A favorite Calvinist author of mine is R.C. Sproul. Hardly a surprise since Sproul is a hot author in Christian literature today. Indeed he may be one of the most influential Calvinists among Southern Baptists.
For example, The 2010 T4G has Sproul on the platform (as did the ‘06 and ‘08 conferences). And, I’m certain many Calvinists with whom I converse have him on their shelves for I hear Sproul loud and clear in many conversations I have with Calvinists.
I own virtually all of Sproul’s books. And, throughout the 80’s, I don’t think a tape existed from Ligonier Ministries which I did not wear completely out. No Mp3s then. All cassettes!
One thing I’ve admired about Dr. Sproul is his ability to speak clearly, draw tight distinctions, and express Calvinism in a way most anyone can understand. One may not like what one hears when Sproul sits down. But one usually knows what Sproul said while he was standing up.
Like all of us, nevertheless, Dr. Sproul has theological feet of clay. He’s not always as particular as he should be. This happens mostly not when he is passionately informing us what “The Reformed” view is. Instead, it’s when he’s informing us what his theological nemesis believes.
In other words, it’s fairly easy to detect Dr. Sproul’s not so accurate views of those with whom he contends.
And, since Calvinists often are heard from sea to shining sea raising complaints against non-Calvinists and their caricatures of Calvinism, I thought it’d be interesting to assemble a few caricatures some of the more popular Calvinists like to fling around.**
Since Sproul is so popular--not to mention because I like him so much--today’s are from R.C. Sproul. Perhaps if I get an opportunity later this week, I’ll post a few from Sproul’s late mentor, Professor John Gerstner.
“These verses fall like a hammer on any kind of Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, or Arminianism. Each of these positions in its own way teaches that somehow fallen humanity still has the ability to please God, or to choose salvation. Unquestionably, these verses show that a fallen sinner cannot please God.” (Before the Face of God : Book One: A Daily Guide for Living from the Book of Romans, c1992).
First, Dr. Sproul, shame on you. How you can pitch into one skillet “any kind of” Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, or Arminianism is a dirty trick to serve your uninformed readers. You mean there is no difference between “any kind of” Pelagianism and “any kind of “Arminianism”? Furthermore, to suggest either semi-Pelagianism, or Arminianism “still has the ability to please God, or to choose salvation” similar to Pelagianism is not worth the page on which the words are written.
“If Luther were alive today, I suspect he would write a book entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Church. Though Arminianism is more properly speaking a variety of semi-Pelagianism, the “semi” is a thin patina. The essence of Pelagianism is retained in semi-Pelagianism, and it is carried through into Arminianism and, to a degree, into Dispensationalism. (Grace Unknown : The Heart of Reformed Theology , Grand Rapids: Baker Books, c1997, 180).
So, Dr. Sproul, let me see if I understand what you’re implying. Since you make no careful distinction between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (this explains much for the earlier quote), and the essence of Pelagianism is retained in Arminianism, therefore Arminian churches—and to a degree, Dispensational churches—are bearers of heresy? Heresy so corrupt that just as the Protestant Reformers broke away from Rome, so would they—were they alive today—break away from evangelical Arminianism and, to a degree, Dispensationalism? So much for T4G, ah?
“Arminianism reverses the order of salvation. It has faith preceding regeneration. The sinner, who is dead in sin and in bondage to sin, must somehow shed his chains, revive his spiritual vitality, and exercise faith so that he or she may be born again. In a very real sense regeneration is not so much a gift in this schema as it is a reward for responding to the offer of grace.” (Grace Unknown, 186).
I’ll give a shiny new silver dollar to Dr. Sproul for every Arminian believer—who is indeed a believer—he can get who’ll agree with his portrait of Arminian biblical understanding on how one comes to Christ. While it may be true Arminian theology teaches faith precedes regeneration (some Calvinists believe this as well!), Sproul says absolutely nothing of the Arminian insistence on the real presence and work—indeed necessary presence and necessary work—of the Holy Spirit in the person’s heart prior to faith. Sproul has Arminians believing we all must somehow shed our chains, revive our spiritual vitality, and then exercise faith to be born again. The way Sproul framed it, the Arminian believes exactly as did Pelagius—the human heart is perfectly capable as is to please God for salvation.
“I agree with Packer and Johnston that Arminianism contains un-Christian elements in it and that their view of the relationship between faith and regeneration is fundamentally un-Christian. Is this error so egregious that it is fatal to salvation? People often ask if I believe Arminians are Christians? I usually answer, “Yes, barely.” They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency.” (R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997, 25).
First, I’m sure our Arminian brothers and sisters thank Dr. Sproul for conceding--after implicating them as heretics, and hence warranting a new Protestant movement—that they only possess “un-Christian” elements to their faith, even if it is fundamental. But then, he goes and spoils it by actually saying it—out loud—Arminians are Christians, barely. The felicitous inconsistency Sproul mentioned concerns one thing: Arminians do not embrace irresistible grace. Yes. That’s correct. Irresistible grace.
Caricatures are defined as pictures or descriptions which ludicrously exaggerate the peculiarities or defects of persons or things. In this case, of course, we’re speaking of beliefs.
From my perspective, Dr. Sproul gets an A+ in his exposition of Calvinism. No one is any better equipped today to expound to the masses the so-called doctrines of grace from a decidedly high-Calvinist, Presbyterian point of view than he.
On the other hand, watch closely his assessments of those whom he critiques. He tends to exaggerate their views, so much in fact, it’s actually unfair not only to his theological opponents—in this case, Arminians—but also to his reading audience if they are either unbelievers or new Christians who’ve no way to weigh his sub-standard expositions.
Not even a C, Dr. Sproul.
Not even a C.
Unfortunately, because of his popularity, Dr. Sproul must bear some liability for the irresponsible views many young Calvinists naively forge toward their non-Calvinist brothers and sisters.
With that, I am…
**A similar post by Kevin Jackson inspired this post (//link).