Saved from What? By R. C. Sproul. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002. 128 pp. Cloth. $14.99.
The title of this book really grabbed my attention. For a long time I have felt that a key to proper biblical interpretation on passages using the words save and salvation is to ask saved from what?
I was disappointed to discover that only 25 pages of the book actually deal with the question raised in the title (pp. 13-37). The second major section of the book is over twice as long and deals with Saved by What? (pp. 41-99). The final section is about the same length as the first section and answers the question, Saved for What? (pp. 103-123).
The first chapter, “Saved from What?” bears the same title as the book and the first section. Sproul says that the biblical words for save and salvation are not fixed words which always relate to eternal salvation from hell. He gives a number of NT examples where some other type of deliverance is in view. That is helpful. Unfortunately, he doesn’t deal with problem texts like Jas 2:14 or Matt 16:24 -27 or Phil 2:12 and show how the deliverance in question is something other than justification salvation. Of course, he wouldn’t, for in his other works he makes it clear those are dealing with eternal salvation.
Surprisingly, he suggests what we need to be saved from is God: “We need to be saved from God…God in saving us saves us from Himself” (p. 25). While he rightly points out the fallacy of promising salvation from earthly problems to those who believe, he wrongly says that we need saving from God. Part of the reason he says this is because he understands salvation from the wrath of God in passages like 1 Thess 1:10 and 5:9 as referring to escaping eternal condemnation (pp. 22-24), not to escaping the Tribulation via the Rapture.
The only other chapter in the first section doesn’t seem to fit. It is entitled, “The Shattered Self-image.” His point is that when confronted with God’s holiness, we see our weakness and need. But how this fits under a section entitled “Saved from What?” is not clear.
The section entitled, “Saved by What?” reviews the cross and its significance. JOTGES readers will be especially interested in Chapter 7, “Appropriating the Cross.” Unfortunately, he isn’t very clear here. Sproul’s main focus is on the double imputation of our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us. When he actually discusses appropriation, he speaks vaguely of “the moment I embrace Jesus Christ” (p. 98), and “the only way we can have the righteousness and the merit of Christ transferred to our account is by faith” (p. 99). The latter is better. But he then goes on to say, “We can only trust in it [His righteousness] and cling to it.” That makes it sound like one is not justified at the moment of faith, but only after clinging to Christ’s righteousness for a lifetime.
The third section discusses what people are saved to do. Unfortunately, the section is way too short to do the subject justice. Additionally, the sole chapter in this section is entitled, “Adoption and the Beatific Vision.” How does that answer the question, “Saved for What?”
The title of this book is excellent. The book itself, while having some helpful content, devotes too little attention to each of the three questions discussed. If all 128 pages had been devoted to the question raised in the title, then the topic might have been adequately covered. As is, the book only delivers a little of what the title suggests.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society