What is Reformed Theology?

R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016

What is Reformed Theology? originally appeared in 1997. This updated volume has a new cover and new contemporary format. The content, however, remains the same as Dr. Sproul guides readers through the wonders of Reformed Theology.

Part One: Foundations of Reformed Theology

The first half of the book helps readers understand the necessary backdrop of Reformed theology. Of primary importance is its devotion to God. Sproul writes, “Reformed theology is first and foremost theocentric rather than anthropocentric … Reformed theology takes sin seriously because it takes God seriously and because it takes people seriously. Sin offends God and violates human beings. Both of these are serious matters.” The author clarifies that Reformed theology is devoted to more than merely five points. Indeed, Reformed theology is catholic (it embraces the great ecumenical councils and doctrines of church history) and evangelical.

Reformed theology is based on God’s Word alone. The commitment to the sola Scriptura principle is a fundamental aspect of Reformed thought. Therefore, the crucial doctrines of the infallibility, inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture are at the core of Reformed theology.

Reformed theology embraces the sola fide principle. We agree with Luther who famously said that justification by faith is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” As such, we repudiate the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification which involves both faith and works.

Finally, the author includes a helpful overview of covenant theology which involves the covenant of redemption, covenant of works, and the covenant of grace.

Part Two: Five Points of Reformed Theology

Part two contains a basic overview of what is traditionally referred to as the five points of Calvinism. Each chapter summarizes the critical elements of the five points, including total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.

Sproul writes clearly and forcefully. His arguments are biblical and logical and compel readers to embrace these historic biblical doctrines. What is Reformed Theology? is probably the best introduction to the doctrines of grace in print. Other resources include The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner, The Joy Project by Tony Reinke, The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice, The Five Points of Calvinism by Edwin H. Palmer, and The Potters Freedom by James Boice.

Highly recommended!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Is is Time to Go Home to Rome?

1567692826_bR.C. Sproul. Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism. Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012. 126 pp. $14.73

There are at least 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world – a stunning number to the unsuspecting. It would be a massive understatement to confess that Rome has had and continues to have a titanic influence on Western thought and culture.  In recent years, some evangelicals have taken steps to bridge the divide between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism. Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) is the most well-known statement that sought to unify the two camps. More recently, the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience made attempts to unify the two groups.

The efforts to bring unity is commendable but misguided as these two documents fail to account for the unmistakable doctrinal divide between Rome and Reformation principles. R.C. Sproul addresses these important topics in his book, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyses Roman Catholicism.The author analyses six critical areas of disagreement between Rome and evangelicalism. He addresses scripture, justification, the church, the sacraments, the papacy, and Mary. Each topic is addressed in separate chapters and include Rome’s stance which is contrasted with the biblical view of Protestantism.

Sproul’s work is historically accurate and biblically sound. While he does not address the matter comprehensively, he does tackle the most important matters in the church. In that sense, he leaves no stone unturned. The book is a terrific introduction to the Roman Catholic Church and should be digested by every evangelical.  Sproul is gracious in his assessment of Rome. Yet, he is not afraid of speaking candidly about the numerous doctrinal errors that have been and continue to be promulgated by Rome.

At the end of the day, readers will become aware of the grievous doctrinal errors of Rome and encouraged to embrace the teaching of the Reformers. Indeed, the crux of the matter is the gospel. Sprout affirms, “I am happy to make common cause with Roman Catholics on social issues, bu we have no common cause in the gospel. Rome has compromised the gospel with her unbiblical doctrines. I firmly believe that she is ‘teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”  I commend Are We Together? A Protestant Analyses Roman Catholicism and trust that many readers, both Roman Catholic and Protestant alike will be encouraged by the biblical reality that is presented in this powerful little book.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

HOW SHOULD I LIVE IN THIS WORLD? – R.C. Sproul (1983)

How Should I Live in This World by R.C. Sproul is a primer on ethics.  The author settles the chief ethical question at the beginning of the book: “There is a right and there is a wrong.  The difference between them is the concern of ethics … Ultimately we seek a knowledge of the character of God, whose holiness is to be reflected in the patterns of our behavior.  With God there is a definite and absolute black and white.”  Sproul’s approach is refreshing in a world that is awash with moral relativism, situational ethics and pragmatism.

The author makes it clear that the basis for Christian ethics is divine revelation: “We assert boldly that God has revealed to us who He is, who we are and how we are expected to relate to Him.”  He continues by demonstrating the consequence of abandoning God’s Word: “The departure from divine revelation has brought our culture to chaos in the area of ethics.  We have lost our basis of knowledge, our epistemological foundation, for discovering the good.”  This commitment to autonomy is the seed bed of sin.  When the creature rebels and declares independence from the Creator, he commits cosmic treason.

The remainder of the book examines several ethical questions of special concern to Christ-followers including materialism, capital punishment, abortion, and the conscience.  How Should I Live in This World is a needed reminder in a day that is drowning in ungodly worldviews.  Students especially should be encouraged to read Sproul’s short book and interact with these crucial questions.  One will be challenged to embrace the principle of Sola Scriptura.  Indeed, Scripture is our highest authority.

WHO IS JESUS? – R.C. Sproul (2010)

“Who is Jesus?” is the name of the book.  In a short 105 page treatment, Dr. R.C. Sproul provides the answer.  Writing with the simplicity and the profundity that we have grown to love over the years, Sproul delivers a satisfying and biblical answer.  
He begins by challenging the liberal view of Jesus – the view that has more in common with a cartoon character than what the New Testament presents.  Sproul sets forth the evidence in a way that any thoughtful person can understand.  He encourages readers to build their understanding of Jesus in the Scriptures: “When we go back to the biblical sources, we recognize that any attempt to understand Jesus must take into account the dangers imposed by our own minds.”  Wise words that many times go unheeded.

Sproul continues his discussion by guiding readers through a prism of titles.  He presents Christ as the “Messiah,” “Son of David,” “Suffering Servant of Israel,” “Son of Man,” “Lord,” “Son of God,” “Logos, and “Savior.”

The book concludes with a guided tour of Jesus’ life.  Sproul includes his birth, baptism, temptation, passion, ascension, and  resurrection.  The author highlights the ascension (a doctrine that is too often ignored): “The ascension is the apex of Christ’s exaltation, the acme of redemptive history to this point.  It is the pregnant moment of Christ’s coronation as King.  Without it, the resurrection ends in disappointment and Pentecost would not be possible.”

Sproul does a fine job answering the question posed in the book.   His answer is short and to the point.  The book serves several noteworthy purposes:

  • A general introduction to Christology
  • A great discipleship tool
  • A discussion starter for skeptics
  • A welcome gift for guests in a local church

WHAT IS THE TRINITY? R.C. Sproul (2011)

R.C. Sproul has an uncanny ability to make complex truths come alive.  He continues to share his gift with the church in book number 10 in the Crucial Questions Series.

What is the Trinity? Sproul covers “acres” of theological ground in 63 pages.  His explanation for the Trinity is rooted in a discussion of monotheism: “The idea that there is one God was firmly established in the religion of Israel from the earliest pages of the Old Testament.”  While the doctrine of the Trinity it not explicitly taught in the Old Testament, the strong teaching of monotheism is a crucial starting point.

Sproul continues by demonstrating how Scripture reveals the Trinity in the New Testament.  The Father is distinguished from the Son and the Son is distinguished from the Holy Spirit.  Yet we learned that he member of the Trinity is God.  And when the Bible affirms the deity of the Father, Son, and Spirit, the Trinitarian formulation becomes clear.

The author provides a helpful section that concerns the Christological controversies of the 4th, 5th, 19th, and 20th centuries.  The heresies and the key proponents are articulated and roundly refuted.

The author, in what may be the most helpful chapter of the book vividly distinguishes between “essence” and “person.”  God is one in essence yet reveals himself in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit: “The distinctions within the Godhead are, if you will, sub-distinctions within the essence of God.  He is one essence, three subsistencies.”  Sproul demonstrates how the doctrine of the Trinity is not only biblical but never violates the laws of logic.  This is where Dr. Sproul is at his best: explaining theological truth and bolstering biblical reality with good philosophical foundations.

This work is short but packs a powerful punch.  What is the Trinity? is an introductory resource that Christians need to read.

CAN I BE SURE I’M SAVED? – R.C. Sproul (2010)

One of the most pressing and urgent questions that pastors receive is the title of R.C. Sproul’s book, “Can I Be Sure I’m Saved?” – No. 7 in his Crucial Questions Series.   But Sproul is quick to reassure readers that we can in fact know that we are in a state of grace.  Not only that, “we can have full assurance that we still will be in a state of grace at the time of of death.”  While the book is short (only 72 pages), it is packed with God-honoring Reformed theology that is sure to encourage anyone who struggles with doubt and assurance.

The author identifies some popular faulty conceptions of salvation at the outset.  These views, which encourage a false sense of assurance include universalism (see Rob Bell’s, Love Wins), sacerdotalism (see the dominant teaching in the Roman Catholic Church), and legalism.

Sproul  encourages readers to seek assurance and to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).    He argues that developing an accurate view of election is an important step to shoring up one’s assurance.  Various views are presented but the author spends the most time on the Reformed view – the view that is consistent with Scripture.

The final chapter examines the doctrine of regeneration – a watershed doctrine for anyone wrestling with assurance.  False views of regeneration are presented and contrasted with the teaching of God’s Word.

A highly recommended resource for anyone struggling with doubt and for pastors who need a good resource to encourage the flock.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN? – R.C. Sproul (2010)

The Crucial Questions Series by R.C. Sproul is a series of books that address the basic concerns of the Christian life.  What Does it Mean to Be Born Again? discusses what is in my mind,  one of the most misunderstood doctrines in Scripture – regeneration.  To be frank, many people confuse conversion with regeneration.  Sproul does a masterful job at “cutting through the fog” and not only alerts readers to the necessity of regeneration; he delineates the finer points of the doctrine as well.

Sproul argues in simple terms that sinners must be born again.  He points readers to the famous exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus; a conversation that unfolds the necessity of regeneration.

The remainder of the booklet is packed with essential information that concerns regeneration:

  • Regeneration is a mystery
  • Regeneration is the beginning
  • Regeneration is a sovereign work of God
  • Regeneration is immediate
  • Regeneration is permanent

Readers are encouraged to study these essential points and delight in this glorious doctrine.