You May Be Offended By My Book Review
Some of my readers will be bored or “turned off” or even offended by today’s post. This includes people who are Christians and followers of Jesus. I understand that reality. However, I just finished reading a book, written by R.C. Sproul, that is worth reading and understanding. It is a helpful dive into a couple of areas of theology (the study of God) that are based on Sproul’s excellent understanding of the Bible and his methodical, logical approach to teaching some very difficult ideas that run through the Bible from Genesis through Revelation.
The book I just finished reading is R.C.’s CHOSEN BY GOD. I bought it because a granddaughter was interested in reading it. Although I did not have a copy in my library, I offered to buy her a copy. When it arrived, I decided I should read it so that I could understand the main ideas of the book. I highly recommend it to non-Christians, atheists, Christians, non-Calvinists, and Calvinists.
The Most Important Book Ever Written
The Bible is the most important book a person can ever read or hear read. The truth in God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit’s work, rescued me from a path of destruction and living in sin and death. The Bible tells me the truth about God and his glory, about creation, about myself, about sin, and about the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible, I believe, must be understood in the context of a solid biblical theology. Systematic theology and practical theology must rest on the foundation of proper biblical theology. God’s story is a story in four acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.
Many Christians have a fragmented and contradictory systematic theology. In fact, I fell into that camp until I understood the nature of biblical theology. The way I approached systematic theology was driven by my own preferences about what makes God loving and sovereign. I liked the idea of God’s salvation, and this gift provided by the atonement found only in Jesus. But I disliked some aspects of the scriptures, including predestination, election, and even hell. I liked John 3:16 but I had a strong aversion to Romans 9.
Starting with a Biblical Theology leads to being able to apply truth in life. This is done using systematic theology. Sadly, one can have a right biblical theology, sound systematic theology, but have a poor practical theology. In other words, you can know the truth and not practice it in daily life.
What is a Good Definition of Biblical Theology?
Biblical theology is “the discipline of learning how to read the Bible as one story by one divine author that culminates in the person and work of Christ, so that every part of Scripture is understood in relation to Christ.” The author of the Bible is God, with words written by men by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Everything in the Bible, even in the hard books like Leviticus, Judges, Lamentations, and Jonah point to God’s work of redemption through the work of Jesus the promised Messiah. So we need to start there before we dive into systematic theology and talk about things like “depravity”, “election”, and “atonement.”
Five Points of Calvinism or TULIP T.U.L.I.P.
The English word “tulip” is a memory aid to help someone understand some, but not all, of the things Calvin taught. The “T” stands for “Total Depravity.” I agree with RC Sproul that it is probably better to say man is radically corrupt. Most are not totally depraved in their everyday lives. They do show some “good” traits, attitudes, and behaviors. However, all humanity has a radically corrupted heart. God sees that heart.
The “U” in TULIP stands for “Unconditional Election.” The “L” for “Limited Atonement.” Limited atonement is probably the wrong way to talk about the completed work of Jesus. I agree with Sproul that a better way is to think about definite redemption or definite atonement. For years I disliked this “limited atonement” because it sounded like Christ did not complete the full job to save lost men and women.
The final two points of five-point Calvinism are “Irresistible Grace” and the “Perseverance of the Saints.” The book Chosen By God deals with predestination and election. We like human liberty and “freedom of choice.” This is especially true in the western world, where democracy makes us feel like we can choose. Furthermore, we even use words like “choose Christ” when encouraging a non-Christian to “come to Christ.”
Just As I Am I Come at God’s Bidding
I remember watching many Billy Graham crusades as a boy. One song often sung at a crusade was Ira D. Sankey’s “Just As I Am.” I like that hymn. It is truth put to music. But perhaps it can also be a bit misleading when we face the issue of predestination and God’s election. We really don’t get to vote in favor of God. On the surface, the careless reader might conclude that I am saved because I come to God and accept the blood sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.
What follows are some of the words of this hymn. It is important to see the words “that Thou bidst me come” before we see the words, “I come, I come.”
“Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot, to Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind, yea, all I need in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
Who is Coming?
The answer to this question is one of the core doctrines of reformed theology. Four Point Calvinists don’t like the “L” of Limited Atonement and they chafe at Predestination and Election. Limited atonement does not mean there is a limit on the value or merit of Christ’s atonement. It is sufficient to cover the sins of all people. But only those who accept by faith the gift given by God have effectual atonement. The atonement is sufficient for all but not efficient, or effective for all.
Why Read Chosen By God?
One source from Amazon’s book summaries says this: “In Chosen by God, Sproul shows that the doctrine of predestination doesn’t create a whimsical or spiteful picture of God, but paints a portrait of a loving God who provides redemption for radically corrupt humans. We choose God because he has opened our eyes to see his beauty; we love him because he first loved us. There is mystery in God’s ways, but not contradiction. Dr. Sproul shows how election is entirely compatible with human freedom, dignity, and responsibility.” ©2013 R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
What are God’s Wishes and to Whom Do His Wishes Apply?
It is quite easy to make a case that man is the one who chooses God, and not God choosing man. However, the case is usually based on a few scriptures while ignoring a host of other important texts and the entire “word of God.” Here is what one of Jesus’s disciples wrote to Christians in his second letter to the “beloved.”
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” 2 Peter 3:1-10
For many years I was not a “Calvinist”, and actually prefer to avoid that designation. Then I decided I was a four-point Calvinist. I even acknowledged that I might be a 4.5 pointer. Nevertheless, the more I study God’s Word, the more I find agreement with “Calvinism.” I like the way that R.C. Sproul helps explain one of the difficult “five points of Calvinism” regarding “Limited Atonement.” The following YouTube link takes you to RC talking through the passage in 2 Peter chapter 3, especially the words “willing” or “wishing” and “any.”
LINK: Limited Atonement: What is Reformed Theology? with R.C. Sproul
All scripture passages are from the English Standard Version except as otherwise noted.