Some Reflections On “Sola” “Fide” -- By: Thomas R. Schreiner

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 58:1 (Mar 2015)
Article: Some Reflections On “Sola” “Fide”
Author: Thomas R. Schreiner

Some Reflections On “Sola” “Fide”

Thomas R. Schreiner*

* Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Buchanan Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.

I. Introduction

During our annual meeting, as we reflect on what the scriptures teach about the church, it is fitting to ask this question: what makes churches evangelical?1 Not a belief in inerrancy, as important as that is, for Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in inerrancy. Not belief in the Trinity, as central as that is, for Roman Catholics confess that there are three persons and one God. What makes churches evangelical is the evangel, the gospel. And I would suggest that the motto sola fide, justification by faith alone, is entailed by the gospel. I don’t have time to explore this matter deeply or to defend the validity of my observations. So, I am offering preliminary observations and reflections on justification by faith alone, which is an essential part (but not the whole) of the gospel we confess as evangelicals. At points, then, my ruminations are more devotional than scholarly.

Three matters will be considered: First, is it helpful to use the slogan sola fide since slogans are often misunderstood? Second, Frank Beckwith’s rejection of justification by faith alone will be sketched in and scrutinized briefly. Third, a pastoral word on sola fide will be offered.

II. Slogans And Sola Fide

Sola fide is often misunderstood, as if it denies the importance and necessity of good works, which might lead some to say that the slogan should be abandoned. Why appeal to a slogan that needs to be qualified and explained carefully so that it isn’t abused? Such an objection, however, actually applies to every theological truth. We don’t surrender the term “Trinity” even though it is often misunderstood. What we mean by the word “Trinity” must be carefully explained and qualified. Still, we don’t abandon the word “Trinity” just because it may be misinterpreted. In the same way, we should not surrender the formula sola fide even though it is sometimes misunderstood or even wrongly explicated by its adherents, for the slogan expresses a vital theological truth, which is worth cherishing and guarding.

Anthony Lane rightly says that doctrines are maps and models, not mathematical formulas.2 We must avoid, then, a simplistic appeal to sola fide, which condemns without conversation or understanding those who r...

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