Book Review – Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church

In 2017, the Protestant Reformation celebrated its 500th year anniversary. Five hundred years. We often recognize anniversaries when they hit numbers like 10 or 25 or 50 – not 500. However, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation shows us a couple of things. It shows us the greatness of God and the sovereignty of God in major events in history.

Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church, is a work produced by the faculty of Midwestern Seminary. Jason K. Allen, along with Jared C. Wilson, Jason Duesing, Matthew Barret, and Owen Strachan, pens each of the five sola (Latin for “alone”) statements in three ways: Scripturally (how they are defined in Scripture), historically (how they are contextualized in the 16th century), and practically (how this applies to the church today).

Review

Jason Allen begins the work with his examination of Sola Scriptura, the belief that Scripture alone is the authority by which the church operates. In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church was the all-governing authority for religion. This brought about many doubts and uncertainties for Luther, especially. He couldn’t understand how the church could have so much authority, even to the point of saving persons out of purgatory.

Allen provides great historical context for this first statement of the Reformation. He writes about Luther,

“He was not initially seeking to leave the Roman Catholic Church but to strengthen it. He intended to spark a debate. Instead, he sparked a conflagration that would sweep throughout Europe and beyond.”[1]

Jason K. Allen, Jared C. Wilson, Jason G. Duesing, Matthew Barrett, and Owen Strachan. Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church (Chicago: Moody, 2019), 26.

Allen, after his historical analysis of the doctrine, provides 10 practical steps for how we can incorporate the doctrine into the church.

Jared C. Wilson writes the doctrine of Sola Gratia or grace alone. As a continuation of Scripture alone, grace alone is how we are saved. Wilson makes the courageous, yet affirmative claim up front that grace alone is not simply an idea, but that doctrine on which Christianity hinges.

Luther, as a monk, possessed so much contrition for his sinfulness that he confessed every single sin he could think of. This brought him to become a professor of theology – teaching through Psalms, Romans, and Galatians. Wilson focuses on the epistle to the Galatians to prove how grace alone is the theme of Scripture alone. He observes,

“Make no mistake: the law cannot do what the gospel does. But the law is not bad. It is good. It is good at accomplishing what it is designed to do.”

Ibid, 41.

Jason G. Duesing proceeds in this work by writing in regards to Sola Fide – that is faith alone. He opens his chapter by referencing C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair. In it, there is a place where Aslan, the Lion, essentially teaches Jill what it truly means to have faith. Faith is not a trust in some inanimate object. Instead, faith is the trust or belief in someone.

Duesing offers that the justification Christians receive is not by faith but through faith. This is the exact phrase we come to in Ephesians 2:8-9. Duesing asserts,

“Christ’s righteousness is what makes us right and that comes through faith alone.”

Ibid, 62.

Concluding his chapter, Duesing notes five practical applications for our faith in Christ. Of the utmost importance, in my opinion, is the first exhortation that faith is contrary to works-based legalism. Our faith in Christ is not works-based salvation. Instead, it is what results in good works.

Matthew Barrett writes on the wonderful doctrine Solus Christus (in Christ alone). Barrett synthesizes Luther’s dissonance he attained with penances. He (Luther) attempted, in the formation of the 95 Theses, to spark a debate with the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church over how one is justified. The debate, if you will, really came down to one lonely word: alone.

It was only by Christ alone, Luther claimed, that one could be justified through their faith by God’s grace revealed in Scripture. Luther observed that it is only by the gifting of Christ’s righteousness to the depraved human person that one is justified before God.

“What every guilty sinner needs is not an infusion but an imputation.”

Ibid, 85.

Lastly, Owen Strachan finishes out the short 140-page work with the final statement: Soli Deo Gloria. Strachan likens this final statement to 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The glory of God is to be exemplified in whatever we do.

There is not one aspect of our life that demands glory. We will either give glory to ourselves or we will give glory to God. Luther negated this idea as his famous theology of glory/theology of the cross. Luther knew that human beings in our depravity revel in our own self-glory. Our hearts seek their own glory.

However, the final statement of the Reformation is the summative statement. It summarizes all the other statements. The only true way to have Scripture as your authority or to be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, is to do it all for the glory of God alone. Strachan notes,

“The Reformation recovered the Biblical truth that doxology (glorifying God) is the motivation of not only the pastor, but the craftsman, the father, the mother, and the quiet and anonymous Christian seeking to obey God by the power of Christ.”

Ibid, 110.

Analysis

In a short summary, this is a book you must read in 2019. It is brief but full of theological truth. The Reformation shows us just how God can still use ordinary men and women to advance his kingdom.

 

This book will be a wonderful work for you and your church leaders to read through and implement the five Solas in your church. The five statements of the Reformation are not only limited to 16th-century men and women. Instead, these are biblical truths that should shape every church in the kingdom of God.

For the glory of God alone.

Ben Campbell