– a theology

If you have not read my metanarrative you should start there. If you have read that and now are reading this then it is a small miracle I still have your attention. 😉 As mentioned in my metanarrative, there are a variety of worldviews that fall into the Christian camp. To say you have a Christian worldview only reveals some very basic aspects to your position. For example it reveals that you are a Trinitarian who is part of a monotheistic religion. It reveals you accept the Bible as God’s written word. Where it is placed in your hierarchy with tradition is not made clear. Jesus is both God and man. He is the second person in the Trinity. He was born of a virgin, he lived a perfect life, he died on the cross, he bodily resurrected three days later, his tomb was empty, and there were hundreds of witnesses to these facts in the first century. Jesus ascended into Heaven. He is coming back. God sent the Holy Spirit for this age. The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity. These things, while extremely important to be Christian, are just the “bare bones” of one’s theology. But by calling them “bare bones” I do not want to give an impression of disrespect. For these beliefs are essentials and must be in view for someone to be call historically a Christian.

But no Christian believes in these things so simply. We carry baggage to our belief in God and our live is a constant whittling away at that which is contrary to who God is. That is why I said earlier that I have a Christian worldview, but am pursuing a Biblical Worldview. I want to see reality for what it is. I do believe this is possible. I do believe we can work past the lens of misinterpretation we may be using in life, but it is hard and we need lots of help. This help comes directly from God, from the Bible and from other people. That is why a worldview is necessarily a conversation. In order to tell your story someone must be listening. People are always listening whether they know it or not. You are always telling yours aware of it or not. But I am digressing.

In general terms the make-up of my Christian worldview is what I would call reformed. This is the historical term for it, but I know of three ways the term is used today so it deserves clarification. 

  1. I have heard the term used of Protestant Churches to clarify a break from Catholicism. One example of this is the Reformed Church in America. Their theology is considered liberal and far from the theological tenets of the reformers, but their identity is wrapped up in their polity not theology when they use this term.
  2. “Reformed” is used in an effort to mischaracterize adherents of reformed theology. The term “Calvinism” is largely used here. It is meant as a pejorative. However, little care has been taken to represent this belief system well by its opponents and is thus a straw man. I know many people who identify themselves as Calvinists and not a one fits into this second category. No doubt someone out there who does fit into the category since it is difficult to make a categorical statement that none exist. But they are not hiding behind rocks and trees ready to club you with a fatalistic view of the universe and tag everyone as an automaton. If you understand the point I am making with this second reference and are not reformed then my point is this: throw out what you have been told and let us tell you what we believe. Fair enough?
  3. “Reformed” refers to a theological system and philosophy of interpretation concerning the Bible. I am of this camp.

I would point to Jesus and Paul as its authors, but my critics would rightly say that I am using my conclusion as my proof. Reformed theology finds its roots in the writings of Augustine and is traced throughout Christian History with names of people seldom whispered today such as Gottschalk and John Wycliffe. However, the pinnacle of reformed theology, while based on the foundation of Augustine, found its grand arches by way of Martin Luther and its pinnacles came from John Calvin. John Calvin’s work Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the seminal works of all mankind and five hundred years later is still one of the most relevant works within Christianity. From a reformed perspective, if you want to be novel then you read people who are living, for those who are dead carry with them words greater than all the piles of books published anew today in the realm of theology.

What are the basic beliefs of reformed theology? There are five points, if you will, that are a good summary of reformed theology. These five points are our pillars if I may be so bold to speak. They are that which supports and undergirds our way of thinking. They are foundational, hence they are presuppositions – at least, they are for me. But they were not always that way and I do think we can reason to them, but for the case of brevity I will treat them as I think of them today – axioms that I trust as much as I trust oxygen will fill my lungs with I take a deep breath of the air outside. Truth is, I trust these five points more than oxygen (the regularity of nature argument, but again I’m diverting).

These five points are called the five solas. They are sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), sola fide (by faith alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), Solus Christus (by Christ alone), Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). These five points represent the issues that were the undercurrent to seek reformation within the Catholic Church initially and that which caused the break from her finally.

All Protestants should call these five solas their own. However, I would seek an internal bantering of sorts with my fellow protestant brothers who are not reformed that while they claim adherence to these five points they do not actually follow all five points. Specifically I have in mind sola fide, which is under great attack in portions of protestant corners today. But this too is another argument for another day. It is worth noting then, that while all Protestants should claim these five points, that reformed theologians adhere to sola fide in a different sense than our synergistic brothers and sisters.

A brief overview of these five points is in order.

  1. Sola Scriptura – This deals with how we interpret the Bible. Is it the words or the things to which the words point or is it the spiritual meaning of the things to which the word points and how do you know what is what? The answer for Catholicism is tradition. Let the church leadership tell you. Their opinion weighs higher then the words of Scripture. This view, which I just oversimplified, did come from Augustine, but it is a view that we decline to accept. For Protestants, the words of Scripture are God’s very words. Scripture tells us it is God breathed. As a tangible source of authority is concerned, i.e., tradition, church hierarchy, Bible or other writings, no other is placed above the Bible as Holy Scripture and source of authority.
  2. Sola Fide –Salvation is by faith alone. What is the opposite of faith? Works. Our willing, our working. If salvation is by faith alone then there is no such thing as good works. Every thing good is a gift from God and that so no man can boast. Specifically, sola fide (faith alone) is concerned with our legal standing before God. When we are viewed and declared by God as innocent (more than just “not guilty”) in a legal sense then we have what is called Justification. We are justified before God. This comes not because God weighs your good works versus your bad works because before you were a child of God all your works were bad because they were done in rebellion against God. Any act that is done that does not give God his due is an act of war against him. So then no works done before you are brought into his family is good. No work you do that is good after you are brought into his family is from yourself as it is also a gift of God that enables you to engage in good things.
  3.  Sola Gratia – “By Grace Alone” points to the fact that salvation is by God’s grace alone. When we say grace here we are not talking about some rote poem said before dinner. We are talking about a gift. The term “unmerited favor” is used a lot because grace is something God gives freely based upon solely his good pleasure and not anything you have done, whether good or bad. It also has the scope of mercy in that we are all in desperate need of this grace. It is worth noting that God’s grace cannot be forced. We cannot wrestle him into dishing it out. He is the sole enactor with his grace. We are its recipients and our part is wholly one of acceptance. Even in the act of grace being poured out onto us we can do no other but receive.
  4. Solus Christus – “By Christ Alone” means that Jesus is our only mediator. No other man, woman, child, or spirit can stand as my mediator. The result is that neither the pope, priests, saints nor the Virgin Mary are mediators for you and I. These five solas serve as a refinement of Christian theology, but you can see the ramifications of such a view even in response to other belief systems. There is no other name under Heaven by which people are saved.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria – “Glory to God alone” is a concise summary of what it is. God deserves and should get all the glory alone. The glory that humans share in is actually a reflection of his glory and our glory is to put back to his glory. This theme, in my estimate, is the overarching theme of Scripture. God does all things for his glory. It is his ultimate purpose. Our ultimate purpose is to give him glory. Whether we like it or not, we all one day will do exactly that, some by means of wrath and some by means of grace. I pray and hope that you will glorify him by means of grace.

Some in the “know” will be wondering why I did not put out the five points of Calvinism also known as TULIP. They are Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of Saints. There are a few reasons I choose the five solas over TULIP.

  1.  I find that TULIP as a systematic defense of reformed theology is lacking. I think it lacks in a couple of points, and in fact I think these points would overarch the very points made in TULIP. The most prominent example is the Sovereignty of God being an actual in life. Another example is predestination.
  2. TULIP is itself an apologetic against the Remonstrance to the Reformed Church of Holland, stating five theological positions. The first was that predestination is not the cause of the faith which saves or the unbelief which damns; the second was that Christ died to redeem all men, not just the elect; the fifth was that believers through negligence can fall out of the state of grace (through ceasing to believe); while the third and fourth disclaimed pure Pelagianism by affirming that neither faith nor good works exist apart from internal grace. In this respect then, Jakob Harmenszoon’s (Arminius) view, now known as Arminianism, being semi-Pelagianism, was in multiple accounts a return to Catholic theology.
  3. With this last point in mind, I find the five solas to be a more satisfactory short summation then TULIP because to diverge from one is to diverge from the other.

If this short introduction to my theological views whets your appetite that I would point you to http://www.monergism.com/. Some historical documents to peruse are the Cambridge Declaration, the Chicago Statement, the Second London Confession of 1689 and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

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