In Reformed theology, there are five “solas,” sometimes called the five pillars of the Reformation. They are sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, and soli deo gloria – by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. These slogans contain in peppercorn form what the Reformed hold are the necessary corrections to Catholic teaching. They are what give meaning to the word “Reformed.”
In the world of Catholic and Reformed dialogue, sola scriptura probably receives the most attention, with sola fide a close second. But soli deo gloria is no less worthy of attention, as there’s an assumption underlying it that puts much of the “protest” in Protestant. On his blog, Dr. Wes Bredenhof gives the following explanation:
Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory. Rome taught that God ought to be praised for salvation. However, they included good works in the basis of salvation. They gave a place to Mary and the saints alongside Christ as the Redeemer. Human beings had to cooperate with God’s grace for justification and salvation. The inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings. The Reformation objected. The Reformation upheld the biblical teaching of Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory..” All the credit, all the glory, all the praise, goes to God for our salvation.
The assumption I’m referring to is the belief that if man plays a role in his salvation, which the Catholic Church certainly teaches, then “the inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings.” What’s assumed here is that if we include a human role in salvation, we necessarily exclude God. Even if man’s role is only 1%, God’s role is necessarily reduced to 99%. If we want God to be properly glorified, then man must necessarily be excluded from being responsible for salvation.
But consider further what’s being assumed here. What’s being assumed, even for Christians, is a fundamental opposition between God and man, where what is my good work is not God’s good work. My good works and my cooperation with grace are mine, not God’s, since, the assumption goes, the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including a Christian’s good works in salvation. The good works of the saints are theirs, not God’s, since the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including those works in the salvation of others. If including a human role in salvation robs God of glory, then that human role must not itself be God’s work. If it were God’s work, then, of course, it wouldn’t be robbing God of glory to include it in salvation.
What’s assumed is an either/or way of thinking wherein either God is doing the work, or I am. Either God is responsible for my salvation, or I am. Thus, to properly glorify God, we must say that God is responsible for salvation, not man.
It’s certainly true that apart from grace, man is only ever doomed to compete with God for glory. Apart from grace, there remains a fundamental opposition between God and man, an enmity born of man’s pride. Apart from grace, man’s work is man’s work and God’s work is God’s work, and ne’er the twain shall meet. That’s true, so long as we exclude grace from the picture.
The rest can be read over at Called to Communion.