R.C. Sproul's Blog
December 20, 2014
I confess that I am a profoundly nostalgic man. My daydreams typically focus less on an imagined future and more on a remembered past. I grew up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. White Christmases, sled riding, hot chocolate, wood fires weren't affectations but normalcy for me. I was blessed to be raised in a loving family. Our feasts were genuine celebrations, not relational train wrecks. Just as I grew out of childhood, my sister's children were added to the mix, retaining the zeal and wonder of Christmas morning. These are all blessings, blessings I hope my children will get a hint of as we travel back to Ligonier, PA this Christmas, for our family celebration.
Truth be told, however, even going back to my childhood, the power and the glory isn't in Rudolph and the Grinch, not in game systems or Elmo dolls. For me it's always been the hymnody. What has moved me most, shaped me most, warmed me most over the years has been singing in celebration of the coming of the Lamb of God. Contemplating His humiliation is a good thing. Thinking through the complexities of His incarnation is a helpful exercise. Remembering our need for a savior is laudable. But singing, that takes it all to a whole other level. When we sing well we bridge that perilous gap between our minds and our hearts and the two become one.
My favorites are those that have been with us over the ages. I love to sing a hymn that takes me not just to my childhood, but to the childhood of the church. Of the Father's Love Begotten was written in the fifth century and takes us from the love of the Father from before all time to the consummation of the kingdom. It reminds us that we will indeed be singing hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, evermore and evermore. O Come O Come Emmanuel, in a sense, takes us back to an even earlier time. It is to song what Advent is to the calendar, a reminder to enter into the longing of our fathers so that we might enter into their joy at His coming. We too rejoice, rejoice because Emmanuel has come to us, Israel.
Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming, from the 15th century, like those mentioned above, carries a sort of gloomy melody, impressing upon us our own need, echoing the groaning of the creation. In turn, however, it answers the need, reminding us This Flower, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere; True man, yet very God, From Sin and death he saves us, And lightens every load.
Advent is not designed to be a burden to us. It does not exist so that we might be forced to brave the mall, to roast the goose, to bake, decorate and host like Martha Stewart. Rather Advent is when we remember, and rejoice that the burden has been lifted, that all that we need has been provided for us by our Lord. It is out of that joy, not out of obligation, that we rejoice. Out of that same joy, that we sing. And out of that singing, we are changed.
R.C. Sproul Jr. is rector and chair of philosophy and theology at Reformation Bible College.
December 19, 2014
It's time for our weekly $5 Friday sale. This week's resources include such topics as the cross, suffering, revival, Martin Luther, Christianity, and more.
Sale runs through 12:01 a.m. — 11:59 p.m. Friday ET.
Today is the last day to save $60 with early bird registration for our 2015 National Conference in Orlando.
"God's people must cry out for His revival and a restoration of the light"
We live in a day of darkness, when the gospel and the church are under attack on every front. Yet we do not live in a day without hope, for God's kingdom cannot ultimately be conquered. As such, we have confidence that as we cry out to the Lord, He will revive us that we might rejoice in Him and His truth again (Ps. 85:6).
God's people must cry out for His revival and a restoration of the light. Ligonier Ministries is seeking to help people do just that. On February 19–21, 2015, we will be hosting our annual national conference in Orlando. Alistair Begg, Rosaria Butterfield, Tim Challies, Kevin DeYoung, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Peter Jones, Steven Lawson, Russell Moore, Stephen Nichols, and R.C. Sproul Jr. will join R.C. Sproul in considering our theme, "After Darkness, Light." We will explore our need to be revived and restored to a high view of God, His law, His people, and His plan for the world.
Please consider joining us for this conference in February. We hope to see you among the thousands already registered who will gather in Orlando for teaching, worship, prayer, and fellowship. Register today and save $60.
December 18, 2014
It's difficult to be a pastor in America these days. Five out of ten Americans think you don't need the church. So do three out of ten Evangelical Protestants. As the The State of Theology survey also shows, the majority of Americans do not see their pastor's sermons as carrying authority over them. You can find the full results of the survey at TheStateOfTheology.com. These few questions related to the local church, however, deserve a closer look and our significant attention.
As we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we see the church emerging as the institution God blesses. The Gospel accounts end with Jesus promising to build and establish His church, and Acts begins with the church in fact being built and established. Paul was a church planter. The last letters that he wrote and that were included in the Canon were his Pastoral Epistles. In these final inspired words, Paul lays down the law for God's people. For Paul, the church is the household of God, the Living God. The church is the pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim 3:15).
This fledgling church continued to thrive against all odds. It suffered persecution without at the hands of the Roman Empire. It also faced hardship within at the hands of false teachers and heretics. Yet, the church grew and flourished. It is hard to look over the pages of church history and not see the church playing an indispensable role in the lives of individual Christians. John Calvin writes, "I shall start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith." Calvin adds, "For those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother" (Inst. 4.1.1.). Here Calvin references the church father Cyprian: "You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother." Through the centuries the church was indispensable.
Why Prefer Worshiping Alone?
In light of the high view of the church over the past millennia, where are the low views of the church reflected in this survey coming from? In 1995, public policy scholar Robert Putnam published an article in a scholarly journal entitled, "Bowling Alone." The article made a huge splash, landing Putnam an invitation to the Whitehouse and a spread in, of all things, People magazine. In 2000, he followed up with a book by the same title. Putnam's work shows the decline of social groups and fraternities in the US. He used bowling and bowling leagues as his exemplar. His findings? Bowling leagues were down, but bowling was up. American individualism, seeded in our very beginnings and cultivated through our celebration of the rugged individual, has come to harvest. We prefer to go it alone.
The individualism is one thing, there is also the problem of our historylessness. Not only do we not need others, we don't need others from the past, either.
This tendency is also borne out by the survey. When asked if historical Christian creeds played a role in one's own discipleship, a whopping 70% said flat out no. Only a handful of Evangelical Protestants affirm any value in studying historic creeds and catechisms.
When five out of ten Americans think you can worship alone, that's bad. When seven out of ten Americans think you don't need the past, that's bad, too.
And then there's the issue of refusing to submit to pastoral authority. This tendency goes back to the fall. We skirt authority. We aid and abet rebellion. We see ourselves as little Bravehearts, shouting, "Freedom," and straining with our last breath to stand up for our individual rights. That's bad, too.
What should our response be?
So how do we respond? First, these survey results regarding American attitudes towards the local church and towards the historic church reflect the influence of American culture winning over the Bible. It should always be the other way around.
The Bible makes it rather clear that we were made for community. We gather together for the worship of God. The Bible makes it rather clear that there are structures of authority in regards to spiritual matters. The Bible makes it also rather clear that when we fail to honor and remember the past, we set ourselves up for failure. "Remember the Exodus," the prophets told Israel. Remember that you are a people with a past.
We also need to remember that the Holy Spirit is not our unique gift. The Holy Spirit is the gift to the church. Charles Spurgeon said it best, "I find it odd that one who thinks so highly of what the Holy Spirit teaches him, thinks so little of what the Holy Spirit teaches others also."
When we cut ourselves off from worshiping together and using the past and the historic church in our discipleship, we are cutting ourselves off from the ministry of the Holy Spirit—and we stand in violation of God's clear commands to gather together. The act of bowling alone is not merely a sociological phenomenon with deleterious consequences for civil society. It stands against God's design for us and against God's law over us. We were made for community. God ordained the church and the pastoral office and the means of grace. The church, both local and historic, is God's good gift to us. Do we know better than our heavenly Father?
The State of Theology: What's Our Theological Temperature?
The State of Theology: The Taming of God
The State of Theology: Sin Is Not Cosmic Treason
The State of Theology: Heaven? Yes! Hell, No.
The State of Theology: The Good Book
The State of Theology: Take It or Leave It
The State of Theology: Worshiping Alone
A person's worldview represents his most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe he inhabits. It reflects how he would answer all the "big questions" of human existence: fundamental questions about who and what we are, where we came from, why we're here, where (if anywhere) we're headed, the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the afterlife, and what counts as a good life here and now. Few people think through these issues in any depth, and fewer still have firm answers to such questions, but a person's worldview will at least incline him toward certain kinds of answers and away from others.
What we celebrate at Christmas is not so much the birth of a baby, as important as that is, but what's so significant about the birth of that particular baby is that in this birth we have the incarnation of God Himself. An incarnation means a coming in the flesh. We know how John begins His gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." So in that very complicated introductory statement, he distinguishes between the Word and God, and then in the next breath identifies the two, "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." And then at the end of the prologue, he says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Now in this "infleshment," if you will, of Christ appearing on this planet, it's not that God suddenly changes through a metamorphosis into a man, so that the divine nature sort of passes out of existence or comes into a new form of fleshiness. No, the incarnation is not so much a subtraction as it is an addition, where the eternal second person of the Trinity takes upon Himself a human nature and joins His divine nature to that human nature for the purpose of redemption.
In the 19th century, liberal scholars propounded a doctrine called the kenotic theory of the incarnation, and you may have heard it, the idea being that when Jesus came to this earth, He laid aside His divine attributes so that the God-man at least touching His deity no longer had the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and all the rest. But of course, that would totally deny the very nature of God, who is immutable. Even in the incarnation, the divine nature does not lose His divine attributes. He doesn't communicate them to the human side. He doesn't deify the human nature, but in the mystery of the union between the divine and the human natures of Jesus, the human nature is truly human. It's not omniscient. It's not omnipotent. It's none of those things. But at the same time, the divine nature remains fully and completely divine. B. B. Warfield, the great scholar at Princeton, in remarking on the kenotic theory of his day said, "The only kenosis that that theory proves is the kenosis of the brains of the theologians who are propagating it."—that they've emptied themselves of their common sense.
But in any case, what is emptied is glory, privilege, exaltation. Jesus in the incarnation makes Himself of no reputation. He allows His own divine exalted standing to be subjected to human hostility and human criticism and denial. He took the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men. This is an amazing thing that He doesn't just come as a man, He comes as a slave. He comes in a station that carries with it no exaltation, no dignity, only indignity. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient even to the point of death, the shameful death of the cross.
December 17, 2014
During the trial of Jesus, Pontius Pilate asked a question that has resounded through the ages: "What is truth?" That is the key question for today, when the idea of absolute truth is increasingly and soundly rejected in our culture. To help us understand what is at stake, we are examining the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18. In the first post, we looked at the rejection of God's truth as that which lies behind all sorts of evil in society today, and in the second post, we looked at the reality of truth. This post will look at the reception of truth. Let us review our passage:
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:36–38a)
The question of the reception of the truth has to do with understanding what is necessary for someone to receive the truth of God. After all, we have a natural aversion to the truth, as the Scriptures testify:
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. (Isa. 53:6)
There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. (Rom. 3:10–11)
Since we all have an aversion against the truth, what is necessary for us to receive the truth? Why does everyone who hears the truth not receive the truth? Why do some people reject it, and why do others receive it? Is it a matter of intelligence? Jesus tells us in John 18:37: "Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Only those who are of the truth can receive the truth, which is the voice of God.
What is it to be "of the truth"? To be of the truth is to be birthed by the truth. It is to be born again by the truth. To be of the truth means to be sovereignly regenerated by the Spirit, and to be illumined by the Holy Spirit of God. He lights up our understanding and allows us to see the truth, where we were previously in darkness. God gives us eyes to see the truth. He gives us a new mind to understand the truth. He puts his resident truth Teacher—the Holy Spirit— inside of us to guide us into all truth.
"Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." This speaks of the effectual call of God. It speaks of the sovereign drawing and calling of God the Holy Spirit, by which the truth comes storming into our minds and our hearts. In a moment, we see that to which we were previously blind. It is the work of God the Holy Spirit in the heart that enables one to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27–30)
It is the sheep who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking the truth. The goats remain deaf to truth. We are entirely dependent upon the Giver of all truth to teach all truth.
Are you of the truth? Have you been born from above? Have you been born of God? Have you come to believe upon Christ? Have you come to believe the truth of what He says—that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; that the wages of sin is death; that on Calvary's cross, Jesus died in the place of sinners?
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor. 5:21)—that is the truth. For us who believe upon Christ, His righteousness is given to us, and we are clothed from the top of our head to the bottom of our feet with the perfect obedience of Christ—that is the truth. If you will call upon His name, if you will commit your life to Him, if you will deny yourself and take up your cross and become a true follower of Christ, He will lead you all the way to His Father's house. And one day you will be before the throne of God, singing the praises of Him who is the Author of all truth, who is the Revealer of all truth, and you and I will come to understand in even fuller and greater measure, the truth that is in Jesus Christ.
As we live in this world of lies and falsehoods, and as people are saying, "What is truth?" we who are of the truth know that Jesus came into this world to testify to the truth. "And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Apart from the truth, you will always be bound by sin and Satan. Only the truth is so powerful as to unlock those chains and to set the prisoners free.
The Moment of Truth: Its Rejection
The Moment of Truth: Its Reality
The Moment of Truth: Its Reception
Assembled by R.C. Sproul, a team of the finest theologians and pastors have throughly revised and carefully crafted the new edition of the Reformation Study Bible to provide an unparalleled reading and discipleship experience. Here's a first look:
"I believe it to be one of the most important discipleship resources we have produced at Ligonier." —R.C. Sproul
The Reformation Study Bible will be first released in the English Standard Version this spring, and then in the New King James Version later in 2015. Sign up for news and previews at ReformationStudyBible.com or secure your pre-order for the first release of the ESV by calling 1-800-435-4343.
December 16, 2014
When Methodist missionary J. Waskom Pickett published Christian Mass Movements in India in 1933, it would've been impossible to predict its impact on American evangelicalism. His observations about rates of conversion and church growth among Indian castes may have seemed innocuous at the time, but his interest in outcomes betrayed assumptions rooted in pragmatism.
I am pleased to invite you to a one-day conference on inerrancy on January 26, 2015. During my time in seminary and the early days of my ministry, I saw first hand Abraham Kuyper's observation that biblical criticism has become biblical vandalism. Sadly, we are seeing such vandalism even in our evangelical churches today.
At our one-day conference, Ligonier Teaching Fellows Drs. Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, Stephen Nichols, and R.C. Sproul, Jr. will join me as we look at the challenges we face today. I am pleased to say that we will also be hearing from Dr. John MacArthur, via live video feed.
Together we will be addressing topics related to the crucial doctrine of inerrancy. We will look at how the doctrine is grounded in the teaching of Christ Himself, how one should deal with so-called "biblical difficulties," and other topics impacting your church.
The urgent call for today is for biblical preaching and for a pulpit ministry that boldly proclaims the Word of God. Please consider joining us for a time of teaching on these important topics and of fellowship together.
We look forward to having you join us,
Conference Message Titles
The Inerrancy Crisis by Stephen Nichols
The Chicago Statement: An Interview with R.C. Sproul
Inerrancy In the Pulpit by Sinclair Ferguson
Inerrancy In the Pew by John MacArthur (live via video)
Shibboleth? by R.C. Sproul Jr.
The Difficulty Today with Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, Stephen Nichols, R.C. Sproul, and R.C. Sproul Jr.
God’s Word is Truth by Steven Lawson