Christ Alone as the Center of the Reformation Distinctives

Is there a “center” of the Reformation distinctives (Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ Alone, Glory of God alone)? Yes, there is, according to Michael Reeves in his foreward to Steve Wellum’s excellent book, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Christ as Savior. Reeves argues that we must keep Christ at the center of these Reformation distinctives in order to ensure that each distinctive is properly understood and applied.

In particular, solus Christus protects us when we think of grace alone (sola gratia) from thinking of grace as a blessing or benefit that can be abstracted from Christ. (That was very much the problem with medieval Roman Cathlic conceptions of grace, and remains a problem today where justification and sanctification are divorced.) Solus Christus protects us when we think of faith alone (sola fide) from thinking of faith as a merit in itself or as a mystical mood or think without an object. Faith is only that which grasps Christ, in who is all our salvation. Solus Christus is the interpretive key to the Scripture so that as we accept Scripture Alone (sola Scriptura) as our supreme authority, we know how to read it. And solus Christus ensures that it is the glory of the living triune God we week when we assert that we think and do all for the glory of God alone (soli Deo Gloria) (14).

First, Reeves helps us to see that the doctrine of Christ alone makes sure that we are rightly handling and approaching the Scripture. The inerrant, fully-sufficient text of Scripture is not meant to be studied for its own sake, but to lead us to Christ and to make us more like him. If we depart from Christ alone, we will begin to approach the study of Scripture as a mere intellectual endeavor, which will lead to pride and spiritual dryness (see John 5:39-44).

Second, Christ alone helps ensure that we don’t view faith as meritorious (something that God counts toward our righteousness) or denoting some sort of ambiguous, mystical “mood” or consciousness (you just need to “believe,” as the popular expression goes). No, justification by faith alone is justification by faith alone in the person of Jesus Christ.

Third, we protect grace alone (specifically, the doctrine of unconditional election) by making it clear that a person can have no claim on election unless they are united to Christ, for grace alone can only be enjoyed if it is given to the sinner in Christ (Eph 1:3-14).

Finally, the glory of God alone is protected when Christ is at the center of the Reformation distinctives because we understand that God’s glory is tied explicitly to his glory as the Triune God. By his very nature God is self-giving and others-focused. The Father creates the universe to glorify his Son (Col 1:15-16; Phil 2:9-11); the Son yields to the Father’s will to glorify the Father (John 17:4); the Spirit loves to remain in the background and glorify the Father and the Son (John 16:14-15). Our God is not an aloof, solitary monad, concerned only with himself. The distinctive of Christ alone reminds us that God is love (1 John 4:16) because God is a Trinity.

The place that Christ has within the Reformed distinctives is the same place he should have in all of our theology. Wellum quotes Herman Bavinck:

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 (22).

It is no exaggeration to say that every theological discussion, interest, and loci must center itself around the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Failure here will lead to misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture, the misuse of theology, spiritual instability, mysticism, and pride. May we keep Christ at the center of our theology for the good of our souls and the glory of God.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11).

Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

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