I have been digging deeper into various Christine doctrine recently, and have been really drawn to systematic theology as part of that. In fact, I have been spending more my Systematic Theology book by Wayne Grudem, and listening to a systematic theology class I downloaded off of iTunesU. For some reason I have been drawn to Reformed Theology, and I have heard great things about R.C. Sproul before, so this looked like a good book. Turns out it is a good book, but is lacking in a few areas.
First, what I have heard about Sproul is true — he is a great writer. He can really explain very complex issues in an easy to understand way, in a relatively short amount of space. Second, the book is great at explaining concepts using comparisons to other Theologies, such as Roman (Catholic), Arminianism, etc. This was especially helpful to me, as I am still learning about each of these and still need help separating them from one another.
But when I finished, I found it lacking in a few key areas (though I still would highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in exploring theology deeper and is not very familiar with the Reformed view).
One issue I found is that some key words and concepts are never explained. I would expect an “Understanding the Basics” book to spend a little more time defining theological terms that a person that is not a student of theology would not know. Sometimes terms were defined, but often they were not. Key concepts of Reformed Theology were explained at great lengths and explained very well. But I found some terms were not defined at all.
Also, while this book covers the key concepts of Reformed Theology very well, it hardly ever mentions key issues that the doctrines arise. For example, nowhere does he mention how, or why, the Reformed still need to follow the Great Commission in light of the Reformed’s understanding of God’s elect.
Now, I am certainly new to some of these concepts… The Baptist churches we have been a part of are typically light on the doctrines that tend to separate different denominations of Protestantism. But I will put forth the MAIN difference between Reformed and others here: In the Reformed view, the Holy Spirit instigates Faith in Jesus within the Believer, whereas other views tend to hold, for the most part, that the person himself makes the decision to have faith. And here instigates is probably not the proper word, as I think both Reformed and Evangelical would hold to that. With Reformed, it is the Spirit that believes — so God is really doing all the work in his elect to bring the person to salvation. The believer does not make the choice at all.
I certainly see where the Reformed view comes from in light of the Scriptures presented by Sproul in this book and in other resources I have been looking at, but I still need to dig deeper. In fact, this is a book I will read again in a year or two, after I have had time to read other sources and grow my understanding.
I’d love to hear from anyone in the comments if this main difference I am perceiving is accurate. (And I do know there are other differences, but it seems to me this is the key difference.)
The ultimate form of idolatry is humanism, which regards man as the measure of all things.
The disappearance of theology from the life of the Church, and the orchestration of that disappearance by some of its leaders, is hard to miss today but, oddly enough, not easy to prove. It is hard to miss in the evangelical world — the vacuous worship that is so prevalent, for example, in the shift from God to the self as the central focus of faith, in the psychologized preaching that follows this shift, in the erosion of its conviction, in the strident pragmatism, in its inability to think incisively about the culture, in its reveling of the irrational. (Here Sproul is quoting from No Place for Truth by David F. Wells.)
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What you described as the main difference between Reformed and other theologies is certainly a MAJOR difference, but I would hesitate to call it the MAIN difference. Keep in mind that I too am very new to Reformed theology but it has captivated me and I’ve read extensively on the subject. My view on the major difference between Reformed and other theologies lies on a more foundational level. I would say that the main difference lies in “our understanding of God,” all of His attributes and most of all His sovereignty. God is in control of and preordains all that happens, from the hairs of our head, the sparrow falling from the tree to hurricanes and tsunamis. Man can do nothing to thwart God’s plan or God’s will. It is not man who finds God. It is God who finds man. It is not man who decides he wants to be saved. God decides that and ensures that it happens. God isn’t sitting back in his recliner waiting to see what free will choices man may or may not make, and then have to come up with a plan to redirect things toward His intended will. God is in control, not man. God is sovereign.
As for the need to carry out the great commission, although the elect will be saved regardless of whether we individually take action to witness and evangelize. Even the elect must hear the gospel. That is part of God drawing man to Christ. If we don’t witness and evangelize God will simply bypass us and use someone else. Then we’ve missed out on the blessing. Besides, part of being a Christian and loving God is to want to be willing to walk alongside Him and participate in His plan for the redemption of His elect. We should look forward to and enjoy every opportunity to glorify and magnify Jesus Christ. God invites us to be a part of His glorious work.
I’m more than happy be corrected on anything I’ve said if I’ve erred. I hope we can continue to learn from one another.
Thanks for commenting. It is funny, when I read this post before I sent you the link via email, I realized pretty much what you said regarding the major difference. This book was the first one I have read on what is Reformed, and that is what I got out of it at the time. I would likely get something different out of it now that it has been a year or so since I 1st made may way through it!
I love how God works on us over time. 🙂 I just finished Jim Belcher’s Deep Church ( https://blog.2sparrows.org/2009/10/16/deep-church-jim-belcher/) and he talks about the hermeneutical circle:
“Hermeneutical Circle” truth neither starts with knowledge that leads to faith nor with faith that leads to knowledge. How do we get into this circle? The starting point lies beyond us, with the Holy Spirit who places us inside the faith – knowledge circle…
That is so true, and I am so glad God has placed it on my heart to study Him intellectually.
I still stand by some of the things I said regarding Sproul’s book. As an introduction, I felt that it lacked in explaining some of the concepts that someone new to Reformed might not have much of a background in. Still, a very good book overall, and well worth a read. I’ve just had to supplement it over time.
And I’m still learning and growing in this area!
Just happened to stumble across this blog today and thought a comment or two might help. I have studied both books mentioned above, Grudem’s Systematic Theology and Sproul’s intro to Reformed Theology. I am Reformed in my thinking and have remained so despite 20 years of testing reformed teachings against the teachings from other schools of thought (Primarily Arminianism and Semi Pelagianism or Catholicism. One key thing that helped me was understanding how the Holy Spirit influences our choices, especially our choice to believe the gospel. I believe we are free to choose that which we desire most. Unfortunately, our corrupt nature inhibits our desire for God unless God intervenes on our behalf. The Holy Spirit quickens our desire for the things of God which in turn leads us to choose God. In this way the work of salvation is completely a work of God and also a choice by man. God doesn’t force us to choose Him. He begins a process of regeneration that enables us to see the blessing of choosing Him. We actually begin to desire the things of God. Along these lines, The Great Commission is the primary means God has chosen to reach His elect. He sows the seeds of desire for one to share the gospel while also sowing the seeds of desire for another to receive the gospel. We have the honor of participating in God’s work as we share the gospel. We do this because God commanded us to and because it brings God glory. We also should have a passion for sharing the gospel with everyone because we do not know whom God has chosen to elect. We are participants in God’s plan and shouldn’t be tempted to think the results are up to us or are because of us. I am as, if not more, passionate about evangelism as than many of my non-reformed brethren. One last thing, many reformed believers act with a prideful and unloving attitude toward others due to their new found beliefs in reformed theology. This is and always will be a sinful response. Please be humble, gracious and loving toward others, always remembering the great love and mercy shown to you by Christ Jesus.
I should clarify one thing. Salvation is completely the work of God. I don’t believe we have any role in saving ourselves.
I especially like the last three sentences of your narrative, Bryan. We do need to be humble and speak from a heart filled with a genuine love for others. If we’re speaking to a brother or sister on this sensitive issue and we find that we don’t have that love in our hearts it may be wise to postpone the discussion for some other time. When considering the concept of Predestination I think one of the hardest concepts for Armenian-leaning people to digest is the idea that if God chooses a select group for eternal life, then conversely He chooses another group for eternal torment in everlasting torments and fire. I believe an accurate understanding of Hell takes the edge off that difficult concept. I recently conducted my own personal critical study of Hell and have come to the conclusion that those who are not God’s elect will pay the full penalty of their sin. That penalty is not eternal life in pain and torment, but is death, cesation of life, annihilation. They will die the first death (physical) and will stand before God to be judged and then they will experience the second death (spiritual). Christians have no fear of the second death. I’ll be glad to go into detail on this subject if you don’t mind departing for a few moments from the main line of discussion in this blog. I think it’s relative. -Larry
I thought I was going to give a response to this blog but then so many other people have done an excellent job I will only add this. I believe Dr. Sproul’s early work.. “chose by God” might do a better job in understanding issues of predestination/election then the book referenced. I would also recommend everyone subscribe to Tabletalk through http://www.ligonier.com.