to be able to attend presentations by notable historians who have widely influenced the study of history.
Dr. Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, presented the conference's final lecture, entitled “Scriptura Sola after Nearly 500 Years: A Protestant Blessing or a Protestant Curse?” Scriptura sola, Latin for “by scripture alone,” refers to the belief that the Bible includes all the information necessary for a life of salvation. Noll’s talk laid out the progression of Protestants' use of scriptura sola throughout American history. As he began, Noll quipped, “After 500 years, has scriptura sola been a blessing or a curse? The answer, of course, is…yes. That’s it, thank you—end of lecture.” The audience of iPad-clutching professors and notebook-crinkling students laughed, and settled into their seats for what they knew would be a much more thorough addressing of this challenging question.
Noll explored the diverse meanings that people have drawn from this concept during different time periods. He also raised difficult questions about the Protestant use of scripture, including the historical justification of slavery and outright disagreements between congregations of the same faith.
There is ambiguity in the definition of scriptura sola, Noll stressed; what does it mean, exactly, to follow the Bible alone? Some Christians uphold the sole use of the Bible in living the Christian life; others advocate the exploration of texts from other religions in order to better understand our own. According to Noll, the best solution is for Christians to be socially and politically engaged, infiltrating the layers of society with scriptural wisdom—a method, Noll pointed out, exemplified by our school’s founder, A. J. Gordon. Regardless of scriptura sola’s exact meaning in our world now, we know that scripture commands us to extend the love of Christ. This, Noll emphasized, is what we should pay attention to.
Noll’s lecture provided a triumphant conclusion to four days of vigorous discussion of the overlaps between faith and history. A true scholar of faith, he left us with questions and with a call to action.
Photo: Scholars from all over the country came together with Gordon students this month for the biennial Conference for Faith and History—pictured here in the Ken Olsen Science Center lobby.
Rebekah Connell ’15 is an English major from New York and student writer for the Office of College Communications.