The History of the Reformation

R.C. Sproul: “A cesspool of heresies.” This was the judgment rendered by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on May 26, 1521, shortly after Luther took a stand at the Diet of Worms. Earlier, in the bull Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X described Luther as a wild boar loose in the vineyard of Christ and as a stiff-necked, notorious, damned heretic. On May 4, 1521, Luther was “kidnapped” by friends and whisked off to Wartburg castle, where he was kept secretly hidden, disguised as a knight. There Luther immediately undertook the task of translating the Bible into the vernacular. Frequently the Reformation is described as a movement that revolved around two pivotal issues. The socalled “material” cause was the debate over sola fide (“justification by faith alone”). The “formal” cause was the issue of sola Scriptura, that the Bible and the Bible alone has the authority to bind the conscience of the believer. Church tradition was regarded with respect by the Reformers but not as

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What Is the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and

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Do You Love the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and Apostles

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Is the Reformation Over?

R.C. Sproul: There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting. Contrary to some of these contemporary assessments of the importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we recall a different perspective by the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformers. Luther made his famous comment that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is

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Do You Love the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and Apostles

read more Do You Love the Church?

The Design and Scope of the Atonement

R.C. Sproul: In an age wherein the ground of theology has been saturated by the torrential downpour of existential thinking, it seems almost suicidal, like facing the open floodgates riding a raft made of balsa wood, to appeal to a seventeenth-century theologian to address a pressing theological issue. Nothing evokes more snorts from the snouts of anti-rational zealots than appeals to sages from the era of Protestant Scholasticism. “Scholasticism” is the pejorative term applied by so-called “Neo-Orthodox” (better spelled without the “e” in Neo), or “progressive” Reformed thinkers who embrace the “Spirit” of the Reformation while eschewing its “letter” to the seventeenth-century Reformed thinkers who codified the insights of their sixteenth-century magisterial forebears. To the scoffers of this present age, Protestant Scholasticism is seen as a reification or calcification of the dynamic and liquid forms of earlier Reformed insight. It is viewed as a deformation from the lively, sanguine rediscovery of biblical thought to a deadly capitulation to the “Age of

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The Holiness of God and the Sinfulness of Man

R.C. Sproul: One word that crystallizes the essence of the Christian faith is the word grace. One of the great mottos of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase sola gratia—by grace alone. This phrase wasn’t invented by the sixteenth-century Reformers. Its roots are in the theology of Augustine of Hippo, who used it to call attention to the central concept of Christianity, that our redemption is by grace alone, that the only way a human being can ever find himself reconciled to God is by grace. That concept is so central to the teaching of Scripture that to even mention it seems like an insult to people’s intelligence; yet, if there is a dimension of Christian theology that has become obscured in the last few generations, it is grace. Two things that every human being absolutely must come to understand are the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. These topics are difficult for people to face. And they go

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God’s Good Pleasure in Election

R.C. Sproul: If we are going to take the Bible seriously, we have to have some doctrine of predestination. The idea of predestination wasn’t invented by Calvin or Luther or Augustine. Paul says in Ephesians 1:4–6 that in love, God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” So, predestination is a biblical word, and it’s a biblical concept. But the very concept of predestination raises the question, why does God elect certain people and not others? We know that it’s not based on anything that we do. It’s not based on our running, our willing, or our doing anything. It’s based solely on the purpose of God, as Paul says in Ephesians. But that raises another question: If the reason for the Lord’s selecting some to receive the tremendous benefit of salvation but not others is

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Content in His Providence

RC Sproul: Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher and mathematician, noted that human beings are creatures of profound paradox. We’re capable of both deep misery and tremendous grandeur, often at the same time. All we have to do is scan the headlines to see that this is the case. How often do celebrities who have done great good through philanthropy get caught up in scandals? Human grandeur is found in part in our ability to contemplate ourselves, to reflect upon our origins, our destiny, and our place in the universe. Yet, such contemplation has a negative side, and that is its potential to bring us pain. We may find ourselves miserable when we think of a life that is better than that which we enjoy now and recognize that we are incapable of achieving it. Perhaps we think of a life free of illness and pain, yet we know that physical agony and death are certain. Rich and poor alike know

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Jesus Became a Curse for Us

R.C. Sproul: One image, one aspect, of the atonement has receded in our day almost into obscurity. We have been made aware of present-day attempts to preach a more gentle and kind gospel. In our effort to communicate the work of Christ more kindly we flee from any mention of a curse inflicted by God upon his Son. We shrink in horror from the words of the prophet Isaiah (chap. 53) that describe the ministry of the suffering servant of Israel and tells us that it pleased the Lord to bruise him. Can you take that in? Somehow the Father took pleasure in bruising the Son when he set before him that awful cup of divine wrath. How could the Father be pleased by bruising his Son were it not for his eternal purpose through that bruising to restore us as his children? But there is the curse motif that seems utterly foreign to us, particularly in this time in history.

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Is God in Control of Everything?

R.C. Sproul: One of Scripture’s most difficult concepts is that God can bring good out of evil. We remember that Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and, upon being reunited with him in Egypt, feared his revenge. But Joseph said to them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). That was God’s intention. He used the brothers’ treacherous activity in order to save lives, sanctify Joseph, and bring His plan to pass. One of the most comforting passages in the New Testament is Paul’s statement that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We must be careful here. Paul does not say that everything that happens, considered in and of itself, is good. Nor is our theme song “Que Sera, Sera,” “Whatever will be, will be.” We do have the astonishing promise, however, that everything will work together for good for those who

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What Does “coram Deo” Mean?

RC Sproul: I remember Mama standing in front of me, her hands poised on her hips, her eyes glaring with hot coals of fire and saying in stentorian tones, “Just what is the big idea, young man?” Instinctively I knew my mother was not asking me an abstract question about theory. Her question was not a question at all—it was a thinly veiled accusation. Her words were easily translated to mean, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” She was challenging me to justify my behavior with a valid idea. I had none. Recently a friend asked me in all earnestness the same question. He asked, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” He was interested in the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life. To answer his question, I fell back on the theologian’s prerogative and gave him a Latin term. I said, “The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life.” This phrase

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God Is Incomprehensible

R.C. Sproul: What can we know about God? That’s the most basic question of theology, for what we can know about God and whether we can know anything about Him at all determine the scope and content of our study. Here we must consider the teaching of the greatest theologians in history, all of whom have affirmed the “incomprehensibility of God.” By using the term incomprehensible, they are not referring to something we are unable to comprehend or know at all. Theologically speaking, to say God is incomprehensible is not to say that God is utterly unknowable. It is to say that none of us can comprehend God exhaustively. Incomprehensibility is related to a key tenet of the Protestant Reformation—the finite cannot contain (or grasp) the infinite. Human beings are finite creatures, so our minds always work from a finite perspective. We live, move, and have our being on a finite plane, but God lives, moves, and has His being in infinity.

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Do You Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness?

R.C. Sproul: Some years ago, I spoke with a man whose business was to help people plan for the future. He asked me about my goals, about what I wanted to accomplish in life. As I went through this exercise, I noticed that one thing was conspicuously absent from my goals: there was nothing there about righteousness. I thought, “What’s wrong with this picture? How could a Christian establish life goals and not have at the top the attainment of righteousness in the sight of God?” Did not our Lord say, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33)? One of the scariest things that Jesus ever said was the warning He gave that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The Pharisees were devoted to the quest for righteousness, but they ended up in a

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The History of the Reformation

R.C. Sproul: “A cesspool of heresies.” This was the judgment rendered by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on May 26, 1521, shortly after Martin Luther took a stand at the Diet of Worms. Earlier, in the bull Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X described Luther as a wild boar loose in the vineyard of Christ and as a stiff-necked, notorious, damned heretic. On May 4, 1521, Luther was “kidnapped” by friends and whisked off to Wartburg castle, where he was kept secretly hidden, disguised as a knight. There Luther immediately undertook the task of translating the Bible into the vernacular. Frequently the Reformation is described as a movement that revolved around two pivotal issues. The so-called “material” cause was the debate over sola fide(“justification by faith alone”). The “formal” cause was the issue of sola Scriptura, that the Bible and the Bible alone has the authority to bind the conscience of the believer. Church tradition was regarded with respect by the Reformers but not as a

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Is God’s Love Unconditional?

R.C. Sproul: It has become fashionable in evangelical circles to speak somewhat glibly of the unconditional love of God. It is certainly a pleasing message for people to hear and conforms to a certain kind of political correctness. In our desire to communicate to people the sweetness of the gospel, the readiness of God to cover our sins with forgiveness, and the incredible depth of His love displayed on the cross, we indulge in a hyperbolic expression of the scope and extent of His love. Where in Scripture do we find this notion of the unconditional love of God? If God’s love is absolutely unconditional, why do we tell people that they have to repent and have faith in order to be saved? God sets forth clear conditions for a person to be saved. It may be true that in some sense God loves even those who fail to meet the conditions of salvation, but that subtlety is often missed by

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The Holiness of God and the Sinfulness of Man

R.C. Sproul: One word that crystallizes the essence of the Christian faith is the word grace. One of the great mottos of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase sola gratia—by grace alone. This phrase wasn’t invented by the sixteenth-century Reformers. Its roots are in the theology of Augustine of Hippo, who used it to call attention to the central concept of Christianity, that our redemption is by grace alone, that the only way a human being can ever find himself reconciled to God is by grace. That concept is so central to the teaching of Scripture that to even mention it seems like an insult to people’s intelligence; yet, if there is a dimension of Christian theology that has become obscured in the last few generations, it is grace. Two things that every human being absolutely must come to understand are the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. These topics are difficult for people to face. And they go

read more The Holiness of God and the Sinfulness of Man

There Are No Shortcuts to Growth

R.C. Sproul: I’m still amazed whenever I see the bumper sticker that reads, “Visualize world peace.” The idea is that if I, and enough other people, create the right mental picture of peace, it will soon come to pass. It’s astounding that some people actually believe that silly technique will bring about such a desirable goal. Then, there’s the popular “Coexist” bumper sticker. You may have seen it, the one spelled out with the symbols of different religions—the Islamic crescent forming the C, the Christian cross forming the T, and so on. The idea seems to be that if we religious people would just stop focusing on our differences, we could achieve world harmony. If we understood that our beliefs are all ultimately the same, all of the problems of war and strife would go away. The funny thing is, we’ll reject such sentiments when they appear on a bumper sticker, but we’ll accept them elsewhere. How many business seminars promise increased

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What does it mean to believe?c

R.C. Sproul: I think the whole concept of faith is one of the most misunderstood ideas that we have, misunderstood not only by the world but by the church itself. The very basis for our redemption, the way in which we are justified by God, is through faith. The Bible is constantly talking to us about faith, and if we misunderstand that, we’re in deep trouble. The great issue of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century was, How is a person justified? Luther’s controversial position was that we are justified by faith alone. When he said that, many of the godly leaders in the Roman Catholic Church were very upset. They said, “Does that mean that a person can just believe in Jesus and then live any way they want to live?” In other words, the Roman Catholic Church reacted fiercely because they were afraid that Luther’s view would be understood as an easy-believism in which a person only had

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Born of the Virgin Mary

R.C Sproul: Along with the great theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury we ask the question, Cur deus homo? Why the God-man? When we look at the biblical answer to that question, we see that the purpose behind the incarnation of Christ is to fulfill His work as God’s appointed Mediator. It is said in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself ….” Now, the Bible speaks of many mediators with a small or lower case “m.” A mediator is an agent who stands between two parties who are estranged and in need of reconciliation. But when Paul writes to Timothy of a solitary Mediator, a single Mediator, with a capital “M,” he’s referring to that Mediator who is the supreme Intercessor between God and fallen humanity. This Mediator, Jesus Christ, is indeed the God-man. In the early centuries of the church, with the office of mediator and the

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