Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dr. R. C. Sproul on Free Will and Salvation

Dr. R.C. Sproul

Excerpts from "The Door Interview", "R.C. SPROUL: Willing to Believe" by Arsenio Orteza

Regular guys don't sprinkle their casual conversations with words like "soteriology" (the study of salvation), "Pelagianism" (the heretical doctrine that man does not possess a sinful nature), and "semi-Pelagianism" (uh, the doctrine that man sort of doesn't possess a sinful nature). Fourth, regular guys don't get thanked in the liner notes to a Van Halen album, Van Halen III (seriously). Alas, the album is the group's worst, making the odds that other hard rock bands will follow suit and thank Dr. Sproul in their liner notes rather long ones indeed.

SPROUL: "...in this country there is that classical marriage or syncretistic blend between semi-Pelagian theology [the doctrine that man sort of doesn't possess a sinful nature] and American humanism."
INTERVIEWER: Uh, we've noticed that too.
SPROUL: It's downright un-American to think that we are really slaves to sin. Yet you have these polls that George Barna takes, and you see a majority of professing evangelicals saying that man is basically good. That's astonishing to me!
SPROUL: It's astonishing to me in light of evangelical history, because even semi-Pelagianism, of course, historically, would deny that man is basically good.

SPROUL: If you ask an American, "Are you perfect?," they'll say, "Nobody's perfect. Everybody has some flaws." They might even say that we're all sinners. But, if you begin to probe that and to explore the extent to which they think we are held captive by a sinful disposition, you discover that whatever the people are saying about sin, they think it's something that's really peripheral. It's accidental to our nature. It's not something that penetrates to the core. And I think that's true even in modern evangelicalism.
INTERVIEWER: Must one agree with Calvin in order to be a good Christian?
SPROUL: Well, I think you can be a Christian and still be semi-Pelagian.
INTERVIEWER: Our semi-Pelagian readers will be thrilled to hear that. In your book you say that semi-Pelagians are Christians, but just "barely."
SPROUL: (Laughs) All of us who are Christians are only barely Christians. But the thing, of course, that I had in mind there was that if a person conceives of that island of righteousness that's unaffected by the fall and that ability by which the decisive action is made that determines his eternal destiny - if a person conceives of that as the sine qua non of a righteous action that a fallen creature has to do to be saved, then the scary thing - the scary question is; is that person ultimately trusting in their own goodness to get them into heaven? If they are, then that would vitiate any affirmation of sola fide [faith alone], wouldn't it?
INTERVIEWER: We're still looking up sine qua non.
SPROUL: But again, let me just say, I think that the overwhelming majority of Arminians and other kinds of semi-Pelagians affirm sola fide and don't want to come to that conclusion. So, however they think about the free action that makes the decisive difference, they tend not to think of it as a meritorious thing or as an inherently righteous thing that becomes the decisive factor for which they are saved. Am I making sense?
SPROUL: They don't want to say that. Maybe a few of them will, but, if they say that, then I think they are toast.
INTERVIEWER: Speaking of toast, you criticize Billy Graham in your book for building his appeal on semi-Pelagian assumptions. To a lot of people, criticizing Billy Graham is fightin' words.
SPROUL: That's an icon there.
INTERVIEWER: After all, an entire generation has grown up with the image of a football stadium full of people responding to a Billy Graham altar call as the defining public image of American evangelicalism. Most people would probably even say that no matter how theologically imprecise he may be, he's certainly more than made up for it with his evangelism.

SPROUL: - Billy would unequivocally stress the serious reality of man's profoundly fallen condition. He made no bones about our being lost in sin and in desperate need of the saving work of Christ. It was a simple sin-and-salvation message that I recall. But even back in the `50s and `60s, he would still say, "Ninety-nine percent of it God does, one percent you do. You have to make the response. Come up here and write your name in the Lamb's Book of Life," that kind of language...
INTERVIEWER: What do you see as the key difference... [with]...Billy Graham?
SPROUL: "Billy Graham has always humbly declared that he's a preacher, not a theologian."
"...I think Billy Graham is a guy who understood the absolute need for personal salvation, the power of the gospel, preached sin and salvation as faithfully as he knew how his whole life, and was not and never claimed to be a technical theologian. But I think that some theological defects came through in his preaching, and some of them have their roots in that whole revivalist tradition..." I have no problem with somebody preaching the gospel to mass audiences and calling them to repentance and to committing their lives to Christ. The danger that I worry about in the evangelical culture today is that what has happened - through no design of Billy Graham's, certainly - is that so many folks now understand the way of salvation as walking an aisle, raising a hand, praying the prayers, signing a card. That is, as responding to some particular evangelistic methodology.
INTERVIEWER: That's bad?
SPROUL: One of my great concerns is that we've got to understand the difference between a profession of faith and faith. Everyone who has faith is called to profess faith, but not everybody who professes faith has faith. We are not saved by a profession of faith. A lot of people, it seems to me, in the evangelical world, believe that if they have walked the walk, raised the hand, signed the card - that is, made some kind of methodological profession of faith - that they're saved. And that's scary!
INTERVIEWER: That's the second thing you've mentioned. Why is it scary?
SPROUL: Because salvation comes through trust in the gospel. Now, I don't think God requires that we ourselves understand how we come to faith in order to be saved.
INTERVIEWER: Our readers who don't understand how they came to faith will be relieved to hear that.
SPROUL: In other words, I believe that I came to faith through the pure, unvarnished, sovereign work of God, by an immediate, supernatural work of regeneration in my heart, that my heart was a heart of stone and utterly incapable of making any positive response to Christ until God the Holy Spirit changed my soul by regeneration. I believe that I was reborn before I believed. Now, believing that I was reborn before I believed doesn't make me saved, does it?
INTERVIEWER: Is this a trick question?
SPROUL: Just because my doctrine is right - and I believe it is - doesn't save me. Likewise, another person, who I believe comes to faith the same way I came to faith, through the sovereign, immediate work of the Holy Spirit - they may not understand all the nuances of that, and they may be deceived about how they came to faith, but that's not the issue that's going to keep them out of heaven. The question is, "Do they have saving faith?" Not how they understood how they got there.

INTERVIEWER: Do you consider yourself part of the Religious Right these days?
SPROUL: Well, I've never considered myself part of the Religious Left. But, at the same time, I've always considered myself a classicist - rather than a fundamentalist. And, to be perfectly candid, with the crisis going on today on evangelicalism and the way in which it's being, in many circles, redefined from its historic meaning, I'm not sure what the term "evangelical" means anymore, or that I am one. I know that I am one in terms of the classic, historic evangelicalism. But, in terms of how it's being redefined today, I doubt if I am one. And if you mean by "Religious Right" historic orthodoxy, then I would identify myself totally with the Religious Right. But if by the "Religious Right" you mean right-wing-Americanization stuff and everything -
SPROUL: I'm politically conservative and even more conservative economically, but I have never been one to wrap the Christian faith in the American flag.
INTERVIEWER: Is that [a] scary thing?
SPROUL: When people do that, yes, that scares me.


Post a Comment

<< Home