What is Reformed Theology, Part One
What is Reformed Theology?, R.C. Sproul, 2005
Disclaimer: while this review is critical in nature, it’s not my place to judge Sproul’s motives, sincerely, or faith. All believers will stand before Jesus Christ soon to give an account —starting with myself. The critical standard applied to Mr. Sproul’s book should be equally applied to my review based on the Word of God.
The very name “Jesus” means that Yahweh saves. Your theological framework determines what this means. Sproul would limit the meaning to only the elect. A non-Calvinist sees Jesus as “… the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10, (ESV). Therefore, one’s theology influences their views of God, man, salvation, etc.
Reformed Theology is a theological system that’s an overlay over God’s Word. It’s built on five pillars (TULIP) that are read into God’s Word. In distinction, God’s Word should determine our theology —not a pre-defined theological arrangement.
1 John 2:1 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Sproul resorts to eisegesis (reading into the text) to bypass a plain, contextual, grammatical interpretation. He looks through Calvinist glasses and suggests that the word “our” (sins), “could refer to Jewish believers” (Sproul, 2005, Kindle edition, location 2445). Sproul needs to learn the abc’s of biblical interpretation and stop reading Calvinistic theology into the text (eisegesis). The Bible should define our doctrine —but Reformed Theology defines the Bible for its adherents.
Sproul asserts that Reformed theology is “based on God’s Word alone” (location 504, chapter 2 title). But his book includes more space dedicated to extra biblical quotes from other authors than to God’s Word! Further, John Calvin is mentioned at least 103 times, Martin Luther at least 90 times, and Augustine is found 38 times. Sproul’s claim that calvinism is “based on God’s Word alone” is untrue!
In chapter 9, Sproul wrote his defense of irresistible grace and only used one Bible passage to make his case (John 11:38-46). The account of Lazarus here, doesn’t teach irresistible grace. The rest of the Scripture references in the chapter are quotes from others: Martin Luther (1 Corinthians 12:6), and Zane Hodges (Revelation 22:17; 1 John 5:12, 20; Colossians 1:27); Note: Zane Hodges used these verses to argue against Sproul.
So where does Sproul get his authority outside of Scripture for the false teaching that the unregenerate are incapable of responding in faith to the Holy Spirit’s call (grace) in their life? (John 12:32; Luke 13:34, etc.). He appeals to Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Packer, Johnston, Westminster Confession of Faith, Augustine, etc.
Calvinism is not the historical Christianity of the early New Testament church. An examination of Apostolic Fathers before Augustine of Hippo (354-430) yields Arminian writings (non-Calvinist).
Augustine of Hippo lived about 400 years after Pentecost. He was an outstanding apologist —but for the Roman Catholic Church! In fact, he is sometimes called “the Father of Roman Catholicism.” He’s associated with several false doctrines.
Augustine taught in the sinless, perfection of Mary. He wrote, “For from Him [Lord] we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her [Mary] who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.” (Augustine, on Nature and Grace, chapter 42).
Augustine called Christians who denied that Mary remained a virgin as heretics: “Heretics called anti-diacoMarianites are those who contradict the perpetual [never ending] virginity of Mary and declare that after Christ was born she was joined as one with her husband” (Augustine, Heresies 56).
Augustine affirmed other false doctrines. These include prayers for the dead, infant baptism, and the supreme authority of the Catholic Church.
Augustine laid the groundwork for the popular doctrine today known as eternal security. John Calvin and others refined Augustine’s views into a theological system.
Sproul in his books calls Augustine and other Reformers as “great theologians” of the faith (location 471). Later he calls them “magisterial (Kindle dictionary definition: “having or showing great authority”) reformers” (location 2729).
Martin Luther is another “great” theologian of Reformed Theology according to Sproul. But please know that Luther’s hatred towards the Jewish people was horrific. Please “Google”, “Luther, Jews” if you can stomach the truth. Secondly, Luther perverted the Scriptures by claiming the book of James was “a Gospel of straw” (Martin Luther, “Preface to New Testament,” Works of Martin Luther, vol. 6, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982, 439). For the book of Hebrews he wrote that it contained “wood, straw or hay mixed in with them” and “we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles” (Preface to New Testament, Works of Martin Luther, vol. 6, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982, 439).
A difficult verse for Calvinists is 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” So what does Sproul pen regarding this verse? He remains mute —yet his silence is no match for the Holy Spirit of God who affirms the truth of God’s Word.
Another objection to this book is the amount of man-made arguments imposed to “prop up” Reformed Theology. Dear believer, the Bible in context is the ONLY standard for the formation of church doctrine. Be cautious of teachers whose doctrines are sustained by human arguments and opinions. Let’s cover a few instances.
Sproul writes, “If God sent Christ to save everyone [non-Calvinist view], then he must remain eternally dissatisfied with the results. Though the Son may receive satisfaction from knowing that some have availed themselves of his atonement, his satisfaction must be partial because so many have not” (location 2311). Sproul’s argument is at the expense of God whom he indirectly ridicules. He falsified God into a god who does not even know the future, and when everyone is not saved, he seems displeased with his atonement. This is a perversion of God who is omniscience, died for all people (1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; John 3:16: 1 John 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:15, etc.), and a misrepresentation of non-Calvinists.
Sproul writes, “If faith is necessary to the atonement, then Christ’s work was indeed a mere potentiality. In itself it saves no one. It merely makes salvation possible. Theoretically we must ask the obvious question, What would have happened to the work of Christ if nobody believed in it? That had to be a theoretical possibility. In this case Christ would have died in vain. He would have been a potential Savior of all but an actual Savior of none” (location 2302).
The quote above contains more disrespect directed at God and towards non-Calvinists. Sproul goes into unrealistic territory and inaccurately portrays God as a non-omniscience, “potential Savior.” Just because God requires faith in over 100 salvation verses, Sproul feels justified to take a swing at Christ’s work on the cross and calls it a “mere potentiality.“
What is Reformed Theology, Part Two
On perseverance, Sproul is correct that endurance is required, but incorrect that endurance is guaranteed. Sproul is right that some who leave the faith were never saved, but mistaken that all who leave the faith were never saved.
His first passage is Matthew 24:13. This passage teaches the importance of enduring, but also warns believers to endure to be saved. Sproul misses “the trees in the forest” by not seeing the warning to persevere. A mother warns her child to not cross the street because the child can die. We should take the many warning passages as true or we should not take the Bible as real. We believe it as written or we are spiritually blind and self-deceived.
The second passage used is 2 Peter 1:10-12. Many well intending Calvinists have hijacked this passage. These were genuine believers who were sure of their salvation (vs. 1, 4). Paul wrote: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for If [conditional] you practice these qualities [vs. 5-7:] you will never fall [This is why he is writing!].”
For proof that all true believers today are guaranteed to stay in the faith, Sproul misleadingly writes, “Scripture is replete with examples of believers who fell into grievous sin, such as David and Peter. Though their fall was dreadful, it was neither full nor final” (location 2902). What a hollow argument. What about the many who did not repent and return to the faith? And why can’t Sproul go to Scripture and use passages in context for proof?
Another premise is that since some people make a spurious profession of faith, therefore, all who depart the faith were unsaved (location 2912). Some were never saved —but Sproul must prove that all who leave the faith were never saved (as Calvinists sincerely & wrongly believe). He appeals to the Parable of the Sower as proof; but upon closer examination this parable proves him wrong.
This parable (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:4-15) has four soils. The first soil represents unbelievers: (“the devil comes …so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). Please observe that “believe” = “saved” for this parable.
The second soil represents those who “believe for a while” (“But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away”) (Luke 8:13). Calvinists may claim this plant never lived because it had no root. But this seed came to life (“believed for a while”) and when the trials of life came (“time of testing”) they “fall away.” According to Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, the Greek definition of “fall away” means to “go away, withdraw” (Bauer and Danker, 2001, page 158). It’s impossible to “go away,” unless one was there beforehand.
The third soil represents genuine believers (formerly) who spiritually die before their fruit matures (“as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14). A seed has to germinate into a plant for it to produce fruit. This plant grew and died before the fruit matured. Once again, a genuine plant died which illustrates spiritual death. When we “compare Scripture with Scripture” we find many other passages that substantiate this reality.
The most famous passage for apostasy from Jesus is probably John 15:1-11. Some additional warning passages are 1 Corinthians 15:2; Hebrews 3:6; 12-19; Colossians 1:21-23; 2 Peter 2; Jude, etc.
Sproul calls the faith of soils “spurious” (probably for the second and third soils), then writes, “Into this category we can readily assign Judas (Jesus declared that he was of the devil from the beginning) and those about whom John says this: . . . They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us …” (location 2912).
Jesus did not declare to Judas, “that he was of the devil from the beginning” (location 2912). This is a lie used by some eternal security promoters. Jesus did declare, “But there are some of you who do not believe [present tense, ongoing].” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe [ongoing], and who it was who [Judas] would betray him.)” (John 6:64).
Judas may have initially believed (see John 17:12; Acts 1:17). But even if he was never saved, it isn’t proof that all believers will persevere or they were never saved.
Sproul quoted 1 John 2:19-25 —in essence claiming that those who leave our churches “went out from us” were never saved; thereby all genuine believers will persevere. Here is the passage: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
The notion that every person who leaves our churches “went out from us” are unsaved is not supported exegetically. First, doctrines for the church are based on multiple passages —not from one in isolation. Secondly, John is not stating that everyone who departs the church is unsaved. We can surely agree that people leave our churches for a variety of reason, but not that they were all unsaved. We would have to stay in the same church our entire lives to be saved. Clearly, John is not establishing a new doctrine for the church, but just stating a fact that happened.
Many Calvinist are inconsistent (double standard) because they teach from this passage (like Sproul) that the unregenerate depart from us for the sake of their theology —but don’t apply this to their own churches.
Sproul appeals to Philippians 1:3-6 for support. He writes, “Note that Paul puts the stress on God not on man when he says that ‘He who has begun a good work for you will complete it‘” (location 2943). Sproul left off the other side of the story where these believers must yield to God in ongoing faith. Paul went on to commanded them: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out [Greek imperative is a command; it is in the present tense here; “keep on working out” is the idea] your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-14). Why is Paul commanding them to persevere if it’s involuntary as Sproul claims?
Calvinists love to point out God’s faithfulness (He is faithful!) but believers can become unfaithful: “but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if [conditional; author is not joking] indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:6).
Sproul writes, “What God begins he finishes” (location 2943). God starts many works and some were never finished because of man’s unbelief and unfaithfulness. God led over a million Israelites out of Egypt. He performed a great work with signs and wonders. The Israelites were faithful to place blood on their door posts. But what happened to most of these people who God began a work in their lives? The book of Hebrews has the answer:
“For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:14-19).
Next, Sproul takes his readers to Romans 8:31-36 and goes on to writes, “Paul is amplifying the general statement he made earlier, that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus” (location 2964). Sproul left out that these promises are conditional. In context, the conditional chain link starts in verse 28 by those who love God in the present. The Bible only has meaning in context for the establishment of church doctrine.
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What is Reformed Theology, Part Three
Sproul interprets the Scriptures with one eye opened to the sovereignty of God and his vision fails with the other eye to see the conditional requirement of obedient faith. Typically, non-Calvinists interpret with both eyes opened and see the sovereignty of God and the free will of man from Genesis to Revelation.
A God who remains sovereign while giving man a free will is greater than the God of Calvinism who must ordain everything in advance to remain sovereign. Sproul writes, “He knows all things that will happen because he ordains everything that does happen” (location 2374).
Chapter seven is titled, “God’s Sovereign Choice.” Sproul believes that those who are unconditionally elect are irresistibly drawn to God. Because the pillars of Reformed theology are not supported by an exegetical interpretation of Scripture, Sproul resorts to other means as proof.
One example is John 6:44, where Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” The word “draw” in this verse is devastating to the Calvinistic notion that the elect are forcefully and unconditionally compelled to salvation.
Sproul claims that the Kittle Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines “draw” (ἕλκω) “to compel by irresistible superiority” (location 2116). But Sproul apparently made up “irresistible superiority” which is not found in the definition. Since most readers of his books don’t own theological dictionaries, Sproul may of thought he could get away with it. Spraul has been “called out” on some book reviews on Amazon for his deception on this verse. Not one Greek Lexicon that I could find backs up this definition. Further, the same Greek word is used in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” If Sproul was consistent, he would have to claim that everyone will be saved (universalism).
Thanks for reading this review. Your feedback is welcome 🙂
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