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Five Solas Help You Discern What to Avoid Watching

April 22, 2019

In this post, I want to tackle the much-asked question: “As a Christian, is it ok for me to watch [insert generic TV show]?”  

Somewhat surprisingly, the 16th-century “Solas” (Latin for ‘alone’) of the Reformation act as a useful test or filter through which we can measure our cultural consumption and creation.   

Sola Scriptura 

“Scripture Alone” declares that the Bible is our ultimate authority and that we must interpret the world through the Word. This is not just thinking about the Bible but thinking through the Bible—thinking biblically about everything else. 

So it’s not about cherry-picking verses, stories, and isolated truths, but going deep—going “meta.” The Bible has repeated structures and patterns which act as a pair of x-ray goggles we put on to see all the world all the time as it really is. 

If we don’t discern, articulate, and persuade others with the Bible’s blueprint for the flourishing of human life and culture, then others will with some other blueprint. Some other story. And ultimately these alternative stories are all hopeless. 

Sola Gratia 

“Grace alone” reminds us that our acceptance before God is not based on anything we “do” but what God has “done” in Christ. We contribute nothing. We can’t earn our salvation—it’s a free gift.  

What’s the cultural relevance of this? It means that our reason for watching or not watching something needs to be grace focused. We should be wary about any rationale for “No” that puts imperatives (e.g. be holy) before indicatives (e.g. you are holy in Christ). This order matters.  

If I’m saved by grace alone then the motive behind my cultural choices is not to keep rules to somehow impress God or prove myself worthy, but to love and honour God because of what he’s already done for me.  

Sola Fides 

“Faith alone” reminds me of the means through which I am united to Christ and receive all his benefits—it is through faith alone.  

These benefits include what John Calvin calls “double grace”. First, through our initial faith we are reconciled to God—Christ’s blameless record becomes our blameless record. Second, through our ongoing faith we are “sanctified by Christ’s spirit [so that] we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.”[1] 

Far from tip-toeing around simply trying to avoid evil, our living faith spurs us to pursue good works that spill out into our churches and communities, bringing blessings to individuals, families, and society at large: 

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13) 

Our good works include our cultural endeavors, which are part of the way we have dominion and fill and subdue the earth.

Sola Christus 

“Christ alone” should act as a sobering reminder of our call to holiness. In 1 Peter, the apostle says that we are to live in “reverent fear” for we know that: 

it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  (1:17-19)

We should be rightfully fearful of ever conducting ourselves in a way that suggests our new birth doesn’t matter—that Christ wasted his time when he laid down his life, and probably didn’t need to bother.

John Piper gives us a slap-around-the-face-wake-up-call here: “If we choose to endorse or embrace or enjoy or pursue impurity, we take a spear and ram it into Jesus’s side every time we do. He suffered to set us free from impurity.”[2] 

Sola Deo Gloria 

Finally, “God’s glory alone” is the glue which sticks all the solas together. It sums them all up: there’s nothing we bring, it’s all about him. 

So, whether or not God is being glorified is the ultimate litmus test of faithful cultural consumption and creation. Everything we do can be, and ought to be, done for his glory:  

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10 v 31). 

Photo Credit: Unsplash

[Note from the publisher: Whether it’s TV boxsets, Instagram stories, or historical novels, we all consume culture. Dan Stange’s new book Plugged In encourages Christians to engage with everything they watch, read, and play in a positive and discerning way. He also teaches Christians how to think and speak about culture in a way that plugs in to a bigger and better reality—the story of King Jesus, and his cosmic plan for the world.]

[1] Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1. 

[2] John Piper, ‘Twelve question to ask before you watch Game of Thrones’ 

The Author
Dan Strange

Daniel Strange is College Director at Oakhill Theological College in London where he lectures on Culture, Religion and Public Theology. Dan is married to Elly and they have seven children. He is an elder at East Finchley Baptist Church, and loves jazz music and West Ham football club.

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