Tag Archives: Dr. R.C. Sproul
A helpful structure for personal prayer is provided by the acrostic A-C-T-S: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Adoration as the place where prayer must start. When we begin by adoring God and seeing him in his majesty and holiness, we naturally become aware of our sins. Thus, the next step in prayer is confession of sins.
We should always pray in a spirit of confession. Psalm 66:18 says that if we harbor unconfessed sins in our hearts, God will not hear us. Thus, we may never enter into a conversation with God while we are in a state of sin. Just as believers under the old covenant could only draw near to God by bringing a sacrifice, so we may not draw near without confessing our sins and approaching him through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the final sacrifice for sins. We are commanded to come boldly, but we must come contritely as well.
The third part of prayer is “supplication with thanksgiving.” We should begin with thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us and for what God has done in our lives. The attitude of thanksgiving is wanting in our lives. The traditional worship service of the church is called the Eucharist, from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” The idea of worship is thanksgiving to God. We tend to forget what God has done for us, which is why God set up memorials and rituals for Israel to remind them. We need to make the effort in our prayers to show that we have not forgotten God’s mercies.
Finally, we bring our petitions. The Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers says that we need not go to an ordained clergyman for prayer, and we certainly don’t need to ask dead saints to do it. We can ask any believer.
The other side of this is that, just as we need to ask others to pray for us, so we need to pray for others. The tendency is for us to be self-centered in our petitions, to pray mostly for ourselves. We need to reverse this emphasis and exercise our priesthood properly. We need to be priests for others, and have them be priests for us.
Try this A-C-T-S prayer outline. If you find that you stammer, keep going. Prayer, like learning to talk to anyone else, takes both focused interest and practice. Ask God to help you learn to pray better. Open the psalms and use them to help guide your prayers and your thoughts.
Adapted from Dr. R.C. Sproul. Vol. 4: Before the Face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries, 1994, 478-479.
One of the ways I like to use the A-C-T-S acronym is to write down on a sheet of paper or journal each letter; then a corresponding verse; and then write down a short prayer on each aspect of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication based on each verse or passage of Scripture that I am reading through. One of the ways this really helps you grow in the Christian walk is in the area of confession and repentance. It’s easy to say your sorry for a particular sin, but when you write it down and it stares you back in the face – it really forces you to deal with it. For example, if I write down I was short and curt with my wife – and I write down what I said specifically – it helps me not only confess it to God, but also to my spouse, and then ask her to forgive me as well, and then we can work together on how I can speak more kindly to her. Prayer doesn’t change God – He’s perfect and always acts perfectly in accordance with His sovereign plans, but prayer is a wonderful means to help us become more like Jesus, and therefore, prayer is a great medium for us to change and conform into the image of Christ. – Dr. David P. Craig
About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk Magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; WILLING TO BELIEVE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.
One of the biggest issues of our day revolves around the trustworthiness and the authority of the Scriptures for all of life – private and public. This is a classic sermon by one of the most influential theologians living today. Though given in the late 70’s during the beginning stages of the development of the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy – it is just as pertinent, relevant, and needed today. R.C. teaches with absolute clarity and expositional and theological precision that the Scriptures are indeed authoritative and sufficient for all of life and practice privately and publicly. Enjoy this wonderful sermon by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, (“hath God said” in KJV) ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1
“Hath God Said?” By Dr. R.C. Sproul
I think that we are all not only aware, but in many cases painfully aware, of the continued academic, technical, and intellectual difficulties that we face when we make an affirmation of the inerrancy of Holy Scripture. I trust that we have not been bathed in obscurantism to a degree that makes us ignorant of the avalanche of criticism that has been directed toward the church’s classic position over the last two hundred years. And I hope that we recognize that much of that criticism may not be lightly dismissed. To do so, of course, would not be wise.
I think we are aware that it is our duty and the urgent need of the Christian community of our day, not to rest merely on the splendid statements of our fathers in defense of the authority of Scripture. Surely our generation is called to face the new issues that have been raised in academic circles. What I am saying simply is this: that there exist problems of an academic and intellectual nature with respect to the confessions that we are so bold to make. But that’s not what I am concerned to focus our attention on this morning.
For in addition to these questions of an intellectual nature, which at times indeed may be excruciating, there are other facets to this question that must never be overlooked. There is an emotional dimension. There is a psychological dimension. There is a theological, or perhaps what we may call a religious dimension that touches the heart of this issue.
As you recall a few months ago, I had the privilege in behalf of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy to be involved in dialogue with a group of very respected theologians and biblical scholars in this country. It was a behind-closed-door session of question and discussion, clarification of our position, vis-à-vis theirs. The discussions went for an intense period of seven hours. And at no time during that discussion did it become one of vituperative or vitriolic exchange. It was a sanguine atmosphere and the discussion was carried on in the spirit of cordiality. But it was intensely academic in nature, and I believe that we were all weary at the end of it. What I recall was that after the discussions were over and we were moving to the parking lot, one of the elder statesmen of the other group who has been a friend and colleague of mine for years came up to me, not in a paternalistic way, but in a genuine fatherly gesture. He put his arm around me and said, “R.C., why do you get so exercised over this question? Why are you devoting so much of your time to the question of biblical inerrancy? Why can’t we leave that aside and move on the real issues of reaching the fallen people of this generation?”
I’m sure that this man’s primary concern was precisely that we get on with the business of the work of the church and of Christ and not be paralyzed by internal disputes and debates about matters like these. He was expressing genuine concern over my particular career as a teacher. And he was almost weeping as he raised that question.
As I stepped out of the academic and intellectual atmosphere that had characterized the previous hours and looked at him, I answered his question as emotionally as he asked it. And I said, “I can’t help it. Scriptures are my life. I am not a second generation Christian. I came to Jesus Christ from the streets, and that’s what brought me into the kingdom of God, the words from this Book. I love it. The contents, the message broke through the recalcitrance of my pagan heart and brought me into the kingdom of God and showed me the loveliness and sweetness of Christ.”
And then in a statement of perhaps characteristic belligerence, I said to him, “No one will ever take this Book from me.” And I had to admit candidly that I am somewhat prejudiced and emotionally involved in this question. I raised this point with him. “I understand,” I said, “the difficulties that criticism has raised, and I know that many feel that as a matter of intellectual integrity they must set aside this doctrine, that they cannot cling to it merely for emotional or sentimental reasons. I must agree with the integrity of that.” But I said to him, “What I would like to see when that happens, is that our Christian brothers and scholars who have abandoned this point lay it down with tears. And I haven’t seen that.”
I would think that if we came to the conclusion that this point of the faith of our fathers indicates an error of our tradition, and that we must abandon inerrancy, that if we did, in fact, come to that conclusion, that we would do it with tears, rather than in the attitude or spirit we have seen in some circles. I don’t see this in evangelical circles, but in some circles there seems to be a certain delight and glee in finding difficulties in the text of Scripture. At that point it becomes religious, moral, and I think that we are facing the problem not only of the academic but the problem of enormous pressure to conform to contemporary drifts of opinion. Many have said quite candidly, “It is not expedient for us to take such a stand in this day and age.”
Again another candid and private conversation I had with a pastor for whom I have great respect and love. He said, “R.C., I am not a scholar. I am not an academician. I am not a trained and skilled apologist. I am a pastor and my concerns are pastoral in nature. Now, R.C., in my heart I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but I simply cannot defend it. I do not have the tools, the erudition necessary in this sophisticated era to make a good defense. And so I prefer not to stand for the doctrine.” It was only a few months later that this pastor was asked in a public situation, “Do you, sir, affirm the inerrancy of Scripture?” and his response publicly was, “I do not.”
Now it’s possible that the man changed his mind in the intervening months between our private conversation and his public statement. But I am also recognizing the real possibility that the intimidation that he was experiencing was more than he could bear in his humanity. And who of us has not had to face that kind of pressure? Who of us has not succumbed to it at one point or another in our lives? We have sinned and do sin, my brothers and sisters, and we must be careful in this concern that we not give the idea that we are the ones who maintain a pristine purity of Christian life and obedience, while others have easily and quickly capitulated and negotiated the faith of Jesus Christ. We all have participated at one time or another in such capitulation.
We are often put to the test, and the test of our faith is very infrequently couched in terms of strict theological affirmation such as, “Do you believe in God?” We all confess that we believe in God, but the point at which we negotiate is a different question. “Do you believe God?” That’s the issue. And that’s where the point of testing is focused in our day. Now the idea of a test at the point of believing God is nothing new. And it’s not an experience that we are facing as a first generation of the tested, but rather to God that is the test of fidelity.
Let me say it another way. The two greatest tests in the history of mankind focus the term of the test precisely on the point of whether or not the ones being tested believed God. I am referring, of course, to the test of our original parents in paradise and the test of our Redeemer in the wilderness. And I would like to direct your attention in the time that is remaining to an examination again of the terms and the circumstances and the outcome of those two critically important moments of test.
Let’s look at the third chapter of Genesis. It begins with three words that appear to be innocuous in the text, but which the late E. J. Young throws into bold relief in his commentary as having interesting and significant import. Those three words are, “Now the serpent … ” E. J. Young rhapsodizes on the significance of those three words as they introduce the third chapter of Genesis. Everything that has preceded those three words is a majestic statement of God’s acts of creation. Everything is so positive and so lovely and so good and so true about God and his created order, until that note of dissonance is introduced into biblical history.
“Now the serpent … ” It sort of suggests that something sinister and negative is about to be unfolded. And the words continue, “Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the other of the wild beasts of the field that God had created.” This draws attention to the subtlety or craftiness of the creature being introduced. We read that this subtle serpent comes and speaks to the woman and asks what appears to be at the outset a harmless question, a request for information.
“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees in the garden’?” The question again in the ancient version is, “Hath God said, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees in the garden’?” It’s a very, very interesting question. You might wonder why the serpent raised the question in the first place. Was he just saying in “Columbo” fashion, “There’s just one thing that I’m not quite sure about; do you mind if I ask you a personal question? Let’s see if I have it right here. Did God say that you shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden? Is that what he said? Just wanted to get the record straight.” Perhaps Adam and Eve were to assume that the serpent was doing a job of recording the facts for posterity.
I don’t think that’s what it was about here. But before I suggest what it was about, let me indicate another alternative. Do you think that the serpent did not know what God had said? Do you think that the serpent was ignorant of the terms of the probationary test that God had put before his creatures? I think the serpent knew very well what God had said. But listen to the subtlety of the question. “Hath God said, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden’?” What’s the suggestion there? Satan knew very well that was not the case. They say, “No. In fact, God said we could eat freely of all the trees of the garden, but one. And that one, of course, he said if we touched, we would surely die.”
Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre in the twentieth century has made it a matter of evangelistic zeal to maintain that unless man is utterly and completely autonomous, he is not, in fact, free. Sartre gives one of the most fascinating and clever arguments against the existence of God I have ever read. Traditionally we have argued, if there is man, and we have to explain and account for his creation, then there must be a God. Sartre turns that around; he says, “If man is, God cannot be. Because intrinsic to our notion of humanity is the concept of human subjectivity and freedom. And if there is a God to whom we are ultimately accountable and responsible, a God who has sovereignty over us, then we do not have autonomy. If we do not have autonomy, we do not have freedom. If we do not have freedom, we do not have subjectivity. If we do not have subjectivity, we do not have humanity.” Ergo. “Since we do have these things, there is no God.”
The point is very subtle; unless you are utterly and completely free you are not free at all, and Satan is raising that very point here. “Hath God said, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden’?” Every one of us has encountered this question of freedom in our own lives, particularly those of us who are parents. My daughter comes and asks, “Daddy, can I go to this rock concert in Pittsburgh on Friday night?” I say, “I’m sorry, honey, I have to say, ‘No.’” And what do you suppose her response is? “You never let me do anything!” Put that one restriction there and the natural reaction is, “I’m not free at all.” Unless I can have total freedom, absolute autonomy, I’m not really free; and that’s the subtlety of the serpent that is being repeated again and again and again, even down to this very day.
But the test shifts from matters of subtlety to a direct contradiction and denial of what God in fact had said. Now the serpent leaves his “Columbo” methodology, becomes very straightforward, and says, “You shall not die, but you shall be as gods.” I say that because so frequently I have heard it said that the initial slogan of humanism was the famous statement from Protagoras: Homo neusura—Man, the measure. Man is the measure of all things. No, my friends, the irony of history is that humanism’s slogan does not begin with Protagoras; it begins with the serpent in Genesis who said, “You shall be as gods.” An irony of ironies: the father of humanism was not even human.
Now it becomes a test of whom to believe. God says, “You’ll die.” The serpent says, “You will not die.” Today some have said that’s all right; they contradict but contradiction is the hallmark of truth. We say contradiction is the hallmark of the lie. Imagine the theory that contradiction is the hallmark of truth in this situation. Adam and Eve are wrestling with the dialectic. “God says, ‘You will die,’ whatever that means. This one says “we will not die.”
“Now that’s a contradiction,” says Adam. “And contradiction’s a hallmark of truth, so this serpent must be the ambassador of the truth. And if God is the truth, then this must be God’s ambassador who is now abrogating and setting aside the earlier prohibition. So let’s go to the tree. It looks sweet; it’s delightful; let’s help ourselves.” The issue in the Fall was the issue of believing God’s Word.
Now let’s go to the New Testament to the new Adam, and to the work that he performs immediately following his baptism. We read, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was driven (or led) by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Now, before we consider the content of the test of Jesus, let’s take a moment to examine the scenario in terms of the differences between the temptation of the second Adam and the conditions under which the first Adam received his test.
The first Adam was subjected to a test of righteousness and obedience in the midst of a lush garden, a garden that provided for him all of the resources and benefits that he required to sustain his bodily needs. In fact, if I understand the test correctly, he was in a gourmet’s paradise. Whatever he wanted to eat was there, readily available to him.
But the circumstance and the context of the test of Jesus was that of a fast. Not a three-day fast, but a forty-day fast during which Jesus ate nothing.
Jesus is not in paradise, but he was driven into the wilderness, outside the camp into the outer darkness into that desert place, which to be sure in one sense is the traditional meeting place between God and his people; yet at the same time, it symbolizes that threatening, ominous state of fear and solitude. Solitude is quite significant for our consideration, because the test that is given to Adam and Eve is given to them in the context of a supportive community, indeed the most supportive community that God has ever instituted, namely that of marriage. When Adam underwent a test, he had at least the support of a helpmate that was suitable for him, who stood next to him, shoulder to shoulder. And as the evil one came to seduce them, to cause them to negotiate and compromise their loyalty and devotion to God, they had each other for mutual consolation and support. But Jesus was alone.
Again I take you back to the original account of creation where in every aspect of creation, after God does his work, he pronounces a benediction: “That’s good.” And yet the first malediction of biblical history comes when God sees something that is not good.
It is not good that man should be alone. God understands the anguish that is involved with one who is sentenced to solitude. Kierkegaard is eloquent on this point when he discusses the problem of existential solitude, pointing out that one of the worst punitive measures we can enact against a criminal is to place him in a situation of solitary confinement. Yes, indeed, there are moments when we crave our privacy, and even Jesus at times sought the respite of solitude, but how many of us could stand it for day after day after day? And then have to face temptation when we are alone.
But when we as Christians come together and sing together and work together, I feel a sense of encouragement welling up, a challenge to stand firm where I might, if left to myself, be quite willing to compromise my faith. And most of the sins of which we are most deeply ashamed are done in secret, things we would keep from the scrutiny and the knowledge of the community. There is a sense in which solitude gives us a certain freedom to do things that we might not do publicly.
This is not the sense in which Jesus is saying, “OK. I’ve just come out of the Jordan River and here publicly John the Baptist has sung the Agnus Dei. He has declared me to be the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. He said such marvelous things: that he is not worthy to untie my shoe laces. And now I’m being put to the test in front of the public.” In that situation it would be difficult for Jesus to compromise. But now, it’s off in the wilderness, by himself, no wife, no support system, utterly alone, no one there to offer restraints in terms of public opinion, and along comes that same serpent. And the point is not so much the contrast, but the similarity.
But … the issue is precisely the same. I have heard sermons on this many, many times, and I hear the text frequently read like this, “If you are the Son of God, change these stones into bread.” The preacher focuses on the agony and anguish of Jesus’ hunger, which, indeed, must have been great, but I think the point is in the beginning of this thing. “If you are the Son of God, change the stones into bread.” Jesus is not confronted with the statement by Satan, “Jesus, since you are the Son of God, go ahead and change the stones into bread,” or “Because you are the Son of God, go ahead and change the stones into bread.” But he says, “If you are the Son of God.”
Ah, there’s that subtlety again. What were the last words, as far as we know from the biblical record, that Jesus had heard from the mouth of God? When he came up out of the Jordan River after his baptism, the heavens opened and the dove descended and a voice was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son.” God had declared it. He had made an utterance to the effect that Jesus of Nazareth was his son. Now I suspect that if God, in this day, in this room, opened up the heavens and spoke to us directly and immediately, not through the medium of human authorship of the Scriptures or anything like that, but directly and immediately, and said, “This Book is the inerrant Word of God,” the debates would be over.
But it wasn’t over with Christ, because Satan came and said, “If you are the Son of God.” I wonder. I don’t want to be a heretic here and maybe wander to the rim of heresy to even ask the question, but I wonder if during that ordeal that Jesus suffered, the thought may have come into his mind, “If I am the Son of God, why am I going through this hunger? I am happy to do it, Lord, I’ll hold out to the end, and I won’t play with the stones; I won’t eat; I won’t break the fast. I’ll do all those things, but this seems to be a very strange way for the Son of God to have to live.” But that’s the way Satan comes on. “If you are the Son of God.” He is suddenly suggesting that maybe what God said at Jesus’ baptism was not altogether true.
But Jesus responded quite differently from Adam and Eve. He said, “Satan, it is written.” (I think it has been demonstrated once and for all that this has the force of a technical formula, by which the biblical authors are referring to sacred Scripture.) “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.’ Satan, the Bible says that I am not to live merely by bread. Now I am hungry. I would love to have a piece of bread. There is nothing I would like better than a piece of bread. but I don’t live by bread alone, and you’ve forgotten that it is my duty to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Our doctrine of inspiration confesses that the words of Scripture proceed ultimately from the mouth of God. We grant the mediation of human authorship and all the qualifications that are made, but we are speaking in terms of inspiration of the origin of this Word, as having been breathed out by God. And it is my duty, says the Lord, to live by that Word. Now let’s look at Luke’s version of the temptation rather than Matthew’s—the progression is different. (It’s one of those problems we have to deal with.) “And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours’” (Luke 4:5–7).
The devil is saying: “I know the Father has promised you a blessing, if you go through your humiliation. You probably have some idea that exultation is at the end of the road, that all glory and power and dominion will be yours. But you have to go the via dolorosa, and this would make it so much easier, so much more expedient for you, since the end is the same. What difference does it make what means we use to get there? I can give you the same thing that God can give you: the kingdom. I can give you a kingdom here and all you have to do is genuflect ever so slightly. Bow one knee, that’s all; we are out here in the wilderness and nobody’s going to see you. John the Baptist will never know it. The multitudes who are to hear your sermon on the mount will have no report of it. Just one slight action of homage and it’s yours.”
And Jesus said, “That sounds so easy. But there’s something you have overlooked. You’ll have to excuse me, Satan, if I tend to be a bit rigid on this point, but it is written, it is written. You see, Satan, it says here, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
And Satan says, “That’s all right, you can still serve him. I’m not asking you to quit serving God; I am just asking you momentarily to give me a little homage. Why can’t you serve us both? Oh, I guess I didn’t read that text right, did I? ‘Him only shall you serve.’”
“Satan, I can’t serve two masters, and what you’ve asked me to do is to choose this day whom I will serve, and the choice is clear. I go by what is written.”
Satan responds, “But that was written so long ago. Is it really relevant to this live situation in which you are finding yourself today? Come on, certainly, Jesus, you have been a victim of the errors of your day and you are restricted by your human knowledge and living on the basis of Midrashic tradition and the like; certainly we don’t have to enforce that ancient prohibition that wasn’t written by Moses in the first place.”
Now very shortly Satan began to get the idea that this tactic was not working, so his subtlety became even more intense. “And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple” (v. 9). For you see, Satan perceived that Jesus was a very religious man. So he took him out of that isolated circumstance of the wilderness, out of the arena of profanity, and brought him into the temple’s dominion itself. Indeed, to the pinnacle of the temple. It was comfortable, his Father’s house. And then Satan says again, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written … OK, Jesus, you have come after me all the time with this ‘It-is-written’ stuff, so let me give it back to you. I read the Bible too. I know what it says. Now look.” Now it becomes a question of hermeneutics. “It is written,” says Satan, “‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (vv. 10, 11).
Jesus said, “I know what’s in that Book. But does it not also say, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’? And, Satan, we must not set Scripture against Scripture.”
What’s Jesus saying here? He is saying that the Scripture prohibits us from putting God to a test of fidelity. “God has said as you have pointed out, Satan, that he will give his angels charge over me. Now at the present time I can look all around the temple and I can go back to the wilderness and look behind every bush, and I have to confess I haven’t seen an angel in the whole forty days I have been here. I know that God says that he will give his angels charge, and I haven’t seen any. So you want me really to see if God meant what he said. You want me to see if God’s Word is trustworthy for this particular life situation I am in. You want me to jump off the temple and see if the angels catch me in their arms. Well, you see, there is something that you don’t understand, Satan. What’s going on here is not a test of God, but God is testing me.”
Some have interpreted this text to suggest that Jesus is saying that Satan is inappropriate in testing Jesus, as touching his divine nature. And this is cryptically a confession of Jesus’ deity by Jesus himself, saying, “You should not tempt the Lord your God, and since you are here tempting, or testing me, you are doing something that is quite diabolical which is your nature, namely: to suggest that I as the Lord God incarnate, may be tempted.” I don’t think that is the point at all in the context. Remember that this test is being done to Christ as the second Adam. Jesus is representing man. I don’t want to divide the two natures obviously, but I think that we can safely distinguish them at times, and here Jesus is saying, “I have no right touching my humanity, as one undergoing a test, as the second Adam, to turn that test around and throw it in God’s lap. Why should God be put to the test? Has not the whole redemptive history demonstrated again and again that our God is a God of truth? Our God never violates his covenant. Our God never breaks his Word. The question of loyalty is not one that we can raise about God. The question that history raises is the loyalty of man. I am the one who is to be tested, not the Father. So go away, with your distorted applications of Scripture.”
And we read that, “Satan departed from him until he could find a more opportune or convenient moment.”
I want to conclude with one more contrast between them. Jesus believed God’s Word indicating that he was the Son of God. Jesus believed God that angels would be given charge over him. Now we read in the Scriptures in Matthew’s account that as soon as Satan departed, what happened? The angels appeared and embraced Jesus. They nourished his broken, mutilated physical body that had gone through this struggle and trial. I suggest that Jesus’ physical appearance by the end of that forty days must have resembled that of a Mahatma Gandhi after a hunger strike. He must have experienced the ravages of the lack of food on his frame, and the angels came and embraced him and nourished him and applauded his triumph.
What happened when the tempter left the original Adam? There we read that the serpent left, and “God came back into the garden.” Before, when our parents heard the voice, they walked in the cool of the evening. They were delighted and their souls were thrilled. They couldn’t wait to go up and speak and have direct and intimate fellowship with God, but after their test, God came into their presence, and they fled and hid. They were naked; they were aware of their nakedness. They were ashamed. They were embarrassed to be in the presence of God because they had denied God.
Do you remember Peter standing outside of the judgment hall where his test came? Even after he had been warned as to what was at hand and prepared for it, when the test came, not by the princes of the church or the accrediting educational institutions … but some washerwoman came up and said, “Do you know the man?” not only did Peter say, “I don’t know the man,” but he began to swear he didn’t know him.
And just as Jesus was being led from one of the places of judgment, as they were escorting him under arrest, the Scriptures tell us, “His eyes fell upon Peter.” He didn’t say anything. He just looked at him. That was the most painful moment of Peter’s life, when he looked into the eyes of Christ, who even at that moment was going to deliver himself to the forces of hell rather than betray his Father. And Jesus looked at him and knew that Peter had failed the test.
“Do you believe God?” This must never be seen as a purely academic question. This is a matter that touches our faith in Jesus Christ. Faith, not in the sense of assent, but faith in the sense of fidelity. Do we live, or do we not live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God?
I am weak, and you are weak. We are all too susceptible to subtle pressures and temptations to compromise on this point. But it is a real test. And it requires in our lives nothing less than a dependence on the grace of God from moment to moment and a clear recognition that we understand that our feet are of clay and that our frames are of dust and that we must cling tenaciously to that grace that God has given us. If left to ourselves, there would be no perseverance. And not only do we need the grace of God, but part of that grace and its outworking in this world is the support of the Christian brotherhood, the fellowship of the church, the communion of the saints. We are told again and again in Scripture, “Encourage one another.” What we need in this hour is not simply knowledge and erudition, but I am convinced what we need is moral courage. And so I ask you to encourage me and to encourage each other and to encourage the church and even the world that God’s Word is true.
Article adapted from R.C. Sproul’s chapter entitled “Hath God Said? Genesis 3:1” in the book Can We Trust the Bible? Earl D. Radmacher, ed. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1979.
About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk Magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; WILLING TO BELIEVE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.
Posted by lifecoach4God on April 27, 2012 in Apologetics, Biblical Theology, Bibliology and Bible Interpretation (Hermeneutics), Book Excerpts, Current Issues, R.C. Sproul, Sermons, Spiritual Life, Theology Proper (The Study of God)
Tags: Biblical Authority, Can we trust the Bible?, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Exposition of Genesis 3, how Satan deceives, Inerrancy, Infallibility of the Bible, Is the Bible inerrant?, R. C. Sproul, Resisting temptation, Satan the liar, Satan's deceptive tactics, Scripture Sufficiency of, Sproul, The fall in Genesis 3, Trustworthiness of the Bible
(This is #1 in a series of book excerpts from Objections to Christianity derived from Chapter 1 in *Dr. R.C. Sproul’s fantastic book Reason To Believe, [originally entitled Objections Answered] Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, pp.19-34)
Christians, to support their claim of revealed truth, appeal to a book that was written hundreds of years ago. This book—the Bible—has been a subject of an enormous amount of study and criticism which has left the integrity of its trustworthiness seriously in doubt. If the Bible were universally regarded as an authoritarian source book for religious truth, many of the questions we will deal with in Reason to Believe would be easily resolved. But the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible is presently the question.
It is well beyond the scope of this [article] to give a comprehensive defense of the integrity of Scripture. Such a comprehensive defense would involve so many complex matters that it deserves a separate treatment. A large number of such works have been published in recent years (e.g., F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament, The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?; and Walter Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?). But, several common questions about the integrity of Scripture are dealt with briefly here.
Is the Bible Full of Myths?
That the Bible is a book of myths is a common charge leveled by its critics. Since myths have no counterpart in historical truth, they are considered to be worthless sources of truth. One dictionary of myth terms it as “any fictitious story.”
Why is it so often said that the Bible is full of myths? A chief reason is because of the numerous accounts of miracles that are found in its pages. Another reason is because of parallel accounts between such things as the biblical view of the flood and that found, for example, in Babylonian mythology.A third reason why the presence of myth is suspected is because there exist similarities between events surrounding Jesus and portraits of the gods found in Greek mythology. These three reasons serve as the substantial basis for attributing a mythological character to biblical literature.
A question of miracle is not merely a question of literary style but it involves important questions of history and philosophy. If a miracle is rejected as a myth then the issue becomes one of the philosophy of nature and history rather than one of literary analysis. Before miracles can be rejected out of hand as ipso facto impossible, the critic must first establish that we are living in a closed mechanistic universe in which there exists no possibility of divine or supernatural intrusion. On the other hand, if there is a God who is omnipotent, then miracles are possible and accounts of them cannot be gratuitously dismissed as myths.
If we allow that miracles are possible that does not mean that every claim to them is valid. It is one thing to say that miracles could have happened; it is quite another to say that miracles could have happened; it is quite another to say that they did happen. As we deal with the question of an alleged miracle we must deal with it not only on the grounds of the possibility, but on the evidence that is offered to support its claim.
One of the interesting elements of biblical miracles involves the sobriety of the accounts. Compare, for example, miracle narratives of the New Testament with those found in the Gnostic literature of the second century. The Gnostic “miracles” display a flavor and atmosphere of the bizarre and frivolous. New Testament miracles take place in a context of a sober view of history and redemption. Those who claim them are men of obvious profound ethical integrity and men who are willing to die for their veracity. When evaluating the claims of biblical miracles it is important to understand the total value system of those who are making the claims. The biblical writers, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, write with a constraint that involves a profound commitment to the sanctity of truth. Peter for example writes, “We do not declare unto you cleverly devised myths or fables but rather what we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears” (1 Peter 1:16).
Because there are parallel accounts of ancient events found in the Bible as well as in ancient mythological literature, this is no justification for impugning the writers of Scripture on the basis of the fallacy of guilt by association. If we assume, for example, that there was a natural catastrophe such as the flood in the ancient world, it should not surprise us that the event is reflected on the writings of other ancient people. The Christian welcomes a close study of comparison between the biblical account of the flood and that found, for example, in the Gilgamesh Epic (The Babylonian account of the Flood that covered the earth). That the biblical account is already demythologized appears self-evident.
The charge that the New Testament surrounds the person of Christ with mythology is often inferred from similarities of dying and rising gods in Greek mythology such as fond in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. However, in a comparative examination of any object or event under analysis the scientific method demands that we note not only the similarities but the differences as well. Mythic creatures that are half man and half beast, for example, are noticeably absent from the Scriptures. Bizarre stories about the creation of the universe are also conspicuously absent. The world, for example, is nowhere described in Scriptures as an appendage of a god; nor do we see notions of the world coming into being as the result of sexual acts of procreation among the gods. Though Jesus is virgin born, He does not spring anew out of the head of Zeus.
At the heart of the difference between Greek mythology and biblical literature is a radically different view of the significance of history. For the Greek there is no overt attempt to ground myth within the framework of history. Indeed, for the gods to become actually incarnate in the realm of space and time is utterly repugnant to the Greek mind. On the other hand that which is non-historical is relegated to the level of falsehood by the Hebrew. This radical opposing view of history is essential to understanding the Jewish-Greek antithesis with respect to the question of myth.
Does the Bible Conflict with Science?
Perhaps nothing has contributed more to the loss of credibility of Scripture than the conflicts between religion and science that have come out in the scientific and technological revolution. We remember the condemnation of Galileo and the circus atmosphere of the Scopes “Monkey Trials.” Galileo was condemned for teaching that the sun was the center of our solar system (heliocentricity) over against the accepted view that the earth was the center (geocentricity). The bishops of the church in Galileo’s day refused to look into his telescope and examine the empirical evidence that the earth is not the center of our solar system. The church is still feeling the embarrassment of that episode.
Some argue that the Bible teaches a view of reality that is utterly in conflict with the assured results of modern scientific inquiry. Some allege that the Bible teaches a primitive, prescientific view of the universe which is no longer tenable to modern man. The Bible describes the universe as being “three-storied” with heaven above, the earth in the middle, and hell underneath the earth. It describes a world of demons and angels which is considered in conflict with modern theories of physics and biology.
How does the Christian respond to such allegations? In the first place, it must be acknowledged that the church indeed has made grievous errors in drawing scientific inferences from Scripture that are unwarranted. Nowhere does the Bible “teach” that the earth is the center of the universe. The Scripture describes nature from a phenomenological perspective. That is, the world of nature is described as it appears to the naked eye. The sun is described as moving across the heavens. The Bible speaks of sunrises and sunsets. And in popular speech modern scientists still speak in the same manner. One only needs to observe the daily weather forecast to see this taking place. The weather report, or “meteorological” survey, is couched in technical scientific jargon. We hear about high pressure systems, barometric pressure, precipitation probability quotients, and the like. Yet at the end of the forecast we are told that the sun will rise at a given time and will set at another time. We do not phone the news station and angrily demand that such antiquated notions of geocentricity be deleted from the weather forecast. We do not charge the scientists with being unscientific when the describe things phenomenologically. We shouldn’t do that with the biblical writers either.
That the Bible speaks of a demonic world is evident. The Bible does not, however, teach that diseases and other mysterious maladies are caused by demonic activity. The Scriptures recognize and endorse the practice of medicine. I might add that the notion of the existence of a demonic world conflicts with no known natural scientific law.
The Bible is not a textbook of science. It does not purport to instruct us in matters of calculus, physics, or chemistry. There are times, however, when serious conflicts do emerge between theories inferred from science and biblical teaching. If, for example, a scientist concludes that the origin of man is a cosmic accident, then the scientist holds a position that is antithetical to the teaching of Scripture. But the question of man’s origin can never be determined by the study of biology. The question of origin is a question of history. The biologist can describe how things could have happened, but can never tell us how they did happen.
Is the Bible Filled with Contradictions?
People accept without hesitation the charge that the Bible is full of contradictions. Yet the charge is completely inaccurate and misleading. Why, then, if the charge is so inaccurate, do we hear it so often repeated? Apart from the problem of prejudice, there are reasons why this misconception is propagated. There is a problem not only of ignorance of what the Bible says, but perhaps even more so, a problem of ignorance of the laws of logic. The word “contradiction” is used all too loosely with respect to biblical content. That there are divergences of biblical accounts, that biblical writers describe the same things from different perspectives, is not in dispute. Whether, those varied accounts are, in fact, contradictory is in dispute.
It would be a serious overstatement to say that all discrepancies within the biblical text have been easily and satisfactorily resolved. There are serious discrepancies that have not yielded full and satisfactory resolutions. But these problems are few and far between. To say that the Bible is full of contradictions is a radical exaggeration and reflects a misunderstanding of the law of contradiction. For example, critics have alleged repeatedly that the Gospel writers contradict each other with respect to the number of angels present at the tomb of Jesus. One writer mentions one angel and the other mentions two angels. However, the writer who mentions one angel does not say there was only one angel. He merely speaks of one angel. There is no contradiction in that. Now, if one writer said there was only one angel and the other writer said there were two, at the same time and in the same relationship, there would be a bonafide contradiction.
The problem of the loose use of the word contradiction came home to me in a discussion I had with a seminary student. He repeated the charge, “The Bible is full of contradictions.” I said to him, “The Bible is a large book. If it is full of contradictions you should have no problem finding 50 clear violations of the law of contradiction in the next 24 hours. Why don’t you go home and write down 50 contradictions and we’ll discuss them at the same time tomorrow.” He accepted the challenge.
The next day he returned bleary-eyed with a list of 30 contradictions. He admitted that he had work long into the night and could come up with only 30. But he presented me a list of the most blatant contradictions he could find. (He made use of critical books that listed such contradictions.) He went through his list, one at a time, applying the test of formal logic to each alleged contradiction. We used syllogisms, the laws of immediate inference, truth tables, and even Venn diagrams to test for logical inconsistency and contradictions. In every single incident we proved objectively, not only to my satisfaction, but to his, that not a single violation of the law of contradiction was made.
Not every biblical discrepancy has been resolved. But the direction of the evidence is very encouraging. As biblical scholarship increases and knowledge of language, text, and context increases, the problem of discrepancy becomes smaller and smaller. There is less reason today to believe that the Bible is full of contradictions than at any time in the history of the church. Prejudice and critical philosophical theories, however, die a very slow and hard death.
Is The Bible Inaccurate Historically?
If any area of biblical scholarship has given us reason for optimism concerning the reliability of Scripture, it is the area of historical investigation. To be sure there are certain dimensions of biblical content that are difficult to either verify or falsify by means of historical research. For example, the existence of angels can hardly be verified through archaeological research. Unless we can dig up some petrified angel wings we must deal with these matters on other grounds. But where biblical material touches on areas where historical research is possible it has come out remarkably well.
Twentieth-century discoveries such as those at Ugarit, Qumran and Ebla have done much to enhance our understanding of antiquity. The Nuzi tablets and the Armana tablets have resolved a host of Old Testament problems. The work of Ramsey tracing the journeys of Paul recorded by Luke has so vindicated Luke’s accuracy as a historian, that modern historians have called him the finest historian of antiquity. The biblical historians have fared considerably better under close scrutiny and critique than have other ancient historians such as Josephus and Herodotus.
The Christian has nothing to fear from righteous historical research. Rather, we have everything to gain. To illustrate the weight of historical research let us note one of the last statements in print by the dean of archaeological scholarship in the twentieth century, Dr. William Foxwell Albright:
For much too long a time the course of New Testament scholarship has been dedicated to theological, quasitheological, and philosophical presupposition. In far too many cases commentaries on New Testament books have neglected such basic requirements as up-to-date historical and philological analysis of the text itself. In many ways this preoccupation with theological and metaphysical interpretation is the unacknowledged child of Hegelianism. To this should be added the continuing and baleful influence of Schleiermacher and his successors on the whole treatment of historical material. The result has often been steadfast refusal to take seriously the findings of archaeological and linguistic research. We believe that there is less and less excuse for the resulting confusion in this latter half of the twentieth century. Closely allied with these presuppositions is the ever-present fog of existentialism, casting ghostly shadows over an already confused landscape. Existentialism as a method of interpreting the New Testament is based upon a whole series of undemonstrable postulates of Platonic, Neo-Platonic, left-wing scholastic, and relativistic origins. So anti-historical is this approach that it fascinates speculative minds which prefer clichés to factual data, and shifting ideology to empirical research and logical demonstration (W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, Matthew, Anchor Bible Series, New York, Doubleday, 1971, vol. 26, 5-6).
Why Is Some of the Bible Offensive?
Apart from questions of mythology, contradiction, conflict with science, and historical inaccuracy, people have rejected the Bible because the content of it is considered offensive. In particular, biblical expressions of the wrath of God have been singled out for criticism. The Old Testament is criticized for portraying a God who is merciless and arbitrary in His judgment. It is frequently stated, “I have no problems with the loving God of the New Testament, it is the angry God of the Old Testament I reject.”
In such reactions to the Old Testament, we find serious misunderstandings of the wrath of God. Nowhere do we find God involved in capricious or arbitrary acts of judgment. His wrath is never directed against the innocent. His anger never flows without reason. It is always directed against human rebellion and sin.
It is ironic that the two Testaments are so often placed in contrast to each other. The irony may be seen in light of the cross. It is the cross of the New Testament that reveals the most violent and mysterious outpouring of the wrath of God that we find anywhere in the Scripture. Here an innocent man does suffer but only after he willingly takes upon Himself, by imputation, the sins of the world. Without this act of wrath there is no grace. But it is precisely through this act of wrath that grace is made available. The New Testament knows no disjunction between the God of Jesus and the God of Abraham. Jesus appeals to the God of the Old Testament fathers as the God He is serving and revealing.
The Old Testament, in spite of its manifestations of the wrath of God, remains a history of God’s grace and long-suffering with a rebellious people. There is wrath unparalleled in the New Testament and grace overwhelming in the Old Testament. A false dichotomy between the Testaments is foreign to the biblical writers themselves.
When we examine the law code of Israel, however, do we not see a legal ethic that is in fact bloodthirsty? Does not this list of over 35 crimes which require capital punishment reflect a barbarian ethic? Are not the punitive measures of the Old Testament manifestations of what we would regard as cruel and unusual punishment?
The law code of the Old Testament seems harsh to us in light of our present societal standards. But we live in an age where serious sin is not taken seriously. We live in an age where the holiness of God and the sanctity of human life have been sadly eclipsed. If we compare the law of the Old Testament with the law of creation, we see not the cruelty of God but the mercy of God. In creation all sin against God is regarded as a capital offense. In the slightest act of rebellion we commit cosmic treason. Any sin against a perfectly holy and righteous God may justly culminate in death. This the Old Testament law represents a massive reduction of capital crimes which reveals not the bloodthirsty vengeance of an angry God, but the long-suffering mercy of a holy and loving God.
It is precisely at the point of offense in Scripture that we meet a special opportunity for supernatural instruction. By studying the parts of Scripture that are offensive to us we have the opportunity to discover those values and concepts we hold that are out of harmony with the wisdom of God. If we are offended by the Bible perhaps the fault is not with God but our own corrupt and distorted sense of values. I wonder what would happen if we called a moratorium on our criticism of the Bible and allowed the Bible to criticize us!
Are Scriptures Infallible?
It is one thing to argue that the Bible is a basically reliable source of history and religious instruction; it is quite another thing to assert that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. It is one thing to maintain that the Bible has great value as a treasury of human insight into religious truth; it is quite another to maintain that it provides us with divine revelation and can justly be called the Word of God.
Why do Christians go beyond asserting general reliability of the Bible to conviction that the Bible is the infallible Word of God? What follows is not an attempt to present an argument for the infallibility of Scripture, but rather an attempt to outline the procedure by which such a conclusion is reached. It is beyond the scope of this article to provide a defense of biblical infallibility. Rather the aim is to explain and clarify the process by which the conclusion is reached.
The case for the infallibility of Scripture proceeds along both deductive and inductive lines. It moves from the premise of general trustworthiness to the conclusion of infallibility. The reasoning process proceeds as follows:
Premise A – The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
Premise B – On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Premise C – Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an infallible authority.
Premise D – Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
Premise E – The word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
Conclusion – On the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus Christ, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy, i.e., infallible.
Note that this progression does not involve circular reasoning. Circular reasoning occurs when the conclusion is already present in the first presence. Rather this method follows the linear pattern of development. The argument itself is not infallible as each premise involves matters of inductive or deductive reasoning that is done by fallible human beings. But there is no subjective leap of faith found in the method. Rather the process involves careful historical, empirical investigation as well as logical inferences.
That the Bible claims to be the Word of God is not enough to authenticate the claim. Any book can make such a claim. But the fact that the claim is made is significant indeed. If the Bible is trustworthy then we must take seriously the claim that it is more than trustworthy. If we are persuaded that Christ is the sinless Son of God then we must take seriously His view of Holy Scripture. If the church submits to the authority of Christ then it must regard His view of Scripture as being authoritative. It is from the impetus of Christ Himself that the church is led to confess her faith in the divine authority and infallibility of Scripture.
In a symposium of biblical scholars and theologians that was held in the Ligonier Valley in Pennsylvania in the fall of 1973, a joint team of scholars issued a statement on Scripture that focuses on the authority of Christ as the ground-basis for biblical authority. This “Ligonier Statement” says:
We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God: We hold the Bible, as originally given through human agents of revelation, to be infallible and see this as a crucial article of faith with implications for the entire life and practice of all Christian people. With the great fathers of Christian history we declare our confidence in the total trustworthiness of Scriptures, urging that any view which imputes to them a lesser degree of inerrancy than total, is in conflict with the Bibles’ self-testimony in general and with the teaching of Jesus Christ in particular. Out of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ we submit ourselves unreservedly to his authoritative view of Holy Writ.
Key Points to Remember:
Why should you trust the Bible? You should trust the Bible because the Bible has been proven trustworthy.
(1) The Bible does not have a mythical literary style as compared with other ancient literature. The frequent charge that the Bible is “full of myths” is not warranted by the facts. People should be encouraged to read the biblical accounts of miracles, the flood, and other controversial areas and compare them with other ancient sources that do use mythology as a literary style.
(2) Jewish-Christian history differs from the Greek view. This significant difference is a crucial one to understand before we evaluate the historical credibility of the Bible.
(3) The Bible is not a science text but describes the world as it appears to the naked eye. Biblical “conflicts” with science must be understood in terms of common-sense approaches to the “phenomenal” world. The concept of phenomenological description is important to master to be able to deal with this question. We should learn from the church’s mistakes in the past—such as the case of Galileo.
(4) Variant accounts are not the same as contradictory accounts. The charge that the Bible is “full of contradictions” is unwarranted. An understanding of the Law of Contradiction is vital to this question. Close scrutiny of biblical texts will show a difference between variant accounts and contradictory accounts.
(5) Modern historical research adds to biblical credibility. Historical research and archaeology have done much to vindicate the historical reliability and accuracy of the Bible. Important discoveries at Qumran, Ebla, Amarna and elsewhere have exploded the “assured results” of negative nineteenth-century criticism.
(6) The church’s faith in the infallibility of Scripture is established on the basis of Christ’s view of Scripture. It involves a reasoning process which is linear, not circular. It moves from general reliability to a knowledge of Christ’s “infallible” view of Scripture.
*Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk Magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; WILLING TO BELIEVE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL
Tags: Answering Objections to Inerrancy, biblical credibility, Christian Objections Answered, Does the Bible Conflict with Science?, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Is the Bible Filled with Contradictions?, Is the Bible Full of Myths?, Is The Bible Inaccurate Historically?, Isn't the Bible full of fairy tales?, R. C. Sproul, Reason to Believe, Sproul, W.F. Albright, Why Is Some of the Bible Offensive?
“Read as an act of worship. Read to be elevated into the great truths of God so that you may worship the Trinity in Spirit and in truth. Be selective about what you read, however. Measure all your reading against the touchstone of Scripture. So much of today’s Christian literature is froth, riddled with Arminian theology or secular thinking. Time is too precious to waste on nonsense. Read more for eternity than time, more for spiritual growth than professional advancement.” Joel R. Beeke
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a “classic” as that which is “judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.” Therefore, based this definition here are some books that RC considers classics or “must” reading:
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards
The Person of Christ by G.C. Berkouwer
Elenctic Theology (3 vols.) by Francis Turretin
Principles of Conduct by John Murray
Here I Stand (On the Life of Martin Luther) by Roland Bainton
Other Books That Have Influenced RC:
A Time for Truth by William Simon
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
American Caesar by W. Manchester
Power Golf by Ben Hogan
*Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk Magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; WILLING TO BELIEVE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL. I believe that his book The Holiness God will stand the test of time as a classic for generations to come. Next to the Bible no other book has influenced me more in my understanding of God, sin, and my own need of salvation and sanctification. I am forever indebted to Sproul’s influence in my life in helping me understand more than anyone else the importance of knowing the nature, character, and attributes of God, and how they impact every aspect of life.
Tags: A Time for Truth by William Simon, American Caesar by W. Manchester, Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, Books Classics, Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards, Christian Classic Books, Christian Classics, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. R.C. Sproul's favorite books, Elenctic Theology (3 vols.) by Francis Turretin, Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards, God and Modern Philosophy by James Collins, Gospel Fear by Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Worship by Jeremiah Burroughs, Here I Stand (On the Life of Martin Luther) by Roland Bainton, Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Power Golf by Ben Hogan, Principles of Conduct by John Murray, R. C. Sproul, Sproul, The books that have most influenced R.C. Sproul, The Person of Christ by G.C. Berkouwer
(This is #10 in a series of book excerpts from Objections to Christianity derived from Chapter 10 in *Dr. R.C. Sproul’s fantastic book Reason To Believe, [originally entitled Objections Answered] Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982)
Death is obscene. It runs counter to the vibrant flow of life. When we encounter it we shrink from it in horror. We use our finest cosmetics to disguise its impact. When death strikes it always leaves the question, “Is this the end?” Is there absolutely nothing more to hope for?
Perhaps the most ancient question of all is the question, “Is there life after death?” We think of Job in the throes of his misery crying out, “When a man dies, will he live again?” (See Job 14:14). We think of Hamlet musing over the question of suicide in his classic soliloquy, “To be, or not to be?” He contemplates the mystery of the grave and weighs the burdens of the alternatives of life and death. He retreats from suicide asking if man would “rather bear those ills we have than fly to others we know not of?” (Hamlet, act 3, sc.1). From Job to Hamlet to the present day the question persists, “Is there life after death?”
A negative spirit of skepticism has made itself felt in the cultural atmosphere of our age. A sense of despair and hopelessness characterizes much of our culture. We hear such statements as “When you’re dead, you’re dead”; “This is the Pepsi generation, the now generation.” The television commercial exhorts to live our lives with gusto because we only go around once. Those who persist in their hope of a future life are regarded as weaklings who are clinging to naïve superstitions that are outmoded. Christians have received their share of scorn and ridicule for hoping in fantasies of “pie in the sky.” But the issue is not simply a religious question. The issue is far more significant than that. It is the issue of the meaning of all of life. If death is ultimate then life becomes a cruel and mocking joke.
From ancient times the keenest minds of mankind have sought intellectual evidence for the survival of the soul or spirit beyond the grave. Charlatans and magicians have plied their arts couching their tricks in a garb of pseudo-intellectualism. Scholars have given the question serious attention because it is the most serious of all questions. But for the most careful and sober scholar the issue of death has strong emotional overtones. No one can face the question dispassionately for it touches each one of us in a final way.
Does Nature Teach that There Is Life After Death?
Plato faced the question in a deeply personal way when he visited his beloved mentor, Socrates, in his prison cell. As Socrates prepared himself for execution by enforced drinking of hemlock he discussed the question of immorality with his students. The Socratic argument for life after death is recorded by Plato in his famous Phaedo Dialogue.
Plato explored the question primarily from the vantage point of analogies found in nature. He detected a kind of cycle that was common to nature. He noted that spring follows winter which in turn moves inexorably toward another winter. Winter does not terminate in itself but yields again to spring. The cycle goes on as day follows night and heat follows cold. The pattern continues. He examined the drama of the germination of the seed into flowering life. For the seed to bring forth its life it must first go through a process of rotting. The shell of the seed must decay and die before the life that is locked within it can emerge. He saw here an analogy to life and death. Just as a seed must die and disintegrate before the flower emerges, so the human body must die before the life of the soul can come forth.
Plato looked beyond the realm of flowers to the animal kingdom and was stimulated by the drama of metamorphosis. The beauty of the butterfly begins in the grotesque form of the caterpillar. The caterpillar appears as a worm, bound to the earth, virtually immobile and unattractive. The worm forms for itself an insulated cocoon, withdrawing from the outside world. The cocoon remains dormant and inert for a season. In time the drama mounts as a new creature begins to scratch and stretch its way out of the cocoon. Wings and a body begin to appear and suddenly the woven prison yields a magnificent soaring creature of multicolored beauty. From the “death” of the caterpillar comes the new life of the butterfly!
These analogies from Plato do not present compelling evidence for life beyond the grave. Plato understood that they were but analogies that provide hope in the face of mystery. He was aware that butterflies do not live forever, but he pointed to the complexities of the various forms of life that surround us to cause us to move with caution in the face of unbridled skepticism.
Must We Live as If There is a God?
In later times another philosopher approached the question form a different perspective. Immanuel Kant was perhaps the most weighty and significant philosopher of all time. Certainly his massive work has been a watershed for the development of modern thinking. Though skeptical about man’s ability to prove immortality by reason alone, he offered an ingenious argument for life after death. His argument offers practical “evidence” for the existence of God and for life after death.
Kant observed that all people seem to have some concern for ethics. Though morality differs from person to person and society to society, all people wrestle with questions of right and wrong. All human beings have some sense of moral duty. Kant asked, “What would be necessary for this human sense of duty to make sense?” Are our moral senses merely the by-product of parental discipline or the imposition of society’s standards? Kant thought it went deeper than that. Still the question of the origin of moral sense is different from its ultimate meaning. He noticed that we have a sense of duty and asked what would make it meaningful? Kant answered his own question by saying that ultimately for ethics to be meaningful there must be justice. From a coldly practical perspective he asked, “Why be ethical if justice does not prevail?”
Kant saw justice as an essential ingredient for a meaningful ethic. But he noticed at the same time that justice does not always prevail in this world. He observed what countless others have observed, that the righteous do suffer and the wicked do often prosper in this life. His practical reasoning continued by arguing that since justice does not prevail here in this world there must be a place where it does prevail. For justice to exist ultimately there must be several factors accounted for.
We must survive the grave. For there to be justice, there must be people o receive it. Since we do not receive it in this world, we must survive the grave. Justice demands life beyond death, if ethics are to be practical.
There must be a judge. Justice requires judgment and judgment requires a judge. But what must the judge be like to insure that his judgment is just? Kant answered that the judge himself must be just. If the judge is unjust then he would be prone to pervert justice rather than establish it. The judge must be utterly and completely just to insure ultimate justice. But even just judges are capable of perpetrating injustice if they make a mistake. Honest judges have convicted innocent people who were framed or surrounded by an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence. Our just judge must be incapable of such mistakes. To render perfect justice, he must have a perfect knowledge of all the facts and mitigating circumstances. A perfect judge must be nothing less than omniscient.
There must be a judgment. A perfectly just and omniscient judge is necessary for justice but it is not enough to insure it. Once the perfect judge offers his perfect verdict, the sentence must be carried out. If proper rewards and punishments are to be meted out, the judge must have authority and the power to carry them out. If our just and omniscient judge is impotent then we have no guarantee of justice. Perhaps an evil power would prevent the judge from carrying out justice. Thus the judge would have to have perfect power of omnipotence.
Thus, for Kant, practical ethics require life after death and a judge whose description sounds very much like that of the God of Christianity. Kant recognized that his arguments were of a practical nature. He did not think that he had provided an airtight case for the existence of God or for life after death. But he did reduce the practical options for man to two. He said we have either full-bodied theism with life after death or we have no meaningful basis ultimately for our ethical decisions and actions. Without ethics life is chaos and ultimately impossible. Without God ethics are meaningless. Thus Kant’s conclusion was: “We must live as though the were a God.” For Kant, life was intolerable without a solid basis for ethics. If death is ultimate then no ethical mandate is really significant.
What If Life is Meaningless?
Kant’s practical optimism was not universally welcomed. The existentialists of modern culture have taken the option Kant refused. They’ve dared to ask the unaskable question: “What if life is meaningless?” Shakespeare’s Macbeth says despairingly:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing (Macbeth, act 5, sc. 5).
Maybe there is no justice. Maybe there is only the tale of the idiot. Perhaps ultimately so much sound and fury that is empty and void of significance. Why should we live as though there is a God if in fact there is no God? These are the penetrating questions of modern man. All attempts to maintain faith in God and faith in life after death may be only exercises of wish fulfillment for those not courageous enough to face the grim facts or our sound and fury.
Ingmar Bergman states the dilemma of modern man in a dialogue contained in his film The Seventh Seal. Here a conversation ensues between Knight and Death:
Knight: “Do you hear me?”
Death: “Yes, I hear you.”
Knight: “I want knowledge, not faith, not supposition, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out his hand towards me, to reveal himself and speak to me.”
Death: “But he remains silent.”
Knight: “I call out to him in the dark, but no one seems to be there.”
Death: “Perhaps no one is there.”
Knight: “Then life is an outrageous horror. No one can live it in the face of death knowing that all is nothing” (Taken from Donald J. Drew, Images of Man: A Critique of the Contemporary Cinema, Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1974, 74).
Long before existentialism was in vogue and playwrights and novelists began to flood our nation with cries of despair, America listened to the painful poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. Some say he was brilliant; others that he was demented. Still others maintain that he was a little of both. One thing is certain; he had a unique ability to express the anguish of the human soul who experiences the loss of a loved one. His poetry is filled with mournful groans of the bereaved. Consider his short poems such as “Annabel Lee” or “Ulalume.” But it is in “The Raven” that the urgency of the issue of life after death is most clearly expressed. The poem begins:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“ ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore,
Nameless here forevermore.
In the introduction Poe sets the scene of his midnight remorse crushed by his loneliness and the fear of the morrow. With the appearance of his nocturnal visitor who comes from the shores of hell, the poet asks the burning question, “Will I ever see Lenore again?” The reply of the fiendish bird is always the same, “Nevermore.” The poem moves along to the point where the tormented man screams in anger at the visitor:
“Prophet!” said I “think of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore:
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me I implore.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming;
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
The poem ends in despair. No hope is given for the future. Such an ending is intolerable for many. The current rage of occult films and deep fascination with parapsychology are evidence of the protest of modern man to the prophets of despair. New interest in the recollections of people resuscitated from clinical death have spawned hope that tangible evidence of survival may be available from science.
What is the Biblical Case for Life After Death?
The strongest and most cogent case for life after death comes to us from the New Testament. At the heart of the proclamation of the ancient Christian community is the staggering assertion that Jesus of Nazareth has survived the grave.
Christ was resurrected from the dead. In a classic treatment of the question of life after death, the apostle Paul summarizes the evidence for the resurrection of Christ in his first letter to the Corinthians. His Epistle comes partly in response to skepticism that arises in the Corinthian church. Note how he deals with the question:
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised (1 Corinthians 15:12,13).
The logic of this assertion is almost humorously simple. If Christ is raised, then obviously there is such a thing as resurrection from the dead.
On the other hand, if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ cannot be raised. The question of Christ’s resurrection is crucial to the entire issue of life after death. The apostle follows with an interesting line of reasoning. He considers the alternatives to the resurrection of Christ. He uses the “if-then” formula of logical progression.
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching I in vain and your faith [also] is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Paul gets to the heart of the matter quickly. If Christ is not raised then it is clear that the preaching of the early church is an exercise in futility. The preaching becomes empty words and the faith that follows is worthless.
Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those who also have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (1 Corinthians 15:15-18).
The implications of the Corinthians’ skepticism continue. If Christ is not raised then the apostolic witness is a false one. God has been implicated in a spurious historical claim. Again Paul mentions the futility of faith and adds to it the serious result that man is still without a redeemer. Then, almost as an afterthought, Paul touches the emotional nerve of his readers by reminding them of the fate of their departed loved ones. They have perished. At this point the apostle sounds a bit like the “Raven.” He is saying that, without resurrection, death is final.
The madness of the concept of the finality of death came home to me in somewhat unusual fashion. On July 1, 1965, my wife gave birth to our son. I remember the exhilarating experience of observing him through the nursery window at the hospital. All of the dynamism of life seemed to be captured in the animated action of this newborn child. I was thrilled to behold one who was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” I experienced the inordinate pride that so often attends fatherhood.
The experience of birth was by no means unique or even unusual. What followed, however, was not commonplace. The first visitor to the hospital was my mother. Her delight witnessing her grandson was unbounded. I took her home from the hospital and spent the night in her house. The following morning I went into her bedroom to awaken for breakfast. There was no response, no movement. As I touched her hand to rouse her, I felt the chill of death. Her body was hard and cold. She had died during the night. Within the space of a few hours I witnessed the birth of my son and the corpse of my mother. As I stood stunned by her bedside, a sense of surreal came over me. I thought, “This is absurd. A short time ago she was a living, breathing, dynamic human being, filled with warmth and vitality. Now there is only coldness and silence.”
But as Paul points out, if Christ is not raised then our loved ones have perished. The Raven has the last word.
Paul continues his discourse by saying, “If we have only hope in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Perhaps you are not a Christian. Maybe Christians tend to annoy you. Perhaps you become angry when Christians try to force their religion upon you. But if you do not believe that Christ has been raised, don’t be angry with poor deluded Christians. Pity them. They have put all their eggs in a basket that cannot hold any eggs. If all the Christian has is hope with no historical reality to undergird that hope, he is committed to a life of futility. Christians need your sympathy, not your hostility.
Paul concludes his exercise in “what if” thinking by saying, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor. 15:32). No resurrection? Then we may as well sleep in tomorrow. Eat, drink, and be merry while you can. Get your gusto now before it’s too late.
There is a striking similarity between the way apostle Paul approaches life after death and the approach of Kant. Both are keenly aware of the grim alternatives to life after death. However, Paul does not leave us where Kant does. Kant reduces the options to two and then encourages us to choose the more optimistic one. Paul examines the grim alternatives to resurrection but does not build his case on those frightening options.
Rather he says:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
Now Paul speaks in a fashion that moves beyond speculation. He doesn’t play with the occult or rest his case on analogies drawn from nature. He offers two kinds of evidence: First, he appeals to the prophetic predictions of the Old Testament Scripture that are fulfilled with uncanny accuracy in the person of Christ. Secondly, he offers the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses to the event. Christ does not appear on one occasion to a secret audience, but manifests Himself on several different occasions. One occasion involves an audience of over 500 persons. Paul’s final appeal is that he beheld the risen Christ with his own eyes. As John remarks everywhere, “We declare to you what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears” (see John 1:1-3). Paul then rehearses the history of his personal life following his sight of the risen Christ. He speaks of his trials, his imprisonments, his labors, all of which give credence to the impact his visual experience of the resurrected Jesus had on him.
The best argument for life after death is the record of history. The act of resurrection is as well attested to as any event from antiquity. Those who deny it do so invariably from the perspective of a philosophy that would rule the evidence out arbitrarily. Jesus Himself predicted it and spoke in an authoritative way concerning our own future life. He said, “In my father’s house are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so I would have told you” (see John 14:2). For those who think Christ credible, His words are overpowering. “If it were not so—“ Jesus is saying in this discourse had his disciples believed in an empty hope for the future, Jesus would not hesitate to correct it. The victorious implications of Christ’s resurrection are summarized by Paul:
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting?” The sting of death is sin, and power of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:51-56).
Your labor is not in vain. That is the essence of the New Testament message. Death is not ultimate. The answer of the Raven is “Nevermore.” The answer of Christ is “Forevermore.”
Key Points To Remember:
(1) Nature, as Plato suggests, offers analogies that give evidence and hope for future life.
(2) Kant argued for life after death out of a practical concern for ethics. His argument says that universal moral sense would be meaningless apart from ultimate justice: we must survive the grave; there must be a judge; there must be a judgment.
(3) If death is final then life has no ultimate meaning. How we deal with the question of death will reveal how seriously we regard life. Existentialism and the poetry of Poe illustrate man’s sense of hopelessness and futility.
(4) The Bible definitely says, “Yes, there is life after death.” Without Christ, men are without hope. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
(5) The biblical claim for life after death rests on credible eyewitness testimony of historical event. The eyewitnesses were men whose work reflects sober judgment, judgment, whose contemporaries offered to refutation and whose conviction of the truth of their testimony made them willing to die for it.
(6) The ongoing power of Christ to transform human lives gives corroborative evidence to the assertion that He lives in a more real and powerful way than as an inspiring memory.
Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk Magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; WILLING TO BELIEVE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.
Tags: After you die will you live again?, Are you prepared to die?, Christ's resurrection, Death, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Edgar Allen Poe, Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15, How to prepare for death, Immanuel Kant, Is there an afterlife?, Is there any evidence for life after death?, Meaning, Nature and Life After Death, Objections Answered, Plato, R. C. Sproul. Reason To Believe, RC Sproul, Resurrection, Socrates, Sproul, The Raven
*R.C. Sproul’s Christian Testimony: A Personal Pilgrimage
The quest for the meaning of life was a troublesome problem for me from an early age. The “why” questions were the ones that gripped my mind—not so much physical questions but metaphysical questions. Many children are fascinated by “how” things work. They may even pester their parents with questions like, What makes a car run? How does a clock work? How does a seed turn into a flower? I had childhood friends like that, forever tinkering with cars and lawnmowers and skeletons. Some became engineers, some doctors, one a geologist and one a physicist. But I was bored with those questions. I knew they were very important questions, but they simply were not the ones on my mind.
As a youth I had two consuming passions. One was sports and the other the “why” questions. I saw no relationship between them at the time but in present reflection I think I can see how they fit together in my own circumstances.
I was a wartime child. The earliest question that plagued me was the question of war. I wanted to know why there were wars. They seemed pretty silly to me at the age of four. I couldn’t sit at a table and resolve their differences without using tanks and bombs and ships. Of course I had a personal vested interest in the question. What the war meant to me personally was the absence of my father. From the age of two to age six my father was a picture of a man in uniform. He was the one who wrote air letters to us. He was the one my mother talked about and typed letters to every night. She let me punch the X and O keys at the end of every letter. For some strange reason none of my childhood friends’ fathers were away at war. I kept wondering, “Why does everyone else have a dad at home and I don’t?
The plaguing question of war evaporated for me with a happy ending. Playing stickball on the streets of Chicago I was startled by a sound of people screaming and beating on pots and pans. I watched them hug each other and behave in a strange manner. I was upset that their antics interrupted the stickball game until I understood what it was all about—V.J. Day, 1945.
The full implications of their jubilation did not hit me until I stood in a railroad terminal that looked as if it was filled with a million men in uniform and a lot of weeping women. Then the troop trains came in. In the midst of a multitude of soldiers who all looked the same, one of them caught my eye. Fifty feet away he dropped his duffle bag, dropped to his knees and threw open his arms with a flashing grin on his face. I broke from my mother’s hand and covered fifty feet in Guinness record time. Dodging servicemen and running around duffle bags I flew into the arms of my father. The war didn’t matter anymore.
Then came school. From day one I didn’t like school. It is still something of a mystery to me how I ever ended up in an academic vocation. I remember walking to school on Mondays dreaming about Fridays. The thought that plagued me was why do I have to go to school five days a week and get to play only two? It didn’t make sense to me. My father’s schedule looked even worse. It seemed like he was always working. I wondered what life was all about when you had to spend so much time doing what you don’t like so you could spend so little time doing what you do like.
I was a good student but my heart wasn’t in it. Sports were my passion. Sports made sense to me. I took a sensuous and intellectual pleasure in them. I liked the feel of my body responding to action moves: dodging a would-be tackler, driving through the key for an “unmakeable” lay-up; skirting across the bag at second and firing to first for a double play. I was consumed by sports. I read every book in the town library on sports. I was a walking encyclopedia of sports “trivia.” My hero was the fictional Chip Hilton. He excelled at everything; he was a pristine model of fair play; he was a champion.
Practice for sports was never work. I was never so tired that I wanted practice to end. I loved every second of it. There was a reason for practice. The game. Victory. The game had a starting point, a goal, and an end point. Victory was a real possibility; defeat never entered my mind. When we were behind my thoughts were never “What if we lose?” but rather, “How can we win?” Like Vince Lombardi, I never lost a game but just ran our of time on a few occasions. My coaches were my real life idols because they always pointed ways to victory. We would be willing to die for them on the field as a matter of obvious course.
But something happened that changed all that and changed me so radically that I’m not over it yet. I was 16 years old when my mother came to me and said, “Son, your father has an incurable disease. There is nothing the doctors can do for him. You can still play some sports but you’ll have to cut back and get a part time job. Dad is dying and you have to be the man of the house.” I took the message outwardly with stoic heroism. Inwardly I was enraged. I could not believe there was something as an unsolvable problem. We won the war, didn’t we? We always found a way to win ball games. Why can’t we beat this? There must be a cure. The doctors are wrong. But there was no cure. The doctors were right. Dad didn’t die right away. He died a day at a time. Every night I fireman-dragged his emaciated body to the dinner table.
I still played sports for a while but it was different. They were foolishness. The coach said, “Sproul, I want you to take this football and carry it with you everywhere you go. I want you to take it to dinner ad sleep with it. You have to eat, drink, and sleep football.”
Two weeks earlier if had said that to me I would have loved him for it. Now I wanted to scream at him, “You idiot!” Don’t you know this stuff doesn’t matter at all!” Practice was misery. The games became a nightmare. Sports, like life, were an exercise in futility. Chip Hilton was a myth and life a bitter joke. When the referee blew his whistle and called a foul I pushed his whistle in his mouth. When the umpire called me out I took a swing at him. Bitter, frustrated, confused, I knew only defeat. Now there was no way to win. I quit.
The last time my father fell I picked him up and carried him to bed, unconscious. Twenty hours later he was dead. No tears from me—no emotion. I “quarter-backed” the funeral arrangements. When we put him in the ground my soul went under with him. The next year was a year of unrestrained degeneracy. (Anger can do a lot of things to a young man.) I became the paradigm of the angry young man. In junior high I graduated second in my class, legitimately; from senior high I was one hundred fifty-seventh by every crooked means available.
Sandlot football won me a scholarship to college. Then came radicalizing number two. One week on campus and my life was turned upside down again. The star of the football team called me aside and told me about Jesus. I couldn’t believe this guy. In my eyes ministers were “pansies,” and “Christian” was a synonym for “sissy.” I don’t remember what he said to me; but it drove me to the New Testament. Truth breathed from every page. It was my virgin experience with the Bible. It was a spiritual experience of revolution. I always knew there was a God but I hated Him. In this week my anger and bitterness dissolved into repentance. The result was forgiveness and life.
It would perhaps be appropriate to relate a story of coming to Christ via the route of intellectual inquiry. But that’s not how it happened with me. The intellectual drive came later. For one year I had a consummate passion to learn the Scriptures. I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t believe them. Most of my professors were skeptics. The campus atmosphere was mostly secular. I was quickly faced with every conceivable objection to Christianity. I was most vulnerable, in light of my past history, to the charge that my faith grew out of my emotional trauma and psychological need for Jesus to be my “Father” and to give me hope in my despair and bitterness.
I wasn’t a Christian long until I had to face the question squarely: Was my conversion rooted in objective reality or was it merely an expression of my own subjective needs? I began to experience what Saint Augustine called, “Faith seeking understanding.” Thus I turned my attention to the study of philosophy as my major academic pursuit.
The study of the history of philosophy exposed me to virtually every serious alternative to Christianity the world has brought forth. I began to see the bankruptcy of secular world views. I found valuable insights in Spinoza, Kant, Sartre, and others. But no one seemed to have a consistent and coherent life and world view. The philosophers themselves were their own best critics. Hume critiqued Locke; Kant critiqued Hume; Hegel critiqued Kant, and so on it went. There emerged no “sure results” of speculative thought. The study of philosophy did provide very important tools for critical analysis which proved very helpful for my own pilgrimage. The more I studied philosophy the more intellectually credible and satisfying Christianity became.
After college came seminary. Naively I expected seminary to be a citadel of scholarly interpretation and defense of Christianity. Instead I found it to be a fortress of skepticism and unbelief. A negative posture toward classical Christianity prevailed which exposed me to a wide variety of contemporary critical theories that rejected orthodox Christianity. Thus seminary exposed me to a wide variety of scholarly criticisms of the Bible. This forced me to face the question of the trustworthiness of Scripture. Fortunately I was blessed with two crucial support systems. On the one hand I was well enough equipped with the tools of analytical philosophy to spot the philosophical assumptions that the negative critics were using. Through philosophical tools I was able, to some degree, to critique the critics. I was intellectually unimpressed by the weak philosophical assumptions of the “liberal” professors. On the other hand I was fortunate to study under one professor who did affirm classical Christianity. He was our toughest professor and most academically demanding. His “bear-trap” mind and singular ability for “close” and “tight” reasoning impressed me. He seemed to tower over the rest of the professors both in knowledge and analytical brilliance.
From seminary I went on to a doctoral program in Europe. It was a difficult and exhilarating experience. Almost al of my work had to be done in foreign languages which required a new kind of intellectual discipline for me. Studying under G. C. Berkouwer of the Free University of Amsterdam exposed me to all the latest theories of theology and biblical studies. The European system exposed me to the method of approaching theology and biblical studies as a technical science. Studying the primary sources in original languages such as Dutch, German and Latin gave new tools for scholarship.
From Europe I returned to America and began my teaching career. Teaching in both college and seminary I had an unusual pattern of teaching assignments. At one college I taught almost exclusively in the field of philosophy. In another college I was responsible to teach theology and biblical studies. My first seminary appointment had me teaching philosophical theology which combined both philosophy and theology. Oddly enough I was also asked to teach New Testament theology. In an age of specialization I was forced into being a “generalist,” working in several different but related fields.
The science of apologetics which offers intellectual defense of the credibility of Christianity finally became my point of “specialty.” That is usually what happens to generalists.
My training was not in a conservative “hothouse.” I have been through the gamut of liberal scholarship. I am a first-generation conservative—by conviction, not heritage or training.
The teaching arena has been the crucible of my thinking. The more I study and the more I teach and engage in dialogue with unbelievers and critics the more confident I have become in the rock-solid intellectual integrity and truth of Christianity. In fact, I am overwhelmed by the profundity, coherency, and intricate internal consistency of Christianity. I am awed by the majesty and brilliance, not to mention the power, of the Scriptures. Take away the Scriptures and you take away Christ. Take away the Christ and you take away life. My conviction is one with that of Luther: Spiritus Sanctus non scepticus: “The Holy Spirit is not a skeptic and the assertions He has given us are surer and more certain than sense and life itself.”
*This article was published in the Introduction to the book Reason To Believe (originally published in 1978 as Objections Answered) by R. C. Sproul, pp. 11-18.
Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL. (The picture to the left was taken approximately around the time of Sproul’s conversion as a College student).
Tags: Christian Testimony, Conversion, Dr. R.C. Sproul, How Christ found R.C. Sproul, How R.C. Sproul came to Christ, Intellectual Inquiry, Journey of Faith, Pilgrimage, R. C. Sproul, RC Sproul, Reasonable Faith, Sproul, transformation in Christ