Also in TGC’s series on the Reformation’s five solas:
- Sola Scriptura Demands Inerrancy (Matthew Barrett)
- Justification = Faith + Nothing (Thomas Schreiner)
If we are to learn from the reformers, we do well to study the five solas. But if we are to grasp the substance of the solas and profit from them, we must bear in mind two points. First, all the solas are interrelated and mutually dependent; you cannot have one without the others. Second, the five solas are just as important today as they were in the Reformation for capturing the heart of the gospel.
Without minimizing this mutual dependence, however, we need to consider that one sola plays a distinct part in connecting the others to bring us the full glory of God in the gospel. Solus Christus stands at the center of the other four solas, connecting them into a coherent theological system by which the reformers declared the glory of God. Consider the words of John Calvin:
For how comes it that we are carried about with so many strange doctrines (Heb. 13:9) but because the excellence of Christ is not perceived by us? For Christ alone makes all other things suddenly vanish. Hence there is nothing that Satan so much endeavours to accomplish as to bring on mists with the view of obscuring Christ, because he knows, that by this means the way is opened up for every kind of falsehood. This, therefore, is the only means of retaining, as well as restoring, pure doctrine—to place Christ before the view such as he is with all his blessings, that his excellence may be truly perceived.
We can begin to recover the reformers’ basic insights by focusing on two teachings: Christ’s exclusive identity and his sufficient work. While basic to the reformers’ theology, these two aspects of Christology are ridiculed and rejected by many today. And that is why, if the church is to proclaim the same Christ as the reformers did, we must embrace solus Christus with the same clarity, conviction, urgency, and abundance of joy.
One sola plays a distinct part in connecting the others. . . . Solus Christus stands at the center of the other four.
To do this, let’s consider five reasons Christ alone is at the heart of both the Reformation solas and Christian theology.
1. Christ alone is the linchpin of coherency for Reformation doctrine.
We come to know the person and work of Christ only by God’s self-disclosure through Scripture. Yet God speaks not simply to inform us but to save us in Christ alone. We are saved through faith alone, but the object of our saving faith is Christ alone. Our faith in Christ guards us by God’s power and grace alone.
The purpose of God’s grace, however, leads to and culminates in our reconciliation and adoption through Christ alone. In the end, God’s ultimate goal in our redemption is his own glory, even as we are transformed into a creaturely reflection of it. And yet, the radiance of God’s glory is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Word spoken by God, the faith given by God, the grace extended by God, and the glory possessed and promised by God cannot make sense apart from the Son of God who became a man for our salvation.
2. The reformers placed Christ alone at the center of their doctrine because Scripture does.
Despite the diversity of human authors, Scripture speaks as a unified divine communicative act by which God reveals himself and the whole history of redemption—from creation to new creation. And this unified Word of God has one main point: in infinite wisdom and power, the triune God of the universe has chosen to bring all his purposes and plans to fulfillment in the person and work of Christ.
The Word spoken by God, the faith given by God, the grace extended by God, and the glory promised by God cannot make sense apart from the Son of God.
The centrality of Christ does not diminish the persons and work of the Father and the Spirit. Scripture teaches, rather, that all the Father does centers in his Son, and that the Spirit works to bear witness and bring glory to the Son. So we can agree with Michael Reeves that “to be truly Trinitarian we must be constantly Christ-centered.”
3. The ‘Christ alone’ of the Reformation reflects the self-witness of Christ himself.
Jesus understood he was the key to showcasing God’s glory and saving his people. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus placed himself at the focal point of God’s revelation:
Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:26–27)
‘To be truly Trinitarian we must be constantly Christ-centered.’
He indicted the religious leaders for not finding eternal life in him: “‘These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’” (John 5:39–40). And he was remarkably clear-minded and comfortable in his role as the anointed one entrusted with the end of the world:
The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:22–23)
To follow Jesus as his disciples, then, the reformers confessed that Christ alone is the person around whom all history pivots and the focus of all God’s work in the world.
4. The reformers accepted the apostolic witness to the person and work of Christ.
The opening verses of Hebrews underscore the finality and superiority of God’s self-disclosure in his Son:
In the past God spoke . . . at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. (Heb. 1:1–3).
Paul comforts us with the cosmic preeminence of Christ:
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16–17)
And Paul encourages our hope in Christ by declaring that God’s eternal plan is to “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:9–10). In other words, Jesus stands as the most important figure in God’s new creation work—a work that restores and even surpasses what was lost in Eden. God brings forth a new redeemed, reconciled heaven and earth by and through Christ alone.
5. Beyond the other Reformation solas, Christ alone is the linchpin for all Christian theology.
The doctrine of Christ is not the starting point, but it certainly is the central point of the whole system of dogmatics. All other dogmas either prepare for it or are inferred from it. In it, as the heart of dogmatics, pulses the whole of the religious-ethical life of Christianity.
In the late 20th century, J. I. Packer used the helpful analogy of a central hub that connects the spokes on a wheel. He explained that “Christology is the true hub round which the wheel of theology revolves, and to which its separate spokes must each be correctly anchored if the wheel is not to get bent.”
And most recently, theologians like Reeves recognize the integrative force of Christ alone. Reeves urges that “the center, the cornerstone, the jewel in the crown of Christianity is not an idea, a system or a thing; it is not even ‘the gospel’ as such. It is Jesus Christ.”
In short, all of our efforts at theology ultimately rise and fall with Christ alone. Only a proper understanding of Christ can correctly shape the most distinctive convictions of Christian theology.
No Mere Slogan
Christ alone isn’t a slogan; it’s the center of the solas by which the Reformers recovered the grace of God and declared the glory of God. Christ alone integrates the purposes and plans of God as he has revealed them in Scripture and as we represent them in theology.
Yet we cannot afford to pursue Christ alone as a mere academic interest. We must proclaim the excellencies of Christ alone “who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9).