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How the A-C-T-S Acronym Can Help Us In Balancing Prayer By 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. 4Before 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.

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Is There Any Evidence for Life After Death? By Dr. R.C. Sproul

Objection #10 Answered: “When You’re Dead You’re Dead! There Is No More!”

 (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.

 

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How Jesus Transformed An Intellectual Philosophy Major Named R.C. Sproul

*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).

 

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Book Review: The Mystery of the Holy Spirit by R. C. Sproul

 How To Know The Holy Spirit Personally and Intimately

 Many times as a pastor I have heard Christians refer to the Holy Spirit as an “it,” or a “power/force,” or the like. I have also heard many times that the most abstract member of the trinity to many Christians is the Holy Spirit. It has been my own experience that I have had to work harder to understand and know the Holy Spirit more than any other Person in the Trinity. In this book Dr. Sproul writes with profound insight, biblical acumen, and exegetical precision and gradually peels away the mysteries surrounding the third Person in the Trinity.

There are ten good reasons to read this book and its because each chapter handles a distinct important aspect of the character or attributes of the Holy Spirit and Sproul then cogently and articulately explains the ramifications for us theologically and then practically.

In chapter one Dr. Sproul asks and answers the question “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by using various Scriptures demonstrating that the Holy Spirit is a “person;” that we are called to a have a “personal relationship with him;” and that he performs “personal tasks.”

In chapter two the author gives a plethora of Scriptures and some very good logical arguments like this one: “Were the Holy Spirit not God, it is extremely unlikely that blasphemy against Him would be regarded as unpardonable,” to show very clearly that the Bible teaches the deity of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments.

In chapter three Dr. Sproul tackles and dismantles the most common objections raised against the Trinity and deals with them historically, biblically, and philosophically. He answers the following objections with great erudition, concise simplicity, and with immense sagacity:

Objection #1: The Word “Trinity” is not a biblical word and represents the invasion of foreign philosophy into biblical revelation.

Objection #2: The doctrine of the Trinity is contradictory and therefore irrational.

He demonstrates clearly in this chapter that the Trinitarian formula is neither contradictory nor irrational—rather it is biblical and logical.

Chapter four is vintage Sproul. Dr. Sproul is known for his outstanding vocabulary and for making things clear by explaining the meaning of words with reference to his subject of discussion. Dr. Sproul takes the time in this chapter to define the meanings and distinctions of the Holy Spirit as “essence” and “person.” He explains this by elaborating on three concepts: contradiction, paradox, and mystery with reference to our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s character and attributes.

Chapter five is a wonderful explanation of God the Holy Spirit’s work in physical and spiritual creation. He summarizes the chapter in this manner: “It is the Holy Spirit who supplies the dynamic for the created world. By His power the universe has life and motion…there is a parallel between the Spirit’s work in creation and redemption. As He is the generating power of biological life, so is He the source and generating power of spiritual life. His work in redemption mirrors and supplements His work in creation. He works both in creation and re-creation of a fallen world.”

In Chapter six Dr. Sproul gives a masterful presentation on what it means to be “born-again” or “regenerated” by the Holy Spirit. He demonstrates from John 3 and Ephesians 2 how we are “dead” spiritually and must be “made alive” by the Holy Spirit in order to be saved. He gives an outstanding presentation of why regeneration must precede faith and obliterates the much believed idea that faith + rebirth = justification.

Chapter seven is a wonderful articulation of the eternal security of those who are indeed regenerate. Sproul gives a very good presentation on the biblical distinctions of justification (monergistically – God alone working to save us); and sanctification (synergistically – the cooperation between the Holy Spirit and us).

I think chapter 8 on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is perhaps the best in the book. The baptism of the Spirit may be one of the least understood issues in theology today. Dr. Sproul brings great clarity and synthesis to a better understanding of this doctrine and its immense importance. The thesis he defends is summed up at the end of the chapter in this manner:

“I am not saying that everyone who is a member of a Christian church has the Holy Spirit. Membership in the visible church no more guarantees the baptism of the Holy Spirit than it guarantees salvation. We know that there are unbelievers who are church members. No unbeliever has the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but every believer, every regenerate person, does have the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian from Pentecost to the present is both regenerate of the Spirit and baptized in the Spirit. That is the essence of the meaning of Pentecost. Anything less casts a shadow over the sacred importance of Pentecost in the history of redemption. Any person who is regenerate is also sealed by the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit, and has the earnest of the Spirit.”

In chapter nine we have a great exposition of Galatians 5 contrasting the works of the flesh and the work of the Spirit, and lastly in chapter ten Dr. Sproul shows how the Holy Spirit is Christ’s Vicar on earth to empower, comfort, and use us for the glory of Christ.

Honestly, I’m surprised this book has not been a BIG seller. As far as I’m concerned it is the best book bridging great scholarship in laymen’s terms on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit in the English language. I have read over twenty books on the Holy Spirit – and this is my third time through Sproul’s work, and it is still the one I would recommend most if you are going to read one book on the Holy Spirit.

*Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder, chairman and president 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 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.

 

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Book Review: Unseen Realities: Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons by R.C. Sproul

Good Introduction to Heaven, Hell, Angels, and Satan

 Eminent Pastor, Writer, and Theologian R.C. Sproul has written a very helpful book addressing the “uncompromising supernaturalism at the heart of the Christian worldview.” The stated purpose of Sproul in this book is to provide a “brief tour through the Bible’s teachings in regard to heaven and hell, angels and demons [in order to] bolster your faith in Scripture’s teachings regarding the supernatural.”

Sproul Writes on the Supernatural in Four Parts:

Part One: Heaven – Using Key Passages of Scripture, personal anecdotes, and keen observations from theologians and philosophers – Sproul makes a biblical case for the realities of an objective material place called Heaven reserved for those who have been justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In these four chapters Sproul appeals to those things that we all long for – a permanent and secure home, no more pain, and perfect relationships with others and with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Part Two: Hell – In four compelling chapters Dr. Sproul gives an excellent Biblical case for the existence of a literal place where God’s judgment is executed with perfect justice by a God who of necessity because of His Holiness must punish the sin, and refusal to repent of the unrighteous who have refused to submit to the Lordship and salvific offer of the gospel through Jesus Christ.

Part Three: Angels – In five interesting chapters R.C. addresses the nature, character, and purpose of angels and how they interact with God and humanity.

Part Four: Satan – In the final two chapters of the book Dr. Sproul addresses how Satan is our adversary and how he deceives believers and non-believers.

R.C. has written a very helpful book and answers a lot of questions that Christians are asking about the supernatural. In a skeptical culture – it is important for us to be reminded of what God has said, and that He doesn’t lie. His truth stands forever, and it is of the uttermost importance that we understand the significance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and that our trust in his atoning death on our behalf is our only hope to experience the wonderful realities that await those who have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Also, the warnings of this book and the importance of what awaits those who reject Christ – must be headed so that through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ hope may be yours.

I recommend this book as a good introduction to these topics, and an excellent summary of the clear teachings of the Bible with reference to the unseen realities that exist now and are a part of everyone’s future. I believe that what Sproul has written is cogent, Biblical, practical, helpful, and matters for eternity.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Christian Focus Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 

 

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