With the release of these books in R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series, there are now 32 books in the series, all of which are free in the Kindle edition.
What is Predestination? by R.C. Sproul. (Crucial Questions) Reformation Trust. 76 pages. 2019
In this new book in his Crucial Questions series (free in the Kindle edition), R.C. Sproul writes that no doctrine in the Christian faith engenders more debate than the doctrine of predestination. He also tells us that no other doctrine more clearly demonstrates our utter dependence on divine grace and mercy than the doctrine of predestination. He writes that much is at stake in how we understand predestination, and we must be extraordinarily sensitive and careful in how we handle this doctrine. Studying predestination forces us to ask and answer hard questions, and if nothing else, it forces us to look more closely at the character of God and at our own sinfulness.
The doctrine of predestination is not limited to only Reformed churches. Sproul writes that every church and every Christian has some doctrine of predestination because the Bible has a doctrine of predestination. He tells us that if we are to grow in maturity in Christ, we must understand the biblical teaching on predestination. And though we may not like it at first, he tells us that with careful study and attention to the witness of Scripture, we can come to see the doctrine’s sweetness and its excellence and to experience it as a great comfort to our souls.
The author tells us that there are many different doctrines of predestination. The first of the most common views—and perhaps the majority view in the Christian world today—is the prescient view. In this view, God, from all eternity, looks down the corridors of history and knows in advance who will and will not respond positively to the invitation of Christ and His gospel. From all eternity, God ordains that every person who says yes to the gospel will go to heaven.
In the Augustinian view – also called the Reformation, or Reformed, view, and the view that the author holds to – God, from all eternity, not only predestines those who will believe to be saved, but He also predestines those who will believe to believe. In this view, from the foundation of the world—before anyone was born or did anything—God decided who would be brought to faith and who would not. Those who are not predestined from the foundation of the world will not come to faith, and their destination will not be heaven.
These two views are very different. In the first view, the decisive factor regarding a person’s destiny rests with the individual. In the second view, the decisive factor rests with God. Those who take the latter view must respond to questions about God’s fairness and justice and about man’s free will. Those who take the first view must answer the question of why it is that some people say yes and others say no. The author addresses what factor it is that ultimately determines a person’s salvation. Is it the human decision and response, which God knows in advance, or is it God’s sovereign election, in which He brings people to faith in Jesus Christ?
The author tells us that the focal point of the biblical doctrine of election is the grace of God. In its simplest terms, grace can be defined as “unmerited favor”. Grace is something that God is never obligated to give—God doesn’t owe anyone grace.
The author tells us that clearly, God sovereignly elects some to salvation and does not elect others. The prescient view of election leads to the belief that Jesus died on the cross, but not for anyone in particular. He dies to make salvation a possibility for those who choose to believe. The author tells us that in this view, it is theoretically possible that Jesus could have died in vain, that no one would have ever responded positively to the gospel.
He looks at two objections to the doctrine of predestination.
- God drags people kicking and screaming against their wills into the kingdom of God.
- He prevents other people from coming to the kingdom who do want to be there.
In response to these objections, the author tells us that the Augustinian doctrine of election unto salvation says this: no one wants Christ. No one wants to come into the kingdom of God. No one in his natural state wants to be there. For us to be saved, God must first regenerate us. Rebirth is the prerequisite and the necessary condition for being able to come to Christ. In addition, he tells us that there is no one who wants God whom God will exclude from the kingdom.
The author also addresses the subject of reprobation, which is the opposite of election. Someone who is reprobate has not been chosen, and does not receive the benefit of saving grace.
The author also looks at the Augustinian view of double predestination. Here, God does a positive work in the lives of the elect whereby He intervenes to rescue them from spiritual death by making them alive and creating faith in their souls. On the other hand, He gives sinners over to their sinful dispositions and abandons them to their sin. He ceases to restrain them from their own evil ways. Double predestination is simply this: the elect receive mercy and the reprobate receive justice, but no one receives injustice.
The author closes the book by looking at the topic of evangelism, and two primary objections in regards to the doctrine of predestination. The first is that if predestination is true, then there is no need to evangelize. The other is the accusation that those who believe in predestination are characteristically unconcerned about evangelism and inhibit the church’s mission in that regard. After addressing each objection, he tells us that it is a privilege to be used by God to bring another person to Christ.
The book, about a difficult and at times controversial doctrine, is written in Sproul’s characteristic easy to understand. It is concise and clear.
Here are 5 of my favorite quotes from this short book:
- Virtually all of the errors that plague the church and her doctrine relate to one of two errors: either an underestimation of the greatness of God or an overestimation of the greatness of man.
- It is easy enough to define grace as “unmerited favor,” but to get this idea from our brains into our bloodstream is one of the most difficult tasks in the Christian life.
- If we think that God owes us grace, we’ve stopped thinking about grace and have started thinking about justice. The worst thing that could happen to us is for us to ask God for justice.
- The only way we can gain entrance into the kingdom is through the sovereign grace of God and by that grace alone—sola gratia.
- The only reason we’re redeemed is not because of our value but because of the value of Christ.
Why Should I Join a Church? (Crucial Questions) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing. 69 pages 2019
In this new book in his Crucial Questions series (free in the Kindle edition), R.C. Sproul (1939 – 2017), seeks to define what the church is, explain what the church is made up of, and explore the church’s vocation and mission. The church isn’t a building, rather the church is people. Though some say that they can worship God without belonging to a church, Sproul tells us how vital it is for Christians to be joined to a body of believers.
He writes about the different images we have for the church, such as the bride of Christ. The primary reason the church is called the bride of Christ is because Jesus purchased His bride. The New Testament often speaks of the church as “the body of Christ.” When Jesus redeems an individual, He places him into a group, and He calls that group His own body. If the body is working well and working together, when one member suffers, everyone suffers; when one part is honored, everyone rejoices. In the body of Christ, we retain our individuality, but that individuality makes its own contribution to the whole. We are all part of the body of Christ, we all have gifts, and we all have a part to play in promoting the health and growth of the body. Another image of the church is the family of God.
The author then goes over a famous list of adjectives from the Nicene Creed that the church has used to confess its concept of itself. Those are:
- The church is one. There is a common core of truth that every true church affirms. He tells us that in the fellowship of the church we are “with union” with other people, and that is part of the oneness of the church. That communion is not only a communion of saints living, but we who are united to Christ in this world are, at least in a mystical sense, communing with those who have gone before us, who are alive and present and abiding in Christ.
- The church is holy. Because God has separated this institution from every other human institution, He has consecrated it, and by consecrating it or setting it apart, God has made it holy.
- The church is catholic. The word catholic simply means “universal.” The author tells us that the various denominations have certain distinctives, and points on which they disagree. But insofar as they hold to the one true faith, they are part of the one catholic church. All true believers, in every denomination, are part of the one catholic church.
- The church is Apostolic. Jesus Himself said that the very foundation of the church is the Apostles. Through the passing down of the true faith, the authority of the Apostles remains intact in the life of the church. The authority of the Apostles is expressed in the life of the church today through the sacred Scriptures.
The author then addresses two aspects of the church – the visible church (who we see in church and who is on the church rolls), and the invisible church (true believers). The visible church includes unbelievers as well as believers. He tells us that there may be the occasional individual who is part of the invisible church but not part of the visible church, but that would be unusual. The point of distinction between the visible and the invisible has to do with the state of the soul.
He looks at when you may and should leave a church. He tells us that an apostate is one who, having first made a profession of faith, later repudiates it. He writes that it is a dreadful word to ascribe to anyone, but to use it to describe a church is radical indeed.
The author looks at the three marks of a church that the Reformers identified:
- The first mark is that the gospel is preached.
- The second mark is the administration of the sacraments.
- The third mark is discipline.
The author tells us that the Reformers asserted that when an institution denies or rejects something that is essential to the gospel, that then church ceases to be a church. The first mark of the church is perhaps the most important, and to fail on that point is for a body to invalidate itself as a true church. He tells us that the same goes for the other two marks.
The author then looks at the mission of the church. He tells us that for the church to be the church, it must, in this world, be the church militant—it is engaged in battle. One of the primary tasks of the church is to equip the saints for ministry. He tells us that every Christian is called to participate in the ministry of the church in some way, and it’s only when the laity becomes mobilized that the church militant makes an impact on the world.
This short book about the church would be a good one to give to, and read and discuss with a new believer. It is written clearly and concisely.
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