Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sola Plerusque?

Some people wear the "5 Sola's" as a badge of honor. Affiliating oneself with the Reformers, after all, is very much like asking to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus. It struck me (on the toilet, actually - how's that for affiliating myself with the Reformation) how absurd it is to pluralize the word "alone". Was there such a thing as math in 16th C. Western Europe? It seems like for the five affirmations to make any sense they would have to be punctuated by the word "or". Is it Scripture alone? Or is it Christ alone? Or is it grace alone? Or is it faith alone? Or is it only to God that the glory belongs?

Now, obviously these "alone's" aren't functioning the same way in each of these mottoes - Scripture alone is the rule of the Church's life while Jesus alone is the source of our salvation and grace alone is the ground of said salvation; faith alone is the only means by which it can be received and the credit for all of this can only be attributed to God. What those clarifications demonstrate, though, is just how insufficient the word "alone"really is to describe something as rich and complex as God's plan of salvation.

Each "sola" is so porous that they could never serve as firm doctrinal boundaries; a fact which is easily seen in the constant haggling in Reformed circles over whether one of the sola's has truly been transgressed or not. What does it even mean for God to receive all the glory? Don't believers share in that glory by virtue of our union with Christ? And what about "faith alone" and "grace alone"? The complex relationship between faith and works is almost universally described as involving some kind of necessary dependence (even if that dependence is the construal of works as the necessary outgrowth of faith) - so Lordship salvation somehow can be held without denying this sola while those who entirely stand on it can be soundly rejected. The role of the Scriptures as an authority has been the center of just as much controversy, since it's not clear exactly HOW Scripture should function as an authority (the regulative principle being one example of this question). Obviously countless examples could be given (does Wayne Grudem deny sola Scriptura in his view of prophecy?) - but I'm left wondering exactly what the practical value of these slogans are.

10 comments:

metalepsis said...

In England they properly use the plural maths. Good post, although to be honest I have not heard the sola's since seminary!

Peace

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks, Bryan. Since these 5 principles are used not only to demarcate Reformed theology, but Protestantism in general, they seem to be in fairly active currency whether the actual phrases are being used or not!

metalepsis said...

no doubt, even though I still run in reformed circles, they are not the circles that are concerned so much with theology, so you just don't hear them too often.

I think the practical value for the sola slogans remain if you are still concerned with demarcating yourself over against other forms of Christianity. As the slogans were used historically as polemics against the Catholic church.

They are also used, i suppose, as badges to show how reformed you are.

But I agree they don't do justice to God's plan of salvation, because they rip it out of its narrative context.

peace

Even So... said...

Practical value? They make me sound cool...

Oh, wait, wait...

ordo salutis

ooohhhh man, hold on, one more....

sui generis

I obviously must be "the man", err, excuse me, I mean soi el hombre...

Antonio said...

The complex relationship between faith and works is almost universally described as involving some kind of necessary dependence (even if that dependence is the construal of works as the necessary outgrowth of faith)
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At any rate, works are necessary as a condition, then. If works are necessary in any sense or capacity, 2 of the 'solas' are fatally damaged (sola gratia, sola fide)... all 5 would need to be tossed, in actuality.


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- so Lordship salvation somehow can be held without denying this sola
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It can only be held if one can withstand the mental dissonance of agreeing to two contradictory convictions.

If works are in any way, shape, or form a condition for final deliverance, as Lordship Salvation and Calvinism proposes, sola fide is thoroughly and logically denied.

One is reminded of the Red Queen in the story of Alice in Wonderland. When Alice protested that there is no use trying to believe impossible things, the Queen said:

"I dare say you haven't had much practice.... When I was your age I did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." (Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass (McMillian, 1880) pg 100)

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while those who entirely stand on it
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Funny. The implication is that those who reject the 'sola' actual stand for it better than those who "entirely stand on it". I suppose the Lordshippers and Calvinists do not entirely stand on it, by an inference from your statement.

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can be soundly rejected.
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Therefore, with the wave of the theological hand, the position that "entriely stand[s] on" 'sola fide' can be soundly rejected.

This is the stuff that fairytales are made of.

Those who can non-contradictorily claim "sola fide" are soundly rejected.

Those whose doctrine compromises 'sola fide', because the "universal" trend is to add works to faith in a paradoxical and sophisticated way, "somehow can be held without denying this sola".

But this shouldn't surprise anyone.

"Narrow is the gate... that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt 7:14)

People just cannot get themselves to agree with the premise that full pardon from God, entrance into heaven, and eternal life have absolutely nothing to do with their behavior whatsoever; that nothing they have done or can or will do in the future has any bearing on whether or not they end up in the kingdom of God (barring, of course, simple faith into Christ).

They cannot get themselves to understand that even a sinful, debased individual, nevertheless justified and covered by the blood of Jesus, can be in God's kingdom.

Deep down inside they believe, in a very real way, that behavior is intrinsically correllated with one's hope of heaven.

But this is the case with all the world's religions. It takes religious faith and deeds to reach salvation.

This includes Calvinism and Lordship Salvation.

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- but I'm left wondering exactly what the practical value of these slogans are.
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What is the value of something that is free but none-the-less will cost you everything?

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey Antonio. You actually completely misunderstood the purpose of that post. If you thought that I was "answering" questions I raised about Calvinism it's because you can't hear what is being said over the noise of the wind whipping through your hair as you rode your hobby horse through my blog. I was questioning the value of the "solas" as summary statements of the Christian faith or boundary markers for orthodoxy and using the example of Lordship salvation as a test case for how those who use them that way (like Reformed people) can't do so legitimately. It doesn't really matter what side of the "Lordship" issue you come down on for that point to stick. So anyway, hope that clears things up for you.

David Cho said...

Geez, Raja. I did not know you were a TMS alum until I saw your name on the TMS alumni blog.

And TMS is still okay with you?

David Cho said...

To answer your question, I attended GCC in the early 90's and was in college groups run by people with strong ties to GCC in the 80's. Never heard these slogans back then. It was only recently when I started browsing through the "watch blogs" in the recent months.

Looks like Emergents and mega-church types aren't the only ones given to fads.

TheBlueRaja said...

And TMS is still okay with you?

As far as I know - why wouldn't they be?! I don't know if I'm their school's poster-boy, but as far as I know, I've not been declared a misfit either. The other pastor I serve with is in their D.Min program, and I think favorably of many of the professors. Obviously I don't think they're right about everything, and am critical of a few things, but that shouldn't be a problem unless they see themselves as a sort of papacy, and I don't think they'd claim that function.

sf said...

"If you thought that I was "answering" questions I raised about Calvinism it's because you can't hear what is being said over the noise of the wind whipping through your hair as you rode your hobby horse through my blog. "

That is great writing!:)

sf