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5 Reasons Solus Christus Is at the Center of the Five Solas

Reformation theology is often summarized by the five solas. Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) stands as the formal principle of the Reformation and the foundation of all theology. God’s glory alone (soli Deo gloria) functions as a capstone for all Reformation theology, connecting its various parts to God’s one purpose for creating this world and humanity in it. In between these two solas, the other three emphasize that God has chosen and acted to save us by his sovereign grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), which is grounded in and through Christ alone (solus Christus).

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If we are to learn from the Reformers, we do well to begin with these summarizing solas. But if we are to understand the substance of the Reformation solas and profit from them, we must bear in mind two points:

  1. First, all of the solas are interrelated and mutually dependent; you cannot have one without the others.
  2. Second, the five solas are just as important today as they were in the Reformation for capturing what is at the heart of the gospel.

Without minimizing this mutual dependence, however, we will also 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. For this reason, we need to attend closely to what the Reformers taught about our Lord Jesus Christ.

We can begin to recover the Reformers’ basic insights by focusing on two teachings: the exclusive identity of Christ and his sufficient work. These two aspects of Christology, while basic to the Reformers’ theology, have been ridiculed and rejected by many today. And that is why, if the church is to proclaim the same Christ as the Reformers, we must understand and embrace solus Christus with the same clarity, conviction, urgency, and abundance of joy. To do this, we need to consider more closely why Christ alone is at the center of the Reformation solas and at the heart of Christian theology.

1. Solus Christus 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 through the agency of human authors 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 the power of God and his grace alone. The purpose of God’s grace, however, leads to and culminates in our reconciliation and adoption through Christ alone. 

In the end, the ultimate goal of God in our redemption is his own glory, even as we are transformed into a creaturely reflection of it. And yet, the radiance of the glory of God 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 Reformed placed solus Christus at the center of their doctrine because Scripture places Christ himself at the center.

Christ alone is at the center of God’s eternal plan for his creation. 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: the triune God of the universe in infinite wisdom and power has chosen to bring all of his purposes and plans to fulfillment in the person and work of Christ. 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 “[t]o be truly Trinitarian we must be constantly Christ-centered.”

3. Solus Christus reflects the self-witness of Christ himself.

Jesus understood that he was the key to the manifestation of God’s glory and the salvation of his people. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained his death and bore witness to his resurrection as the Messiah by placing 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).

He confronted the religious leaders for not finding eternal life in him as the goal of humanity: “‘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 emphasized the centrality of Christ alone because they 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 1:1–3a).

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 purpose and 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 and reconciled heaven and earth by and through Christ alone.

5. Solus Christus is the linchpin of coherency for all Christian theology.

More than a century ago, Herman Bavinck wrote his magisterial Reformed Dogmatics. In this masterful integration of Christian teaching, Bavinck kept his eye on the key to its coherency:

“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 twentieth century, J. I. Packer used the helpful analogy of a central hub that connects the spokes on a wheel. Packer helpfully 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 Michael 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.

Solus Christus connects all of Christian doctrine

Simply put, Christ alone must connect all the doctrines of our theology because Christ alone stands as the cornerstone of all the purposes and plans of God himself. But if we misinterpret who Christ is and what he does in his life, death, and resurrection, then all other doctrines will likely suffer. Retrieving and learning from the Reformers’ teaching on solus Christus, then, brings both sobriety and joy. Misidentifying Christ will cause confusion in the church and harm our witness in the world.

However, if we rightly identify Christ in all his exclusive identity and all-sufficient work, then we can proclaim the same Christ as the Reformers with the same clarity, conviction, urgency, and abundance of joy.

Christ alone—Solus Christus—is not a slogan; it is the center of the solas by which the Reformers recovered the grace of God and declared the glory of God.

***

Today’s post is excerpted from Stephen Wellum’s Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior.

You can learn more about Solus Christus in Stephen Wellum’s 13-part video series. Get the DVD, watch on Vimeo or Amazon Prime Video, or get FREE access for 14-days with a MasterLectures subscription.

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