T4G – My Response to R. C. Sproul's Talk

T4G – My Response to R. C. Sproul's Talk May 24, 2006
I have already linked to some quotes from this message here, and Tim Challies has also posted his summary. The message can also be downloaded as an mp3 from SGM.

This message was a masterful defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It interacted with Catholic theology and sounded a clear note. In all the confusion that clutters the modern theological scene, I am thrilled that someone as wise and persuasive as Sproul did not fail to miss the opportunity afforded by T4G to be crystal clear about the very foundation of our faith. I am surely one of those who believes that without a clear understanding of the issues addressed in Sproul’s talk, we have no Gospel worth proclaiming and no hope of salvation.

I think in the context of the conference, Sproul was correct to examine Rome’s teaching on this matter. I would love for some of the Catholics who frequent this blog to listen and tell us if they feel he was fair to the official teaching of Rome. The fact is, however, that not everyone who bears the name Catholic will believe the same thing, and so I do not believe that Sproul was intending to say that all Catholics are unsaved rather that there is only salvation in this message of the unmerited grace of Christ. Whatever denomination we belong to, we are saved in the same way, and by the same message! The message of the reformers is therefore as relevant today as it ever was, and sadly as alien to the ears of many in both Protestant and Catholic denominations as it was hundreds of years ago!

I would like to sound a slight note of caution about a way in which some of us might be tempted to use this talk. In a public meeting of the church on a Sunday, where unbelievers and Catholics may well be present, I am not sure that to regurgitate a talk like Sproul’s would be helpful. To be clear, I think it WAS helpful in the context of a room full of preachers, but I am not sure it would be helpful if a message like this was given outside that context. This may be an area where I am wrong, but my current approach to preaching is to proclaim the truth without giving valuable airtime to the errors that are all around us. So, whilst for a preacher to know the context into which he is preaching is vital, I think that on the coal face a sermon better counters error, not by naming and shaming it, but rather by shining a bright light so the darkness can no longer be seen. Thus, would an unbeliever need to hear the teachings of the Catholic Church described and then corrected? No, I don’t think they would. But would they need to hear the great doctrine of justification by faith alone proclaimed in such a way that there is no more room for any doctrine that emphasizes works absolutely!

I guess what I’m saying (and none of this is in any way intended as a criticism of Sproul he was, after all, speaking to preachers who definitely DO need to understand error) is that sometimes, in a preaching context, we need to simply proclaim the truth and let that truth destroy error in the minds of the unbelievers. It is interesting to me that the epistles are very reticent about explaining exactly what errors they are countering. I suspect that this is no accident, and that in our Sunday preaching, we should model the epistles in proclaiming the truth which counters the error, without the need to explain the error. I worry otherwise (God forbid!) that if we give too much attention to error in our preaching, the people might even go away remembering the error and not the truth!

Anyway, again I stress I LOVED this talk as a preacher, and for the mature Christian I would definitely strongly recommend it, but I am not sure that even Sproul would want us to preach like this when visitors are present.

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