A Good Overview of R.C. Sproul’s Theological Passions
By David P. Craig
This is the third biographical book I’ve read on one of my theological heroes: R.C. Sproul. The other two being by his son, Growing Up (with) R.C.: Truths I have learned about Grace, Redemption, and the Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul jr.; and R.C. Sproul: A Life by Stephen J. Nichols. R.C. is arguably (in my opinion, most definitely) the greatest and most influential evangelical theologian of the closing of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first century. I am hopeful that more biographies will be forthcoming – that especially address some topics I will delineate below.
I like, the author, have been following R.C.’s teachings and have read all of his books, been to three Ligonier conferences, and have been heavily influenced by Dr. Sproul in my own life and ministry as a Senior Pastor. Many people have had their foot in the door to R.C.’s influence via reading his classic book the Holiness of God or through the Video series by the same title. In my opinion this book was the most important theological book written in the twentieth century, and will continue to be read until the return of Jesus Christ.
What Pickowicz does in this brief biography is really highlight the key points of Sproul’s life: his childhood in Pittsburgh; his conversion to Christ in college; his scholarly pursuits as a philosopher and theologian; and then hones in on his key ministries (Ligonier Study Center, Ligonier Ministries, and Senior Pastor of Saint Andrews Church) and worldwide theological influence through his speaking and writing.
The most interesting insight to me was how the controversies Sproul was involved with were reflections of the same controversies in the reformation during the 1500’s. As a template for what Pickowicz writes in the book early on he writes, “Once I began research for this book, it occurred to me that R.C.’s five decades of ministry loosely reflected the five solas of the Reformation. In the early 1970s R.C. led the Evangelical charge for the inerrancy and authority of the Bible (sola Scriptura). In the 1980s he labored for the rediscovery of the holiness and sovereignty of God, with his contribution Chosen by God firmly articulating the heart of sola gratia. In the 1990s he was quite literally contending for sola fide, as he was forced to stand against his own friends in opposing the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement. The fourth decade of his public ministry brought him into pastoral ministry—the shepherding of Christ’s church. For years he had defended the Protestant view of salvation against the errors of Roman Catholicism, which propagates salvation through celebrating Mass; R.C. was emphatic that the sole source of our salvation and central focus of church worship was Christ alone (solus Christus). Finally, in the last decade of R.C.’ s life, Ligonier Ministries broadened their worldwide reach as R.C. began to explore other expressions of ministry such as founding a Bible college, releasing two albums of original hymns, publishing children’s books, and more—his attempt to do all things for the glory of God—soli Deogloria.”
The author does a good job of summarizing the theological emphasis of Sproul’s teaching and writing. He emphasizes the sola’s and their importance for Sproul, and for evangelicalism in the twenty-first century. Thus far the works listed above by Nichols, Sproul jr., and the current offering have a lot of material that can be gleaned through Sproul’s writings, videos, sermons, and lectures.
I hope someone who was close to him (maybe Vesta, his wife, or Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, or Burk Parsons, hint, hint) will write a more personal biography that will examine some of these issues: (1) How did he spend his time? Sproul was prolific (the author writes that Sproul estimated he lectured, taught, and gave close to 30,000 speeches/sermons). I’d like to know how he did his lecture, sermon, and video preparation. There is some insight into this, but I’d like to see more. So far, not one has really talked about “how” he did what he did. Everyone has talked about the content, but how did he put it together. (2) How about his prayer life? When did he pray? Did he have any methods of prayer? (3) He loved sports – the Steelers and Pirates; and was at one time a scratch golfer. I’d like to know how he spent his free time. Did he take days off? I know he didn’t like to fly, but how about vacations and how did he integrate work with free time? (4) So far the three biographies above make R.C. sound super human and almost sinless. Not that I want “dirt.” But I’m glad that the Bible includes weaknesses as well as strengths of all of the saints. I’d like to know more about his struggles and how God helped him through those struggles. (5) He was an accomplished pianist and enjoyed the arts – I’d like to hear more about his side interests and how this influenced his love for God and giving glory to God in all things – including golf and playing the piano. (6) How did he balance life and work with family? He seems to be a wonderful husband, father, and grand father, but how did he do it? How did he make time for his family in the midst of so many demands? I could go on and on.
I hope and pray that someone will be able to write a respectful and yet more intimate biography of Sproul. Maybe we will never get that. But I hope we will. Like many who love R.C. as a theological mentor I hope that someone will “take up and write” what we don’t know and can’t find from his own works. I long for a biography that gets into the soul of Sproul. Since R.C. Sproul never wrote an autobiography, maybe we will have to wait until heaven to ask him ourselves.
I am grateful for the influence of Sproul, and for those like Pickowicz who have taken the time to write about him and his theology. May many more biographies be forthcoming so that we can learn from a man who had a passion for God, truth, the gospel, Jesus, and His Word – for His glory. Thanks to the author for a job well done – R.C. would be pleased that His Lord and Savior was honored, the gospel was proclaimed, and God received glory. I especially recommend this book for those that aren’t as familiar with R.C., as a good introduction to his life, teaching, and worldwide influence for the glory of God.
It seems that every time a writer picks up a pen or turns on his word processor to compose a literary work of fiction, deep in his bosom resides the hope that somehow he will create the Great American Novel. Too late. That feat has already been accomplished and is as far out of reach for new novelists as is Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six-game hitting streak or Pete Rose’s record of cumulative career hits for a rookie baseball player. The Great American Novel was written more than a hundred and fifty years ago by Herman Melville. This novel, the one that has been unsurpassed by any other, is Moby Dick.
My personal copy of Moby Dick is a leather-bound collector’s edition produced by Easton Press under the rubric “The Hundred Greatest Books Ever Written.”
Note that the claim here is not that Moby Dick is one of the hundred greatest books written in English, but rather that it is one of the hundred greatest books written in any language. Its greatness may be seen not in its sometimes cumbersome literary structure or its excursions into technicalia about the nature and function of whales (cetology). No, its greatness is found in its unparalleled theological symbolism. This symbolism is sprinkled abundantly throughout the novel, particularly in the identities of certain individuals who are assigned biblical names. Among the characters are Ahab, Ishmael, and Elijah, and the names Jeroboam and Rachel (“who was seeking her lost children”) are given to two of the ships in the story.
In a personal letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne upon completing this novel, Melville said, “I have written an evil book.” What is it about the book that Melville considered evil? I think the answer to that question lies in the meaning of the central symbolic character of the novel, Moby Dick, the great white whale. Melville experts and scholars come to different conclusions about the meaning of the great white whale. Many see this brutish animal as evil because it had inflicted great personal damage on Ahab in an earlier encounter. Ahab lost his leg, which was replaced by the bone of a lesser whale. Some argue that Moby Dick is Melville’s symbol of the incarnation of evil itself. Certainly this is the view of the whale held by Captain Ahab himself. Ahab is driven by a monomaniacal hatred for this creature, this brute that left him permanently damaged both in body and soul. He cries out, “He heaps me,” indicating the depth of the hatred and fury he feels toward this beast. Some have accepted Ahab’s view that the whale is a monstrous evil as that of Melville himself.
Other scholars have been convinced that the whale is not a symbol of evil but the symbol of God Himself. In this interpretation, Ahab’s pursuit of the whale is not a righteous pursuit of God but natural man’s futile attempt in his hatred of God to destroy the omnipotent deity. I favor this second view. It was the view held by one of my college professors—one of the five leading Melville scholars in the world at the time I studied under him. My senior philosophy research paper in college was titled “The Existential Implications of Melville’s Moby Dick.” In that paper, which I cannot reproduce in this brief article, I tried to set forth the theological structure of the narrative.
I believe that the greatest chapter ever written in the English language is the chapter of Moby Dick titled “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Here we gain an insight into the profound symbolism that Melville employs in his novel. He explores how whiteness is used in history, in religion, and in nature. The terms he uses to describe the appearance of whiteness in these areas include elusive, ghastly, and transcendent horror, as well as sweet, honorable, and pure. All of these are descriptive terms that are symbolized in one way or another by the presence of whiteness. In this chapter Melville writes,
But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink?
He then concludes the chapter with these words: “And of all these things, the albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”
If the whale embodies everything that is symbolized by whiteness—that which is terrifying; that which is pure; that which is excellent; that which is horrible and ghastly; that which is mysterious and incomprehensible—does he not embody those traits that are found in the fullness of the perfections in the being of God Himself?
Who can survive the pursuit of such a being if the pursuit is driven by hostility? Only those who have experienced the sweetness of reconciling grace can look at the overwhelming power, sovereignty, and immutability of a transcendent God and find there peace rather than a drive for vengeance. Read Moby Dick, and then read it again.
*Article adapted from Table Talk, August 1, 2011 (ligonier.org.)
Shortly after the Reformation began, in the first few years after Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, he issued some short booklets on a variety of subjects. One of the most provocative was titled The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In this book Luther was looking back to that period of Old Testament history when Jerusalem was destroyed by the invading armies of Babylon and the elite of the people were carried off into captivity. Luther in the sixteenth century took the image of the historic Babylonian captivity and reapplied it to his era and talked about the new Babylonian captivity of the Church. He was speaking of Rome as the modern Babylon that held the Gospel hostage with its rejection of the biblical understanding of justification. You can understand how fierce the controversy was, how polemical this title would be in that period by saying that the Church had not simply erred or strayed, but had fallen — that it’s actually now Babylonian; it is now in pagan captivity.
I’ve often wondered if Luther were alive today and came to our culture and looked, not at the liberal church community, but at evangelical churches, what would he have to say? Of course I can’t answer that question with any kind of definitive authority, but my guess is this: If Martin Luther lived today and picked up his pen to write, the book he would write in our time would be entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Evangelical Church. Luther saw the doctrine of justification as fueled by a deeper theological problem. He writes about this extensively in The Bondage of the Will. When we look at the Reformation and we see the solas of the Reformation — sola Scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria, sola gratia — Luther was convinced that the real issue of the Reformation was the issue of grace; and that underlying the doctrine of solo fide, justification by faith alone, was the prior commitment to sola gratia, the concept of justification by grace alone.
In the Fleming Revell edition of The Bondage of the Will, the translators, J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, included a somewhat provocative historical and theological introduction to the book itself. This is from the end of that introduction:
“These things need to be pondered by Protestants today. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognised by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism today become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimise and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters?” (J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, “Introduction” to the The Bondage of the Will (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming Revell, 1957, pp. 59-60).
Historically, it’s a simple matter of fact that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and all the leading Protestant theologians of the first epoch of the Reformation stood on precisely the same ground here. On other points they had their differences. In asserting the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace, they were entirely at one. To all of them these doctrines were the very lifeblood of the Christian faith. A modern editor of Luther’s works says this:
“Whoever puts this book down without having realized that Evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain. The doctrine of free justification by faith alone, which became the storm center of so much controversy during the Reformation period, is often regarded as the heart of the Reformers’ theology, but this is not accurate. The truth is that their thinking was really centered upon the contention of Paul, echoed by Augustine and others, that the sinner’s entire salvation is by free and sovereign grace only, and that the doctrine of justification by faith was important to them because it safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace. The sovereignty of grace found expression in their thinking at a more profound level still in the doctrine of monergistic regeneration” (Ibid).
That is to say, that the faith that receives Christ for justification is itself the free gift of a sovereign God. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood until it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia. What is the source of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it a condition of justification which is left to man to fulfill? Do you hear the difference? Let me put it in simple terms. I heard an evangelist recently say, “If God takes a thousand steps to reach out to you for your redemption, still in the final analysis, you must take the decisive step to be saved.” Consider the statement that has been made by America’s most beloved and leading evangelical of the twentieth century, Billy Graham, who says with great passion, “God does ninety-nine percent of it but you still must do that last one percent.”
What Is Pelagianism?
Now, let’s return briefly to my title, “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church.” What are we talking about? Pelagius was a monk who lived in Britain in the fifth century. He was a contemporary of the greatest theologian of the first millennium of Church history if not of all time, Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. We have heard of St. Augustine, of his great works in theology, of his City of God, of his Confessions, and so on, which remain Christian classics.
Augustine, in addition to being a titanic theologian and a prodigious intellect, was also a man of deep spirituality and prayer. In one of his famous prayers, Augustine made a seemingly harmless and innocuous statement in the prayer to God in which he says: “O God, command what you wouldst, and grant what thou dost command.” Now, would that give you apoplexy — to hear a prayer like that? Well it certainly set Pelagius, this British monk, into orbit. When he heard that, he protested vociferously, even appealing to Rome to have this ghastly prayer censured from the pen of Augustine. Here’s why. He said, “Are you saying, Augustine, that God has the inherent right to command anything that he so desires from his creatures? Nobody is going to dispute that. God inherently, as the creator of heaven and earth, has the right to impose obligations on his creatures and say, ‘Thou shalt do this, and thou shalt not do that.’ ‘Command whatever thou would’ — it’s a perfectly legitimate prayer.”
It’s the second part of the prayer that Pelagius abhorred when Augustine said, “and grant what thou dost command.” He said, “What are you talking about? If God is just, if God is righteous and God is holy, and God commands of the creature to do something, certainly that creature must have the power within himself, the moral ability within himself, to perform it or God would never require it in the first place.” Now that makes sense, doesn’t it? What Pelagius was saying is that moral responsibility always and everywhere implies moral capability or, simply, moral ability. So why would we have to pray, “God grant me, give me the gift of being able to do what you command me to do”? Pelagius saw in this statement a shadow being cast over the integrity of God himself, who would hold people responsible for doing something they cannot do.
So in the ensuing debate, Augustine made it clear that in creation, God commanded nothing from Adam or Eve that they were incapable of performing. But once transgression entered and mankind became fallen, God’s law was not repealed nor did God adjust his holy requirements downward to accommodate the weakened, fallen condition of his creation. God did punish his creation by visiting upon them the judgment of original sin, so that everyone after Adam and Eve who was born into this world was born already dead in sin. Original sin is not the first sin. It’s the result of the first sin; it refers to our inherent corruption, by which we are born in sin, and in sin did our mothers conceive us. We are not born in a neutral state of innocence, but we are born in a sinful, fallen condition. Virtually every church in the historic World Council of Churches at some point in their history and in their creedal development articulates some doctrine of original sin. So clear is that to the biblical revelation that it would take a repudiation of the biblical view of mankind to deny original sin altogether.
This is precisely what was at issue in the battle between Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century. Pelagius said there is no such thing as original sin. Adam’s sin affected Adam and only Adam. There is no transmission or transfer of guilt or fallenness or corruption to the progeny of Adam and Eve. Everyone is born in the same state of innocence in which Adam was created. And, he said, for a person to live a life of obedience to God, a life of moral perfection, is possible without any help from Jesus or without any help from the grace of God. Pelagius said that grace — and here’s the key distinction — facilitates righteousness. What does “facilitate” mean?
It helps, it makes it more facile, it makes it easier, but you don’t have to have it. You can be perfect without it. Pelagius further stated that it is not only theoretically possible for some folks to live a perfect life without any assistance from divine grace, but there are in fact people who do it. Augustine said, “No, no, no, no . . . we are infected by sin by nature, to the very depths and core of our being — so much so that no human being has the moral power to incline himself to cooperate with the grace of God. The human will, as a result of original sin, still has the power to choose, but it is in bondage to its evil desires and inclinations. The condition of fallen humanity is one that Augustine would describe as the inability to not sin. In simple English, what Augustine was saying is that in the Fall, man loses his moral ability to do the things of God and he is held captive by his own evil inclinations.
In the fifth century the Church condemned Pelagius as a heretic. Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange, and it was condemned again at the Council of Florence, the Council of Carthage, and also, ironically, at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century in the first three anathemas of the Canons of the Sixth Session. So, consistently throughout Church history, the Church has roundly and soundly condemned Pelagianism — because Pelagianism denies the fallenness of our nature; it denies the doctrine of original sin.
Now what is called semi-Pelagianism, as the prefix “semi” suggests, was a somewhat middle ground between full-orbed Augustinianism and full-orbed Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism said this: yes, there was a fall; yes, there is such a thing as original sin; yes, the constituent nature of humanity has been changed by this state of corruption and all parts of our humanity have been significantly weakened by the fall, so much so that without the assistance of divine grace nobody can possibly be redeemed, so that grace is not only helpful but it’s absolutely necessary for salvation. While we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. The will is weakened but is not enslaved. There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It’s out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It’s that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell — whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don’t. That little island Augustine wouldn’t even recognize as an atoll in the South Pacific. He said it’s a mythical island, that the will is enslaved, and that man is dead in his sin and trespasses.
Ironically, the Church condemned semi-Pelagianism as vehemently as it had condemned original Pelagianism. Yet by the time you get to the sixteenth century and you read the Catholic understanding of what happens in salvation the Church basically repudiated what Augustine taught and Aquinas taught as well. The Church concluded that there still remains this freedom that is intact in the human will and that man must cooperate with — and assent to — the prevenient grace that is offered to them by God. If we exercise that will, if we exercise a cooperation with whatever powers we have left, we will be saved. And so in the sixteenth century the Church reembraced semi-Pelagianism.
At the time of the Reformation, all the reformers agreed on one point: the moral inability of fallen human beings to incline themselves to the things of God; that all people, in order to be saved, are totally dependent, not ninety-nine percent, but one hundred percent dependent upon the monergistic work of regeneration in order to come to faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God. It’s not that we are offered salvation and that we will be born again if we choose to believe. But we can’t even believe until God in his grace and in his mercy first changes the disposition of our souls through his sovereign work of regeneration. In other words, what the reformers all agreed with was, unless a man is born again, he can’t even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. Like Jesus says in the sixth chapter of John, “No man can come to me unless it is given to him of the Father” — that the necessary condition for anybody’s faith and anybody’s salvation is regeneration.
Evangelicals and Faith
Modern Evangelicalism almost uniformly and universally teaches that in order for a person to be born again, he must first exercise faith. You have to choose to be born again. Isn’t that what you hear? In a George Barna poll, more than seventy percent of “professing evangelical Christians” in America expressed the belief that man is basically good. And more than eighty percent articulated the view that God helps those who help themselves. These positions — or let me say it negatively — neither of these positions is semi-Pelagian. They’re both Pelagian. To say that we’re basically good is the Pelagian view. I would be willing to assume that in at least thirty percent of the people who are reading this issue, and probably more, if we really examine their thinking in depth, we would find hearts that are beating Pelagianism. We’re overwhelmed with it. We’re surrounded by it. We’re immersed in it. We hear it every day. We hear it every day in the secular culture. And not only do we hear it every day in the secular culture, we hear it every day on Christian television and on Christian radio.
In the nineteenth century, there was a preacher who became very popular in America, who wrote a book on theology, coming out of his own training in law, in which he made no bones about his Pelagianism. He rejected not only Augustinianism, but he also rejected semi-Pelagianism and stood clearly on the subject of unvarnished Pelagianism, saying in no uncertain terms, without any ambiguity, that there was no Fall and that there is no such thing as original sin. This man went on to attack viciously the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and in addition to that, to repudiate as clearly and as loudly as he could the doctrine of justification by faith alone by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. This man’s basic thesis was, we don’t need the imputation of the righteousness of Christ because we have the capacity in and of ourselves to become righteous. His name: Charles Finney, one of America’s most revered evangelists. Now, if Luther was correct in saying that sola fide is the article upon which the Church stands or falls, if what the reformers were saying is that justification by faith alone is an essential truth of Christianity, who also argued that the substitutionary atonement is an essential truth of Christianity; if they’re correct in their assessment that those doctrines are essential truths of Christianity, the only conclusion we can come to is that Charles Finney was not a Christian. I read his writings and I say, “I don’t see how any Christian person could write this.” And yet, he is in the Hall of Fame of Evangelical Christianity in America. He is the patron saint of twentieth-century Evangelicalism. And he is not semi-Pelagian; he is unvarnished in his Pelagianism.
The Island of Righteousness
One thing is clear: that you can be purely Pelagian and be completely welcome in the evangelical movement today. It’s not simply that the camel sticks his nose into the tent; he doesn’t just come in the tent — he kicks the owner of the tent out. Modern Evangelicalism today looks with suspicion at Reformed theology, which has become sort of the third-class citizen of Evangelicalism. Now you say, “Wait a minute, R. C. Let’s not tar everybody with the extreme brush of Pelagianism, because, after all, Billy Graham and the rest of these people are saying there was a Fall; you’ve got to have grace; there is such a thing as original sin; and semi-Pelagians do not agree with Pelagius’ facile and sanguine view of unfallen human nature.” And that’s true. No question about it. But it’s that little island of righteousness where man still has the ability, in and of himself, to turn, to change, to incline, to dispose, to embrace the offer of grace that reveals why historically semi-Pelagianism is not called semi-Augustinianism, but semi-Pelagianism.
I heard an evangelist use two analogies to describe what happens in our redemption. He said sin has such a strong hold on us, a stranglehold, that it’s like a person who can’t swim, who falls overboard in a raging sea, and he’s going under for the third time and only the tops of his fingers are still above the water; and unless someone intervenes to rescue him, he has no hope of survival, his death is certain. And unless God throws him a life preserver, he can’t possibly be rescued. And not only must God throw him a life preserver in the general vicinity of where he is, but that life preserver has to hit him right where his fingers are still extended out of the water, and hit him so that he can grasp hold of it. It has to be perfectly pitched. But still that man will drown unless he takes his fingers and curls them around the life preserver and God will rescue him. But unless that tiny little human action is done, he will surely perish.
The other analogy is this: A man is desperately ill, sick unto death, lying in his hospital bed with a disease that is fatal. There is no way he can be cured unless somebody from outside comes up with a cure, a medicine that will take care of this fatal disease. And God has the cure and walks into the room with the medicine. But the man is so weak he can’t even help himself to the medicine; God has to pour it on the spoon. The man is so sick he’s almost comatose. He can’t even open his mouth, and God has to lean over and open up his mouth for him. God has to bring the spoon to the man’s lips, but the man still has to swallow it.
Now, if we’re going to use analogies, let’s be accurate. The man isn’t going under for the third time; he is stone cold dead at the bottom of the ocean. That’s where you once were when you were dead in sin and trespasses and walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. And while you were dead hath God quickened you together with Christ. God dove to the bottom of the sea and took that drowned corpse and breathed into it the breath of his life and raised you from the dead. And it’s not that you were dying in a hospital bed of a certain illness, but rather, when you were born you were born D.O.A. That’s what the Bible says: that we are morally stillborn.
Do we have a will? Yes, of course we have a will. Calvin said, if you mean by a free will a faculty of choosing by which you have the power within yourself to choose what you desire, then we all have free will. If you mean by free will the ability for fallen human beings to incline themselves and exercise that will to choose the things of God without the prior monergistic work of regeneration then, said Calvin, free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to a human being.
The semi-Pelagian doctrine of free will prevalent in the evangelical world today is a pagan view that denies the captivity of the human heart to sin. It underestimates the stranglehold that sin has upon us.
None of us wants to see things as bad as they really are. The biblical doctrine of human corruption is grim. We don’t hear the Apostle Paul say, “You know, it’s sad that we have such a thing as sin in the world; nobody’s perfect. But be of good cheer. We’re basically good.” Do you see that even a cursory reading of Scripture denies this?
Now back to Luther. What is the source and status of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received? Or is it a condition of justification which is left to us to fulfill? Is your faith a work? Is it the one work that God leaves for you to do? I had a discussion with some folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently. I was speaking on sola gratia, and one fellow was upset.
He said, “Are you trying to tell me that in the final analysis it’s God who either does or doesn’t sovereignly regenerate a heart?”
And I said, “Yes;” and he was very upset about that. I said, “Let me ask you this: are you a Christian?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Do you have friends who aren’t Christians?”
He said, “Well, of course.”
I said, “Why are you a Christian and your friends aren’t? Is it because you’re more righteous than they are?” He wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t going to say, “Of course it’s because I’m more righteous. I did the right thing and my friend didn’t.” He knew where I was going with that question.
And he said, “Oh, no, no, no.”
I said, “Tell me why. Is it because you are smarter than your friend?”
And he said, “No.”
But he would not agree that the final, decisive issue was the grace of God. He wouldn’t come to that. And after we discussed this for fifteen minutes, he said, “OK! I’ll say it. I’m a Christian because I did the right thing, I made the right response, and my friend didn’t.”
What was this person trusting in for his salvation? Not in his works in general, but in the one work that he performed. And he was a Protestant, an evangelical. But his view of salvation was no different from the Roman view.
God’s Sovereignty in Salvation
This is the issue: Is it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it in our own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter, that it ultimately depends on something we do for ourselves, thereby deny humanity’s utter helplessness in sin and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder then that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being, in principle, both a return to Rome because, in effect, it turned faith into a meritorious work, and a betrayal of the Reformation because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the reformers’ thought. Arminianism was indeed, in Reformed eyes, a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favor of New Testament Judaism. For to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle than to rely on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other. In the light of what Luther says to Erasmus there is no doubt that he would have endorsed this judgment.
And yet this view is the overwhelming majority report today in professing evangelical circles. And as long as semi-Pelagianism, which is simply a thinly veiled version of real Pelagianism at its core — as long as it prevails in the Church, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know, however, what will not happen: there will not be a new Reformation. Until we humble ourselves and understand that no man is an island and that no man has an island of righteousness, that we are utterly dependent upon the unmixed grace of God for our salvation, we will not begin to rest upon grace and rejoice in the greatness of God’s sovereignty, and we will not be rid of the pagan influence of humanism that exalts and puts man at the center of religion. Until that happens there will not be a new Reformation, because at the heart of Reformation teaching is the central place of the worship and gratitude given to God and God alone. Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.
*Adapted from Modern Reformation, Vol 10, Number 3 (May/June 2001), pp. 22-29.
*#7 In the Series: Knowing What & Why You Believe – November 2, 2020 – Pastor David Craig
USING THE ACRONYM: “H.I.S. L.A.W.S”
(Acronym adapted from Pastor Bob Sears)
Though written over 1600 years by 40 plus authors on 3 different continents and in 3 different languages about scores of controversial subjects, the Bible’s teachings are supernaturally harmonious from cover to cover.
Countless millions of people from diverse cultures all over the world have had their personal lives changed forever for the good and found spiritual meaning in life from the message of the Bible.
The Old and New Testament prophets (“seers”) spoke dozens of general and specific predictions which have been historically fulfilled. Among the most significant are Isaiah 53 (O.T) and Matthew 24 (N.T).
In spite of repeated attempts throughout history both to destroy and discredit the Bible, it still exists in virtually its original form and is still revered and circulated more widely than any other book on earth.
The Bible’s detailed record of historical data has been repeatedly shown (by other writings and archeological discoveries) to be accurate to an exact degree. This testifies to its writers’ reliability.
The biblical writers obviously meant their readers to accept their writings as a message from God (e.g.: O.T.: the repeated instances of “Thus says the LORD…” N.T.: 1 Th. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Son of God
Jesus, reported to be the authoritative Son of God by the biblical writers, plainly taught the full inspiration of both the Old and New Testaments (e.g.: O.T.: Matthew 5:17-18. N.T.: John 14:23-26, and 16:13).
The Case for the Infallibility of the Bible
(R.C. Sproul, Reason to Believe, pp. 30-31)
The case for the infallibility of Scripture proceeds along both deductive and inductive lines. It moves from the premise of general trustworthiness to the conclusion of infallibility. The reasoning proceeds as follows:
Premise A: The Bible is basically a reliable and trustworthy document.
Premise B: On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Premise C: Jesus being the Son of God is an infallible authority.
Premise D: Jesus teaches that the Bible is more than a generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
Premise E: The Word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
Conclusion: On the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy, i.e, infallible.
Ankerberg, John & John Weldon. The Reliability of the Bible.
Blomberg, Craig L. Can We Still Believe The Bible?
Cowan, Steven B. and Terry L. Wilder. In Defense of The Bible.
Jones, Timothy Paul. Why Should I Trust the Bible?
Lutzer, Erwin W. Seven Reasons You Can Trust The Bible.
Series: Knowing What & Why You Believe – October 3, 2020 – Pastor David Craig
Using the G.O.D. Acronym As Evidence for GOD
(Adapted from The Bible’s Answers to 100 of Life’s Toughest Questions by Norman L Geisler & Jason Jimenez)
(1) The G in G.O.D. is for GOODNESS
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.” ~ Romans 2:1-2
“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” ~ Romans 2:12-16
Romans 2 teaches that there are OBJECTIVE MORAL LAWS about what is good that are universally binding on all of humanity and by which we are to abide.
The MORAL LAW ARGUMENT:
A Moral Law implies a moral lawgiver.
There is an objective moral law.
Therefore, there is an objective moral law giver.
Moral laws not only describe certain behaviors but also prescribe what ought to be. We know in our hearts that we should do good and not bad because there is an objective moral law that governs all of humanity.
If there is no God, then there is no ultimate moral standard by which we can differentiate between what is right and wrong. Evidence demonstrates that moral laws are objective for all humans on the basis that God is the objective moral lawgiver.
We all know that we should do to others what we want them to do.
The Golden Rule:“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~ Matthew 7:12
We all know that we should do to others what we want them to do to us. Thus, we know that stealing, rape, and murder are wrong because we do not anyone to do those things to us.
(2) The O in G.O.D. is for ORIGIN
There is overwhelming evidence that the universe had a beginning. In 1915, Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity. This theory is now almost universally accepted because of all the scientific evidence for it. Essentially, this theory holds that time, space, and matter all had a beginning point.
In the 1920’s Edwin Hubble discovered evidence of the expanding universe – demonstrating that the universe had a beginning. The argument for the origin of the universe can be stated in this manner:
Everything that had a beginning has a cause.
The universe had a beginning.
Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Premise 1 is based on the Law of Causality, every effect must have a cause. Based on science and pure reason, we know that something cannot come from nothing.
Premise 2 identifies that the universe must have a cause greater than itself. This is evidence produced by an enormous S.U.R.G.E.
SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS: The universe is running out of useable energy. It’s like the unwinding of a clock.
UNIVERSE EXPANSION: The universe is is spreading from a begging point.
RADIATION ECHO: There are traces of afterglow from the expansion of the universe from the begging point.
GALAXY SEEDING: A great mass of energy has been discovered in outer space just as many scientists predicted.
EINSTEIN’S THEORY: This shows that the universe had a beginning and that time, space, and matter are all needed for everything to exist.
(3) The D in G.O.D. is for DESIGN
The Design Argument can be explained like this:
Every complex design has a designer.
The universe has a highly complex design.
Therefore, the universe has a designer.
All reasonable persons infer a designer when comparing the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore to the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. Common observation shows that it took a designer to produce Mount Rushmore, while the Grand Canyon came about by the gradual succession of wind and erosion.
The Design of The Universe
One example of design is the very finely tuned constant of the universe: gravity. If the gravitational force were even slightly altered, the world could not sustain life.
The Design of the World – There are two essential reasons that only the earth in all of the universe is able to sustain life. Let’s look at two:
The placement of the earth – The earth is uniquely placed in the Milky Way galaxy (between the Sagittarius and Perseus spiral arms) so as not to be threatened by hazardous conditions of giant molecule clouds or supernova explosions. Another amazing fact of the earth its its proximity to the moon. The size of the earth and the distance to the moon causes the earth’s axis to tilt perfectly at 23.5 degrees (allowing for annual seasons to occur).
The condition of the earth – The earth’s atmosphere has the perfect amount of oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen to be a habitable planet to survive and thrive. For example, oxygen comprises 21 percent of the atmosphere. If the amount were any higher, it would create massive fires; if it were any lower, life would suffocate.
Thought To Ponder: Isn’t it ironic that so many people who pride themselves on being mindful believe that the universe is the product of mindlessness?
The Design of Human Life
The amount of genetic information contained in the human brain alone exceeds all the information in all the books in the Library of Congress. Therefore, common sense tells us that just as it takes a sculptor to sculpt a statue like Rodin’s “The Thinker,” we must assume it takes a Creator to create the amazing detail of human life.
We have looked at three good reasons to show that it is more likely that God exists than that He doesn’t exist.
We have used the acrostic: G.O.D. = Goodness; Origin; and Design.
Something cannot come from nothing. If something exists now then something has always existed. Self-existence means that something has the power, within itself, of being. This power is eternal and presents no rational difficulty. Self-creation is irrational because for something to create itself it must be before it is.
The God of the Bible is self-existent and eternal. God created the world out of nothing.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:1
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” ~ Romans 1:18-20
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” ~ Hebrews 11:1-3
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.” ~ Psalm 14:1
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” ~ Hebrews 1:1-3
Resources from R.C. Sproul on Apologetics:
Classical Apologetics:A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique ofPresuppositional Apologetics (Co-authored with John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.
Defending Your Faith: An Introduction To Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020.
Does God Exist? Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019.
If There’s A God Why Are There Atheists? Why Atheists Believe in Unbelief. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries and Christian Focus, 2018.
Not A Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt against Reason. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014.
Reason to Believe: A Response To Common Objections To Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016.
The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding The Concepts That Shaped Our World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000.
*#1 in the Series: Knowing What & Why You Believe by Pastor David Craig
“When I find something in my faith difficult to believe, it often helps to consider how the alternative is *more* difficult to believe.” ~ Gavin Ortlund
What Is Apologetics? (Some Definitions)
“The discipline that offers an apology, or defense, of Christianity. Apologetics (from Gk. apologia, ‘defense’) both defends the Christian faith from its detractors and clarifies misunderstandings of it. In the early church, the apologists wrote to Roman elders who were persecuting the church and argued the case that Christians should not be punished or killed, because they were doing nothing wrong. They also clarified misunderstandings such as charges that Christians were atheists, cannibals, and committers of incest. Apologetics deals with arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of Scripture, evidence for the resurrection, the problem of evil, and more.” ~ Greg R. Allison, The Compact Dictionary Of Theological Terms, Kindle Loc. 269
“Apologetics, in its most basic form, is the practice of offering an appeal and a defense for the Christian faith. In other words, apologetics, through word and deed, answers both why a person can believe (defense) and why a person should believe (appeal). The goal of apologetics is to clear away the debris of doubt and skepticism in order to make a path for the gospel to be heard.” ~ Joshua D. Chawtraw and Mark D. Allen, Apologetics At The Cross, p. 17.
“Apologetics is concerned with the defense of the Christian faith against charges of falsehood, inconsistency, or credulity.” ~ Steven B. Cowan, Five Views On Apologetics, p. 8.
“Apologetics has to do with defending, or making a case for, the truth of the Christian faith. It is an intellectual discipline that is usually said to serve at least two purposes: (1) to bolster the faith of Christian believers, and (2) to aid in the task of evangelism. Apologists seek to accomplish these goals in two distinct ways. One is by refuting objections to the Christian faith, such as the problem of evil or the charge that key Christian doctrines (e.g. the Trinity, incarnation, etc.) are incoherent. The apologetic task can be called negative or defensive apologetics. The second, perhaps complementary, way apologists fulfill their purpose is by offering positive reasons for Christian faith. The latter called positive or offensive apologetics, often takes the form of arguments for God’s existence or for the resurrection and deity of Christ but are by no means limited to these.” ~ Steven B. Cowan, Five Views On Apologetics, p. 8.
“That branch of Christian theology that has as its aim the reasoned advocacy of the Christian faith. It includes both positive arguments for the truth of Christianity and rebuttals of criticisms leveled at it.” ~ Millard J. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary Of Christian Theology, p. 14
“Apologetics is the branch of theology that offers a rational defense for the truthfulness of the divine origin and authority of Christianity, In the classic sense of the word, ‘apologetics’ derives its meaning from the Greek word apologia, which means ‘defense.’ A judicial term, it describes the way a lawyer deliberately and rationally presents a verbal defense of a particular claim. Or, more precisely, apologetics is to ‘speak away’ (apo = away, from; logia = speech, word) the charge brought against an individual (Acts 25:16; 19:33; 22:1; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 7:11; 1 Peter 3:15; Philippians 1:7, 16; 2 Timothy 4:16).” ~ H. Wayne House & Joseph M. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences
“(Gr. apologetikos, ‘suitable for defense’) The endeavor to provide a reasoned account of the grounds for believing in the Christian faith.” ~ Donald K. McKim, The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms
“Apologetics provides well-reasoned evidences that empower nonbelievers to choose Christianity rather than any other religion. Apologetics can be used to show the unbeliever that all the other options in the smorgasbord of world religions are not really options at all because they are false. Apologetics can remove mental roadblocks that prevent nonbelievers from responding to the gospel. Apologetics not only provides a defense for the faith but also provides security to Christians. Believers can be sure their faith is not a blind leap into a dark chasm, but rather an intelligent decision founded on fact. Apologetics does not replace faith; it grounds our faith…Apologetics demonstrates why we believe and what we believe.” ~ Ron Rhodes, 5-Minute Apologetics Today, p. 12.
“Christian apologetics is simply the presentation of a case for biblical truth, most notably the central truth of Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior. But a richer, more relational and more humble definition must include the central concern of apologetics: Christian apologetics lays before the watching world such a winsome embodiment of the Christian faith that for any and all who are willing to observe there will be an intellectually and emotionally credible witness to its fundamental truth. The success of any given apologetic argument is not whether it wins converts but whether it is faithful to Jesus.” ~ James Sire, A Little Primer On Humble Apologetics, Kindle, Loc. 197)
Two Aspects of Apologetics
Within the task of defending the faith there emerge at least two distinct aspects. (1) The destructive or defensive aspect The destructive or defensive aspect seeks to “dismantle” or explain away arguments against Christianity.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” ~ 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
[Paul addressing overseers/elders/pastors in the church] “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” ~ Titus 1:9-11
(2) The creative or offensive aspect offers evidence and proofs to support arguments for the truthfulness of the Christian faith.
[Jesus’ appearing to the disciples after the resurrection and just before his ascension to heaven] “He presented himself to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” ~ Acts 1:3
[Jesus’ appearing to the disciples after the resurrection] “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” ~ Luke 24;39
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” ~ Romans 1:19-20
The Ancient Use of Apologetics
In secular society, the use of apologetics as a defense against the attack occurred as early as the 5th century BC when Socrates presented his own defense before an Athenian court, which was later chronicled by his student Greek philosopher Plato in The Apology. During the 1st century AD, Josephus offered an apologetic on the ancient origin of the Jewish religion in his Against Apion (AD 93-95). In the early years of the church, Justin Martyr (100-167) and Tertullian (155-235) are recognized as apologists through their writings—First Apology and Second Apology by Martyr and Apologeticum by Tertullian. Among other apologists were Tatian, Athenagoras, and Theophilus. Their main task, as Christianity sought to gain acceptance as a legitimate religion within the Roman Empire, was to defend Christianity against attacks from within the Roman philosophical society and pagan religious culture. Irenaeus (AD 130-202) defended the faith (Against Heresies, AD 180) against Gnostic ideas that emanated from within the church.
The Biblical Use of Apologetics
The principal Scripture for describing and advocating apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
A few examples from the Scriptures (there are many more):
Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 in order to demonstrate Yahweh as the Most High God;
God giving Moses evidence that God would speak through him in Exodus 4;
Stephen giving a defense of the faith before his persecutors in Acts 7;
Paul arguing for his faith before kings, magistrates, and philosophers in Acts 17 and 22;
Paul and Barnabas gave evidence for God and said that idolatry was worthless in Acts 14:6-20;
Jesus defending His claims and challenges of the Pharisees and Sadducees ( Matthew 22:34-46; John 5).
How About You?
What are five of the most important “Whats” you believe and “Why” do you believe them?
What is the meaning of my life?
What is the essence of God?
What is the essence of humanity?
What are the reasons I believe what I believe about anything?
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why I am I a Christian and not… (an atheist, mormon, muslim, etc.)
Why do I believe there is a God?
Why should anyone believe what I believe?
Write down your top 5 What’s and Why’s and come up with an apologetic for each!
*You can subscribe to the Valley Baptist Church San Rafael Channel on YouTube to watch the lecture for this video as well as sermons from Dr. David P. Craig.
It’s difficult for Christians in the United States to grasp that a huge part of our lives entails suffering – probably due to the influence of the so-called “American Dream” and the onslaught of prosperity preachers in our midst. However, it’s really impossible to read Genesis through Revelation at face value without realizing that part of our vocation in a fallen world is that tests, trials, tribulations, and persecutions, are not only possible, but inevitable for those who follow Christ.
Sproul states early in the book: “The promise of God is not that He will never give us more weight than we want to carry. The promise of God is that He will never put more on us than we can bear…What is difficult to bear without Christ is made far more bearable with Christ. What is a heavy burden to carry alone becomes a far lighter burden to carry with his help.” He emphasizes how and why God uses suffering in Christian’s lives so that we can become more like Jesus – spiritually mature and useful to others.
Here are some of the strengths of this book:
(1) The amount of references used to show that suffering is a huge part of Christian growth and the development of our character.
(2) The stories of biblical characters that suffered and what we learn from their suffering: Joseph, Elijah, Job, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, and Jesus.
(3) The hope that our sufferings aren’t worthy to be compared with the glories to be revealed in the new heaven and earth.
(4) He writes about how to prepare for, endure, and be victorious over trials and triumph in Christ.
I highly recommend this book to prepare you for suffering well, and with purpose, for the glory of God, and the glories that await us in Heaven.
Since R.C. Sproul’s promotion into the presence of Christ’s glory on December 14, 2017 I have had mixed emotions. No single person has had a greater influence on my understanding of the Triune Nature of God, the Gospel, the Bible, Reformed Theology, Philosophy, Apologetics, teaching, and preaching than R.C. Sproul. There have been a lot of great tributes to R.C. in recent days, but I have been out of sorts since his passing. I have sorrowed as if I lost a blood brother and comrade in the ministry. He was the mentor who has most influenced me by far – especially intellectually – helping me to love the Lord my God with all my mind, heart, soul and strength. The way I am going to pay tribute to R.C. is by writing about the books he wrote that influenced me the most. I have read over 60 of his books.
At one time I could keep up with his writing and let him know at a book signing table at a Ligonier Conference (early 90’s) that I had read all his books and he said to me, “I bet you haven’t read Soli Deo Gloria: Essays in Reformed Theology: Fetschrift for John Gerstner; a book I edited for my Mentor in 1976.” He was right, I hadn’t read this book. I’ve since read his chapter in that book entitled “Double-Predestination.” But I was never able to keep up with his writing while he was alive. Since his death I have been re-reading some of his books, articles, watching videos, and listening to his audio recordings. I am so grateful that Ligonier Ministries has such a plethora of his resources available so that maybe before I die I can catch up on all the great writing, teaching, and preaching of this amazing Theologian and friend in Christ.
I never thought I would be so sad at someone’s death that I only met a few times “live”. I attended four Ligonier Conferences and was able to say hello to him each time and thank him for his ministry in Fullerton, and Pasadena in CA; and Orlando twice. I also got to spend some time in a smaller group setting with him at WTS in Escondido while working on my D.Min. there. Dr. Sproul was always humble, gracious, and kind. He treated me with dignity and respect and modeled what he taught. As others have made great tributes to him, I’d like to give my “two-cents” with the hope that maybe I can influence others to read, or listen to him. I can honestly say that I love R.C. and can’t wait to see him on the other side. I am grateful beyond words for what he has meant and will continue to mean to me and has tremendously deepened my relationship with Jesus.
I will write a little blurb on each of the 10 books he wrote that have impacted me the most:
(1) Apart from the Bible itself – no other book has made a greater impact on me than The Holiness of God. At the time (summer of 1986) I had never heard of R.C. Sproul. I was a second year student my sophomore year at Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. I was working at a church near my home as an intern that summer working with college students. On my day off I went first thing in the morning to read a book at my favorite spot in a cove in Corona Del Mar near my home in Huntington Beach. On the way to the beach I stopped by the bookstore (Pilgrim’s Progress Bookstore – long since out of business, unfortunately) and R.C.”s book caught my eye. I was fascinated by the topic and decided that I would read it at the beach.
I don’t know how long it took me to read the book, but by sunset I was reading the last words at the beach and found myself literally on my knees weeping over my sin in repentance before this Holy God of which Sproul knew so well. I realized that though I had been a follower of Christ from the age of six; I was in practice full of unconfessed sin; a great idolater; and desperately needed to elevate my view of God and His character and attributes.
Since 1986 I’ve probably read this book a dozen times. It’s my go to book when I need to re-charge my spiritual batteries. It’s also set the tone for my personal life; relational life, ministry, teaching, and preaching. Reading this book helped me strive to place God at the center of all of life and seek to live “Coram Deo” – before the face of God and for His glory.
(2) A close second to R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God in impact is his classic Chosen By God. Like many young college or seminary students I wrestled with the concepts of predestination, foreknowledge, free will, faith, election, and how all these work together. I was definitely (though I’d never heard the term before) a Semi-Pelagian or Arminian before reading this book. R.C. brilliantly and cogently helped me see that I was dead in my sin and that I needed nothing short of the miracle of God’s electing grace to save me from a destiny banished from Him – had He not sovereignly graciously and mercifully intervened. I’ve given at least 100 copies of this book away over the years and it’s my go to book to recommend to anyone who wrestles with how God saves His chosen ones. If anyone wants to understand the biblical doctrine of predestination – this book is an outstanding introduction.
(3) Shortly after reading Chosen by God while in Bible college I read a book called the Psychology of Atheism by R.C. Sproul which I found in the school library. The book has been re-published under the title: If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists? This book peaked my curiosity because at the time I had an ongoing ministry with philosophy students at a college department across town called Reed College. There was a period of time where I would drive over to Reed College once a week and wait outside the Philosophy Department to talk with Philosophy students (most of whom adhered to Atheism or Agnosticism). R.C. Sproul’s book is essentially a practical exposition of Romans 1. It makes a great case for the fact that people are atheists not because of the evidence of atheism, but because they want to live in sin. I found this to be the case then; and I still find this to be the case. In our secular culture I consider this book “must” reading for believers who take evangelism and apologetics seriously. It gives one a deep understanding of the psychological makeup of those who are in rebellion against God.
(4) Another book that has helped me tremendously in the area of apologetics and evangelism is Reason to Believe. I read this book when it was titled Objections Answered when I was doing a lot of evangelism with professing Agnostics and Atheists in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I still think this is the best book available to give to lay-people to help them answer the 10 biggest objections to the Christian faith. R.C. is famous for making the complex simple via his use of language, illustrations, and biblical theology and exegesis. I have used his arguments in this book hundreds of times over the years in evangelism, teaching, and apologetics.
(5) Pleasing God. I can’t remember the first time I read Pleasing God, but it’s a book I’ve read and used in counseling, teaching, and preaching many times over the years as a great introduction to the biblical doctrine of sanctification. In this book Sproul tackles the greatest enemies in the battle of our seeking to please Christ: the battle with the flesh; the world; and Satan. Laced throughout this book is the reality of God’s grace and practical ways to please God. I still think this is the best introduction available on the biblical doctrine of sanctification.
(6) I have read this book on the Attributes of God as it has transformed into three different titles over the years: One Holy Passion; Discovering the God Who Is; and most recently Enjoying God. There simply is no better introduction on the character, nature, and attributes of God than this book. R.C. does a wonderful job of explaining the major concepts of how God is different than us and worthy of our worship and passion.
(7) The best introduction to how to read and study the Bible is still Knowing Scripture. In this short book R.C. gives a plethora of helpful information for anyone who wants to know how to read, interpret, and apply the Scriptures.
(8) One of the most comforting and practical doctrines for Christians to understand is the providence of God. R.C. has helped thousands of believers around the world be comforted through his teaching on the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign working to bring about His ends for our good and God’s glory in all things in his classic The Invisible Hand of God.
(9) The least understood Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. In The Mystery of the Holy Spirit R.C. handles the biblical portrayal of the Holy Spirit with great clarity and makes the complex and controversial issues related to the Spirit understandable and practical. I know of no other better introduction to the Holy Spirit than this great work by Dr. Sproul.
(10) In 2012 I had a brutal bout with cancer. I read several books while undergoing treatment and wrestling with pain, unemployment, and even death. I have read a lot of books on suffering over the years, but this is still my first choice to give caregivers, people in pain, and those helping people understand the biblical purposes and practical ramifications of suffering.
I feel sort of bad because I’ve left out a lot of great books by Dr. Sproul. Even though many books of R.C. are introductory in nature. They are all deep, profound, cogent, and full of helpful theological truth that are practical, weighty, and lead one to becoming more and more like Jesus each day. It seems that almost every book R.C. Sproul wrote was well written, thorough, and yet he never said too much. I have given away more of his books as gifts than any other author by far. I’ve also recommend his books more than any other author. He was so omnicompetent it’s just hard for any modern writer or theologian to match him on just about any subject. I will continue to read Sproul’s books, listen to his teaching, and watch his videos. He had a unique style, was always interesting, and always taught me something new about the glory and grandeur of God. I can’t wait to see him in heaven and listen to him chatting it up with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and the many he influenced along the way – like me.
If you were asked to clearly define what it means that God is Triune could you do it? In this short book (60 pages) Sproul helps you to understand the biblical doctrine that God is one in essence and three in person. In his inimitable style Sproul gives a lucidand cogent defense of the Trinity as articulated in key passages of Scripture and as has been defended in the great early Church Council’s of Nicea and Chalcedon.
One of the most helpful sections in this book is when Sproul explains what the Trinity is, by explaining what it isn’t. He gives a brief history of the different early heresies with reference to the early teachings of the church in trying to articulate a unified understanding of the doctrine of God – His character, nature, and essence. He explains and shows the weaknesses of all the major early heresies with reference to a misunderstanding of the Trinity: Adoptionism, Monarchianism, Modalism, Monarchianistic Modalism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, and Dynamic Monarchianism.
I highly recommend this book on the Trinity as a good place to start in trying to comprehend the biblical doctrine of how God can be one in essence and three in person. Don’t let the shortness of this book turn you away. Sproul is always deep, clear, biblical, theologically precise, and easy to understand. You are sure to learn something new and practical to help you in your walk with Jesus.
A book is always so much more powerful when the one who writes the book practices what he or she preaches. R.C. Sproul and his wife Vesta had a great marriage for forty seven years before he went to be in the Lord’s presence in December of 2017. In this very practical book of 163 pages Sproul practically covers six subjects with biblical insight, practical wisdom, and wry humor: (1) Communication between the husband and his wife; (2) The Role of the Man and the Woman in marriage; (3) Problems in Marriage; (4) What the Bible says about Divorce; (5) Communication and Sex; (6) The Institution and Sanctity of Marriage.
This book is by no means an exhaustive resource on Christian marriage, but it is very instructive, has strong biblical wisdom for its points, and Sproul’s inimitable ability to take deep theological truths and make them very practical. This book has something for everyone: Singles considering marriage, young engaged couples; couples with a good marriage who want it better; and those who are in trouble in their marriage. You will definitely find wisdom and encouragement to help you in whatever state you find yourself in your current relationship.
I think the greatest area of strength in this book to help you is in the area of communication. Since two of the six chapters primarily focus on communication it is particularly helpful for men – who typically have a greater struggle with communicating intimately than their female counterparts. Sproul gives numerous illustrations, and helpful ways to communicate the truth in love with your spouse. The author is a master communicator. If you have ever heard Dr. Sproul teach, preach, or read another of his many books you will be impressed with his unique ability to communicate effectively.
Since a huge problem in marriage for many couples is the inability to communicate – who better to learn from than a master communicator. I highly recommend this book to help you communicate more clearly and effectively in your marriage. Great communication is a wonderful goal to have whether you are single or married and this book is a deep well full of apples of gold to help you become a better communicator.