Category Archives: R.C. Sproul

Freud’s Flub re: the Fear of God

“…In trying to explain the universality of religion, Sigmund Freud asked why it is that people are so incurably religious. He claimed that we have invented God to deal with things in nature that we find frightening. He explained that by inventing God we personalize or sacralize nature. We feel deeply threatened by hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, pestilence, and armies, but we do not have the same terror concerning our personal relationships. If someone is hostile toward us, there are many ways we can try to defuse that anger. We can try to appease the angry person with words or gifts or flattery. We learn how to get around human anger, but how do we negotiate with a hurricane? How do we mollify an earthquake? How do we persuade cancer not to visit our house?

Freud thought that we do it by personalizing nature, and we do that by inventing a god to put over the hurricane, the earthquake, and the disease, and then we talk to that god to try to appease him.

Obviously, Freud was not on the Sea of Galilee when the storm arose and threatened to capsize the boat in which Jesus and his disciples were sitting. The disciples were afraid. Jesus was asleep, and so they went to him and shook him awake, and they said, ‘”Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:38–39).

There was not a zephyr in the air. You would think the disciples’ gratitude would have led them to say, “Thank you, Jesus, for removing the cause of our fear.” Instead, they became very much afraid. Their fears were intensified, and they said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (v. 41). They were dealing with something transcendent.

What we see in the disciples is xenophobia, fear of the stranger. The holiness of Christ was made manifest in that boat, and suddenly the disciples’ fear escalated. This is where Freud missed the point. If people are going to invent religion to protect them from the fear of nature, why would they invent a god who is more terrifying than nature itself? Why would they invent a holy god? Fallen creatures, when they make idols, do not make holy idols. We prefer the unholy, the profane, the secular—a god we can control.”

—R. C. Sproul, Romans: The Righteous Shall Live By Faith, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Crossway, 2009) p. 45. Paragraph breaks mine {gasp}.

International Man of Ministry

Too funny.

Book Review: The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

tsscertified.jpgBook Review
The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

[CCC: This book has been certified “Cross Centered” by The Shepherd’s Scrapbook meaning a substantial amount of its content directly relates to the perfect work of Christ as our Atoning sacrifice.]

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For me there is no redundancy with the message of the Cross because I am personally aware of my propensity to meander from the Cross rather than marvel in the Cross. To this end, R.C. Sproul’s latest book – The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust: 2007) – is a welcomed addition to the releases of 2007. Sproul explicitly states the centrality of the Cross at the outset:

“Within that field of study, when we want to get at the aspect that is most crucial, the aspect that we may call the ‘crux’ of the matter of Jesus’ person and work, we go immediately to the cross. The words crucial and crux both have their root in the Latin word for ‘cross,’ crux, and they have come into the English language with their current meanings because the concept of the cross is at the very center and core of biblical Christianity. In a very real sense, the cross crystallizes the essence of the ministry of Jesus … I doubt there has been a period in the two thousand years of Christian history when the significance, the centrality, and even the necessity of the cross have been more controversial than now. There have been other periods in church history when theologies emerged that regarded the cross of Christ as an unnecessary event, but never before in Christian history has the need for an atonement been as widely challenged as it is today” (pp. 2-3, 6).

Sproul makes no mention of the New Perspectives of Paul, N.T. Wright or others in the contemporary debate over the Atonement. The Truth of the Cross was intended as a lay-level reinforcement against modern attacks.

As expected, references to Christian giants like Anselm, Calvin, Luther, Aquinas and Augustine abound in this little volume, bringing Sproul’s keen historical perspective to the central matters of the Cross. Chapters focus on the justice of God, the ‘cosmic treason’ of our sin, our captivity to sin and need of redemption, the substitutionary work of Christ on the Cross, the Old Testament pointers to the Suffering Servant, a chapter defending Limited Atonement and then closes with a chapter of various questions and answers. Not surprising Sproul illuminates his subject with fresh illustrations and pointed personal applications of the Cross.

Good books challenge conventional thinking and at one place I was especially challenged. Late in the book Sproul is asks if God can die, a question prompted by the hymn lyrics, “How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” To this question Sproul offered an argument in denial: “We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ” (p. 160). This caused me to stop and think for a while because I personally have no problem with the hymn lyrics. Paul tells us that “the Lord of glory” was crucified (1 Cor. 2:8). And in Acts 20:28 Paul tells us God has shed His own blood in the act of redemption. On this exegetical basis Calvin rightly warns us from peeling apart the two natures of Christ on the Cross (see Calvin’s commentary on Acts 20:28). That the God-man died for sinners is horrific, but not for its probability.

Where Sproul shines is by reminding us of the incomprehensible value of God’s holiness and justice. At the end of a chapter devoted the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18:22-19:29, Sproul writes, “The Bible tells us that God couldn’t find ten righteous people among all the inhabitants of these cities. As a result, God’s judgment fell. It fell not because God is cruel, harsh, or lacking in love. It happened because God is just and righteous” (p. 28).

As we have seen recently, the penal substitutionary Atonement of Christ will only be questioned if we fail to grasp the pristine holiness of God and His perfect righteousness. “Because He is holy and righteous, He cannot excuse sin. Rather, He must pass judgment on it. The Judge of all the earth must do right. Therefore, He must punish sinners — or provide a way to atone for their sin” (p. 29). Sproul especially excels here.

Conclusion

The Truth of the Cross is an excellent overview of the Gospel. God is holy, sinners are in need of salvation from the guilt of their sin found only in the death of Christ, displaying the wisdom of God to the world. We need more books like this one — books that step into the heart of contemporary debate on the Atonement to clarify the most pristine truth at the heart of everything we cherish!

Sproul is known for his chalkboard and a passion to educate laypeople. He wants you to understand expiation, ransom, redemption, reconciliation, appeasement, substitutionary atonement, and propitiation because these are central to understanding the gospel. In Sproul’s newest book – The Truth of the Cross – you will discover the beauty of the crux like never before. But even more importantly, Sproul understands the implications to our faith if we don’t get it.

“A Substitute has appeared in space and time, appointed by God Himself, to bear the weight and the burden of our transgressions, to make expiation for our guilt, and to propitiate the wrath of God on our behalf. This is the gospel. Therefore, if you take away the substitutionary atonement, you empty the cross of its meaning and drain all the significance out of the passion of our Lord Himself. If you do that, you take away Christianity itself” (p. 81).

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[Related: Another “TSS Certified Cross Centered” book by Sproul -- Saved from What? (Crossway: 2002) – is worth the investment.]
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Title: The Truth of the Cross
Author: R.C. Sproul
Reading level: 2.25/5.0 > moderate
Boards: hardcover
Pages: 178
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: unknown (reviewed electronically)
Binding: unknown
Paper: unknown
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Trust
Year: 2007
Price USD: $15.00 from Ligonier
ISBN: 1567690874

2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leaders Conference PICS

All photos (c) 2007 by Janelle Bradshaw. Thank you Janelle for sharing!

C.J. Mahaney

C.J. Mahaney (Redskins) and R.C. Sproul (Steelers)

C.J. Mahaney

David Powlison

C.J. Mahaney

R.C. Sproul

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Related 2007 SGM LC sessions:

1. 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leadership Conference

2. R.C. Sproul: “The Holiness of God”

3. Rick Gamache: “Watch Your Devotional Life”

4. Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”

5. David Powlison: “‘In the Last Analysis…’ Look out for Introspection”

6. C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”

7. 2007 Conference photographs

General Session 1 > 2007 Sovereign Grace Leaders Conference

It was a wonderful week with friends at the 2007 Sovereign Grace Leadership Conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland (close to DC). The conference was well-attended and the hospitality was beyond comparison. … But it is also good to return home and let the swirling thoughts settle. This week I’ll be going back over the sessions I attended with some reflections.

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Wednesday night (4/11/07 PM)
General session #1
R.C. Sproul: “The Holiness of God”

GAITHERSBURG, MD – C.J. Mahaney gave one of his trademark warm introductions to R.C. as a man committed, not to the advancement of the academy, but to explaining theology to simple folk. “No one has more advanced, explained and defended Reformation theology more than R.C.” Later he said Sproul is “Luther-like in his defense of justification by faith alone.” C.J. went on to voice his appreciation specifically for the book The Holiness of God. When R.C. came to the stage C.J. had one more display of thankfulness for by presenting Sproul with a Steelers football helmet. C.J. also pulled out a Redskins helmet. [The next night Sproul would joke that he needed the helmet to protect his head from C.J. flailing arms during worship.]

After knocking the worship music of Sovereign Grace Ministries (!), Sproul began the first general session by explaining that the holiness of God has captivated his attention since 1957 when a study of the Old Testament brought the holiness of God to the forefront of his attention. Seeing God’s holiness in Scripture was a “virgin experience” because for years this God had been “concealed” to him even in the church! It was in 1957 Sproul came to realize that “God plays for keeps” and “I must give him everything I have.”

In seminary, Sproul’s understanding of God’s holiness continued to develop. As he studied Augustine, Anselm, Athanasius, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and Edwards the common thread that “clearly gripped each one of these titans was an overwhelming sense of God’s transcendent majesty.” They were “intoxicated by a sense of the majesty of God.” There is nothing more important than a rediscovery of the character of God as His Word is expounded.

Sproul then launched into an exposition of Isaiah 6:1-8.

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts / the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Sproul built a picture of the holiness of God in a period of personal duress for Israel. Uzziah the king reigned for 52 years and made many improvements to the nation. The nation was strong although their king turned arrogant and turned away from the Lord (2 Chronicles 26). The Lord struck Uzziah with leprosy and he died as an unclean outcast. At this time of national concern, God revealed Himself to a man named Isaiah.

This scene is the disclosure of the preincarnate Jesus Christ in His holiness. In His presence the seraphim angels covered their feet (showing their creaturliness) and covered their eyes from His holy presence. The thrice repeated “Holy” reveals God’s infinitely holy character.

This earth is filled with His glory. The world and all of creation displays the “theater” of God (Calvin). We walk blindfolded to this glory. While sinners are cold to the holiness of God, the very foundation of the temple quakes in His presence.

When Isaiah saw a glimpse of the holiness of God he immediately understood who he was – a sinner (v. 5). “Woe is me!” was a pronouncement of an oracle of doom upon himself. We don’t treat God as our “buddy” but as a holy and righteous God. No longer does Isaiah have it all together. He unravels in the presence of God’s perfection. We too must be undone before we are saved.

The seraphim angel takes a burning hot coal from the altar (so hot the angel could not touch it). The scorching coal was placed on Isaiah’s lips – not to torture – but to cauterize the wound of sin and cleanse from further corruption. This is no cheap grace. Repentance hurts and heals. Don’t cheapen grace! Here Isaiah found justification, the gift of being declared righteous in God’s sight. This became the basis of his prophetic ministry. He closed with the idea that “None of us are qualified to speak for God unless we have experienced God’s justification.”

At a leadership conference like this, it would have been great to hear an emphasis on the correlation between the holiness of God and the ministry of the Word. But overall the first general session was no disappointment. It was a great reminder of the centrality of the holiness of God for the church. We, too, must have hearts, preachers and churches that are “intoxicated” with God’s holiness.

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Related 2007 SGM LC sessions:

 

1. 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leadership Conference

2. R.C. Sproul: “The Holiness of God”

3. Rick Gamache: “Watch Your Devotional Life”

4. Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”

5. David Powlison: “‘In the Last Analysis…’ Look out for Introspection”

6. C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”

7. 2007 Conference photographs

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