1) The Struggle - This chapter talks about the struggles we have with the Calvinist mindset and his own personal struggle in coming to Calvinist doctrine. One specific quote that caught my attention was,
I challenged Gerstner (leader in predestinarian thought, Sproul's college professor) in the classroom time after time, making a total pest of myself. I resisted for well over a year. My final surrender came in stages. Painful stages....Reluctantly, I sighed and surrendered, but with my head, not my heard. "OK, I believe this stuff, but I don't have to like it!" (1)I thought this was a wonderful statement because that is exactly how I and many others came to know Reformed theology, that is the personal experiences of coming to it, as a friend once said, "we all come to Calvinism kicking and screaming, but God gives us comfort in our heart and we eventually see the wonderful beauty like we never have before through the lenses of Calvinism."
2) Predestination and the Sovereignty of God - This chapter talks about how each view of Christianity has a view of predestination because it is in the Bible, and then talks about the Biblical view of it and then talks about the different definitions of predestination itself. He talks about how we are to view acts of God in the light of the attributes of God, which is where he starts to talk about the Sovereignty of God. Sproul points out that sovereignty is not an issue of Calvinism or even Christianity but rather, simple theism. Sproul tackles the tougher quesitons of God's sovereignty and the existence of evil and God's sovereignty and human freedom which leads us into the next chapter.
3) Predestination and Free Will - Sproul first, like Jonathan Edwards in his discourse Freedom of the Will defines "free will." Sproul use the common view of it that states
free will is the ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. (2)If we follow this definition we see that we cannot make any choices at all because all of our choices are based upon our preferences and therefore nothing would be done, but Sproul goes even further, he states
if our choices are utterly spontaneous, then our choices have no moral significance. If a choice just happens--it just pops out, with no rhyme or reason for it--then it cannot be judged good or bad. When God evaluates our choices, he is concerned about our motives. (3)So we see "free will" comes at least to a philosophical failure based upon that we cannot be judged since it is something that has no motivation, and God judges our motives, which leads us to the conclusion that the neutral view of free will is impossible, at least philosophically, but this does not mean that it is Scripturally. This is why Sproul then brings in Scripture, since most people will appeal to what they call common sense first before Scripture, Sproul then talks about the natural and moral (in)ability of mankind. This basically states that just because we have the physical ability to do something, does not mean we want to do it, and this is how we are. We have the physical ability to choose God, but our hearts are so corrupt that we won't. He talks about Augustine's view of Liberty amongst this, stating that he did not believe man had liberty (that humanity was actually free) but we did have a free will (in the sense that we will choose whatever we want...the question is, what do we want?). Sproul finalizes in pointing out that Scripture shows that regeneration precedes faith, by talking about John 3, and pointing out that the same word used for draw in John 6:44 is the same word used elsewhere as dragged and states that a more proper word would be compelled. The word draw here would be used in the sense of someone drawing water, an outside force is compelling it without the help of water, and not in the sense of wooing.
4) Adam's Fall and Mine - This chapter talks about the different theories of the Fall of Man. The Myth Theory which states that there was no fall because there was no real Adam and each person is his own Adam and we are to strive for the best we can do. The issue with this is, there was an actual fall, we are not our own Adam because we inherited the nature of sin, and this is humanism in the sense that it is a works righteousness view...we stay away from sin, we'll do better. He also points out that the universality of sin denies this as well, because it is not that society that corrupts people because since society is made up of people, it is the opposite, people corrupt society. Then Sproul goes in to the Realist view of the fall which states that we didn't inherit sin because Ezekiel 18 states that we do not inherit sin, but Sproul points out that Ezekiel 18 is talking about an isolated event and not talking about the fall of mankind, therefore it is a proof text to use it. Some people say it is unjust of God to punish someone for the sins of another, but yet, are they not the product of that themselves when Christ took the punishment for them, which is the downfall of that theory. Finally to the Federalist view or the Representative view, this states that Adam was the perfect representative, since God chose him, and Adam messed up, just as we all would have. In this, we inherited Adam's sin, just as Romans 5 and 8 tell us. Some people say this is not fair, but that is only if the representation was not fair and accurate, and God being holy, righteous and sovereign, due to His character He would have chosen the most accurate representation for all of it, therefore, it is completely fair that the whole human race is judged because of 1 man's sin. Sproul also talks about predestination in the light of the fall and how it is a must that when we study predestination it is seen in the light of the fall of man.
5) Spiritual Dead and Spiritual Life: Rebirth and Faith - in this chapter I see a few issues that Sproul takes head on. One is, "if the fall of humanity states that we do not seek God, what about my friend who is not a Christian but you can tell they are searching?" I think this is a wonderful point to tackle because it is not only a theological issue, but a pastoral issue which I am astounded at the massive pastor heart Sproul has, this is not common in many theologians today, you either find a good theologian who is a bad pastor, or a pastor who is a terrible theologian, the two are rarely married. Sproul answers this in this way,
People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. (4)And we as Christians often confuse these actions since they are so similar, because people are seeking peace of mind, comfort, loving acceptance, meaning and purpose in their lives...etc. and we as Christians know that God can give this, so we have a retrospect view of it and say that they are searching for God, which is not the case at all. He also points out that it is not the unbeliever that seeks the Kingdom but rather it is the believer who does by quoting Jonathan Edwards,
The seeking of the kingdom of God is the chief business of the Christian life. (5)Pointing out that seeking is the result of faith, not the cause of it. Sproul also talks about the effects of the sin that we all inherited from Adam....are we dead or merely in danger of death? He does this by calling out the examples some use like the life saver one where we are drowning and all we need to do is grab the life saver, but if we were dead, 1) how can we grab a life saver and 2) if we love our condition, why would we want to change it? Finally, Sproul talks about "Prevenient Grace" which means a grace that comes before something. Now, Sproul points out that Calvinists actually do believe this, but rather that grace has a different power than the Arminian view of grace has. Because Calvinists accept the fact that we are spiritually dead, and not spiritually in danger of death, a grace that comes before but does not save...is a worthless grace. But, Sproul does point out something that Arminians do recognize that they need to have grace first to be saved, which is a step, and separates them from full blown Pelagianism. Sproul also points out the implications that come from this and the questions that would follow such as, why is it not always effectual? why do some choose to cooperate and others do not? Doesn't everyone get the same amount? Was it because we were better than our non-Christian friends? Were we more righteous? Smarter? Something that we achieved?
6) Foreknowledge and Predestination - This is one of the most hotly disputed questions between Calvinists and Arminians, "what does 'foreknowledge' mean in Romans 8:29-30?" Arminians will say that God looks into the future, since He sees all of time in a panoramic view, and predestines those whom will choose them. The predestinating comes from God's foreknowledge of a persons choice. The Calvinist does not deny that God knows the future and knows whom will choose Him, but what the Calvinist does add to the mix is that not only does God know because He sees it in the future, but He knows because He ordered it. Sproul goes into Romans 9 on this as well to see where Arminians get their understanding of this, and he concludes that God chose Jacob based upon the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11) and not because Jacob chose Him first. Sproul does something that I have not seen before...he examines the "called, justified, glorified" part to help understand the "foreknowledge, predestination" part of the chain in Romans 8:29-30. He points out that all that are called get justified, but the Arminian believes that all are called...does this mean that all are justified? No, so then, that brings into question...is everyone called by God?
7) Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Is Predestination Double? Often times when someone who is not a Calvinist thinks of predestination they automatically go into the "Double Predestination" realm assuming that it is all lumped together. This is sort of an accurate statement, but, what people often assume is that both acts of predestination are working in the same way, which is entirely incorrect, and this is what R.C. Sproul intended to tackle in this chapter. First, if God actively saved people, we would find that this is actually correct (in light of all the previous chapters read) but if God actively sent people to hell He is either unjust or that He actively forced people to sin therefore God would be a sinner...which of a holy God, this is improper and incorrect as well. Because of this, people usually reject the doctrine of predestination on this premise which I would state, along with Sproul, this is false pretenses. One must accurately assess all possibilities before rejecting it. So, it is proper that actively saving us is the right doctrine (in light of the previous chapters), but actively sending us to hell is not, so how is this to be reconciled? Well, is it possible that God passively ordains us unto reprobation? or simply put, allows us to go to hell? Sproul thinks so, I think so, and even Arminians think so. So, instead of the active/active relationship of predestination unto salvation and unto reprobation (hell), the Calvinist view is an active/passive relationship. Whereas the hyper-Calvinist (which is not Calvinism, why they took the name is beyond me) is an active/active relationship and the Arminian is a passive/passive relationship.
8) Can we know that we are saved? This is a question that haunts many real Christians and does not both nominal Christians because they probably aren't. Sproul breaks it down into 4 groups. 1) people who are not saved and know they are not saved. This group of people have no need to be talked about, since they know it because they aren't. 2) People who are not saved, and think they are. This group of people are mainly church goers who think they will get into heaven because they are what they like to call a "good person" because they go to church, they will get into heaven. This is obviously not accurate in light of all of Scripture. 1 John 2:19. 3) Those who are saved and know they are saved. This is not an arrogant frame of mind, for if God revealed to them that they are saved, are they not to trust Him? Doesn't His word say that He will guard us and guide us until the end? Now, finally 4) deserves a slightly longer description. 4) Those who are saved, but do not have an assurance of their salvation. This must be handled delicately because of the fragility of the human heart, and I believe Sproul did a fantastic job on this. Lacking assurance does not mean you are not saved, not at all, but it does mean that our focus is off...which happens all the time so there is no need to be ashamed or embarrassed about that. One that lacks assurance should be taught of God's faithfulness and how our salvation is not based upon our faithfulness but His faithfulness, that He is faithful to complete what He started, that He will not leave us nor forsake us, that if we slip His arm upholds us, that He will perfect everything that He sets out to do, that those whom He does justify He will glorify, and He has set His seal on us until we are with Him eternally! (Phil 1:6, John 10:28-29, Rom. 8:29-30, 1 Cor 1:4-8, 2 Cor 1:21-22, Eph 1:13-14, 1 Peter 1:3-5). Sproul also tackles the question of Hebrews 6 and other passages that it seems as if people do walk away, which is easily muffled out with verses like 1 John 2:19 that states it appeared they were with us, but weren't because if they were, endurance and perseverance would have shown but they were never with us because they would have shown it. Which is fair. But Hebrews 6, this is a passage that gets me. Though, I do agree with the using it in comparison with 1 John 2:19, I also like Sproul's doing when He states that it is an ad hominem meaning that the writer was actually going after the person basically saying, "if you walk away, there is no return because you are rejecting the real thing, the only thing and there is nothing else left beyond this redemption." Though, I still prefer the comparison to 1 John 2:19, this is actually a great addition to the arsenal of teaching for this beautiful doctrine that we are secure in the hands of God our mighty father. Though we may let go of the Father's hand, He is faithful and continues to hold ours so that we do not fall away.
9) Questions and Objections concerning Predestination - Sproul tackles a few questions and objections here which I find very interesting. One question is, of Unpardonable Sin...if someone commits this, can they be saved? The question is, can the elect do this and still be saved? The answer would obviously be no, since we have seen that God actually restrains us from sinning at certain points, so He would have restrained His elect from doing this, this is not out of the realm of possibility or even in the realm of absurdity. The next question is talking about 2 Peter 3:9 which states that God isn't willing for anyone to perish but all to come to repentance. This was a little tricky, Sproul talked about the different types of wills, sovereign will which is what happened in Creation...the light could not refuse to shine. God's decretive will, which states that God set up a law and expects us to follow...we can refuse this and do often, this is why we are sinful. God's emotive will, that God is not delighted in the death of the wicked but yet He does delight in justice and righteousness. Now, God's emotive will would have nothing to do with people actually getting saved or not because it is not an act but a statement of position, so Peter could have been talking about this verse but not likely because it states that He was willing and long-suffering with us so it would contradict itself in the same verse. The next, God cannot punish someone for perishing because it is the perishing that is the punishment, we cannot have a third death. So we are left in a dilemma, sovereign will is left but if God saved all...wouldn't we be left with universalism? Yes, if this is not read in context with the rest of the passage and key words in this verse. Though, universalism could be correct, but in light of the rest of Scripture it is not, and therefore must be rejected. Words such as "us" when it states God was long-suffering with us....but whom is the "us?" Sproul and myself are convinced it is the elect since Peter's 1st letter is directed to the elect and Peter's 2nd letter, 3rd chapter states that this is the 2nd letter to them.
Conclusion - this is definitely one of the best books I've read on this topic, it is a theological principle taught in a pastoral sense so that anyone could understand it. Sproul breaks down so many concepts with parables, anecdotes, humor, wit, and love. I encourage everyone to read this, Calvinist and non-Calvinist so that the Calvinist can understand and know how to explain their faith, and that non-Calvinists can know what these doctrines say about the grace of God.
1. Chosen by God, R.C. Sproul. Page 12
2. Ibid. Pg. 51
3. Ibid. Pg. 51
4. Ibid. Pg 110
5. Could not find reference. I will edit when I do find it though.