Archive for January, 2013

Why Solo Christo?

1 Comment Friday, January 18th, 2013


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.

Why Sola Scriptura?

1 Comment Sunday, January 6th, 2013


The second of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.

Three years ago I called Martin Luther one of the great individualists of our age. Sola Scriptura is the reason.

Sola Scriptura – the first of the five Solas which set the doctrine of the Reformation apart from the Roman Catholic church – means that the responsibility to understand the truth falls primarily on individuals as such, not on individuals as members of a church. One cannot “outsource” the task of truth-seeking to a larger body. Every individual has the inalienable responsibility to understand scripture, and the right to interpret it according to his own conscience.

This was the crux of the debate between Luther and Erasmus. Desiderius Erasmus (whose compilation of the Greek text of the New Testament Luther used for his own German translation) had become alarmed at the upheaval caused by the Reformation, and urged moderation. After all, Erasmus argued, doctrine isn’t that important, and for controversial matters we can just trust the judgement of Rome.

That attitude, Luther responded in On the Bondage of the Will, is damnable laziness. The scriptures are clear – and even if they were not, the most Rome could do is to help others to understand through persuasion. It could not substitute its own understanding for theirs. And should it be wrong (which indeed Luther had shown it to be from the scriptures), the authority of Rome is no excuse for the individual who accepts its doctrine at face value.

When the Gospel came to Greece, the Bereans were called noble for “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). “These things” we now consider to have been authoritatively inspired, having found that they were indeed so. How much more therefore should we test against scripture interpretations coming from Rome, Wittenburg, or Geneva?

“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments,” Luther said in the face of the full authority of Rome, “I can and will not recant, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other.”

It should be obvious, then, that Sola Scriptura does not mean that any interpretation is as good as any other. It does not mean that one can end a disagreement with “well, that’s just my interpretation.” It merely claims that the way to salvation is to be found only in the scriptures, and that the responsibility to find it cannot be transferred or absolved. It does not, on its own, advance any particular interpretation – but that task is taken up by the subsequent Solas.

Why Semper Reformanda?

No Comments Friday, January 4th, 2013


At the beginning of the 16th century, with few exceptions, being European was practically synonymous with being Catholic. Numerically and politically, the church could hardly have been more successful. Yet, it was not healthy. The great systematic-apologetic tradition, spurred by competition from Judaism (Paul’s epistles), Roman paganism (Augustine’s City of God), and later Islam (various works of Thomas Aquinas), had degenerated to the point that Luther could dismiss contemporary Scholastic theologians as mere “sophists”. Popes frequently acted as vaingloriously as princes, both politically and personally. And worst of all, fiscal profligacy had led the church to seek profit from the sinner’s desperation before God.

After Luther posted his 95 Theses disputing the sale of indulgences, by which the Pope from a “storehouse of merit” purported to be able to remit sins for a fee, Rome’s proud threats made it clear that the path to internal reform was closed. If not for the new printing press and powerful friends in Germany, he would surely have been silenced along with the several would-be reformers in the centuries preceding him.

In our time, by contrast, the Catholic church is hardly recognizable as the same institution. Yes, its doctrine is largely similar, but the corruption has – with a few visible exceptions – been largely rooted out, especially from the higher echelons. It stopped waging wars, it opened itself to scientific advance, and no pope after the sixteenth century has had an illegitimate child.

Why the change? Hegemony – especially religious hegemony – is sclerotic. When everyone is Catholic, it’s no wonder if Catholicism doesn’t mean much. The Reformation not only recovered the vitality of the Christian religion within its own circle (and re-energized the systematic-apologetic tradition with works such as Calvin’s Institutes), but rejuvenated the Catholic church by shattering its complacency.

Semper reformanda ecclesia est. The Church is always reforming – the ecclesiological equivalent of creative destruction. And as Israel learned many times in the Old Testament, when internal reformation fails, external discipline is never far around the corner.

In our day, Protestant hegemony in America is likewise rapidly waning. This is to be welcomed. As sclerosis sets in when those of conservative temperament feel safe enough to take the torch, thereby preventing internal reform, so vitality will be restored only when the Church is again countercultural enough that it must be always reforming.

Though the structural effects of the Reformation were important, the particular doctrines which it recovered – doctrines which to this day set it apart from the Catholic church – were even more so. In five subsequent posts I’ll talk about the doctrine behind each of the five songs on the forthcoming album.