The Righteous Shall Live By Faith: Romans. By R. C. Sproul. Wheaton IL: Crossway Books, 2009. 514 pp. Cloth, $34.99.
By almost any standard, R. C. Sproul is a prodigious writer, having authored over 60 books. The Righteous Shall Live By Faith is part of his own “St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary” series, being adaptations of sermons he has preached at St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. As any follower of Sproul’s ministry would expect, his exposition of Romans is presented from the vantage point of Reformed theology.
Sproul presents his comments in fifty-eight chapters, each an easy-to-digest length of about ten pages. While this sometimes disguises larger breakdowns in Paul’s argument, it will be appreciated by those who are looking for shorter sections of study.
Sproul’s comments often make for interesting reading, but this is less a commentary of Romans than a presentation of Reformed theology, using the text of Romans as a starting point. Indeed, Sproul’s discussion throughout is so colored by his theology that one often searches in vain for any real exposition of the text. For example, there are two chapters covering Romans 7:14-25 (223-40), yet in these 18 pages, only two paragraphs interact with the biblical text at all! Instead, Sproul gives us brief discourses on perfectionism, the Spirit-filled life, duality vs. tripartitism, spiritual progression, views of the universe, and John Calvin’s and Jonathan Edwards’s teaching on the will of man! Instructive as all this is for understanding Sproul’s theological framework, it has virtually nothing to do with the text.
When Sproul does interact with Scripture, his comments are generally not exegetical at all, but rather lectures defending Reformed theology. Romans 10:9-10 provides a fitting illustration. Sproul has nothing to say about Paul’s use of the term “saved,” which is critical to the interpretation here, and to the epistle as a whole. Instead, he equates it with justification, making justification dependent on both professing and believing. In fact, his wording makes faith a secondary requirement: “Paul does not say that we will be saved if we confess with our mouth. He adds a condition: you must ‘believe with your heart'” (351, italics mine)! Students of Romans will be shocked to find that Sproul omits any mention at all of Romans 5:9 (“having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him”), a text which is central to the progression of Paul’s argument. Finally, in his discussion of 10:14 (“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?”), Sproul fails to see the transparent link between “calling” (10:14) and “confessing” (10:9-10).
In the context of his discussion on 10:9-10, Sproul makes an incredible statement. Responding to his own rhetorical question, “What are the necessary ingredients of saving faith?”, he writes:
“Luther, following James’ teaching that faith without works is dead (James 2:20), asked, ‘Can a dead faith justify anybody?’ Luther answered emphatically in the negative.”
This is a stunning assertion for one supposedly knowledgeable of church history as Sproul certainly is. It is well-known that Luther was so put off by the very passage to which Sproul refers that he called James a “right strawy epistle” (which Sproul admits on p. 108)! To Luther, who thought the passage was saying what Sproul makes it to say, such teaching was not fit as inspired writ. Sproul not only affirms such a reading, but suggests Luther did, too! In order to support his theology, Sproul is evidently happy to rewrite history!
Throughout, Scripture is not interacted with so much as simply alluded to, then followed with an extended discussion of classical Reformed theology. For example, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Romans 9:13) is a launching pad for a presentation of the “two loves of God” idea. Those familiar with Reformed theology’s teaching that God chose those who would be justified (and thus those who would not) in eternity past on the basis of His sovereign decree will find little satisfaction in the idea that God “loves” those He creates to endure eternal suffering in hell!
One more example will have to suffice. Sproul, with many Reformed theologians, struggles with the absoluteness of Paul’s statements on justification in Romans 4. His solution is to ignore Paul’s words and cite James 2:14-25 (he includes the entire passage in his text, curiously omitting v 26), followed by a section entitled “Works Prove Faith.” Thus, a text which says exactly the opposite—”to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness”—is used by Sproul to inject works into justification!
In summary, it bears repeating that this is less a commentary on Romans, and more a discourse on Reformed theology using Romans as a launching pad. Interaction with the text is spotty at best, and passages which do not mesh well with Sproul’s theology are simply ignored, or “explained” so as to affirm Reformed theology. Those who are looking for exegetical or expositional guidance in the book of Romans should look elsewhere. For an example of Reformed eisegesis, but little else, can I recommend this book.
Philip F. Congdon
New Braunfels Bible Church
New Braunfels, TX