Sola: Revisiting the Substructures of the Reformation
One of my favorite eras of church history is undoubtedly that of the Reformation. I am so intrigued by the events that led up to that fateful day when Luther ignited the fire that would soon sweep across all of Europe. Though many historians much smarter than I would be quick to correct that notion, citing several heralds of Reformational doctrine long before Luther’s influence came to the fore. Even still, we cannot gloss over Luther’s incredible impact on the church, the repercussions of which we are still feeling today. And it is these repercussions that are surveyed in Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church, from Moody Publishers and several seminary faculty members.
In Sola, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) president Jason K. Allen’s editorial oversight is merged with the writing prowess of Jared C. Wilson, Jason G. Duesing, Matthew Barrett, and Owen Strachan to form a complete yet concise study of the core doctrines of the Reformation, the five solas: sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. It is these doctrines that form the substructure upon which the church as we know it today still stands. The solas form the fundamental truths which define modern evangelism (or they should). “The solas,” writes Dr. Allen, “are the essence of the gospel. When we embrace them, we embrace the gospel. When we articulate them, we speak the gospel. When we live consciously of them, we live in the power of the gospel.” (17) It is, therefore, of paramount necessity that those in the church today revisit these core doctrines, and revisit them often. Sola affords one the opportunity to revisit these truths without getting lost in stacks of church history volumes. Such is what makes Sola so advantageous: its brevity. At less than 120 pages, one can read through it rather swiftly — but don’t mistake its succinctness for lack of depth. The conciseness of the chapters belie the richness with which they were written.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) Ph.D. resident (and dear friend of mine), Obbie Todd once told me that the Reformation is all about recovery — specifically, the recovery of the biblical assurance of salvation. It is the pursuit of assurance that drove Luther’s hammer. Luther’s spiritual and existential crisis at the contradiction of “the righteousness of God” birthed not only what we have come to know today as “the Reformation,” but also much of what we hold dear as a church universal. It is the reclamation of Episcopal priest Robert Capon calls “fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof grace.” (109) Capon continues:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered . . . bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handed. The Word of the Gospel — after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps — suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home free before they started. (109–10)
Such is the announcement of the solas, of the gospel itself: that sinners are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone all for the glory of God alone. Period. Full stop. No addendums. No amendments. No fine print. “Although we have nothing but sin in our hands,” writes Dr. Barrett, “and although we stand before the throne of God naked, we are washed by the blood of our Savior and clothed in his robe of righteousness.” (Sola, 77) We are represented by the perfect, unrepeatable sacrifice of the Bridegroom who lays his life down in our stead.
And so it is that on Judgment Day, what will matter will not be the things said or left unsaid, things done or left undone, but rather, who is standing for you. In the Final Analysis, whose representation will you be claiming: the first or the Last Adam’s? At heaven’s adjudicatory bar, who will be your advocate? Rather representing ourselves at this hearing, the gospel informs us that a better Lawyer has been provided to speak for us. And he’s no mere pro bono counselor putting in time before he can make partner. No, our Advocate is none other than the Judge himself, Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. Such is the assurance of the solas.
Jason K. Allen, editor, Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018).
Robert Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997).