Scripture

Ninety-Five Theses (Free Bonus Chapter)

Ninety-Five Theses (Free Bonus Chapter)

Want a free bonus chapter from my book Know the Creeds and Councils? At the bottom of this post, there is link to download a PDF of a chapter on Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses that includes discussion questions and further reading.

Historical Background

If people know only one thing about the Protestant Reformation, it is the famous event when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Wittenberg Chapel in protest against the Catholic Church. Within a few years of this event, the church had splintered into not just the church’s camp or Luther’s camp but also the camps of churches led by theologians of all different stripes.

Luther is known mostly for his teachings about scripture and justification. Regarding scripture, Luther argued that scripture alone (sola scriptura) is our ultimate authority for faith and practice. About justification, Luther taught that we are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit. We are neither saved by our merits nor declared righteous by our good works. Additionally, we need to fully trust in God to save us from our sins, rather than partly relying on our own self-improvement. 

Indulgences

These teachings were radical departures from the Catholic orthodoxy of Luther’s day. But you might be surprised to learn that the Ninety-Five Theses, even though it was the document that sparked the Reformation, was not about these issues. Instead, Luther objected to the fact that the Catholic Church was offering to sell certificates of forgiveness, and that by doing so, it was substituting a false hope—that forgiveness can be earned or purchased—for the true hope of the gospel—that we receive forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace.

The Roman Catholic Church claimed that it had been placed in charge of a “treasury of merits” of all of the good deeds that saints had done (not to mention the deeds of Christ, who made the treasury infinitely deep). For those who were trapped by their own sinfulness, the church could write a certificate transferring some of the merits of the saints to the sinner. The catch? These “indulgences” had a price tag.

This much needs to be understood to make sense of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses: the selling of indulgences for full remission of sins intersected perfectly with the intense struggle Martin Luther had experienced regarding salvation and assurance for many years. And it is at this point of collision between one man’s hope in the gospel and the Catholic Church’s denial of that hope that the Ninety-Five Theses can be properly understood.

Content of the Ninety-Five Theses

Luther’s official response to indulgences came in the form of an academic document that he addressed to the local archbishop, who happened to be the same Albert of Mainz who had authorized the campaign. Significantly, Luther penned his grievance—titled “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” but known to posterity as the Ninety-Five Theses—in Latin rather than in the common vernacular. That fact combined with the intended audience and the largely academic tone of the writing indicates that Luther did not write his document for mass consumption. Rather, he intended it to spark a scholarly debate. Regardless, the document was translated into the common Germanic language of Saxony and was reportedly posted on the door of the Schlosskirche (the Castle Church of Wittenberg) on October 31, 1517.

Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses focuses on three main issues: selling forgiveness (via indulgences) to build a cathedral, the pope’s claimed power to distribute forgiveness, and the damage indulgences caused to grieving sinners. That his concern was pastoral (rather than trying to push a private agenda) is apparent from the document. He did not believe (at this point) that indulgences were altogether a bad idea; rather, he believed that they were misleading Christians regarding their spiritual state:

 41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.

 As well as their duty to others:

 43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

 44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties. [Notice that Luther is not yet wholly against the theology of indulgences.]

 And even financial well-being:

46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.

 Luther’s attitude toward the pope in this document is also surprisingly ambivalent. In later years, he called the pope “the Antichrist” and burned his writings, but here his tone is merely cautionary, hoping the pope will come to his senses. For instance, in this passage he appears to be defending the pope against detractors, albeit in a backhanded way:

51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.

Obviously, since Leo X had begun the indulgences campaign in order to build the basilica, he did not “wish to give of his own money” to Tetzel’s victims. However, Luther phrased his criticism to suggest that the pope might be ignorant of the abuses and at any rate should be given the benefit of the doubt. It provided Leo a graceful exit from the indulgences campaign if he wished to take it.

So what made this document so controversial? Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses hit a nerve in the depths of the authority structure of the medieval church. Luther was calling the pope and those in power to repent—on no authority but the convictions he had gained from Scripture—and urged the leaders of the indulgences movement to direct their gaze to Christ, the only one who is able to pay the penalty due for sin.

Of all the portions of the document, Luther’s closing is perhaps the most memorable for its exhortation to look to Christ rather than to the power of the church:

92. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace.

93. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross.

94. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.

95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

In the years following his initial posting of the Theses, Luther became emboldened in his resolve, strengthening his arguments with Scripture. At the same time, the church became more and more uncomfortable with the radical Luther, and in the following decades, the spark that he made grew into a flame of reformation that spread across Europe. Luther was ordered by the church to recant in 1520 and was eventually exiled in 1521.

Relevance

Although the Ninety-Five Theses does not explicitly lay out a Protestant theology or agenda, it contains the seeds of the most important beliefs of the movement, especially the priority of understanding and applying the gospel. Luther developed his critique of the Catholic Church out of his struggle with doubt and guilt as well as his pastoral concern for his parishioners. Luther longed for the hope and security that only the gospel can bring, and he was frustrated with the structures that were using Christ to take advantage of people and prevent them from union with God. Furthermore, Luther’s focus on the teaching of the Bible is significant, because it provided the foundation upon which the great doctrines of the Reformation found their origin.

Indeed, Luther developed a robust notion of justification by faith and rejected even the notion of purgatory as unbiblical; he argued that indulgences and even hierarchical penance cannot lead to salvation; and perhaps most notable, he rebelled against the authority of the pope. All of these critiques were driven by Luther’s commitment, above all else, to Christ and the Scriptures that testify about him.

The courage and outspokenness that Luther demonstrated in writing and publishing the Ninety-Five Theses also spread to other influential leaders of the young Protestant Reformation.

Today, the Ninety-Five Theses may stand as the most well-known document from the Reformation era. Luther’s courage and his willingness to confront what he deemed to be clear error is just as important today as it was then. One of the greatest ways in which Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses affect us today—in addition to the wonderful inheritance of the five Reformation solas—is that it calls us to thoroughly examine the inherited practices of the church against the standard set forth in the Scriptures. Luther saw an abuse, was not afraid to address it, and was exiled as a result of his faithfulness to the Bible in the midst of harsh opposition.

 

For more on Ninety-Five These, download this free bonus chapter from Justin S. Holcomb, Know the Creeds and Councils (Zondervan, 2014).

The Bible and Anglican Liturgy

The Bible and Anglican Liturgy

Carl Trueman writes that in the Anglican liturgy, one finds “a structure of worship which is determined by the interface between theological truth and biblically-defined existential need.”  Trueman’s blog post is about about his visit to an Anglican service and the realization that Anglican worship services are both filled with and shaped by the Bible more than “any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware – than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life.”

Readings I have found helpful in thinking about a theology of liturgical worship:

In For the Life of the World Alexander Schmemann suggests an approach to the world and life within it, which stems from the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Church. He understands issues such as secularism and Christian culture from the perspective of the unbroken experience of the Church, as revealed and communicated in her worship, in her liturgy – the sacrament of the world, the sacrament of the Kingdom.

Zahl writes: “I believe in Bible-based verticality, which is another way of saying formal-litiurgical worship.” He reminds us that worship should be vertical, biblical, and Godward. No element of worship should creep into a service without having to pass this one-question test: “Does it accurately reflect Bible truth about God, Christ, and human?”

The worship of the Christian community, properly understood and done, leads worshipers to act out in their lives the love of God, which is at the heart of our worship. Worship also provides the power and the sustenance which makes this style of living possible. This Christian style of living, moreover, drives those who are committed to it back to the worship of God, to find forgiveness and strength. When this interdependent relationship is understood, the power of worship is illuminated and the power to live increased.

Liturgy For Living remains a classic text in the field of Anglican/Episcopal liturgy. This highly readable overview explores the meaning of worship from a theological, historical, and spiritual perspective. It then examines the history, theology, and meaning of specific Anglican liturgies including: Holy Baptism, Confirmation, the Daily Office, the Holy Eucharist, and the various pastoral offices.

Excerpts from Trueman’s blog post:

“So what exactly had she witnessed, I asked myself? Well, at a general level she had heard the English language at its most beautiful and set to an exalted purpose: the praise of Almighty God. She would also have seen a service with a clear biblical logic to it, moving from confession of sin to forgiveness to praise to prayer. She would also have heard this logic explained to her by the minister presiding, as he read the prescribed explanations that are built in to the very liturgy itself. The human tragedy and the way of salvation were both clearly explained and dramatized by the dynamic movement of the liturgy. And she would have witnessed all of this in an atmosphere of hushed and reverent quiet.”

“In terms of specific detail, she would also have heard two whole chapters of the Bible read out loud: one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Not exactly the whole counsel of God but a pretty fair snapshot. She would have been led in a corporate confession of sin. She would have heard the minister pronounce forgiveness in words shaped by scripture. She would have been led in corporate prayer in accordance with the Lord’s own prayer. She would have heard two whole psalms sung by the choir. She would have had the opportunity to sing a couple of hymns drawn from the rich vein of traditional hymnody and shot through with scripture. She would have been invited to recite the Apostles’ Creed (and thus come pretty close to being exposed to the whole counsel of God). She would have heard collects rooted in the intercessory concerns of scripture brought to bear on the real world. And, as I noted earlier, all of this in the exalted, beautiful English prose of Thomas Cranmer.”

“Yet here is the irony: in this liberal Anglican chapel, the hijabi experienced an hour long service in which most of the time was spent occupied with words drawn directly from scripture. She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware – than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life. Cranmer’s liturgy meant that this girl was exposed to biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion. I was utterly convicted as a Protestant minister that evangelical Protestantism must do better on this score: for all of my instinctive sneering at Anglicanism and formalism, I had just been shown in a powerful way how far short of taking God’s word seriously in worship I fall.”

Why You Can Trust Your Bible

Why You Can Trust Your Bible

Critics who doubt the reliability and trustworthiness of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life have issued a make-or-break challenge to the church. They ask us: “How can we be sure the Bible can be trusted as accurate?”

It’s common to see the argument that the Scriptures we have today aren’t the same as what was written by the apostles in the first century. Such arguments attempt to portray the Bible as unreliable and therefore irrelevant. As we will see, however, these challenges do not stand up to scrutiny.

What About Textual Variants?

The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were probably written during the second half of the first century. We don’t actually have any of the original documents (called autographs) in our possession today. Instead, we have copies, often handwritten by scribes to preserve and circulate the words of the apostles so they could be passed around and used in worship services. The fact the original manuscripts were copied shows how important these writings were to local congregations. However, in the process of copying the manuscripts, scribes often made small changes, some of them unintentional and others intentional.

For example, early copies of the Greek New Testament were composed in an ancient style in which words were written in all capital letters with no spaces, punctuation, or paragraph divisions. A classic illustration of this style is the phrase “GODISNOWHERE.” A copyist would have to decide whether the phrase meant “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” Context would determine the meaning of the phrase, so it’s not surprising a scribe could occasionally get things wrong. Furthermore, scribes sometimes misspelled words, wrote the same word twice when it should have been written once, or skipped over sections of text because the same words occurred later down the page. These are all examples of unintentional changes.

Other times, however, scribes changed the texts they were copying on purpose. This happened for a variety of reasons. They might make grammatical improvements or liturgical changes (such as adding a doxology), or they might eliminate apparent discrepancies, harmonize passages, or make doctrinal changes. However, even Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who argues against the reliability of the Bible, recognizes, “Most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”

Because of the large number of variations in New Testament manuscripts, some argue the words of the New Testament are unreliable. But in fact, the vast number of New Testament manuscripts actually enables us to figure out what the originals said with a great deal of certainty. As Mark Roberts puts it, “Having many manuscripts actually increases the likelihood of our getting back to the original text.” Scholars can compare the various manuscripts containing the same passages of Scripture and determine, on the basis of internal and external evidence, which of the manuscripts most likely get the original wording right.

How Does the New Testament Compare to Other Ancient Documents?

The earliest manuscripts of the works of first-century historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are dated from the 9th to 11th centuries—more than 800 years after the originals were written. In terms of the number of surviving manuscripts, there are 200 for Suetonius, 133 for Josephus, and 75 for Herodotus.

When we compare these ancient texts to the New Testament, the difference astonishes. For instance, the earliest New Testament manuscript is from around AD 125, while significant portions of the Gospels are represented in manuscripts from the late 2nd to early 3rd century. Whereas the best ancient historical works have 500 to 800 years between the actual date the work was written and the date of the earliest surviving manuscript, there is less than a 100-year gap between the writing of the Gospels and the manuscripts we possess. This difference cannot be overstated.

In addition, the sheer number of Gospel manuscripts we’ve found is staggering in comparison to other ancient works. As Mark Roberts notes, “The number of Gospel manuscripts in existence is about 20 times larger than the average number of extant manuscripts of comparable writings.” This figure doesn’t even represent the hundreds of thousands of quotes from the Gospels in the writings of the early church fathers. With nearly 2,000 manuscripts of the Gospels in hand, it becomes clear that to doubt the reliability of the Gospels is to doubt the reliability of nearly every ancient text ever found.

Scripture Is Trustworthy and Reliable

Because of who God is, and because of what God has done to preserve his Word, we have confidence the events described in Scripture are accurate and historical. This is important because Christianity, unique among world religions, depends on historical events: particularly Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As J. Gresham Machen writes, “Christianity is based upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness.” Scripture tell us this account, revealing Christianity’s climax—its central, historical, and verifiable event: God’s gracious act of bringing salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.

What Is Scripture?

What Is Scripture?

Is Scripture divine or human? Authoritative? Is Scripture inspired by God? How should it be used?

What is Scripture? All religious traditions that ground themselves in texts must grapple with certain questions. In worship services and public and private readings, Christians often turn to Scripture for guidance: to the stories of Abraham or Moses, to the Psalms, to the prophecies of Isaiah, to the life of Jesus, to the letters of Paul, to the vision of John. Therefore, Christians must confront their own set of questions. What is Scripture? Is it divine? Human? Both? Is Scripture authoritative? If so, how and for whom? What is the scope of its authority? Is Scripture inspired by God? How should Scripture be used? How do Scripture and tradition relate? What does it mean for a Christian to call the Bible “the Word of God”? And if Jesus is also called the Word of God, how does Jesus as the Word of God relate to the Bible as the Word of God?

Helpful History

The good news is that we are not the first to try to answer these questions. In fact, 2,000 years of Christian history provide us a tradition of helpful answers as numerous Christian theologians have wrestled with these questions.

Theologians at different times have focused on different questions regarding Scripture. In the patristic and medieval eras, the focus was on relating the literal meaning of the text to allegorical or spiritual interpretations; during the Reformation, the debates focused on who had the authority to define and interpret Scripture; and after the Enlightenment, theologians tried to determine how the Bible was still the Word of God in light of historical-critical methods that seemed to challenge its historicity and reliability. However, in spite of all the various approaches, Christian theologians have been unified in dealing with a central issue: how the self-disclosure of God in Jesus relates to the Scriptures as the Word of God. A central question is always the relationship between “the Word” becoming human flesh (Incarnation) and “the Word” becoming human words.

The Word and the Christian

Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by God, is without error, and does not misrepresent the facts. It is entirely trustworthy and is the final authority on everything it teaches. The Bible records the drama of redemption in the history of Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians we acknowledge both Jesus (John 1:1–4) and Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16–17) as the “Word of God.” Christians should not focus solely on Jesus Christ and treat Scripture just like any other “classic text.” Nor should we focus primarily on the Bible as God’s divine inerrant Word and treat Jesus as simply a character in a small part of the texts.

Jesus Is The Ultimate Word

Jesus is the central message—God participating in human life, coming near to us, bringing his good news, expressing God’s love for us, dying as our substitute, rising as the victor over death, and building his church as a community of grace. Jesus is not just the main character in one of many events in the story of God’s people. Jesus is the final revelation of God’s drama of redemption. Humanity sees God in full light in Jesus. Jesus is God’s ultimate word about human life, and the Bible is God’s word about God’s self-revelation through human life. This is what Christian theologians have been saying in various ways for 2,000 years. In answering the question “What is Scripture?” theological giants like Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Barth, and others have given us many categories to use, concepts to ponder, and doctrines of Scripture to consider and wrestle with. Yet in spite of their differences, they are unified in that their doctrines of Scripture are all surprisingly Christ-centered.

The Story About Grace

The deepest message of the Bible and the ministry of Jesus is the grace of God to sinners and those who are suffering. That is the story of the Bible. The problem of the human condition is that because of sin, we are guilty and we suffer. Throughout the Bible, we constantly see God taking the initiative to bring his grace to sinners and sufferers, from his gracious dealings with the people of Israel to the climactic redemptive work of Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. By taking us through the story of God bringing his grace to sinners and sufferers, Scripture reveals the heart of God and the heart of the Christian faith.

Scripture Is True: Machen On The Bible

Scripture Is True: Machen On The Bible

This is the fourth installment in our seven-part series based on J. Gresham Machen’s seminal work, Christianity and Liberalism (1923). In the book, still relevant almost a century later, Machen contrasts the modernist theological liberalism of his day with biblical Christianity. This post covers Chapter 4, which contrasts the view of Scripture in Christianity and liberalism.

DO YOU CONSIDER THE CROSS CRUCIAL?

The Christian view of the Bible is that it is the revelation of God that shows how unholy, sinful people are brought into relationship with a holy God. The New Testament recounts the historical events and the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; the Old Testament foreshadows and predicts it. This unique, earth-shattering event is what makes Christianity Christian. But, as J. Gresham Machen argues, this unique historical basis of Christianity is rejected by modern naturalistic liberalism.

Liberalism is suspiciously critical of the past. Instead, it tries to create a salvation independent of history, such that it can be captured in present human experience alone.

Christian salvation is not a human religious experience disconnected from the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The truthfulness of Christianity is not confirmed by a person’s experience of this event. As Machen puts it:

Salvation then, according to the Bible, is not something that was discovered, but something that happened. . . . All the ideas of Christianity might be discovered in some other religion, yet there would be in that other religion no Christianity. For Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event. (p. 60)

DO YOU BELIEVE THE BIBLE?

The authority of the Bible is questioned by modern liberalism, which views the truthfulness of the Scriptures as unimportant and ridicules the plenary inspiration of Scripture. According to liberalism, the Bible contains as much (or more) error as any other book, and the idea that the Holy Spirit would enable the authors of the Bible to write Scripture is seen as foolishness.

Liberalism caricatures the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration as though it meant that the Holy Spirit dictated to the writers of Scripture and they just robotically scribbled. Machen corrects this caricature: each writer wrote as an individual, gathering information as any writer would and writing in a unique, individual style. The Holy Spirit didn’t turn them into a kind of mechanical Bible printing press, but directed them as they wrote and kept them from error.

Machen draws a distinction between 1) those Christians who believe that the Bible does contain error but is right in its overall message and who have trusted Jesus as their atoning sacrifice for sin, and 2) those within liberalism who have denied outright the central message of the Bible and supernatural act of God in human history.

It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men. (p. 67)

IS JESUS THE AUTHORITY IN YOUR LIFE?

What is important to the modern liberal is not the authority of the Bible, but the authority of Jesus. They claim that Jesus would disagree with antiquated views of the Old Testament and the fiery rhetoric of Paul. Machen points out the problem with this view: in the search for the “historical Jesus,” biblical criticism gets to pick and choose the parts of Jesus’ life and sayings that accord with the critic’s preconceived naturalistic notions.

The authority for a theological liberal does not reside in Jesus and God’s revelation through Scripture, but in individual experience, which Machen describes above as “the shifting emotions of sinful men.” Their authority is themselves or their experience—not Christ or Scripture.

Unlike liberalism, Christianity lives under the authority of the Word of God, an authority that does not enslave us, but frees us to have true knowledge of God and his world.

Next up, we look at the modernist liberal version of Jesus and how it differs from the real Jesus.

Can’t wait? Read the book for free online or listen to it as a free audiobook.

The Five Solas of the Reformation

The Five Solas of the Reformation

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century changed Christianity forever. Roused to action by the corruption and abuses they saw in the Roman Catholic church of the time, visionary pastors and leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin spearheaded a movement that transformed Christianity and eventually led to the emergence of the Protestant denominations that exist today.

The Reformers were guided by the conviction that the church of their day had drifted away from the essential, original teachings of Christianity, especially in regard to what it was teaching about salvation—how people can be forgiven of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and receive eternal life with God. The Reformation sought to re-orient Christianity on the original message of Jesus and the early church.

The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity.

The Five Solas are:

  1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

Let’s have a brief look at each of these five statements.

SOLA SCRIPTURA

The Scriptures are our ultimate and trustworthy authority for faith and practice. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is the only place where truth is found, but it does mean that everything else we learn about God and his world, and all other authorities, should be interpreted in light of Scripture. The Bible gives us everything we need for our theology.

Every word of the 66 books of the Bible is inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also helps us to understand and obey Scripture.

When rightly interpreted, the Bible is about Jesus Christ and his role as God and Savior. Additionally, Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

SOLA FIDE AND SOLA GRATIA 

We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit alone. We are not saved by our merits or declared righteous by our good works. God grants salvation not because of the good things we do, and despite our sin.

As humans, we inherited (from our ancestor Adam) a nature that is enslaved to sin. Because of our nature, we are naturally enemies of God and lovers of evil. We need to be made alive (regenerated) so that we can even have faith in Christ. God graciously chooses to give us new hearts so that we trust in Christ and are saved through faith alone.

God graciously preserves us and keeps us. When we are faithless toward him, he is still faithful.

We can only stand before God by his grace as he mercifully attributes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ and attributes to him the consequences of our sins. Jesus’ life of perfect righteousness is counted as ours, and our records of sin and failure were counted to Jesus when he died on the cross.

Sola fide and sola gratia express the teaching of Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it 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.”

SOLUS CHRISTUS

God has given the ultimate revelation of himself to us by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Only through God’s gracious self-revelation in Jesus do we come to a saving and transforming knowledge of God.

Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity. Because God is holy and all humans are sinful and sinners, we need a Savior who mediates between us and God. Neither religious rituals nor good works mediate between us and God. There is no other name by which a person can be saved other than the name of Jesus. Jesus intercedes on our behalf, and his sacrificial death alone can atone for sin.

 

SOLI DEO GLORIA

Glory belongs to God alone. God’s glory is the central motivation for salvation, not improving the lives of people—though that is a wonderful by product. God is not a means to an end—he is the means and the end.

The goal of all of life is to give glory to God alone: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). As The Westminster Catechism says, the chief purpose of human life is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

This was originally posted at Christianity.com

Jesus Saves Sinners For God’s Glory

Jesus Saves Sinners For God’s Glory

The Latin word sola means “alone” or “only.”

The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and that summarize the Reformers’ basic theological convictions on what they believed to be the essentials of the Christian life and practice.

THE FIVE SOLAS ARE:

1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): Scripture alone is our highest authority.

2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone.

3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone.

4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.

5. Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

The following is a brief explanation of each. (For further reading, on this see The Cambridge Declaration.)

SOLA SCRIPTURA

When rightly interpreted, the Bible is about Jesus Christ and his role as God and Savior. Additionally, Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Every word of the 66 books of the Bible is divinely inspired. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture, illuminates the meaning and understanding of Scripture, and empowers obedience to Scripture.

The Scriptures alone are our only ultimate and inerrant authority for faith and practice. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is the only place where truth is found, but it does mean that everything else we learn about God and his world, and all other authorities, are subordinate to the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the sole necessary and sufficient source of our theology.

SOLA FIDE AND SOLA GRATIA

We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit alone. We are neither saved by our merits nor declared righteous by our good works. We do not deserve grace, or else it wouldn’t be grace. This means that God grants salvation not because of the good things we do, or even our faith—and despite our sin. God’s election is the unconditional and unmerited nature of his grace.

As humans, we inherited a nature that is in bondage to sin from Adam. We are born in sin. We are naturally enemies of God and lovers of evil. We needed to be made alive (regenerated) so that we could even have faith in Christ. All of this is grace that we don’t deserve. Because we didn’t earn or attain this grace, we cannot lose it.

God graciously preserves us and keeps us. When we are faithless toward him, he is still faithful.

We can only stand before God by his grace as he mercifully attributes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ and attributes to him the consequences of our sins, which were judged on the cross. The effects of this gospel are many. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, our only comfort in life and death is this:

“That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.”

Ephesians 2:8–10 teaches all this clearly:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it 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. ”

SOLUS CHRISTUS

God reveals himself to everyone everywhere through general revelation, which includes creation and conscience. In general revelation, God has made known his power and divine nature, wisdom, majesty, justice, and goodness.

God has supremely revealed himself to fallen humans through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It’s only through special revelation, God’s gracious self-revelation in Jesus, that any of us comes to a saving and transforming knowledge of God.

Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity. Because God is holy and all humans are sinful and sinners, we need a Savior who mediates between us and God. Religious rituals do not mediate between us and God—neither do the good works we do. Nobody else, except the God-man, Jesus Christ, serves as our mediator to God. There is no other name by which a person can be saved other than the name Jesus. Jesus intercedes on our behalf and his sacrifice alone is sufficient to atone for sin.

SOLI DEO GLORIA

We live in a culture of self-glorification. People work their whole lives to gain glory through money, fame, or achievement. Self-esteem is the highest goal. As every Little League coach now claims, “Everybody is a winner.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that everybody is a loser. And it is by God’s grace alone that we become winners. Because of this, glory belongs to God alone. God’s glory is the central motivation for saving sinners, not improving the lives of people—that is a wonderful byproduct.

God is not a means to an end—he is the means and the end.

The goal of all of life is to give glory to God alone: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Westminster Catechism says the chief purpose of our life is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

God’s glory and fame are to be our only and ultimate ambition.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

History

From the beginning of the church, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has been affirmed by orthodox Christians but is frequently challenged by opponents.

Inerrancy can be defined as “the doctrine that the Bible is fully truthful in all of its teachings.”(Christian Theology). When all the relevant facts are known, and when properly interpreted, Scripture never contradicts itself, nor does it misrepresent the facts.

Historically, the doctrine of inerrancy has been held by the earliest theologians of the church. J.N.D. Kelly cites Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, and Gregory of Nazianzus as holding to the inspiration and subsequent inerrancy of Holy Scripture down to the smallest detail of its content. About the early church fathers, Kelly writes, “Their general view was that Scripture was not only exempt from error but contained nothing that was superfluous” (Early Christian Doctrines).

The concept of inerrancy is not humanly constructed doctrine foisted upon the text of Scripture…

The most substantial challenge to inerrancy came from the Enlightenment, which rejected all the supernatural elements of Scripture. Enlightenment critics of Scripture claimed the miracles of Jesus and the resurrection could not be verified and must be taken as nonfactual and false—an assertion that directly undermined the truthfulness of Scripture.

The Enlightenment gave way to 19th and 20th century theological liberalism in which Jesus was viewed as only a good person and teacher, but not God. Also, miracles were understood to be mythological stories, not true historical events. Out of this theological milieu the fundamentalist/modernist controversy arose. Theological modernists were privy to higher criticism and thought inerrancy unfashionable, but the fundamentalists were concerned with maintaining the orthodox fundamental doctrines of the faith. Some extreme fundamentalists pushed the divine authorship of Scripture so much that the human element of the Biblical text was rendered irrelevant.

In response to the many 20th century challenges to inerrancy, a council of evangelical leaders met at an international Summit Conference in the fall of 1978 and drafted The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI).

 

Content

The CSBI is composed of a short statement consisting of 5 points, a section of affirmations and denials consisting of 19 articles, and an exposition of the doctrine of inerrancy in relation to the other teachings of Scripture.

The short summary statement posits the Scriptures as God’s self-revelation written by men and inspired by the Holy Spirit, who authenticates and illuminates its teachings. In addition, Scripture’s very words in entirety are inspired (verbal plenary inspiration) and therefore without error (inerrant). Finally, it asserts that to deny or limit inerrancy undermines the authority of Scripture.

The section of affirmations and denials include several other important points:

  1. Scripture’s authority comes from its being the Word of God, not from the church or tradition, and is thereby authoritatively binding
  2. The finitude of human language does not preclude it being used as a medium for divine revelation
  3. While inspiration did not eliminate human authorship and literary style, it did guarantee that their utterances were true and trustworthy
  4. Only the autographs of Scripture were inspired, but this does not render the doctrine irrelevant since an accurate representation of the autographs can be constructed from the manuscripts we have
  5. While inerrancy and infallibility can be distinguished, they cannot be separated; that is, the Bible cannot be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions
  6. Inerrancy is rooted in the doctrine of inspiration
  7. While affirming inerrancy is not necessary for salvation, it is vital to the Christian faith, and its rejection leads to serious consequences in the individual and the church

 

Contemporary Relevance

While not to be given creedal status, the CBSI is an important statement that Christians ought to affirm. One of the reasons is, the CBSI navigates between liberalism and fundamentalism. Liberalism so analyzes and assesses the historical background and literary features of a text (the human features) that the text’s authenticity and factuality is negated in the process. Fundamentalism so emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s activity in the writing of the Scriptures (the divine features) that the human authorship of the text is severely minimized or denied.

…to deny or limit inerrancy undermines the authority of Scripture.

Liberals deny inerrancy because of the multitude of differing manuscripts we possess, while some fundamentalists assert that only one version of the text (the KJV) contains the inspired words of God. Both positions fail to do justice to the dual authorship of Scripture asserted by the CSBI. The CSBI assures the Holy Spirit was indeed present in inspiring the text of Scripture—thereby ensuring its factual accuracy—while still allowing for the human elements of style to be present in the process and textual transmission.

The concept of inerrancy is not humanly constructed doctrine foisted upon the text of Scripture, but a result of the reliability and trustworthy character of God and an inevitable corollary of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. The CSBI took an important step in responding to the critics of an historic doctrine of the church and asserting the classical teaching in a fresh and thoughtful way. Their response also serves to bolster the confidence of believers in the Holy Scriptures.

 

For further reading see Inerrancy, edited by Norman Geisler.

 

The Bible is VERY Consistent

The Bible is VERY Consistent

The chart above represents the 63,779 cross-references found in the Bible.  A single arc depicts each cross-reference. Compare this to the 439 alleged contradictions from the chart Sam Harris commissioned (reported in Fast Company).

This cross-reference chart does not prove the Bible is not filled with contradictions, but it is a graphic representation of the unity, harmony, and consistency of the Bible.

 

Some Major Themes Throughout The Bible

God’s initiative—“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” (Exod 6:6-7 and also see Gen 17:7, Exod 19:4-5, Lev 11:45, Lev 26:12, Deut 4:20, Deut 29:13, 2 Chron 23:16, Isa 7:14, Isa 8:8, Jer 32:38, Eze 37:27, Zech 2:11, Zech 8:8, Ezek 34:24, 2 Cor 6:16).  Christ is the embodiment of God’s desire to dwell among God’s people  (Exod 25:8, Exod 29:42-45, Lev 26:9-13, Ezek 37:26-28, Matt 1:23, John 1:14, Eph 2:21, Rev 7:15, Rev 21:3).

God’s initiative despite our disobedience and rebellion—“If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13 and also see Exod 34:6-7, Numbers 14:19, Ps 6:4, Ps 31:17, Ps 44:26, Ps 51:1, Ps 109:26, 1 Thess 5:24).

God’s initiative despite our disobedience and rebellion resulted in the cross—“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly….God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8 and also see 1 Cor 15: 3-6, 1 Pet 3:18, 1 John 2:2. 1 John 4:9-10).

 

Scriptures Bear Witness About Jesus

The reliability of the Bible is important, not so we feel better about having an answer to the flimsy claims of skeptics, but because the Bible contains all things necessary to our salvation.

Jesus makes it clear that studying Scripture is a means to an end (saving knowledge of Jesus Christ) and not the end in and of itself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

 

Commenting on this passage, Martin Luther writes about how to read the Bible:

    Here Christ would indicate the principal reason why the Scripture was given by God. Men are to study and search in it and to learn that He, Mary’s Son, is the one who is able to give eternal life to all who come to Him and believe in Him. Therefore, he who would correctly and profitably read Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through Him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation. I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever. (Luther’s Works, 51, 4)

 


 

Doug Wilson picked two randomly (#208 and #211) and deals with them to show how contrived these “contradictions” are. Matt Perman wrote a post regarding the appearance of contradictions and some of the hard texts of the Bible.

As a sidenote and just for fun, the Sam Harris/Fast Company chart on the supposed errors of the bible has a few of its own:  “contradictions” #7 and #9 are duplicates as are #263 and #264 as are #323 and #324. #404 should read “by” and not “buy.” #406 reads “When when did the transfiguration occur?” That sentence only needs one “when.”