What Is Faith? By R. C. Sproul. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2010. 67 pp. Paper, $2.50.
This booklet is divided into four chapters. The first two chapters are good. The last two are not.
In Chap. 1, “A Hopeful Vision,” Sproul takes Hebrews 11 as his main text. He emphasizes that the promises of God are the objects of our faith. The man of faith believes: “Even though God’s promises tarry, they are sure to come to pass, and the righteous person in God’s sight is the person who lives by faith” (p. 12).
In Chap. 2, “Examples of Faith,” Sproul describes how faith operated in the lives of some OT saints. Again, he emphasizes believing the promises of God for salvation (although in this quote he uses unfortunate synonyms for believing): “When a person embraces the promises of God that are found in Christ, that person is instantly justified. Even so Abraham was counted (or reckoned) righteous by God because he trusted the promise of God” (p. 27).
Sproul is also clear that the object of Abraham’s faith was the future Redeemer: “Abraham not only looked forward to the promise of land, he looked forward to the promise of the Redeemer, which promise was fulfilled in the person of Christ” (p. 29). Consequently, Abraham was saved the same way we are: “people in the OT were redeemed in exactly the same way as people are redeemed today. There was not one way of salvation in Israel and another way in the new covenant (Christian) community. Justification is by faith now; justification was by faith back then…His faith was in the promise; our faith is in the fulfillment of that promise. But the way of salvation was the same for Abraham as it is for us today” (p. 30). The content of that promise was “the coming Messiah, whose blood would take away sin” (p. 30).
Chapter 3, “A Gift from God,” is poor. Sproul defends the Calvinistic doctrines that regeneration precedes faith and that God elects who will be regenerated. But in John 4:10-15, Jesus makes clear you must believe to be regenerated, not the other way around: “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” If you believe, then you get eternal life (“shall never thirst”); you do not get eternal life to believe. Jesus makes the same point in John 6:35.
Chapter 4, “Strengthened by the Word,” undermines the possibility of assurance. Sproul defends the Calvinistic doctrines of election and predestination (for a more Biblical view, see my book, Chosen to Serve: Why Divine Election Is to Service, Not to Eternal Life). Although Sproul says you can be sure you are elect (p. 60), he uses Wesley’s “strangely warmed” heart as an example of how that is possible (p. 60). That approach undermines assurance in two ways. First, it makes assurance based on figuring out whether or not you are elect, instead of simply believing the promises of God. Second, it makes assurance based on a mystical experience instead of the promises of God. But how do you know if your mystical experience is genuine? Mormons have strangely 114 Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society Autumn 2017 warmed hearts, too. Does that mean Mormons are saved? Of course not. It is odd that Sproul would base assurance on having a mystical experience when he had so many helpful things to say about being certain of God’s promises. Those promises are the only grounds for our assurance. If whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life, and you believe, then what are you certain you have? Eternal life. Strangely warmed hearts are no proof at all.
Interestingly, although Sproul claims you can be sure you are elect, he quotes Jonathan Edwards as teaching his congregation: “You don’t know whether you’re elect or not elect” (p. 64). The fact that Sproul says you can be sure and then quotes Edwards as saying that you cannot be sure demonstrates the divide in Calvinism over the possibility and basis of assurance.
In this booklet, Sproul makes some good comments about the object of faith (i.e., the promises of God), and the one condition of salvation in both the OT and the NT. However, since he undermines the possibility of assurance, I can recommend it only with caution.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society