Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The "gospel" of R.C. Sproul: did Mathew C. Heckel 'get it right'?




In my previous thread, Misreading historical theology, I brought back to the fore an older thread (link) that touched on a JETS essay (link) which explored a number of historical problems with R.C Sproul's assessment of what one must believe in order to experience salvation. In the combox of the above mentioned "previous thread", Ken Temple posted:

David,
I don't have time to go over all this again with a fine-tooth comb, but it seems to me that Heckel mis-understood Sproul.

Also, Sproul's book, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together (Baker, 1999) answers the questions that Heckel seems to be asking after he read Faith Alone.

Especially important are pages 169-172 - these pages show that Heckel is wrong about Sproul because Heckel projects implications that he gets into his own mind into Faith Alone, but Sproul never meant that everyone before Luther or Trent had to be able to articulate justification by faith alone before Luther, in order to be saved.

So, I think Heckel has interpreted R. C. Sproul's book, "Faith Alone" wrongly. (
link)

Did Heckel interpret " R. C. Sproul's book, "Faith Alone" wrongly"? Does Sproul's subsequent book, Getting the Gospel Right, correct any misconceptions Heckel may have had? I do not believe that this is the case at all; in fact, I believe Sproul's, Getting the Gospel Right (GTGR), reinforces Heckel's original assessment. I will now turn to chapter 11 ("Trusting in Christ") of GTGR, wherein Sproul describes at length, one of the "necessary condition[s] of saving faith".  To lay the foundation for the rest of the chapter, Sproul cites Article 16 of the document, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, under his heading—"Saving Faith":

16. We affirm that saving faith includes mental assent to the content of the Gospel, acknowledgment of our own sin and need, and personal trust and reliance upon Christ and his work.

We deny that saving faith includes only mental acceptance of the Gospel, and that justification is secured by a mere outward profession of faith. We further deny that any element of saving faith is a meritorious work or earns salvation for us. (Page 167)

Sproul then writes:

The Reformers delimited three essential elements of saving faith: notitia (knowledge of the data or content of the gospel), assensus (the intellectual acceptance or assent to the truth of the gospel's content), fiducia (personal reliance on or trust in Christ and his gospel). (Page 168)

He then goes on to describe two Biblical accounts of "intellectual acceptance" (i.e. demons and Satan) and states:

But the demons lacked saving faith. They had one of the necessary elements of saving faith, but not all of them. Intellectual acceptance is a necessary condition for saving faith, but not a sufficient condition. That is, without intellectual acceptance we cannot be saved, but its mere presence does not bring salvation...

Article 16 affirms that saving faith includes intellectual acceptance of the gospel's content but is not exhausted by or comprised solely of mental assent.

Article 16 denies that one can have saving faith without intellectual acceptance or assent. This would exclude from salvation even those who call themselves Christians but who at the same time reject essential elements of the gospel...

This raises the question regarding Roman Catholics who, though they may affirm other essential elements of the gospel, reject sola fide. If they do not intellectually accept this element  and if this element is essential to the gospel, can they still be saved? The only honest answer I can give to this question is no. This answer raises the hackles of many who seek to affirm unity Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, and it requires further explanation.

Does this mean that we are saved by the doctrine of sola fide? By no means. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and his saving work. Mere belief in the doctrine of sola fide will save no one. Intellectual acceptance of sola fide does not constitute saving faith. The object of fiducia must be in Christ and his work, not the doctrine of justification. The problem arises when we ask about the consequences of rejecting sola fide, that person rejects an essential element of the gospel. That poses a problem not only at an intellectual or doctrinal level, but at the spiritual level as well. If a person is trusting not in the imputed righteousness of Christ but in his own inherent righteousness, he will not be saved. He lacks a necessary condition of saving faith. In the final analysis he is trusting in another gospel and remains in a state of self-righteousness. By rejecting an essential element of the gospel, he is under the biblical and thus divine anathema. This is precisely why Martin Luther insisted that sola fide is the article by which the church stands of falls. It is the article by which we stand or fall.  (Pages 168-170 - bold emphasis added.)

Now, a couple of points: first, Sproul incorrectly attributes to Martin Luther the dictum, "that sola fide is the article by which the church stands of falls." (See THIS THREAD for documentation of this error.) Second, Sproul makes it quite clear that, "[m]ere belief in the doctrine of sola fide will save no one", and that "[i]f a person is trusting not in the imputed righteousness of Christ but in his own inherent righteousness, he will not be saved."

Can Sproul get any clearer on this issue? I think not. Even though he later tries to make room for the possible salvation of Roman Catholics who either, "consciously, clearly understand and embrace the doctrine of sola fide and posses a true saving faith"; or, "who do not fully grasp the gospel but who intuitively understand that their only hope in Christ and his work in their behalf and trust him fully" (pp. 170, 171), this proposed concession does not somehow mutate his prior assessments. Bottom line: Heckel got Sproul's "gospel" right.


Grace and peace,

David


P.S. I typed up the quotes from Dr. Sproul's book quite quickly; as such, I suspect there may be some typos, and would greatly appreciate notification of any such spelling errors.

9 comments:

Ken said...

"[i]f a person is trusting not in the imputed righteousness of Christ but in his own inherent righteousness, he will not be saved."

That still does not mean that a person has to be able to articulate what "the imputed righteousness of Christ" means to them. They just "trust Jesus" to save them, and they want to do good works and they love Jesus because they have already been justified. There is difference. If a person trust in himself, then they are not saved. Galatians 2:21 is clear on that.

Ken said...

There are many things that a person does not understand yet at conversion, but they grow later in sanctification as they read, pray, study and mediate in the Scriptures and attend church with the saints.

Heckel was wrong about Sproul - Sproul never said that all before Trent had to have fully articulated the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness in order to be saved. He is clear on that.

Heckel is taking the Reformers understanding that Trent anathematized themselves by rejecting sola Fide; and then reading that back into history - that is anachronistic.

The righteousness/holiness that practically grows within us in the process of sanctification, not justification. By focusing on external things like baptismal regeneration and infant baptism and penance and saying prayers to Mary, fastings, almsgiving - the emphasis of the church in history eclipsed grace and faith, even though the doctrine was always there in the texts of Scripture.

Ken said...

should have been:

The righteousness/holiness that practically grows within us is the process of sanctification, not justification.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Yesterday, you posted:

==That still does not mean that a person has to be able to articulate what "the imputed righteousness of Christ" means to them. They just "trust Jesus" to save them, and they want to do good works and they love Jesus because they have already been justified. There is difference. If a person trust in himself, then they are not saved. Galatians 2:21 is clear on that.==

Me: If what you say is true, then you should not anathematize Trent, for as Charles Hodge has pointed out, one can read Trent and understand it in a way that it in substantial agreement with the above.

==Heckel was wrong about Sproul - Sproul never said that all before Trent had to have fully articulated the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness in order to be saved. He is clear on that.==

Me: Heckel did not write what you attribute to him above. I think you need to go back and read his essay again.

==Heckel is taking the Reformers understanding that Trent anathematized themselves by rejecting sola Fide; and then reading that back into history - that is anachronistic.==

Me: Once again, you are not representing Heckel's view correctly. I would love to interact more with you on these issues after you have taken in Heckel's entire essay (it is only 32 pages).


Grace and peace,

David

Ken said...

I have Heckel's article as I am an associate member of the ETS and have gotten JETS since 1995, when I first joined. I read it years ago and dug it out again and looked over it, but not word for word - I had already marked it up and yellowed it pretty good.

You wrote:
Me: If what you say is true, then you should not anathematize Trent, for as Charles Hodge has pointed out, one can read Trent and understand it in a way that it in substantial agreement with the above.

The author's intended meaning is key; not my own "reading it in such a way . . . " - I still think the RCC is wrong and they are the ones who forced the Reformation by 1. Leo's Bull against Luther and subsequent trials and condemnation - 1521 ? right 2. condemnation at the trial at Worms - only Fredrick the Wise's actions save him from sure execution. 3. Trent first anathematized Sola Fide. (somewhere in between 1545-1563)

The RCC was too harsh for too many centuries, as was Calvin in the Servetus affair and application of OT laws in Geneva. Although I appreciate Calvin for almost everything else, I cannot agree with infant baptism nor any kind of Theonomy. The principle of a kind of "separation of church and state" (not the leftist complete separation of talk of God and religion from public life, but stopping the church from controlling pastors and stopping Christians from torturing and killing heretics, burning witches, etc.) in the USA constitution was a very good thing.

Ken said...

(not the leftist complete separation of talk of God and religion from public life, but stopping the church from controlling pastors and stopping Christians from torturing and killing heretics, burning witches, etc.) in the USA constitution was a very good thing.

OOOPS !!

I should have written "stopping the state from controlling pastors"

Ken said...

Me: Once again, you are not representing Heckel's view correctly.

To me, that is what he is doing by accusing Sproul of condemning everybody who couldn't articulate Sola Fide before Trent. That is what you and he seem to be saying.

Heckel says that Sproul's thesis, "raises serious historical about the status of Augustine and the pre-Reformation church . . . " (p. 89, JETS, March 2004, "Is R. C. Sproul wrong . . . ?)

That is the main thing I remember, but you are forcing me to have to read it again slowly and that will take time, as I have many other things to do and 3 children that demand lots of time, a wife, etc. and work and office duties, etc.

Sorry whatever is off the top of my head I can spend time with right now - what requires lots of serious deep thinking is not happening right now and that is frustrating to me. I would rather do the deep thinking, but I am getting unbalanced and must attend to other things.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks much for taking the time to respond; you wrote:

==Heckel says that Sproul's thesis, "raises serious historical about the status of Augustine and the pre-Reformation church . . . " (p. 89, JETS, March 2004, "Is R. C. Sproul wrong . . . ?)

That is the main thing I remember, but you are forcing me to have to read it again slowly and that will take time, as I have many other things to do and 3 children that demand lots of time, a wife, etc. and work and office duties, etc.

Sorry whatever is off the top of my head I can spend time with right now - what requires lots of serious deep thinking is not happening right now and that is frustrating to me. I would rather do the deep thinking, but I am getting unbalanced and must attend to other things.
==

Understood; sincerely hope that sometime in the future you can return to Heckel's essay, and then share your thoughts with me.


God bless,

David

Hughuenot said...

Or, http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/The%20Trinity%20Review%2000238%20Review265RCSproulonFaith.pdf
?