Conversations in Reformed biblical theology


A celebration of the "solas"

If you have navigated through this site, in one form or another, you will have inevitably come across most of the Reformation solas - the “only’s” which marked the Reform.

Those solas are a tribute, not to men, but to God; not to the Reformers, but to the divine Reformer. Each of the solas place the accent upon His acting and speaking. Sola fide - what is this, but a proclamation and confession that we look beyond ourselves? Sola gratia - all blessedness comes solely through grace, and not through our deserving. Sola Scriptura - only God’s own voice can be credited with speaking with finality, beyond which there is no appeal. Solus Christus: we do not look to ourselves as the hope of our own salvation, but to the Christ who has been given to us. Soli Deo gloria - only One can rightly receive the glory for this gift of salvation we have received: the One who gave it.

I wish to suggest here that these solas function at their brightest and best within the context of a robust biblical doctrine of the covenant. The point of the solas is not a self-referential theology. The point of the solas is God, and His purpose for His people. And that purpose is a covenantal purpose. God’s goal is that the bond of love which perfectly and ineffably binds together the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, also bind us to Himself and to one another.

Thus the goal of the solas with reference to men is the covenant which God has established with His people. God’s grace embodies itself in Christ, who has become “a covenant for the people” (Isaiah 42.6). It is in this covenant, administered sovereignly and powerfully by a gracious God, who addresses us in history, not as blocks or stones, but as covenant partners, that we find truly the mystery of grace. The God who is Three in One invites us, in our creaturely measure, to share the fellowship that exists between the divine Persons - because we are in Christ, the Eternal Son, quickened by the Eternal Spirit, and adopted by the Eternal Father. Astoundingly, this is what the Son, with His hour of death impending, prays for: “that they all may be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You - that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

“That the world may believe”: the creation testifies that the Father has sent the Son, by a bond of union and communion which God’s people share with God Himself. This is the seal that this is the Son, and that His mission is the Father’s.

This is not the stuff of moralistic religion, but something that only the Blessed Trinity, the God who is an overflowing fountain of all good, could possibly envision.

This, I believe, is the point of the solas. They are not dusty dogmatic points, best left to lie in mould in the annals of Church history. Nor are they first of all polemical weapons or confessional boundary markers - as necessary (at times) as such functions may be. They are above all a tribute to God, the God of the covenant.

Soli Deo gloria.

- Tim Gallant, October 2004