The five Solas that summarised the Reformation 500 years ago are well known to many people. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for God’s glory alone. Neat huh?
Indeed, for many today The Five Solas of the Reformation have become a helpful summary of Reformed Theology in general.
Yet, it feels like something is missing or not quite right…
The Solar system
When I was growing up, everyone knew the Solar system (that is, the list of planets orbiting the sun). There were nine planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (cue giggles), Neptune and Pluto. Everyone was happy and people could get on with the enjoying the finer points of outer space, namely building blue and grey Lego space ships.
And then someone came and discovered a tenth planet.
Only it wasn’t a planet.
Yet it was bigger than Pluto.
To cut a long story short, astrophysicists around the world scratched their beardy chins and came up with a better definition of what a planet is. And so, since 2006, there are now only eight planets of the Solar System: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (there go the giggles again) and Neptune. Pluto was demoted to being merely a dwarf planet (yet presumably now gets to wield an axe and make fun of elves to make up for it).
The point? Our representation of the key planetary figures in our little star system (upon which every other body in the system is gravitationally bound to, by the way) needed to be reworked in order to better reflect the true form and function (which hadn’t changed) of the system it represented.
The Sola system
The Sola system of the Reformation (that is, the list of various things ‘alone’ by/through/for which we are saved) has five Solas: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria. Or, in English, ‘We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for God’s glory alone’.
There is a part of me (my Reformed Evangelical side) that is really encouraged by these things and gets all excited and passionate about the idea of getting on with opening up the Bible and helping people to see just how great the grace of God is in Christ Jesus, and how straightforward it is to be and stay a Christian.
However, there is also a part of me (my Reformed Charismatic side) that can’t help but think that we have missed someone quite important out of the mix…
Putting the S-word back into the Sola system
I love the Scriptures (what we often call ‘the Bible’). The message in the Scriptures is the only thing that is able to truly make us wise for salvation because they are the very words of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17). As such, the Word of God is the only weapon that we have been given to wield in the Christian life (Ephesians 6:17).
Yet I only love the Bible because of whose Word and Sword it is. The Word of God is God’s Word (obviously) but it is also the Sword of the Spirit, as Ephesians 6 makes clear….
Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I want to affirm the 4th Sola (Sola Scriptura: according to Scripture alone) because God’s Word has God’s power and authority behind it… and yet the five Solas as a whole ignore the Spirit – the third person of the Trinity, to whom the Word of God (which is in the Scriptures) is ascribed as being His sword. Including ‘Sola Scriptura’ without mentioning the Spirit seems (at best) a bit of an oversight and (at worst) runs the risk of elevating the revealed Word of God in Scripture above the very person of the Trinity who wields that Word as His Sword into hearts and lives (Hebrews 4:12).
Reworking the Sola system
Perhaps on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation it would be fitting to honour another key phrase of the Reformation, Semper Reformanda (always reforming our timely expression and application of the unchanging timeless doctrines of God). Perhaps, when using the various Solas to summarise the Biblical framework of our salvation (as many do), we should tweak the Solas just a little bit. With one small change, we can make this nifty mnemonic more honouring to what the Scriptures say about new life in Christ being a work of the Spirit of God (Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 3:1-8) and recognise that the work of the Word of God is directly linked with the work of the Spirit (John 6:60-65, Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 3:7).
Here is my offering… a new Sola system, if you like:
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone living by the Spirit alone according to the Scriptures alone for God’s glory alone.
I’m no Latin scholar, but I guess this would equate to six Solas…
Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Solus Spiritus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria.
Now, I’m not expecting The Six Solas to become the new standard phrase to summarise Reformed Theology. For a start, there are far too many t-shirts designs (as well as the odd pint glass) that would need altering…
However, it is important that we remember just whose sword the Word of God is and make sure that we don’t leave him out of our frameworks for life and ministry. Instead, let’s make sure that we call on Him and depend on him as we seek to walk with Jesus and lead others to him.