Category Archives: Theology

The 5 Solas of the Reformation

On October 31, 2017, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

I thought it would be beneficial personally to review the history and benefits of the Reformation. So I read a few articles and started watching several documents. And am looking forward to reading Eric Metaxas’ recently released biography of Luther, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the Word.

In the process, I’ve updated the following post and will in provide additional resources.

The five pillars of the Reformation

Though these 5 Solas as not listed together in succinct fashion during the time of the Reformation, they do serve as a good summary of the core beliefs that developed and propelled the Reformation.

What we do find stated by the reformers is that, “Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.”

  • Sola Scriptura   Scripture alone—the Bible is to serve as the only source of authority  (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2
  • Solus Christus   Christ alone—salvation is found only in Christ  (John 14:6; Acts 4:11-12)
  • Sola Gratia   Grace alone—justification is grace alone, not based on effort/works   (Ephesians 1:7)
  • Sola Fide   Faith alone—this justification which is by grace alone, is through faith alone  (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • Soli Deo Gloria   Glory to God alone—the whole of creation and all elements of the redemption process are for God’s glory (Revelation 4:11; 5:9)

Some thoughts (definitely not exhaustive) and observations, starting with Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone

This had to be the focus of the Reformation because so much tradition had not just been added to Scripture but replaced it.

Apart from God’s initiative to speak to us in an authoritative, reliable, and sufficient way, we would not know God in a true, objective manner. No doubt, in creating the world, God has made himself known in creation which reflects his plan (general revelation), but to know God’s plan, purposes, and will, we need a specific Word-revelation, which serves as our final and ultimate authority. (Stephen J. Wellum) 1

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.

It does not mean that other things cannot inform our theology. The Reformers quoted past theologians freely as authoritative guides. They reflected on experience and used their reason. What sola Scriptura does mean is that when we have to choose, there is only one choice we can make: Scripture alone is our ultimate authority. And in particular it is the supreme authority, in contrast to the authority of the church and its traditions. 2

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 has 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 we are seeking to refine 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.

Reflections on the Cross

The Impact of Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement on the Cross

God could not accept us as we are, sinful, rebellious, selfish, unrighteous, unholy, unloving. He could not just ignore our condition without the cross.

God does not accept us as we are, but in spite of the way we are, He…

  • declares us righteous in Christ’s cross work of redemption
  • adopts us as son with Christ
  • transforms us into the image of Christ
  • and welcomes us into an eternal relationship with the Father

Spheres of Salvation

From the prison of sin
To the courtroom justification
To the living room of adoption
To the banquet room of glorification

Sin locks us in the prison of guilt before God
—unable to do anything to free ourselves
Justification replaces our guilt in the courtroom with righteous
—undeserved, unearned and unreimbursable
Adoption welcomes us into the living room
—unconditionally accepted in the family of God
Glorification seats us at the table with the Father
—unbroken fellowship for eternity

Basic Terms of Salvation

The atonement is the cross-work of Christ in which Christ by the grace of God has taken our place and has done what we could not do for ourselves:

Aspect

Theological Term

Anchor Passages

    1. He died once for all
Sacrifice Rom 3:25; 5:9-10;
    1. in our place

Substitution

Rom 5:6-8; 1 Pet 3:18

2 Cor 5:21

    1. paying the price for our sin
Redemption

 

Rom 3:24
    1. that satisfied God’s holiness
Propitiation/ Satisfaction Rom 3:25-26; 5:9
    1. by being declared us righteous in Christ

Justification

Rom 3:21-26; Romans 5:1-11
    1. thereby providing an eternal relationship with God

Reconciliation

2 Cor 5:19; Rom 5:1, 10-11; Jn 5:24

2 Cor 5:18-21

Grieving with Hope

My Mom always said she wanted to be buried with a fork in her hand, because at every church pot luck, someone would say, “Keep your fork, the best is yet to come.”

We often talk about Christian hope, but we have trouble defining it.

In common use, “hope” is either as an emotion— “I feel hopeful” or an uncertainty—“I hope this will happen.”

But in Scripture and through the gospel and the possibility of a relationship with God made right, not based on our own merit but completely provided by the substitutionary death of Christ—our hope, was not just an emotion nor was it uncertain.

Biblical hope is a certain anticipation.
Not just simply belief in a truth, but an inspiring expectation, that the best is truly yet to come.

A young lady my mother had been mentoring mentioned to Mary Anne that she had not seen Christians grieve before.

So we have desired to grief with hope.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, we are instructed that, in light of the reality of resurrection and the coming of the Lord, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

But we do grieve.
Grief hurts. There is a sense of pain from the loss.
Grief is numbing.
Grief brings a deep sadness.

Grief comes in waves, and they are cyclical. You don’t just go through them once.
Grief is not something you “just get over”—quickly.

Biblical hope is not a wish—“I hope so”
Biblical hope is not just an emotion—“I feel hopeful” or “I don’t feel hopeful”
Biblical hope is not just the reality of information—“I know there is a heaven”

Biblical hope has a certain focus—a focus not just on truth, but the One, Jesus Christ, who declared the truth.
Biblical hope has an excitement or anticipation to it—it looks to the future and therefore impacts the present.

Biblical hope is a certain anticipation

Biblical hope enables us to focus on the certainty of God’s word, the Person and work of Jesus Christ, including taking our place on the cross—freeing us from the guilt of sin and giving us His righteousness.

Biblical hope enables us to anticipate without fear the joyous, glorious reunion with Jesus Christ in the presence of God the Father.

Biblical hope does not remove present pain and difficulty—it provides perspective for pain and difficulty.

Biblical hope does not just provide an emotional relief—it provides a settled deep abiding peace even in the face of the uncertainty of life, when the tears come or when the hurt rises.

Biblical hope…
Motivates our daily walk
Inspires our service
Comforts our grief
Assures our doubts
Energizes our faith
Directs our perspective

Grief with hope is not a plastic, emotionless denial of pain.

Grief with hope is not fatalistic but believes in an all wise, caring, personal, good God.

Grief with hope should not be a solo role; it believes not just the truth of eternal life or the resurrection but the true nature of the Body of Christ.

Grief with hope is a moment by moment walk of faith that regularly must refocus on the certain anticipation of meeting Jesus.

Grief with hope is the certain expectation that the impact of the curse of sin has been defeated by Christ and that death truly has been swallowed up in the victory of Christ and that death truly has a limited sting.

My prayer is to grieve with hope.
To walk through, not stay in, the dark shadow of the valley of death.
To have a stronger more seasoned faith.
To be able to better comfort others who grieve.
To give a faithful testimony through word and deeds, to the certain anticipation of meeting Jesus face to face, in His full glory—fully forgive, fully transformed, fully alive.

Stephen C. Kilgore

March 2015

Union with Christ

Union with Christ perhaps the most significant theological concept of the Christian life that is the least taught, understood and believed.

Union with Christ is the linchpin of Paul’s teaching on sanctification. Below is a short but dense summary of union with Christ.  I’ve added Scripture references to enable me to not only think deeply about these awesome truths, but to ensure my thinking is not just informed by Scripture, but formed by it.  And though the truths are pervasive in Paul’s writing, I’ve concentrated on Colossians having just finished studying and teaching though this wonderful letter. (But I couldn’t help but add Romans 6!)

From John Murray in his Collected Writings [volume 2: Systematic Theology, page 289]:

“We are compelled to reach the conclusion that it is by virtue of our
having died with Christ,
and our being raised with him in his resurrection from the dead, {Colossians 2:11-15; Romans 6:1-4}
that the decisive breach with sin
in its power,
control,
and defilement
has been wrought,
and that the reason for this is that Christ
in his death
and resurrection {Colossians 3:1-4; Romans 6:3-11}
broke the power of sin, {Colossians 1:21-23; Romans 6:11}
triumphed over the god of this world, {Colossians 1:15}
the prince of darkness,
executed judgment upon the world and its ruler,
and by that victory
delivered all those who were united to him from the power of darkness, (Colossians 2:15)
and translated them into his own kingdom. {Colossians 1:13-14}
So intimate is the union between Christ and his people,
that they were partakers with him in all these triumphal achievements,
and therefore died to sin, {Romans 6:6-7, 11}
rose with Christ in the power of his resurrection, {Colossians 1:12}
and have their fruit unto holiness,
and the end everlasting life. {Colossians 1:21-23}
As the death and resurrection are central
in the whole process of redemptive accomplishment,
so are they central
in that by which sanctification itself is wrought in the hearts and lives of God’s people.” {Romans 6:12-14}

Why–“newer isn’t always truer”

This is a good reminder for those studying Scripture and those reading to grow in their theological understanding.

Thanks to Justin Talyor

 

J. I. Packer describing the heretical spirit of our age, which holds that:

the newer is the truer,

only what is recent is decent,

every shift of ground is a step forward,

and every latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject.

This is what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” (a lesson he learned from his friend Owen Barfield. Lewis defined it like this:

the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.

Lewis explains what’s wrong with this approach:

You must find out why it went out of date.

Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.

From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

Sources:

J. I. Packer, “Is Systematic Theology a Mirage? An Introductory Discussion,” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, ed. John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991), 21.

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1966) ch. 13, pp. 207-8

Jesus can Sympathize

Maintaining the balance between one's understanding of the humanity and deity of Christ is more than just a math equation (100% man + 100% God=Jesus).  It involves understanding the preexistance of the Second Person of the Trinity, the process by which He "took on" humanity and so many other issues.

But one issues that often causes people consternation are the statement in Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15
"For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we re, yet without sin."

Many rationalize that for Jesus to fully understand our temptation he had to be able to sin.  But perhaps that misses the point.  A real conflict does not require the ability to lose.

From Dane Ortlund

If Christ never sinned, can he really sympathize fully with me in all my temptations?

Nineteenth-century NT scholar B. F Westcott, commenting on Heb. 2:18, writes:

Sympathy with the sinner in his trial does not depend on the experience of sin but on the experience of the strength of the temptation to sin which only the sinless can know in its full intensity. He who falls yields before the last strain.

–Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (1892), 59

Divine Sovereignty–The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions

Reaching the unreached–because God is sovereign!

This is one of the best theological and motivating sermons on the priority of responding to the sovereignty of God in reaching the lost I've ever heard.  Awesome truth, truly convicting!

Watch it
Listen to it
Read the abridgment
but by all mean let us respond to it.

Listen to it (or download it)

Read the abridgement (it's much better to list to it, but you may appreciate reading some of the quotes and seeing the structure)

Watch it