In a post a few days ago, I concluded with SDG, so for the sake of completion, here are all five Solas of the reformation
Sola Scriptura Scripture alone–the Bible is to serve as the only source of authority
Solus Christus Christ alone–salvation is found only in Christ
Sola Gratia Grace alone–justification is grace alone, not based on effort/works
Sola Fide Faith alone–this justification which is by grace alone, is through faith alone
Soli Deo Gloria Glory to God alone–the whole of creation and all elements of the redemption process are for God’s glory
Some thoughts (definitely not exhaustive) and observations, starting with Sola Scriptura
Sola Scriptura Scripture alone
(You can click on the images to enlarge)
This had to be the focus of the Reformation because so much tradition had not just been added to Scripture but replaced it.
But is it true that we only use Scripture?
What about reason? Theology is a process of reasoning about what God has revealed. God, in His wisdom, did not give us a systematic theology text, but a revelation of Himself. Sometimes this revelation is through nature (general revelation, Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-21), sometimes through conscience (Romans 2:14-15), clearly through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:21) and His Son (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:1-2).
The revelation through the Word is sometimes through narratives which reveals how a personal God interacts with man. These narratives are sometimes descriptive, not prescriptive. Sometimes His Word is in poetry, the language of emotion. At times through didactic, logical progressive thoughts. All these forms of revelation require us to reason. As we encounter God and His Word, we must process what we read.
A danger occurs when our logic and reason seek to determine what the text should say rather than working to understand the text. There are theological systems that are logical, but which are not biblical. That is, in order to be logical they make conclusions that can’t always be supported by Scripture, and I believe, at other times create contradictions. But those problems do not negate the need for reason.
But not only do we use reason, along with Scripture, we also involve tradition and experience. We never approach a biblical text without preunderstanding. We are not neutral. Everyone have presuppositions which form the basis of their thinking. While our preunderstanding can color our view of the world and the Word, the goal is not to become pre-suppositionless but pre-suppositionally self-critical. No matter how hard we try, we can’t see a text from a totally neutral perspective. But we must allow the text to mold, develop, change and correct our preunderstanding. Preunderstanding that may be caused by gender, ethnicity, culture, experience (and many more areas).
So, Scripture is the final authority, but we use reason and we have traditions and experience of which we must be aware.
These next two graphics picture how I think we develop our theological understanding. It should be founded on the Word and making a practical difference in my life. (I guess there could be things we believe, but don’t think about regularly or for which we may not have immediate applications–I’ll need to think more about that.) As I develop my theology I also evaluate my theology. My theological system should be consistent and therefore it helps me as I do exegesis. Since Scripture interprets Scripture my theology (the synthesis of my overall understanding of Scripture) helps me connect passages. But my theology should not force a passage to say something it does not say, nor ignore a challenging or difficult issue. When my exegesis and my theology are not consistent, I must evaluate both my theology and my exegesis. Sometimes admitting that there are things I can’t fully understand (the finite trying to understand the infinite). Those times I should celebrate the greatness of God and continue seeking answers.
Ideally we should always be in the process of “doing theology.” By “doing theology” I mean that theology should not be stagnant but dynamic. Not that we are looking for ways of discarding our theology, but of refining it. As we continue to study God’s Word and as the world changes around us, we must be able to communicate God’s truth into our world, responding to new or repackaged ideas.
God has been so gracious to give us His Word, to allow us to know Him–but it’s not just for us, or for a mental exercise, but ultimately for His glory.
May God be our passion, His Word our priority and His glory our purpose.
There are four other Solas, we’ll get back to them in later posts.