Although not stated explicitly, part of my aim in writing Five: The Solas of the Reformation (Tulip Publishing, 2020) is to demonstrate that the Five Solas do not belong to those who identify as Reformed. The Five Solas are not Reformed Theology but are, first and foremost, biblical truths. Therefore, whether or not you consider yourself Reformed, if you are a Bible-believing Christian, the Solas belong to you.
Sourced in Scripture
While not being presented or categorized as such in the Reformers’ writings, the Five Solas are present. The themes of the Bible, the gospel, and the glory of God surface repeatedly in the lectures, sermons, and books of the Reformers. But the Reformers did not devise them. The Solas were not novel ideas concocted in the sixteenth century but the re-presentation of ancient truths—truths first laid down in the inspired words of Scripture. The Reformers did not convene a committee to create the Solas. They examined the Scriptures, often independently, and from there, the Solas emerged. The Solas were sourced in Scripture. Even if you do not identify as Reformed but hold to all that the Bible teaches, the Solas belong to you because the Reformers found them in the Bible.
In my book, Five, I demonstrate this truth by examining a small selection of texts in greater depth rather than providing a long list of proof texts. Instead of touching on every verse that may give some shred of evidence for a particular Sola, I work through a single passage or a selection of pertinent texts to demonstrate that the Solas clearly emerge from the Bible. The Five Solas were not imposed on the biblical text by a theological framework, and the framework was erected based on what the Scriptures taught. To this end, the Five Solas does not belong exclusively to those who identify as Reformed. They belong to all Christians.
Impossible to Ignore
One significant implication of this reality is that the Solas are impossible to ignore. No camp within the broad spectrum of evangelical Christianity can legitimately write off the Solas as mere Reformed Theology and thus ignore them. The Bible is binding on all Christians, and if the Five Solas emerge from the Bible, as I believe they do, then they are binding on all Christians.
Again, this is something I aim to demonstrate in my book on the Solas. I do so by applying them to the Christian life in the present day. In Five, I touch on the relationship of authority between church and Scripture, the clarity of evangelistic/gospel preaching, the exercise of faith in the everyday life of the Christian, the uniqueness of the person and message of Jesus, and the sanctity of the so-called secular in light of God’s glory. As you can see, they are all-encompassing. There is no escape from the Solas as we apply Scripture to our lives—Scripture, gospel, and God’s glory are all tied up in the Bible and thus the Solas. More, they form key elements in the Christian life.
Those who claim to be Christians cannot ignore the Five Solas. It is for that reason that I purposefully kept my book brief. (It is also why I settled on the dreaded endnote as opposed to footnotes.) too much literature advocating Reformed Theology is too long, too polemical, and thus beyond the reach of most Christians. Therefore, in 100 small pages I offer a gateway not to Reformed Theology per se but to the realization that the Five Solas are simply a summary of biblical teaching. The Reformers did not propose a novel theological framework in the sixteenth century and restated the Bible’s teaching.
Resolved to Read
As Reformation Day approaches at the end of this month, I invite you to explore the Five Solas again. Rest assured, this invitation is not motivated by the hope that you will then identify as Reformed Instead, and you will come to see with greater clarity all that Scripture has to say about itself, grace, faith, Christ, and the glory of God. Indeed, might all of us resolve to revisit and read Scripture, permitting it to renew our minds and better equip us to offer our lives as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1–2).
Perhaps my short book, which I conclude with the below paragraph, might be a good starting point. I finish Five by writing:
We are products of our past. Whether or not the Five Solas have been a part of your past to date does not matter, because they can be now. As these Reformation truths shape us in the present, we stand indebted to previous generations who have blessed us with a godly legacy. Now we must ask ourselves what legacy we will leave for future generations? Will these tremendous truths be evident in our lives and theology, or will we force a later generation to re-discover them? Our prayer must be that we will be men and women who remain faithful in the twenty-first century for the benefit of future generations and the glory of God alone. (p. 90).
Davy Ellison is married to Tracy. Having served in a variety of youth, pastoral and teaching roles in the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland, he now serves as the Director of Training for the Irish Baptist College and as an elder in Antrim Baptist Church. In 2021 he graduated with a Ph.D. in OT Biblical Studies from Queen’s University, Belfast. Davy is the author of a short overview of Isaiah entitled The Holy One of Israel: Exploring Isaiah, a primer on Reformation Theology entitled Five: The Solas of the Reformation, and forthcoming books on meekness and resurrection in the Old Testament. He has also written for historicaltheology.org, Evangelicals Now, The Gospel Coalition, and For The Church. Some of his academic work has been published in Themelio and Semănătorul. You can connect with Davy on Twitter: @DavyEllison.