October 22, 2020

Sola Fide? Yeah, Whatever.

UPDATE: 11:13:08 Open commenting is now over, and moderated commenting will be the norm for the foreseeable future. Expect ACTIVE moderation.

Several years ago I wrote an essay on sola fide- salvation by faith alone- that I really liked, but no one else seemed to like.

At the time, when I was just starting to get a little attention for my writing, I thought that it was simply overlooked. Today, I have another theory.

Evangelicals have gone pretty soft on salvation by faith ALONE.

Sola fide doesn’t sit very well with a lot of evangelicals. In fact, I’m not sure they believe it. I’m quite sure that a sizable group has thought it over and they don’t believe it.

Sola fide is that annoying little item over which we had a reformation. Roman Catholics really don’t care for that word “alone”, and they have some reasonable basis for concern. Articulation of sola fide by Protestants is notoriously bad.

What we believe- as I understand it- is something like this. (Theological Attack Bloggers: Cut me some slack please. I’m not a Ph.d.)

We are justified by the work of Christ alone, credited to us as righteousness as we place our faith in Christ- alone. This is ultimately the work of God alone, and therefore is all of grace.

Works of any kind, including any conception of faith as a “work,” is extraneous to justification per se, but not extraneous to the reality of faith. So faith is accompanied by imperfect but genuine repentance, love, obedience, confession and perseverance. None of these things are identical with faith and all partake of the both faith and works. Properly we say that these are the works of faith that accompany true faith. When we see faith, it is accompanied by these friends, but they are not identical.

This is all a lot of trouble and semantics from the ordinary Joe’s point of view, and I am really sympathetic. I really am. But when I consider the importance of sola fide, I have to conclude that it’s worth all that trouble. Wake up the kids, Martha. We need to talk.

Mixing “faith alone” with anything else produces a bastardized notion of salvation; a synergism that is eventually going to be tilted toward works in a way that will sink the ship on the rocks of despair, legalism or intellectualism.

Sola fide is like Nehemiah’s wall. Build it. Build it before you do anything else. Build it if you have to fight while you build it. Build it if you have enemies outside the walls and subversives within. (You’ll have both.)

Hold onto sola fide and you will be saved. Best of all, the Holy Spirit will give you the sweet assurance that you are saved because salvation is by grace alone, by Christ alone and by faith- simple faith- alone. That you need “saving” and that you believe Christ provides it for you sufficiently by his person and work- this is all that is required.

But what concerns me today is not some theologically subtleties. What concerns me are the practical denials of sola fide that seem to pour out of evangelicalism’s transformation of itself from a “Gospel” movement to a “culture war” movement.

Just listen and read, and you will hear exceptions to sola fide from right and left.

The burden of sola fide seems to be too much for many of us. We glibly talk as if it is really nothing unusual if we add our theological preferences, our politics or our social/cultural causes to what “must” be believed. Our own astonishment that someone would feel/act/believe differently than we do intrudes into sola fide with such ease that we ought to be shocked and ashamed. But we’re not.

I grew up in a church that would have told you that you had to believe in salvation by faith alone to be a Baptist. I minister among those same people today.

And what do I hear?

I hear that no Christian could read Harry Potter.

I hear that no Christian would wear that t-shirt or listen to that kind of music.

I hear that no Christian could possibly not see in the Bible all the things that I see there.

I hear that if you are a Christian, you must support these political views.

I hear that a person can’t be a Christian and not oppose another set of political views.’

I hear dress codes called “the way Christians should dress.”

I hear in reference to any number of sins common to human beings that “no one could be a Christian and do that.”

And with every statement (and many more) sola fide is dismantled a bit more.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if you aren’t regularly accused of being an antinomian, you probably haven’t preached the Gospel. I absolutely agree.

I’m tired of the young Christians I disciple, preach to and teach hearing the fine print, the extra bonus messages and the added essentials. One order of sola fide, please. Hold the artificial additives.

I believe in the reformation Gospel of the five solas, not only because scripture teaches them, but because I can’t be saved otherwise.

If you put the human element- even in the guise of theology, or culture transformation or politics- into the Gospel, I’m doomed and damned. If works or sincerity or character change are in there at all, I’m toast.

Sola fide, 120 proof grace and no works on my part are the only way I am going to be saved.

When you begin to talk about the works of love that always come from faith, I agree. But I also know that all my righteousness is as filthy rags, and once my fingers are on the ark, I’m dropped dead.

Sola fide can’t be tampered with, and evangelicals are not just tampering with it. Many are in the kitchen completely remixing the recipe.

I don’t know what cake they are baking, but it doesn’t smell like Jesus or his salvation.

I say let’s toss whatever isn’t sola fide to the back yard and bring out the good stuff.

Comments

  1. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life..not everyone who says to me,Lord,Lord,shall enter into the kingdom of heaven,but he that does the will of my Father” We are to hold in balance two complementary truths:without God’s grace we can do nothing;but without our voluntary co-operation God will do nothing. “The will of man is an essential condition,for without it God does nothing”. Our salvation results from the convergence of two factors,unequal in value yet both indispensable:divine initiative and human response.What God does is incomparably the more important,but man’s participation is also required.
    …The Orthodox Way..Bishop Kallistos Ware

    2Peter..read its short…

  2. WlE7tGeNhhpEn

  3. I hope this isn’t too far down on this thread…

    …a number of early authors before Luther understood the sense of Romans 3:28 to mean “sola” with the word faith.

    Apparently there is a way to see “faith alone” in Romans 3:28, at least Pope Benedict thinks so…

    For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14). (Source)

    As an aside, be very careful when you pray for humility. This has been my 10th lesson in a week and my knees are starting to bleed…