The solas as insights into the gospel
The solas are not isolated doctrines; they are theological insights into the ontology, epistemology, and teleology of the gospel.
Kevin Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel, 28
You may be familiar with the “five solas” of the Reformation–the “alone” affirmations, if you will. They are sometimes described as the rallying cry of Protestants in their fight against Medieval Catholicism. The solas are typically formulated as follows:
- sola gratia – grace alone
- sola fidei – faith alone
- sola scriptura – scripture alone
- solus christus – Christ alone
- soli deo gloria – To God alone the glory
In the introduction to his so-far excellent book Biblical Authority after Babel, Kevin Vanhoozer posits that the “solas” are more than a Protestant version of “Make America great again” or “Hope we can believe in.” Rather, he writes, “The solas are not isolated doctrines; they are theological insights into the ontology, epistemology, and teleology of the gospel.”
In case its helpful, let’s define a couple of terms here.
Ontology is a word that refers to discussions about being (“God is eternal” is a statement about ontology).
Epistemology is a word that refers to how we know what we claim to know (“The Bible tells me so” is an epistemological statement).
Teleology is a word for the “ends” or “purposes” of a thing (“The chief end of man is glorify God and enjoy him forever” is a teleological statement).
What Vanhoozer is saying is that the five solas perform the function of communicating right belief (creedal orthodoxy) to everyday Christians like you and me.
He writes, “The solas summarize what the Father is doing in Christ through the Spirit to form a holy nation, and this summary–a rule of faith, hope, and love–functions as a hermeneutical [viz., interpretive] tool with which to arbitrate the conflict of interpretation” (29, brackets my insertion).
In other words, the five solas allow us to come up with a simple statement about God’s mission in the world (here in my words):
God is calling the universal church into being by means of his gift of irresistible grace that alone produces in us to saving faith. That faith is in Christ alone whom we know through the Scriptures alone, and all this is done for the glory of God.
Later in the book Vanhoozer is going to unpack these solas and fit them together in a way that responds constructively to criticisms of the Reformation leveled by Catholic and Orthodox theologians as well as some Protestants.