Feb 14, 2009

Sproul's Errors

R. C. Sproul's famous Hyper Calvinism conversion experience is told by him in these words:

"One of the most dramatic moments in my life for the shaping of my theology took place in a seminary classroom.

One of my professors went to the blackboard and wrote these words in bold letters:


These words were a shock to my system. I had entered seminary believing that the key work of man to effect rebirth was faith. I thought that we first had to believe in Christ in order to be born again. I use the words in order here for a reason. I was thinking in terms of steps that must be taken in a certain sequence to arrive at a destination. I had put faith at the beginning of the sequence. The order looked something like this:


In this scheme of things the initiative falls with us."

I have reviewed these words of Sproul previously in postings here and here in the Gadfly. But, I wish to review them further and cite some other things Sproul stated in the same context. First, let me make some comments on the words of Sproul above.

It is ironic to me how Sproul seems to decry the idea of "order" as regards regeneration and its accompaniments, confessing that he was in error to have believed that there was any kind of "sequence" or "steps" in arriving at the "destination" of the "new birth," and yet he goes ahead and decries the "order" or "sequence" he had formerly accepted and insists on a new "order," one that was given by the scriptures!

Then, he goes from truth to error when he goes from one "order" to a different one. Which is more in keeping with the biblical order, A, B, or C?

A) Regeneration, Faith, Justification
B) Faith, Justification, Regeneration
C) Faith, Regeneration, Justification

Sproul thinks that neither B or C can be true because that would put the "initiative" of salvation with the sinner, and not with God. That sounds so much like the kind of "Hardshell 'logic'" I have spoken about in my book on the "Hardshell Baptist Cult."

This is also ironic because Sproul goes on, in his article, to insist that "faith" is the sovereign gift and creation of God, given to some and withheld from others. If so, then what Sproul's "logic" does is to put a shackle on how God must operate, limiting God, logically, in what he can do, for he cannot do the logically impossible. It tells God that he cannot first create faith and then regenerate! Or, that he cannot make faith and regeneration to equal each other. Sproul's logic says that not even God can give faith to the unregenerate. He can only give faith and love to the regenerate!

What kind of an "order" is it that goes against many plain passages that put faith before regeneration and salvation and conversion? Does John not put "faith" before regeneration and justification in John 1: 10-12?

What kind of "order" is it that creates the non-biblical character of a "regenerated unbeliever"? Or a "regenerated unjustified" person?

I have also shown, in numerous writings, how the bible puts regeneration as an effect of justification (forgiveness or righteousness), and justification as an effect of faith, and faith as an effect of the Spirit and word of God.

Paul said "the spirit is life because of righteousness" in Romans 8: 10 and this equates to "regeneration because of justification."

Paul also said in Colossians 2: 13 - "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." This equates to - "having justified you, he regenerated you." Also, Paul says that "justication" is "unto life" (or "unto regeneration") in Romans 5: 18.

The Hyper Calvinistic "order" that Sproul accepted from his seminary professor, besides being grossly against the biblical order, and creating deductive absurdities, alreadly mentioned, creates further absurdities by how it locates "union with Christ." Where does Sproul, in his "order," put union with Christ? How is "union with Christ" obtained? By a faithless regeneration? By regeneration alone? Or by faith? Does regeneration unite to Christ or does faith? Does regeneration come from this union with Christ, or vice versa?

The biblical order is thus: effectual calling of the Spirit by means of the preached gospel, conviction of sin or realization of some truth, repentance and faith, then union with Christ, then justification and pardon, then regeneration (conversion) and sanctification.

Sproul says further:

"It is probably true that the majority of professing Christians in the world today believe that the order of our salvation is this: Faith precedes regeneration. We are exhorted to choose to be born again. But telling a man to choose rebirth is like exhorting a corpse to choose resurrection. The exhortation falls upon deaf ears.

When I began to wrestle with the professor’s argument, I was surprised to learn that his strange-sounding teaching was not a novel innovation to theology. I found the same teaching in Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield. I was astonished to find it even in the teaching of the great medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas.

That these giants of Christian history reached the same conclusion on this point made a tremendous impact on me. I was aware that they were neither individually nor collectively infallible. Each and all of them could be mistaken. But I was impressed. I was especially impressed by Thomas Aquinas."

Thomas Aquinas is regarded as the Doctor Angelicus of the Roman Catholic church. For centuries his theological teaching was accepted as official dogma by most Catholics. So he was the last person I expected to hold such a view of regeneration. Yet Aquinas insisted that regenerating grace is operative grace, not cooperative grace. Aquinas spoke of prevenient grace, but he spoke of a grace that comes before faith, which is the grace of regeneration."

The above requires a few comments. Notice how that Sproul "wrestled" with the "argument" or "logic" of his professor, not with any scripture that says regeneration precedes faith. He wrestles with the doctrine of "total depravity." And what is the outcome of this "wrestling" match? Sproul walks away a full blown Hyper Calvinist on the subect of regeneration. I have already partially addressed the "deductive" arguments and skewed "logic" of the Hyperists already in my last chapter on "Hardshell Proof Texts" and will conclude it in the next.

But, clearly Sproul is in error respecting the "great giants" of Calvinism when he states that these men held to the "born again before faith" view. I have posted numerous writings here in the Gadfly that proves Sproul is wrong about these men!

Sproul says:

"The key phrase in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians on this matter is this:

even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ephesians 2:5)

Here Paul locates the time when regeneration occurs. It takes place when we were dead. With one thunderbolt of apostolic revelation all attempts to give the initiative in regeneration to man is smashed utterly and completely. Again, dead men do not cooperate with grace. The spiritually dead take no initiative. Unless regeneration takes place first, there is no possibility of faith."

Yes, Paul does "locate the time when regeneration occurs." The question is, to what point in time is Paul alluding to in the life of the Ephesian Christians? Where does Paul even hint that he is referring to an experience, in Ephesians 2, that is completely distinct from conversion? Where does he make regeneration to precede conversion? Where is there any indication that he is discussing a pre-conversion experience? One that would have taken place in infancy, and unconsciously, in some of them, according to Sproul and Hyper Calvinism?

"And you has he quickened" means quickened to life and faith (Eph. 1: 19), for it is impossible to be begotten to "life" without being begotten to "faith" simultaneously. (See also I John 5: 1, 4)

"And you has he quickened" means "and you has he converted," or "made a Christian," or "brought up out of the state of unbelief and impenitence," the two characteristics which constitute the death from which sinners are delivered.

How does the putting of faith before regeneration and salvation take the initiative away from God? If God create and give faith, as Sproul confesses is the Bible teaching, then why can't God give faith that brings justification and regeneration?

In the passage the apostle, as Sproul admits, uses the same description of the death of the sinner as he does the life of the Christian. The "dead in tresspasses and sins" is one who "walks according to the course of this world," thus it cannot be a description of an unconscious state, or one that does not involve the will, choices, and behavior of the dead sinner.

Sproul writes:

"This says nothing different from what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again first, he cannot possibly see or enter the kingdom of God. If we believe that faith precedes regeneration, then we set our thinking and therefore ourselves in direct opposition not only to Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others, but we stand opposed to the teaching of Paul and of our Lord Himself."

Again, that is a gross falsehood! I have numerous postings in this blog to prove that Luther, Calvin, and Edwards, and numerous other great "giants" of Calvinism, who did not believe in the "born again before faith" error of Sproul and his fellow Hyper Calvinists.

Also, this is not what Jesus taught to Nicodemus! As I have also shown in other writings, the "seeing" and "entering" the "kingdom of God" is not a reference to conversion, for the new birth is conversion, and to say one must be converted (born again) to be converted is senseless. Certainly one must be born again or converted or he will never inherit the kingdom of God, will not see (experience or enjoy) or enter it. The seeing and entering the kingdom that Jesus discusses is eschatological and will occur "at the last day," in the day of the resurrection, when the eternal state is ushered in.

There is of course, one sense, in which sinners enter and experience the kingdom when they are converted, saved, or born again. (See Col. 1: 13) This initial entering, or experiencing in spirit, occurs when one is born again or converted. This cannot be the entering Christ refers to, however, for this would make him speak redundantly - "unless a man enters the kingdom (be born again) he cannot enter the kingdom (go to heaven)." We do know that it is truthful to say - "whoever enters the kingdom of heaven now by faith will fully enter it at the last day."

Sproul writes:

"Have you ever second-guessed the Bible? I certainly have, to my great shame. I have often wondered, in the midst of theological disagreements, why the Bible does not speak more clearly on certain issues. Why, for example, doesn’t the New Testament come right out and say we should or we shouldn’t baptize infants?

On many such questions we are left to decide on the basis of inferences drawn from the Bible. When I am bewildered by such disagreements, I usually come back to this point: The trouble lies not with the Bible’s lack of clarity; it lies with my lack of clear thinking about what the Bible teaches."

This too is ironic! The Bible does not give us clear instructions about who is to be baptized! The Bible does not give us clear teaching that says men are born again before faith! We can only "infer" such things!

I would suggest that Sproul is still not "clear" in his "thinking" in regard to "what the Bible teaches" about depravity, faith, regeneration, etc.

Sproul writes:

"When it comes to regeneration and faith I wonder how Paul could have made it any more clear. I suppose he could have added the words to Ephesians 2, “Regeneration precedes faith.” However, I honestly think that even that phrase wouldn’t end the debate. There’s nothing in that phrase that isn’t already clearly spelled out by Paul in this text or by Jesus in John 3."

This is laughable coming from a "doctor of divinity"! What "double-talk"! Ephesians 2 does not expressly teach or affirm "regeneration precedes faith" and yet he insists that it does so only logically or by implication! Further, he believes that an express statement of scripture would not end the debate, thereby implying that there is no such clear express passage that affirms the "born again before faith" proposition, and implying that those who do not accept the "born again before faith" error are anti scripture and would not believe it even if it was expressly stated! What a charge against so many!

Then Sproul, after admitting that there is no express or clear statement in the Bible affirming the "born again before faith" proposition, nevertheless says that such a proposition is "clearly spelled out" in the words of Jesus to Nicodemus! What contradictory talk!

Sproul writes:

"Why then, all the fuss? My guess is that it is because if we conclude that regeneration is by divine initiative, that regeneration is monergistic, that salvation is by grace alone, we cannot escape the glaring implication that leads us quickly and irresistibly to sovereign election."

All the fuss? Who is it that makes a fuss over the relationship of faith to regeneration? Men like Sproul or men who oppose Sproul's Hyperism on the new birth? What Calvinist, or classical Arminian, who puts faith where the Bible puts it, before regeneration ,as before justification, denies that God takes the "initiative"? Why is it that the Hyper Calvinist feels the need to misrepresent their opponent's actual position? Also, which of the great Calvinists who did not put regeneration before faith, men like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Archilbald Alexander, Martin Luther, Stephen Charnock, Benamin Keach, John Gill, Abraham Booth, Charles Spurgeon, J. P. Boyce, B. H. Carroll, etc., denied that salvation was by grace? Why insinuate that anyone who puts faith before regeneration denies that salvation is by grace?

Also, how does the doctrine of election necessitate a belief that the gospel is not a means in regeneration and that regeneration must precede faith? Sproul is just raising straw men and points that do not relate to the main point in question.

He writes:

"As soon as the doctrine of election comes to the fore, there is a mad scramble to find a way to get faith in there before regeneration. In spite of all these attending difficulties, we meet the Apostle’s teaching headon:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Here the Apostle teaches that the faith through which we are saved is a faith that comes to us by grace. Our faith is something we exercise by ourselves and in ourselves, but it is not of ourselves. It is a gift. It is not an achievement."

Again, Sproul is affirming that anyone who puts faith before regeneration is one who denies that salvation is by grace through faith and that salvation is of God. It is a false charge and without foundation.

To my mind, it is Sproul and his Hyperism that rather denies what Paul affirms in the above verses. Sproul's view on regeneration, occurring apart from the means of the gospel, and apart from faith, his "metaphysical" and nondescript "regeneration," cannot have the word "saved" to include "regeneration," the main aspect, by Sproul's own admission, of "salvation" being discussed in the chapter! He cannot have the text to read - "and by grace are you regenerated through faith..."! He can allow that one is "justified by faith," and "forgiven by faith," and "clean" and "sanctified by faith," and "sealed by faith," etc., but he cannot accept "regenerated" or "begotten by faith"! This is strikingly incongruous and puts an order upon the Scriptures that they do not themselves. It is scriptural and theological "hair-splitting" at its worst!

Sproul writes further:

"With the graciousness of the gift of faith as a fruit of regeneration, all boasting is excluded forever, save in the boasting of the exceeding riches of God’s mercy. All man-centered views of salvation are excluded if we retain the sola in so/a gratia. Therefore we ought never to grieve the Holy Spirit by taking credit to ourselves that belongs exclusively to Him."

("The New Genesis" an "article is taken from Dr. Sproul's book, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (Tyndale House: Wheaton, 1979)."

See here

Did the great Calvinists I cited, and whom Sproul misrepresents, "grieve the Holy Spirit" and "take credit" to themselves because they did not agree with Sproul in putting regeneration before faith and in denying gospel means in the new birth? How does it take credit away from God to say that he creates faith through the means of gospel truth, and the creation of this faith instantly transforms the soul or is the transformation of the soul that we denominate "regeneration"?

I will be dealing with Ephesians 2 and spiritual death in my next chapter on "Hardshell Proof Texts."

1 comment:

l_oyen@hotmail.com said...

I had assumed Sproul grew up with this theology. But, since the idea of regeneration before faith was new to him, it proves that not all Reformed churches teach this false doctrine. Either that, or he was not raised Reformed.

Bruce Oyen