A few years ago, I ran across a comic strip in which one of the figures says, "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it." This comic is a humorous, albeit somewhat cynical, play on the well-known quote by the American philosopher George Santayana (1863–1952), who wrote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It is a well-known and widely used quote because there is much truth in it.
The truth that Santayana grasped is abundantly illustrated in the history of the modern evangelical church. We are a people who have forgotten our roots, and in many cases we really don't seem to care. The church exists in a world of rapidly changing technology, a world in which almost everyone has been assimilated into the incessant chatter of social media and real-time updates on everything from world politics to what your friend had for breakfast this morning. If we are to be relevant, we too must be a people of the new and the now. Or so we think.
The consequences of such ideas in the church are there for all to see. Numerous polls indicate widespread biblical and theological illiteracy. Numerous professing Christians do not know the contents of Scripture. Those who have read the Bible very often have no idea what it means and how the various books contribute to the whole. A recent study sponsored by Ligonier Ministries indicates that a large percentage of professing Christians unwittingly hold views regarding the Trinity, Jesus Christ, sin, and salvation that are technically heretical.
We are not where we should be, but we are not the first to be in such a position. The people of Israel forgot the past, and disastrous consequences followed. The medieval church forgot the past, with disastrous consequences being the result. What do you do when you realize you've taken a wrong turn somewhere along your journey? You go back and seek to find the correct path. We should not view the past as something that is gone and therefore useless. We should look at the past more like the way someone on the second floor of a building looks at the foundation. The foundation was built before the rest of the structure. It was built in the past. But the foundation is not something that can be discarded without catastrophic results.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to spend some time retracing our path in order to look briefly at some foundational doctrines—the five solas of the Reformation (sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria). When the medieval church lost her way, the rediscovery of these fundamental doctrines helped the church regain her footing. In the past, I have written a series of blogs recommending the best commentaries on each book of the Bible. My goal in this series of blog posts is to do the same with each of the five solas. If we are going to regain our footing, it will require effort. Christians will have to become biblically and theologically literate once again. This will take time, but it will take less time if we have some idea where to start. My goal is to suggest a place to start on these particular doctrines.
In the next post, I will recommend five of the best books related to the doctrine of sola Scriptura. In order to get started, however, I would like to mention a handful of works that deal with all five of the solas together.
- James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?: Rediscovering the Doctrines that Shook the World.
- Terry L. Johnson, The Case for Traditional Protestantism: The Solas of the Reformation.
- R.C. Sproul Jr., ed. After Darkness Light: Distinctives of Reformed Theology.
- The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
This article is part of the Top Books on the Five Solas collection.