Monday, November 25, 2013

Why I accept the Solas

Over at Liturgy, Bosco Peters has a post entitled 'Wrong about sola scriptura' It includes reference to N. T. Wright, including some humorous riffs on N. T. Wright's greatness as a scholar. The essence of the post is captured in these words, "Once you’ve accepted this, and handed over that particular Reformation weapon, now attention turns to the next link, the next weapon, in the Reformation camp, the next sola". That is (in my interpretation) the Reformation was a form of category mistake.

In some forms of such critique of the Reformation, the real business of reform of the church in the 16th century took place at the Council of Trent and the real business of the (non-Roman Catholic, non-Eastern Orthodox) church in the 21st century is to move on from the Reformation. One does such moving on when embarrassing episodes occur in one's past! It intrigues me in the post-and-comments that some recognition is given to the (debatable) possibility that N.T. Wright ends up promoting a Roman understanding of salvation.

Specific engagement with the details in the argument of the post should take place there, not here.

But I am prompted by that post to offer some positive thoughts on the 'Solas'. In what follows I offer just three Anglican reflections on the Solas by way of citing relevant Articles.

(1) It is easy to misunderstand, or misoverestimate, the scope of the 'Solas'. Sola Scriptura/Scripture Alone, for instance, as I understand things, has two meanings.

For some Protestants it means (according to Wikipedia) "the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all—that is, it is perspicuous and self-interpreting. "Scripture interprets scripture" is a governing principle of many Protestant denominations."

But for Anglicans it does not mean that everything any Christian ever needs to know about anything is found in Scripture. It means that Scripture alone is sufficient for knowledge of salvation; nothing outside of the teaching of Scripture is required for salvation. This is bog standard Anglican theology, as expressed within Article 6:

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."

That there might be things important for Christian life (e.g. how the church is governed by orders of ministry) which are not found or not found clearly in Scripture is okay for Anglicans. As Article 20 says,

"The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation."

That is, the Anglican church might ordain (i.e. order into being) things which are not mentioned in Scripture but it may not do in contradiction of Scripture and certainly may not do so in respect of adding to Scripture any requirements for salvation.

If any Anglican reader here has any knowledge of anything necessary for salvation which is not found in Scripture, please let us know. If any Anglican reader here agrees that nothing necessary for salvation is found outside of Scripture, could you please accept that you, like me, are an Anglican Sola Scriptura person.

(2) It is surprising that Sola Fide/Faith Alone has become the subject of controversy these days in the way it has become. Who would want to argue over the offer of an utterly free gift?!

For Anglicans Sola Fide is, again, wonderfully expressed in the Articles.

From Article 11: "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification."

That is, whatever the role works play in the life of the Christian (on which there is much controversy, both generally between Romans and Protestants, and recently, among Protestants (as Bosco Peters' post points out, with N.T. Wright leading the charge in one direction), the role is not a saving role.

And thank goodness for that. Imagine if works did play a saving role in our lives. What works would save us? How many works would save us? Would some works be better than others (e.g. giving money to overseas missions rather than to local missions, serving the poor in faraway countries rather than on our doorstep)? The brilliance, the good news of Sola Fide is that the merits of our situation before God as Judge are the merits of Christ and not of ourselves.

Again, if any reader here can offer answers to questions such as above, as part of a case for the saving merits of our good works, even if your name be N.T. Wright, let us know. Indeed it is your "works" obligation not to withhold the truth from those of us who think the Reformers opened up the Scriptures rightly on this matter and challenged the creeping reliance on works which had become part of the Western European church.

Further, if any reader here thinks, with Scripture, that one can be saved even in the last seconds' of life, with a whole life of crooked deeds behind oneself, as was the case with the penitent thief, then please take the next step and join with me in celebrating Sola Fide!

(3) On the question of works, I clearly need to catch up with what N.T.Wright is saying in his latest writings, a veritable four part two volume doorstopping tome of 1519 pages (note the lovely correspondence with the chronology of the Reformation in that number!!). See pic below with my smartphone for comparison re size of Paul and the Faithfulness of God. 

But if what Wright has to say does not accord with Article 12,

"Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit."

then his bishopness is in conflict with his scholarship!


Anonymous said...

Bosco ties himself up in knots again with his reductiones ad absurd, and by quoting the popular slogans of missionary evangelical preaching (almost identical, in fact, to the popular slogans of 19th century missionary Anglo-Catholicism in the slums of England) as if these were the same as the considered statements of theologians. These assaults on straw men don't convince. And neither does Wright on much of Paul's theology. Many evangelical theologians (most volubly John Piper but also Stephen Westerholm, Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner) disagree strongly with Wright here. Wright's standing among evangelicals lies very much on his defense of the physical resurrection. On other questions (such as his 'Israel is still in exile' thesis) Wright has not convinced others (Stephen Noll has done a good job of answering Wright here).
As for 'sola scriptura', it is not difficult for a historical theologian to show that this was pretty much the outlook of the patristic church. This is in fact how Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers argued. You may not think they have always exegeted Scripture well, and their interaction with the Hellenistic world is not easy to follow (at least it isn't for me), but that is how they were arguing - as was Augustine. There was no 'second source' of revelation for them.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
I think of Wright as a work in progress and I am looking forward to reading his latest on Paul. Clear the diary for two or three weeks ...

Yes, on Israel in exile, I too think Wright is unconvincing. Interestingly, one would be hard pressed to find within Scripture some clear statement that Israel was in exile.

Anonymous said...

I want to balance the demurrals of my first comment by saying that in many ways I do respect and have learnt a lot from Wright's scholarship, particularly on the Synoptics and questions of historical criticism, and engagement with postmodernism - his demolition of Dominic Crossan is one of the funniest things I've read in a theological journal. One problem I have with Wright is that he is overly wrapped up in his own, highly specific (and contestable) way of reading the NT that it becomes almost incomprehensible to people outside that magic circle ('When Jesus said x he meant precisely ....'). His magisterial pronouncements would put a 19th century pope to shame. This means that Wright isn't really able to dialogue with historical theology (because nobody understood the NT until c. 1987, Wright's first publication!). He is also a very prolix writer, and I have a day (and night) job ....


Anonymous said...

... but here's the funny hit-piece on Crossan, from 20 years ago. He has done some more serious head-to-heads with Crossan.

It may also be worth pointing out that the Vatican and Lutherans put out a joint statement some years ago pretty much agreeing with Luther on forensic justification and quietly sidelining Trent's conflation of justification with infused righteousness (the Augustinian understanding).


Peter Carrell said...


I once heard JD Crossan speak (in Nelson, NZ). A most charming man, indeed with an Irish silver tongue ...

Anonymous said...

Hey Peter, I'm not sure if this belongs here or there but hey: On sola fide, I definitely think it has biblical basis, as Paul, James, John all differentiate between them. Though faith does not happen in a vacuum, and stricto sensu it is a work if you're a synergist because although it responds to God's initiation it's still done by the believer. But even that separating of what God is doing and what the believer is doing is flawed. Anyway, yes sola fide insofar as it justifies the ungodly, those excluded from the company of the righteous on account of their not being able to uphold the law, as opposed to those who are blameless (Phil 3:6). No to sola fide insofar as it justifies the already-godly, or those who think that Jesus bids us lay down our strictly intellectual doubts that we may continue living just as we were, but with the added bonus of assurance *cough* insurance.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, and I've heard the differentiation between sola and nuda scriptura, I think the latter being the more radical (unbiblical) approach.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Camo
Comments belong here which do not directly engage with Bosco's post as that can be engaged with there.

I like the way you express things in your comment re sola fide.

In some ways I am a simple man: the faith we are talking about is the acceptance of Jesus as the Saviour we need because nothing within us can save us. Thus it is not a 'work' but a sign of human dignity, of our choosing to accept something which otherwise will not be imposed on us.

Father Ron Smith said...

I suppose one should expect negative reactions to Bosco's posting on Sola Scriptura, here.

Saint Thomas Wright, like most Christian theologians, has his good points and his not-so-good. Perhaps Evangelicals need to be a little more robust in their understanding of criticism. We catholics certainly get our share from you people.

I, too, have my doubts about the 'Sola Scriptura' ideology (I use that word intentionally, as I believe S.S. may no longer be theologically tenable. God's Word, since the publication of the Bible, no longer remains 'hidden in a Book' - no matter how 'Holy'.

God's Eternal Word became flesh at the Incarnation, born of a human being and yet, Son of God. Since his arrival, there has been a continuous revelation of The Word in the celebration of the Eucharist, where Jesus promised He would be present until the end of time as we know it.

The Scriptures point to the Word, who is now available to us through the movement of the Holy Spirit - in both Word and Sacrament. This is not 'sola Scriptura'!

Anonymous said...

Dear Peter

Stories of deathbed conversions are a staple for Catholics (and Orthodox). Your contention shows a lack of engagement with Catholic (and Orthodox) thought when you write, “if any reader here thinks, with Scripture, that one can be saved even in the last seconds' of life, with a whole life of crooked deeds behind oneself, as was the case with the penitent thief, then please take the next step and join with me in celebrating Sola Fide!” Far from your conclusion following from your premise, the penitent thief argues against your position and your definition of faith that you provide on the Liturgy website where you require confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead. People can argue for the solas, but your post fails to do so cogently.


Peter Carrell said...

Not so, Alison.

1. My point about deathbed or on the cross conversions is that more might agree with sola fide than meets the eye and, conversely, less criticism of sola fide might be appropriate.

2. I would be surprised if Paul had such a mechanical view of saving confession of faith that it required a specific set of words on each and every occasion. I am confident the thief's confession on the cross would in Paul, as in my, as in Jesus' view, be just fine.

May I ask you a question: what is your understanding of saving faith?

Anonymous said...

Dear Peter

The if-then statement you made:

“IF any reader here thinks, with Scripture, that one can be saved even in the last seconds' of life, with a whole life of crooked deeds behind oneself, as was the case with the penitent thief, THEN please take the next step and join with me in celebrating Sola Fide!”

is not saying anything like your now-very-weak:

“My point about deathbed or on the cross conversions is that more might agree with sola fide than meets the eye and, conversely, less criticism of sola fide might be appropriate”

It is you, not I, who brings up the issue of “a specific set of words on each and every occasion”. My question was that sola fide, you declared, needed to include “believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead”: are you continuing to hold that the penitent thief had this belief, and where do you find your evidence, sola scriptura, that this is so?


Bryden Black said...

Thanks Peter for trying to clear up some basic misunderstandings of the solas/solae. The complex period of history we now call the Reformation is just that, complex; and it would appear it has not been very well taught/learned in some quarters. Instead, slogans and point scoring, in a cultural context of the 13 second political sound-byte grab, now seem to dominate. A pity; more heat than light ensues ...

But since this line of discussion was prompted by Liturgy’s reading of NT Wright, I thought it might be helpful to post here (and not there; I’ve already tried ‘there’) the following re Tom Wright’s popular book on Scripture - The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (Harper, 2005); alternatively in the UK, Scripture and the Authority of God (SPCK, 2005).

Wright sees the sola scriptura tag as in effect “a statute of limitations” (p.72): “nothing beyond scripture is to be taught as needing to be believed in order for one to be saved.” The flip-side is also that this notion, found for Anglicans in Article 6 as you say, gives “a basic signpost on the way: the great truths taught in scripture are indeed the way of salvation, and those entrusted with the teaching office in the church have no right to use that office to teach anything else.” Yet the Church does practise many things that are not necessarily referred to directly in the Scriptures, as you suggest. Here Wright’s addressing Hooker’s notion of natural law (pp.77-81) resonates with the likes even of an Aquinas, so that what is “reasonable” for minds, naturally informed by Holy Scripture to see as being in harmony with such laws, is perfectly licit, and so subject to such principles as contained in the likes of Articles 20 & 34. The Church has always had “authority” to “ordain” and “change” such “diverse traditions and ceremonies” as seen fit for the “Common order of the Church”, so long as they are not “contrary to God’s word written” and so not “repugnant” to Scripture overall, as you point out.

All of which resonates remarkably well with the traditional medieval “single source” theory of Scripture vis-à-vis tradition over against the later “two sources” practice, pioneered by late medieval canon lawyers. It also clashes head-on with the subsequent rationalism of the Enlightenment, the subject of Wright’s next chapter, pp.82ff. For sadly when folk nowadays cite e.g. the so-called Triple Cord of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, their appreciation of ‘reason’ is mostly culture bound, and ‘tradition’ a far cry from that accumulation of biblical commentary that was its original sense. Little wonder sola scriptura too is largely misunderstood. Keep up the good work, Peter!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison

I am trying to take Paul's declaration in Romans 10 seriously. What are you trying to do with it?

The penitent thief on the cross arguably is expressing a belief in the resurrection of Jesus as he asks to be this day in Paradise with Jesus.

If you do not like that then I suggest an alternative pathway of understanding: pre the event of the resurrection 'sola fide' for the thief did not include belief in Christ's resurrection.

What is your understanding of saving faith?

Father Ron Smith said...

I would ask that, if God is the Author of Salvation, cannot God save whomever God wants to save, without having to refer to the biblical prescription? God, unlike man, sees into the heart, which is more reliable than the mind.

I guess this could have been what happened with the Penitent thief. He experienced Jesus at first hand and believed on Him - because he recognised Jesus' innocence. There seemed to be no recitation of the 39 article or the catchism.

Anonymous said...

Bryden is correct that 'sola Scriptura' was as much a medieval position (Wycliffe asserted it fiercely!) as a Reformation one, and equally it was a working assumption of the patristic period as well. The Reformers (e.g. Luther at Worms) simply made this principle explicit in controversy over indulgences, purgatory etc. The 'Two-Source theory' is a late medieval Catholic development, enshrined by Trent.
Hooker's point was simply a defense of adiaphora, against strict Puritans who wanted to regulate all the details of worship or 'ceremonies': matters such as wedding rings or signing with the cross in baptism. It didn't touch dogmatic statements.
Again, as Bryden correctly notes, 'reason' in Hooker had a limited instrumental and natural meaning (rather akin to thinking logically) and did not have the autonomous and empirical sense it would develop through Descartes and Kant.


Anonymous said...


'Abraham rejoiced to see my day and he is glad!' (John 8.58)

Your vision is too small!

What exactly did the penitent thief believe?

1. That Jesus is innocent.
2. That he, the thief, has been justly condemned for his crimes.
3. That Jesus is a supermundane King coming into his supermundane Kingdom beyond death (not into God's condemnation).
4. That Jesus is merciful ('Remember me ...') and can be entreated (prayed to).

This is pretty high order theology for a dying man on a cross!
Read the Bible closely - there's more there than meets the eye (or the 'I').

Martinus Latromoriens

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron (re 8.01 pm)

I would hope that you have no misunderstanding in your mind concerning the 39 Articles: they are simply an expression in systematic terms of the gospel of grace, the same gospel which enabled the penitent thief to express his faith in Jesus.

Bryden Black said...

I think you raise a legitimate question Ron, one that I’d approach in this manner.

God is after a covenant partnership with humanity, a particular creature who inhabits an historical world created by God. Just so, he calls a group of people and enshrines that calling in a threefold manner; we have it as Gen 12:1-3, with land, descendants and blessing being the three core foci. Thereafter, the drama is encapsulated as Exodus - Malachi in our Scriptures (excusing exactly which books are in the OT for the moment). Then ‘something’/‘someone’ breaks in upon the scene: the Author of the Drama becomes the Singular Actor. In fact, He has to become that Actor as the human actor(s) have not been able to enact their end of the partnership. In a nutshell, the triune God Himself has now become both ends of the Covenant relationship through the God-Man.

All of which is not just enacted, but testimony to the Drama itself and the due meaning of the Drama is furthermore chronicled and tabled and pondered over. I.e. we have both Old and New Testaments (and of course the meaning of testament is ...). And all this is granted and given and deposited precisely because God is the God of Love and Truth who invites human beings into due partnership with himself. But now not only with himself but in and through and unto himself as the Triune God who does all this, and to which Scripture points in a definitive fashion (Jn 5:39-47), so that we may recognize Holy Scripture as being the divinely appointed servant and so unique instrument in the economy of this triune God.

All things like the 39 Articles or a catechism are doing is to attempt a certain Scriptural summation in any given historical context. They too may be tokens of just this God of Love and Truth.

Well; what do you reckon now?!

Anonymous said...

"I guess this could have been what happened with the Penitent thief. He experienced Jesus at first hand and believed on Him - because he recognised Jesus' innocence. There seemed to be no recitation of the 39 articles or the catechism."

I think we can show by analogical reasoning that this is not quite so! We know that the Articles are a form of legalistic torture inflicted on those condemend by the Law - a tongue-lashing, if you like - and under the Law a condemned man was punished with 39 lashes (Deut. 25.1-3; 2 Cor 11.24). So they must have been recited to him! Q.E.D.

Martinus Elenchus

Father Ron Smith said...

Martin, I'm sure you realise that human analogical speculation is not necessarily the best way to access the eternal verities. As I've said before God looks into the heart, which though sometimes deceitful, is more reliable than the mind.

And, as for Bryden's latest comment: " In a nutshell, the triune God Himself has now become both ends of the Covenant relationship through the God-Man."

- I would say, this is perhaps the first time, Bryden, that I've really understood what you're saying about the reality of the Incarnation: The God became man, so that man could become God. But that is the work of God, not man.

I think that, the older I get, my faith becomes simpler. I am no longer enthralled by human speculation about Who God is, for me or for anyone else. Not that I've got anywhere near the complete picture, but I understand enough to know where salvation really lies - in nothing I have done, but in everything God has done - in Christ Jesus.

I'm very thankful for the Holy Scriptures, which give me further insights into the love and majesty of God with every reading - and they have led me, for a long time now, to understand that the greatest avenue of grace was given to us through the mediation of Christ in the Eucharistic Meal that He, Himself ordained. This is what will sustain all believers - until He comes again!

Bryden Black said...

Great to hear, Ron, we are more or less on the same page with my own wee summary. Of course, where we might differ slightly re your own response would be that I resolutely refuse to prioritize either facet, written word or visible word/sacrament, since each in their own unique and necessary way, as manifestations of the Holy Spirit, glorify Jesus and feed his people. Although of course again there are those who do point out that we only know of the Eucharist via the biblical texts. But do we? For enacted traditio is also culture bearing in the same way as written language! So we are back to “the same page”! Which is why I refuse to prioritize; it’s a package deal - meal. Enjoy Advent matey!

Anonymous said...

An interesting comment this morning quoting Jesus on the Liturgy site you mention:

‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’

And mentions of Matthew 25:31ff and 1 Cor 6:9-11 (a popular quote here).

You may accept the solas - but Jesus doesn't. And nor does Paul (unless you want to argue that Paul didn't write 1 Cor).


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison
The solas are attempting to be faithful to Jesus and to Paul.

If they are not so faithful then they should be dropped.

Given that the Reformers were well versed in Scripture, at least as well versed as me, though may be not as well versed as you and other learned commenters here, it would be surprising if they proposed the solas as summaries of scriptural teaching in ignorance of the passages you cite.

Our works, I think they would say, flow from our saving faith, expressing our gratitude to the Lord for saving us. Our bad works (thinking, say, of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and things such as greed and idolatry standing in the way of inheriting the kingdom of God) are a sign that our faith lacks sincerity.

As you know, Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 6:11 to speak of the difference salvation has made to some of his readers who are heading towards inheritance of the kingdom of God: 'And this is what some of you used to be. BUT you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.' No works saved them!

There is a simple logic here, Alison. If faith plus works saves us then we can never have assurance of salvation in this life. Yet the central thrust of the NT epistles (thinking of Hebrews, say, as well as Paul's writings) is that 'blessed assurance' is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

Oppose the solas by all means. I shall continue to preach and teach salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. I would prefer to lose my own salvation than preach and teach a false gospel.

Bryden Black said...

It may please you Peter that across in cyberspace, under Liturgy’s original on NT Wright and sola scriptura’s “wrongs”, I have now responded to one Jesse by mentioning a recent resource by Eberhard Jüngel. His “polemical” publication, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith (T&T Clark, 2001), was in response to the Joint Declaration on Justification put out officially by representatives of the Lutheran World Alliance and the Vatican in 1999. His ch.5 is especially forceful and rich when dealing with the various “solae”. Your readers might like to try and track this text down, and so see how, even and especially in this ecumenical time, such a spirited piece of theology has such significance and practicality. For Jüngel’s entire work has a considerable amount to say about ethics generally, which he particularly addresses in ch.6 of this work. Enjoy!

Peter Carrell said...

Tragically, TH Library, Bryden, appears not to have that volume!

Bryden Black said...

I too saw those two Matthean quotes on Liturgy, Alison, and was intrigued! For as we both know, the most crucial feature of reading any text is to see it in its context.

So; what is the context of Matt 7:21? In the immediate setting, it looks like vv.13-23. But then again, where does that wee section fit into the larger setting of the Sermon on the Mount? And then again, where does SM fit into Matt 4:23-9:35? Taking this last first. Matthew is giving us the first big section on his Manual for Christian Discipleship, is how I term it. Rather than giving us “show and tell”, as we might say, he’s giving us tell-and-show, the very contents of the two similar summary verses, 4:23 and 9:35, which act as bookends to the entire section. Then, SM is the Tell sub-section, and chs 8-9 the Show sub-section.

Thereafter, what is the SM? Well; HUGE swaths of literature have tried to address this question! One of my easier favourites is The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries: From the Early Church to JPII eds JP Greenman et al (Brazos, 2007). My own conclusion, for what it’s worth, after far more engagement than just this resource, is to see the entire SM as a chiasm, with the Lord’s Prayer at the Centre. Thereafter, there are four sections leading up to this Centre and four parallel sections leading away from it, concluding with the parable of the Two Builders. But here’s the kicker: the first three sections of SM themselves parallel and unpack, section by section, 5:3-12, 13-16, 17-48, the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer as Matthew has it (compare here Luke’s version, ch.11). The fourth introduces the first two of three Pillars of Jewish Piety, alms giving and prayer, with the third, fasting, 6:16ff, exactly bringing us to the chiasm in reverse order. Thereafter, as we read the rest of chs 6-7, we have again exactly the three petitions of LP regarding our needs/business being paralleled and unpacked, having dealt with God in the first three.

Right: where does 7:21 fit in? It forms part of the sub-section unpacking the third and last petition of the second part of LP - “and do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the Evil One” (NRSV). Jesus in 7:13ff issues three warnings (Matt loves triads!), of which 7:21-23 is the last. Just so, v.21 concerns properly the fruit of Christian Prayer to our Heavenly Father - that he’d rescue us from all forms of trial and temptation and works of evil. It also harks back to 5:17-48, which itself unpacks the third petition of the first section of LP, “your will be done on earth as in heaven”. SM is nothing if not a profound and wonderful dialectic of Prayer in secret before our Heavenly Father - sheer grace therefore - and explicit and visible discipleship before and in the world - i.e. works; cf. Eph 2:4-10.

Bryden Black said...

Right; what of 25:31ff? Mercifully, we can deal with this more briefly. I once saw a delightful PhD thesis on the history of the Church’s exegesis of this parable. Crucial for us to note is the default interpretation of today is governed by and large by the ‘Social Gospel’ view of the early 20th C. For who are Jesus’ “brothers”, v.40? What are the identities of those listed in their various privations? Debate has swirled around the answers down the centuries. Important for an answer is another question: who are the “nations” who are brought before the Son of Man? Matt’s answer = the “nations” of 28:18-20, to whom and before whom the disciples of Jesus, as the new Community of this world’s Messiah and Lord, practise their craft, learned from Matt’s Manual, the entire Gospel text. And so the “brothers” of 25:40 = the “little ones” of e.g. Matt 18, Matt’s Fourth Block of Teaching addressed specifically to the Church, or the “poor in spirit” who lead off the entire SM. Once again, text and context, Alison! The Matthean parable of 25:31ff deals with the eschatological judgment of the nations to the Church’s mission down the ages. Other texts will deal with the fruit or otherwise of specific church members; e.g. 1 Cor 3:10-17.

Bryden Black said...

"Tragically, TH Library, Bryden, appears not to have that volume!" - PC.

No comment - BB!

Father Ron Smith said...

When we mention yet another learned theologian, with his/her own particular slant on the salvation the Christ has given, I am hardly persuaded that there is 'anything new under the sun' to be said about what Jesus has gained for us. I'm not sure that modern theologians are too much brighter than the Early Church Mothers and Fathers. All they have is their own interpretation, which, in my book, has to measure up to the stature and the fullness of Christ in the Gospel.

I'm more mindful each day of the cry of Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady: "Words, words..." that do not necessarily give more lustre to the Light of Christ. Sometimes, silence has the greater wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your responses, Peter. Very enlightening!

Let’s pursue your reference to Hebrews, particularly Hebrews 10:26 where salvation is lost not because you do not have faith, but by sin – not doing good works.

Going back to your original question, then, How would you know, Peter, when you had not persisted in sin sufficiently (or gravely) to be sure of salvation?

Or your idea that the solas be dropped if they are not faithful to Jesus. Meet Jesus in Luke 10:25, where he is asked ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’. When the lawyer replies with ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ Jesus responds, ‘You have given the right answer.’ Are you suggesting Jesus is mistaken about what we must do to inherit eternal life?! Or are you now prepared to drop the solas?

Your last paragraph has your belief of the possibility of your losing your own salvation based not on your faith, but on what you preach – a “work”!

Finally, to return to your response to my point: “bad works,” you say, ”are a sign that our faith lacks sincerity.” And it is faith lacking sincerity that does not save.

I return once again to your question: How would you know, Peter, when your faith is sincere enough to be sure of salvation?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison

Your question: Going back to your original question, then, How would you know, Peter, when you had not persisted in sin sufficiently (or gravely) to be sure of salvation? PRC: The New Testament clearly teaches us to stop sinning. Any persisting, unrepented sin would throw my salvation into doubt. I recommend daily confession and repentance.

Your question: re Luke 10:25: Are you suggesting Jesus is mistaken about what we must do to inherit eternal life?! Or are you now prepared to drop the solas? PRC: Jesus counsels perfection but is it achievable? Paul's and Luther's point is that it is not. Is all hopeless? NO! The same Jesus says, 'You faith has saved you.'

Your question: How would you know, Peter, when your faith is sincere enough to be sure of salvation? PRC: my faith does not have to be "sincere enough", just "sincere." It is sincere when I do not give it up, when I renew my relationship with Jesus daily, when I retain that faith in the face of tests and trials, when I live life in a manner which is worthy of the gospel which has taught me sola fide.

What do you think would constitute sincere faith?

Anonymous said...

Have I got this clear, Peter:

Salvation is by faith PLUS no persisting, unrepented sin, plus daily confession and repentance, plus not giving faith up, plus renewing my relationship with Jesus daily, plus retaining faith in the face of tests and trials, plus living life in a manner which is worthy of the gospel – and all that is called “faith alone”? And this is what you preach. And this gives people who hear your preaching assurance of their salvation, because no one ever is uncertain about any of the components of your requirements for faith “alone”? No scruples? No doubts? Even though your use of “alone” is some sort of technical, theological sense without any connection to any other uses of the word “alone”.


Father Ron Smith said...

I do agree with Alison - that so many solas add up to rather a lot of dependency mechanisms - are are therefore no longer 'sola'.

If I were to ask: What would be the most reliable 'sola', (if one were able to limit the avenues of salvation) that Jesus Christ is the supreme 'Sola'; would I be missing out on attributing to the separate Person of The Most Holy Trinity of Persons?

I prefer the idea of the fecundity of The Trinity - each relying on the co-relationship of the Others. This sounds more like the Body of Christ - reflecting God's Being.

Bryden Black said...

On another site, Alison, Bosco rapped me over the knuckles for using the word “disingenuous” ... That said; the solas are not to be treated quite as you seem to imply - as if they were not what they are.

You and I are historical creatures, as well as being fallen creatures. That means one key dimension of our redemption will reflect that. Just so, the line: we have been saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. For I am most fond of Robert Jenson’s insight: “God does not create a world that thereupon has a history; he creates a history that is a world, in that it is purposive and so makes a whole.” Which also leads to his other profound insight that a crucial feature of triune eternity is divine faithfulness among the Three - across created time as well as across his own eternity.

All in all: as RCs also say, faith is a gift of grace. More specifically, “in Christ Jesus” we are given to share in the human faith of Jesus Christ. So, while each and all of us may experience our ups and downs, successes and failures, HIS divine-human faithfulness so embraces that our wee faith again and again, the size of a mustard seed, prevails. In the end, sola gratia is but the flip side of sola fide, and vice versa, all predicated upon Solus Christus! For as Athanasius was also fond of saying: the Incarnate Son as Jesus “ministered the things of God to man and the things of man to God”.

Andrew W said...


Contrasted with the traditional understanding, you seem to have some confusions.

Firstly, all those things Peter describes are not faith. Rather, they are the practice of faith, or perhaps the symptoms of faith. Because faith is something that you do. What is it that you do? Recognise that you are welcomed by the Father not on your merits but on his mercy, and live according to this.

"Faith alone" is about the total absence of a merit counter. There is no threshold of good works that qualifies you for God's people nor keeps you in God's people, save that which Christ has already done. But salvation is not just about avoiding judgement; it's about being part of God's people. And one of the privileges of being God's people is to do good works (Eph 2), and thus our faith manifests outwardly as good works.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison, Bryden and Andrew W

Yes, my thinking could do with sharpening up. But Andrew W puts his finger on the button I most want to press: no salvation by merit, by faith ALONE. When I stand before the Lord in judgment my appeal will not be to my perseverance in the faith nor to my good works which issue from faith in Christ who is at work in me, solely on Jesus' merits, only on his effective work on the cross, on nothing else will I rely in the full glare of God's holy judgment.

If in this life I wish to delude myself that I have sincere faith in Jesus Christ while knowingly persisting in sin, intentionally disobeying the Father, resisting the Spirit, etc, then I need to check into the Wisdom Clinic and find out what faith means, for it is about throwing the whole of myself on the mercy of God found in Christ, a surrender to the will of God which is incompatible with refinding my own will and entrusting my life to it.

As Bryden might say about the beloved "therefore" text of Romans and its solas, 12:1-2, the trouble with living sacrifices is that they tend to try to crawl off the altar :)

Anonymous said...

I am just not bright enough to have any blessed assurance that I understand Bryden’s response to me. I have no idea why he is telling me about issues he has with another website, and his “we have been saved, we are being saved, we will be saved” makes good sense to me, but seems diametrically opposite to what Peter seems to be saying. Peter, you now agree with Andrew, that “faith is something that you do” – which sounds like a work to me! As far as I can see, for some unfathomable reason, you want to insist in using the words sola fide, but when pressed to explain what you mean you end up saying nothing different in effect to those who do not insist in using those words. And then there’s James 2:24 (the only time sola fide is mentioned in the Bible) “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison

I would be delighted to find that all Christians agree on the way of salvation. If that does or does not need describing with 'sola fide' then it matters not.

But all Christians do not appear to agree and thus sola fide may be helpful to distinguish those who think it is about faith alone from those who think it is about faith + works.

I agree with Bryden on have been, are being, will be saved. I think he would agree with me that at all times faith is paramount.

In the end what I am trying to do is to express a passage such as the following from Ephesians 2:

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; cit is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

If sola fide is not relevant to such a wonderful expression of the gospel of God's grace then we should drop it.

However I think it is relevant.

Andrew W said...

This discussion is why I prefer to describe Christianity to my children as becoming "part of God's Kingdom / family" or "friends with God" as opposed to "being a good person" or "going to heaven". Both of the latter descriptions focus on "me" (what I do, what I get), with an impersonal connection to God.

We are not merely "forgiven" or "redeemed", but we are forgiven and redeemed into God's family to participate in his work. Taking either the start (forgiveness) or end (work) alone results in missing the focus of the gospel.

Anonymous said...


I think you are creating false dualism where none exist. No Catholics or Orthodox are trying to excise the Ephesians text from the Bible. No one is terming Ephesians an “epistle of straw”. Your question “How many works would save us?” or “How would you know when you had done enough good works to be sure of salvation?” are just straw-men questions. You have to hedge around your “sola fide” with so many, many qualifications that it is deeply buried and no longer saying what people are hearing. Your blessed assurance is also hedged with so many “being saved; will be saved” and actions you have to take (works) to preserve your faith intact. Not to forget your requirement that your faith be “sincere” – in a total-depravity context how can you ever assure the sincerity you are needing for blessed assurance?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison

There is no straw man existing when real people say that (a) they are Christians (b) they are not sure that they are good enough for God. Whatever the source of that belief it is sad and unnecessary. Sola fide is a simple attempt by Luther and other readers of Scripture to offer assurance that if our thinking is like that then it need not be so for it misunderstands the grace of God towards us.

In the mysterious and paradoxical purposes of God, as the Ephesians text makes clear, faith is itself a gift from God. Rightly you raise the objection that our total depravity as abject sinners places faith and its sincerity in peril.

Now, you have had quite a bit of fun poking holes at my weak apologia for sola fide. Would you be kind and tell me and other readers what your view of how we can be saved is?

Bryden Black said...

I think Alison we are talking past each other - as well as poking a bit of fun/holes, as Peter suggests! When you say: my “‘we have been saved, we are being saved, we will be saved’ makes good sense to me/you, but seems diametrically opposite to what Peter seems to be saying,” I’m not sure you get the real point of my saying it, which is: (1) we are all historical creatures; (2) as such, faith is never a freeze-framed affair, a once-off act, but an ongoing expression of a living relationship of trust; (3) yet that very on-going business will be a series of ups and down etc. whereby such things as repentance and renewal and so on are necessary. But these things are not as you view them, as supplements to faith, but are in fact as AW says, due “symptoms”, the appropriate “practice” of faith - given our historical natures and given our natures as simul justus et peccator” [simultaneously justified and yet sinners], as the Luther correctly stated, given again this historical nature of things.

The real issue here is what is called eschatology: God has brought in the End with the Coming of Jesus; but that End is also “hidden in Christ”, Col 3:1-4. So that the remaining ‘time’ between the past historical mission of Jesus, 7 BC - 30 AD, say, and the future Return/Second Coming/Parousia/Appearing has the very dynamic of faith Peter - and I and AW - are suggesting. And the entire point of the Reformation revival of Paul’s theology of justification (at least one key element of it) is to allow us humans real confidence in God’s utter grace to redeem us: he has so redeemed us and he will so redeem us - Romans ch.8 in its entirety (as well as Eph 2:4ff) is the crux! Sola fide is mere short-hand for this; but also polemic against other views that would suggest a “merit counter” is (also/still) required.

Bryden Black said...

The trouble with any kind of “merit counting”supplement to grace and so faith is that it - and anything akin to it - undermines: (1) sheer grace as demonstrated and declared in Jesus; and (2) our ability to have real confidence in that sheer gift of redemption in Christ Jesus; for (3) we may not be thrown back upon ourselves in any way without undermining 1 & 2.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison (and Bryden)
An image that comes to mind is that of a very expensive object such as a house. God gives us the house in response to our trust in him. We do not earn it, we cannot save for it, we cannot take out a mortgage to pay for it. But having received the house the question arises what we are going to do with it. Are we even going to live in it? Might we destroy it through some kind of complacency which allows it to burn down or fall to rack and ruin?

Anonymous said...

My points are intended to be serious.

I could not answer Peter's question briefly, as I think that reducing salvation to two words is part of the very issue. And if I were to choose two words it would not be yours which are laden with controversy and misunderstanding. I would choose Jesus Christ.

The whole New Testament (and Bible) and church's life is the answer to your question. And as soon as you reduce the answer to your two words you immediately have to re-garnish your reduction.

I might also start with asking a question about the question - what do you mean by saved?

As to this being a pastoral response to those who are "not sure that they are good enough for God" - I would speak of and share God's love - not give them a Latin lesson.

I think yours is an answer to a question people are not asking, a response to a theory no one is teaching. Where is anyone actually teaching a “merit counting”supplement to grace? Straw men. Generally anti-catholic prejudices with no foundation in actual teaching.

I would not sever faith from baptism. I would not sever salvation from transformation. I would not sever being saved from being a member of the church. I would not quote one scripture to contradict another or set Paul against Jesus or make the Gospels not be the gospel.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison
I concur with your answer in nearly everyway. Thank you. It is most acceptable. I particularly like your two word alternative to sola fide, Jesus Christ!

Where I would continue to differ from you is:

I do not think there is a straw man at work when one labours to restate the grace of God and the call to faith. There is no need to think of Catholics or Catholic theology: sadly I have found many Anglican parishioners who misunderstand the gospel of grace.