Nicky Gumbel recently shared with readers of Premier’s Youth and Children’s Work magazine how he and his wife, Pippa, never needed to tell their children to read the Bible, and how we as parents should not pressurise children and young people to read their Bibles. You can read a summary of the article on the Premier website.
But is that right?
My weekly big-block study time this morning was in Jeremiah 27. In particular, I was struck by how this chapter sets up the confrontation between Jeremiah, a true prophet of the LORD God, and Hananiah, who was eventually shown to be a false prophet speaking words of false hope (see Jeremiah 28).
If you read through the Bible book of Daniel (I would recommend it… and don’t stop at Daniel 7, either!) then right from the get-go Daniel leaps off the pages as a definite ‘good guy’ (along with his godly BFFs). In the first chapter alone, he successfully handles a delicate ethical problem, contextualises his faith, witnesses for the Gospel (as he had it) in a clear and effective way… and even manages to earn a pretty impressive promotion while he’s at it.
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.
Galatians 1:6-10, 2:10-21
- Gospel doctrine
Only faithful Christians stay true to justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
- Gospel culture
Only faithful Christians embody the beauty of a diverse people under one Lord.
- Gospel spirituality
Only faithful Christians are brought along and sustained by the deep love of Christ.
Gospel doctrine (v16)
Gospel culture (v14)
Gospel spirituality (v20)
Paul’s argument for the importance of justification by faith
This argument applied to one of the 10 commandments
- The commandment reveals the character of God. God cares for us and in his love and goodness for us makes it clear that this is bad for us.
- The commandment confronts us with our own character. We are people that would steal and cheat others out of what is rightfully theirs.
- The commandment gives us instruction. We are led from sin and selfishness to godliness and Christ-likeness, departing our sinful character and drawing closer to God’s good character.
- The commandment is part of a promise. God promises that he will write his law on our hearts. This happens in part now by the Spirit and will happen in full in the New Creation.
How the Bible differs from other ‘religious texts’ (such as the Qu’ran)
- The Bible has an epic story whereas the Qu’ran has topical instructions.
The Bible has a glorious storyline of eternal salvation running throughout it. The Qu’ran is formed around topics with instructions that lead to reward or punishments. This means that the Bible develops its teaching as it gets closer to Jesus (eg marriage is introduced in Genesis, defined in the law, demonstrated in the history of God’s people, and fully revealed and placed in relation to Christ and his church).
- The Bible gives us the message of free grace in Christ whereas the Qu’ran presents God’s favour but only to those who ‘have merit’.
The law of God might keep us from the evil we do but cannot keep us from the evil we are, hence we need Jesus to rescue us at that fundamental level of our nature. The Qu’ran presents humanity as weak and in need of obeying instruction in order to work towards achieving and earning God’s favour.
A summary of our identity as God’s children (v1-7)
- All that God is is for us in all that we need (v4)
Jesus isn’t trying to get God to take it easy on us. God is for us and sent his Son for us (and Jesus was willing to do the Father’s will).
- God sends his Son and the Spirit (v4, v6)
God has sent all that we need: the son to achieve our salvation (in history) and the Spirit to bring an awareness and certainty of God’s love for us (personally).
- God is pleased to bring us into his family and to make us heirs with Christ (v5, v7)
God has adopted us to share all he has with us in Christ. He did this by his own will and for his own purposes and pleasure.
The detail of our identity as God’s children (v4-7)
- We don’t go back (v1)
- Instead, we go give our lives away (v13)
Don’t go back (v1)
Go give your life away (v13)
A few months ago I posted about the idea of producing Video Bible Talks for use in church youth groups, school CUs, and other small group contexts (you can view that post here). Since then, I have been hard at work writing, filming and producing a prototype Video Bible Talks video for Psalm 1, which is now online for people to view and give me their feedback.
This week I have been blessed to be able to attend the Acts 29: Equip 2017 conference in Manchester, UK. Acts 29 is a reformed, evangelical and missional church planting network committed to churches that plant churches in Europe and into the 10-40 window. You can find out more at Acts29.com.
Here are my notes from the main plenary sessions given by Ray Evans at the conference.