BOOK REVIEWS · The Holy Trinity · Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Theology

WHAT IS FAITH? – R.C. Sproul (2010)

Ever since the days of the Enlightenment, faith and science have been in a perpetual war – both vying for supremacy – at least in the minds of some.  Herein lies the importance of R.C. Sproul’s little book, What is Faith?

Sproul’s book is the eighth in his Crucial Questions Series.  “Faith” according to Hebrews 11:1 is “the substance of things hoped for …”  The author adds, “The promises of God for tomorrow are the anchor for believers today.”  But the passage continues in Hebrew 1: “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.”  Sproul argues (to the chagrin of skeptics who charge Christians with embracing “blind faith”) that “the New Testament calls us to put our trust in the gospel not on the basis of some irrational leap into the darkness but on the basis of the testimony of eyewitnesses who report in Scripture about what they saw.”  And so faith in the final analysis is “not believing in God.  It’s believing God.”

The author provides examples of characters in the Bible who demonstrated authentic faith; people like Abel, Enoch, Abraham, and Sarah.  The critical lesson is this: “Living in submission to what God commands is the essence of faith.”  We do well, then, to model the stalwarts of the faith who led by example.

Sproul moves into deeper theological waters with a discussion of faith as set forth in Reformed theology.  The essence of his argument is that faith is a gift from God; a reality that many Evangelicals have forgotten or neglected.  Simply put,  a host of professing Christians have been deceived by Semi-Pelagianism.  The author rightly adds that regeneration precedes faith.  Additionally, saving faith requires the doctrine of election.  Given our state of total depravity (total inability), sinners should welcome the doctrine of election.

Finally, Sproul discusses the necessity of a growing faith.  Christ-followers grow by listening and reading the Word of God.  They grow as they subject themselves to the means of grace.  He warns about the negative consequences of jettisoning the means of grace: “… If I am negligent in reading the Scriptures, I open myself to ideas pouring into my head from the secular world, which may lessen the ardor of my faith.”  Christian faith, by definition should be a robust faith.

R.C. Sproul continues to use his gift to encourage the church and warn skeptics.  Christ-followers are admonished to grow deeply in the soil of God’s grace – which results in strong faith.  Skeptics are challenged with beginning a faith journey – which is a result of God’s sovereign initiative.

Highly recommended!

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Theology

WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY GUILT? – R.C. Sproul (2011)

I cannot think of anyone who has done more to bring Reformed theology to center-stage than R.C. Sproul.  This rock of the Christian faith has a unique way of communicating challenging theological concepts in understandable ways. His teaching gift is evident in his little book, What Can I Do With My Guilt?

Sproul distinguishes between guilt and guilt feelings.  He challenges readers to honestly evaluate the depth of their guilt and to recognize the chasm between the sinners’ guilt and the holiness of God.

The author surfaces some popular ways that people tend to deal with guilt.  Some deny their guilt.  Others rationalize their behavior.  Sproul warns, “In God’s court, we’re guilty, and nothing we can say can change it.  It is absolutely futile for any human being to attempt to justify himself or herself before God.”  Still others seek to make restitution via acts of penance.

Finally, Sproul presents the cure for guilt.  Of course, the cure is forgiveness found in the merits of Christ and banking one’s hope in his life, death, burial, and resurrection from the dead.  The crucial question concerns the gospel which promises hope for anyone who believes and turns from their sin.

Sometimes short books can catch a reader by surprise.  This book will undoubtedly shock many a reader.  Some readers will be horrified by Sproul’s candor and the cure he presents.  But others will be blessed and shocked to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  One wonders – what will your response be?

BOOK REVIEWS · Children's Books

THE DONKEY WHO CARRIED A KING – R.C. Sproul (2012)

The Donkey Who Carried a King by R.C. Sproul is a short children’s book loaded with great art and a brief story that helps illustrate some important theological principles.  Sproul tells the story of a donkey who carried Jesus (which points to the Triumphal Entry).  The donkey, who struggles with his lot in life, saw Jesus carry one of the beams of the cross and witnessed the persecution he endured.  Ultimately, the story drives home the message of substitutionary atonement and sacrificial love. Several questions are included at the end of the book; questions that are designed to help parents guide their children down the right theological path – a path that leads to eternal life.

R.C. has done it again.  In a few short pages, he has captured some crucial theological realities – pictures included!  Children can thank one of the most important theologians of our generation.  “Thanks Dr. Sproul for bringing the cookies to the bottom shelf!”

BOOK REVIEWS · Children's Books · Church History

THE BARBER WHO WANTED TO PRAY – R.C. Sproul (2011)

R.C. Sproul has a way of “bringing the cookies” to a level that anyone can reach.  Once again, he has accomplished this feat in his newest children’s book, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray.

Sproul retells the historical account of Martin Luther’s trip to the barber shop.  This was no ordinary visit. Luther was a wanted man.  Nailing the 95 theses on the castle door at Wittenberg became more than public dispute.  These nails sealed Luther’s fate – at least in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.

The barber who held a sharpened razor to Luther’s neck knew that in one movement, Luther would be a dead man.  The barber could retire in the lap of luxury.  But instead of cashing in his chips, the barber asked Luther a penetrating question: “Dr. Luther, can you teach me to pray?”  The German Reformer was astonished and impressed with this request.  He asked for some time to frame a response.  Within days, he was back with an answer – an answer that the people of God can all benefit from.

Luther’s response to his barber was a simple approach to prayer – all based on the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed.  He would eventually compile his answer into a valuable little book, entitled The Way to Pray. The essence of his method is to pray line by line, reflecting on the truth contained in the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, and Apostles’ Creed.

On this Reformation Sunday, let us remember the accomplishments of Luther and the Protestant Reformers.  But more importantly, let us marvel at the beauty of the gospel and the precious truth of justification by faith alone!

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1, ESV).

Semper Reformanda!

BOOK REVIEWS · Children's Books

THE PRIEST WITH DIRTY CLOTHES – R.C. Sproul (2011)

On Sunday morning, I was  preparing for worship.  My ten year old son came bolting onto the platform.  He had important news to share – news that probably had something to do with a new video game or Lego set.  Nathan said with a smile on his face, “R.C. Sproul’s new book is out!”

We purchased the book and by 2:00 p.m. he had completed R.C.’s newest treasure.  My son says, “Dad, you’ve gotta read this book.  It’s really cool.” Who can argue with an eager ten-year old who is excited about a new book by R.C. Sproul?

The Priest With Dirty Clothes is story based on Zechariah 3:1-5.  The story illustrates the theological realities that emerge,  including justification by faith alone and imputation.  At the end of the day, Sproul intends to communicate rich biblical truth that make up the gospel message.  The story-telling vehicle is a creative way to drive these important truths into the hearts and minds of children.

Sproul’s book is beautifully illustrated and is appropriate for young children and pre-teens.  But the message Sproul communicates is for everyone – namely, sinners need a new set of clothes; they need a new heart.  And Christ, our great high priest is the only One qualified to grant what we need most.

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

THE TRUTH OF THE CROSS – R.C. Sproul (2007)

The Christian publishing industry is an odd beast.  While thousands of people choke on heresy in books like Love Wins and The Shack, other books go practically unnoticed.  The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul is one of those books that has gone largely undetected and has managed to avoid any kind of large-scale attention.

I first read The Truth of the Cross when it was released in 2007.  This week, I am re-reading Sproul’s excellent work in order to prepare for a sermon.  If you have neglected this book, you’re missing out – big time!

Dr. Sproul surveys the basics of the atonement in this little book.  He begins by discussing the necessity of an atonement.  Crucial to a an understanding of the atonement is a proper conception of the character of God and the nature of sin.  Sproul points to the apostle Paul in particular, whose “central point of importance was the cross … it was on the cross, through the cross, and by the cross that our Savior performed His work of redemption and gather His people for eternity.”

Sproul carefully urges readers to embrace a biblical understanding of God’s justice.  He rightly contends that many people overlook the justice of God – an attribute the makes the atonement necessary: “God is loving, but a major part of what He loves is His own perfect character, with a major aspect being the importance of maintaining justice and righteousness.  Though God pardons sinners and makes great provision for expressing His mercy, He will never negotiate His justice.  If we fail to understand that, the cross of Christ will be utterly meaningless to us.”  Having established the need for an atonement, rooted in the justice of God, the author proceeds to develop the remaining crucial components in Christ’s redemptive work.

Sproul skillfully guides readers on a journey, discussing the key features of the atonement.  Most important, however is the discussion that concerns substitution.  Sproul clearly articulates the importance of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ: “In the substitution that took place at the cross, we see the glorious grace of God – the very heartbeat of the Christian faith.”  Additionally, he distinguishes expiation and propitiation, noting the importance of each.

Dr. Sproul also includes an important discussion on the extent of the atonement.  The “L” in the tulip acrostic is carefully explained in a historical and biblical context.  As most Reformed theologians, Sproul makes a distinction between the sufficiency and efficacy of the atonement.  Certainly, Christ’s redemptive work is sufficient for every person who has ever lived.  But it is effectual for the elect of God.

The Truth of the Cross offers readers a basic look at the redemptive work that Christ accomplished.  Sproul does not intend to offer the last word – which is what makes this little book so effective.  Readers interested in delving deeper are encouraged to pick up John Owen’s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

4 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

The Holiness of God – R.C. Sproul (1985)

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul is a tremendous book that ought to be read by every Christian.  The author contends the subject of God’s holiness is one of the most important issues for believers to wrestle with.  How one understands the character of God affects everything in life.  Worship, service, or true obedience cannot take place without understanding the holiness of God.

The theme is developed by defining the meaning of holiness.  The author argues that holiness is more than “absolute purity” or “separateness.”  Rather, the deeper and primary meaning of holiness of holiness is “transcendent purity.”

Dr. Sproul notes the fearful and adverse reaction to what Rudolph Otto calls the “mysterious tremendum” and uses the examples of Isaiah and Martin Luther to drive his point home.  The author intends the reader to not only understand God’s holiness from a theological frame of reference but also challenges the reader to live a holy life before a holy God.  Holiness of life is more than saying “no” to cultural taboos.  Rather, holy living involves controlling the tongue, acting with integrity, and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit.

The Holiness of God is a deeply God-centered book.  Sproul does not side-step aspects of God that may be uncomfortable for readers to swallow, namely, the justice of God.  He does a masterful job at explaining the relationship between God’s justice and mercy:  “God does not always act with justice.  Sometimes he acts with mercy.  Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice.  Sometimes he acts with mercy.  Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice.  We may see non-justice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.”  Sproul is quick to counter the typical arguments that run contrary to the portrait of God that emerges in sacred Scripture.

Dr. Sproul also skillfully explains the wrath of God (a doctrine which seems to be fading from modern pulpits).  In fact, I remember hearing a well-known evangelist say, “God is not angry with sinners.”  This popular sentiment is running rampant in our churches and must be exposed and dealt with in a frank and forthright manner.

The author raises issues that cause readers to think theologically.  The net result is a love for God that can only grow in the awesome light of his majesty and holiness.  This is my third opportunity to read this great work, a book that will undoubtedly be in print one hundred years from now.  I enjoy it more every time I read it.

5 stars.