The final of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone – is probably the most famous of the Solas, thanks in no small part to its use in the signatures of artists like Bach and Handel. It is no accident that this particular Sola should be the one to adorn creative works, nor that it should be the capstone to all of all the Solas, for it summarizes the purpose of the whole set. Why scripture alone? For therein the glory of God is revealed. Why Christ alone? For thereby God set forth the crown jewel of his glory in creation. Why grace alone? That God alone may be glorified. Why faith alone? That the glory of God may be not merely displayed but apprehended.
But what is the glory of God? Moses once asked to see it. God granted his wish and responded, “I am the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Exodus 34:6-7) “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” The glory of God is the apprehension of his goodness and transcendent grandeur.
Who else might glory go to? First of all to ourselves. Sola Gratia and Sola Fide are meant to divest us of this. “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, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, as the Catholic Church believed, to Mary and a pantheon of departed saints. The mediator between God and man is a glorified role, but as Solo Christo taught, “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) The whole of scripture, and thus the five Solas, are concerned primarily with establishing the transcendence and the glory of God, over and apart from that of any creation.
This is particularly relevant to the creative work, which all too easily becomes a vehicle for self-indulgence – especially in the bombastic realms of metal. In Bach’s own time the ornate and bombastic baroque style offered a similar temptation. But “all flesh is like grass, and its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25) Soli Deo Gloria establishes purpose in particular actions, in one’s life as a whole, and in the entirety of history.
The fifth of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.
Sola Fide – justification by faith alone – is closely connected to Sola Gratia. So much so that the phrase commonly runs “salvation by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). But the prepositions there are important. If we were saved with grace and faith, neither of them would be “alone” anymore. We’d have three Solas and a Duo, and what’s worse, another synergistic soteriology.
This post is coming to you, presumably, through the screen of a computer. That screen is necessary for you to be able to read it. But that screen didn’t really cause this post to exist. In the same way, faith is the only way to lay hold of saving grace. But the faith did not merit the grace or cause it to come. Indeed, the faith was given by that same grace.
“Gospel” in the original Greek is Evangelion – Eu-, meaning good, and -angelion, message. Sola Fide is why the news is good. After the doctrine of total depravity, Sola Gratia is all well and good, but how is that grace laid hold of? How does one become oriented toward the Good? By faith alone – that is, by a desire for God, the Summum Bonum. One is declared righteous before the good works start, and independently of them. This is justification, and it is brought about by faith alone.
That said, one’s desire “manifests itself only in the reality of action“, which is only to say that justification is always followed by sanctification. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). But faith is not aided by works; rather, it leads to them.
This is why pictures of God as dictator are nonsensical. God does not coerce belief – meaning he does not impose it upon the will, for that is no belief at all – but it’s not quite right to think here of “persuasion” as the alternative either. Yes, God’s self-revelation of his goodness is persuasive, but irresistibly so. Our wills are naturally oriented toward what we think of as good, so the gift of faith is nothing else than belief in a factual proposition – or rather, a definition: God is Good.
The fourth of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.
Sola Gratia – salvation by grace alone. But salvation from what? To answer that, let’s take a detour through a related doctrine – total depravity.
Total Depravity is usually stated something like “human nature is inherently bad”. This isn’t a great way to put it, since “Human Nature” can be taken several different ways. A better way of stating it is that human nature is corrupted, meaning that, left to its own devices, it is totally unable to attain ultimate Good for itself.
The Roman Catholic doctrine of Luther’s day (and, arguably, to this day) was synergistic. It imagined God looking down, finding a little tiny bit of good in someone, and growing it by his grace. Salvation was thus something you could be cajoled into, if you can just get that first little bit of good into someone. Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Catholic Church, even stated it explicitly: “lawmakers [can] make men good by habituating them to good works.”
Sola Gratia, however, is monergistic: God doesn’t look for anyone with a small orientation to the Good, because there isn’t anyone. Rather, God himself instills that orientation – and always finishes what he starts (cf. Philippians 1:6). There’s nothing in us for God to work with, so he creates it, ex nihilo and unilaterally. Not against our will, but prior to it. The desire for Good is a gift of God – that desire is grace.
What this means is that salvation is totally supernatural. Not even 99% with a little kernel of our own natural good, but 100% supernatural. This, in turn, means – since salvation is entirely a work of God – that you can’t stack the deck for someone’s salvation. In other words, you can’t make someone else more likely to be saved by altering his environment. Now we can – and are indeed commanded to – be instruments of grace through evangelism. But the old idea of Compelle Intrare – “compel to enter [the Church]” in order that good habits might be established – is exploded.
The great sociologist Max Weber noted “the fundamentally anti-authoritarian tendency of the doctrine, which at bottom undermined every responsibility for ethical conduct or spiritual salvation on the part of [the institutional] Church or State as useless.” Likewise, C.S. Lewis observed that “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” Sola Gratia, with its pessimistic view of the goodness of man, might initially seem to be a dismal doctrine. But it comes not only with the good news of God’s grace to salvation, but also with the more immanent effect of sweeping away any justification for the moralizing tyranny which lay over Europe since even before the rise of Christendom.
The third of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
1 Timothy 2:5-6
Growing up in a culture which is at the same time secular and infused with religious clichés, it’s easy to miss the revolutionary significance of this statement. If “Jesus is my homeboy”, what need is there for a mediator?
There are two reasons why a mediator is needed between God and man. In the first place, as Luther put it, “God in his own nature and majesty is to be left alone; in this regard, we have nothing to do with him.” As creator, there is no necessity that God should reveal himself to creation: authors do not typically write themselves into their own stories, much less redeem their characters thereby. The transcendence of God requires that we have a mediator – namely the Word of God, which has always been the only means of interaction between God and man, and which became incarnate in Christ (John 1:14).
Quite apart from this, however, sin has estranged us even from the Word of God. That is, we have turned from the Good and broken our natural communion with it. “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts” (Rom. 1:24), from which position we are totally unable to seek again after it.
In the past, this estrangement was mediated by a priest – one who came to God on behalf of the sinner and offered a sacrifice for atonement. We therefore had two mediators: the Word of God who ministered to our createdness, and a priest, who ministered to our fallenness.
With the incarnation of the Word, however, our ontological mediator became as well our priestly mediator – a perfect high priest (Hebrews 2:17, 4:14-15, 9:11-12). Therefore there is now one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
This liberating truth was unfortunately lost in the Roman Catholic division of priests and laity. Indeed, there was little a lay-person had to do with God without the mediation of a priest through confession and sacraments. This was the great rediscovery of Solo Christo, and its corollary, The Priesthood of All Believers. Every believer may, with the mediation only of Christ, himself “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16).
Gone then is the power of a priesthood over men’s souls when God himself has assumed both offices on our behalf! This is the promise of Solo Christo – Christ Alone: where Solo Scriptura placed on us individually the responsibility to seek the truth, Solo Christo tells us that God has given it to us by his own goodness.