Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Chosen by God

Chosen by God. R.C. Sproul. 1986/1994/2011. Tyndale. 216 pages. [Source: Bought]
Baseball. Hot dogs. Apple pie. Chevrolet. These are all things American. To complete the mix we must add the great American motto: "We will not discuss religion or politics." Mottoes are made to be broken. Perhaps no American rule is broken more frequently than the one about not discussing religion or politics. We embark on such discussions repeatedly. And when the topic turns to religion it often gravitates to the issue of predestination. Sadly, that often means the end of discussion and the beginning of argument, yielding more heat than light. Arguing about predestination is virtually irresistible. 
It's been around ten years since I first read R.C. Sproul's Chosen by God. The book wowed me then. And it still leaves quite an impression the second time around. The book is divided into nine chapters: "The Struggle," "Predestination and the Sovereignty of God," "Predestination and Free Will," "Adam's Fall and Mine," "Spiritual Death and Spiritual Life: Rebirth and Faith," "Foreknowledge and Predestination," "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Is Predestination Double?", "Can We Know That We Are Saved?" and "Questions and Objections Concerning Predestination."

Is the book reader friendly? Yes and no. The theological subject is complex. Being complex doesn't make it more biblical OR less biblical. Because it can sound so absolutely foreign to our natural nature, our natural mind, to everything that we think we know, it can be tough to grasp. R.C. Sproul makes a point that this is the kind of knowledge that you almost fight against accepting. Depending on your background, depending on your church experience, depending on your theological leanings, of course. I absolutely love R.C. Sproul's approach to this:
Why do we speak of it? Because we enjoy unpleasantness? Not at all. We discuss it because we cannot avoid it. It is a doctrine plainly set forth in the Bible. We talk about predestination because the Bible talks about predestination. If we desire to build our theology on the Bible, we run head on into the concept. We soon discover that John Calvin did not invent it... (10)
If we are to be biblical, then, the issue is not whether we should have a doctrine of predestination or not, but what kind we should embrace. If the Bible is the Word of God, not mere human speculation, and if God himself declares that there is such a thing as predestination, then it follows irresistibly that we must embrace some doctrine of predestination. If we are to follow this line of thinking, then, of course, we must go one step further. It is not enough to have just any view of predestination. It is our duty to seek the correct view of predestination, lest we be guilty of distorting or ignoring the Word of God. (11)
I wrote a note to myself that I kept on my desk in a place where I could always see it: YOU ARE REQUIRED TO BELIEVE, TO PREACH, AND TO TEACH WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS IS TRUE, NOT WHAT YOU WANT THE BIBLE TO SAY IS TRUE. (12)
They say there is nothing more obnoxious than a converted drunk. Try a converted Arminian. Converted Arminians tend to become flaming Calvinists, zealots for the cause of predestination. You are reading the work of such a convert. (13)
To a Calvinist, to someone of the "Reformed" faith, the book is easier going. Once you connect the dots, once you have grasped the doctrines of grace, then it is hard to see what kept you blind to these "obvious" biblical truths.

Chosen by God is a book to read or perhaps reread slowly and thoughtfully. It is not necessarily a book to be rushed. It's a book to read side by side with the Bible, a book to be studied and pondered.

Favorite quotes:
The freedom of the sovereign is always greater than the freedom of his subjects. (24)
The very essence of grace is that it is undeserved. God always reserves the right to have mercy upon whom he will have mercy. God may owe people justice, but never mercy. (33)
Let us assume that all men are guilty of sin in the sight of God. From that mass of guilty humanity, God sovereignly decides to give mercy to some of them. What do the rest get? They get justice. The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice. Mercy is not justice. But neither is it injustice. (37)
God is free. I am free. God is more free than I am. If my freedom runs up against God's freedom, I lose. His freedom restricts mine; my freedom does not restrict his. (43)
To have free will is to be able to choose according to our desires. Here desire plays the vital role of providing a motivation or a reason for making a choice... According to Edwards a human being is not only free to choose what he desires but he must choose what he desires to be able to choose at all. (54) 
Our choices are determined by our desires. They remain our choices because they are motivated by our own desires. (54)
The will is a natural ability given to us by God. We have all the natural faculties necessary to make choices. We have a mind and we have a will. We have the natural ability to choose what we desire. What, then, is our problem? According to the Bible the location of our problem is clear. It is with the nature of our desires. This is the focal point of our fallenness. Scripture declares that the heart of fallen man continually harbors desires that are only wicked... Before a person can make a choice which is pleasing to God, he must first have a desire to please God. Before we can find God, we must first desire to seek him. Before we can choose the good, we must first have a desire for the good. Before we can choose Christ, we must first have a desire for Christ. The sum and and substance of the whole debate on predestination rests squarely on this point: Does fallen man, in and of himself, have a natural desire for Christ? (60-1)
Edwards insists that, in the Fall, man lost his original desire for God. When he lost that desire, something happened to his freedom. He lost the moral ability to choose Christ. In order to choose Christ, the sinner must first have a desire to choose Christ. Either he has that desire already within him or he must receive that desire from God. (61)
Original sin refers to the result of the sin of Adam and Eve. (63)
Before the Fall Adam was endowed with two possibilities: He had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. After the Fall Adam had the ability to sin and the inability not to sin. The idea of "inability to not" is a bit confusing to us because in English it's a double negative. Augustine's Latin formula was non posse non peccare. Stated another way, it means that after the Fall man was morally incapable of living without sin. The ability to live without sin was lost in the Fall. This moral inability is the essence of what we call original sin. (65)
No human being can possibly come to Christ unless something happens that makes it possible for him to come. That necessary condition that Jesus declares is that "it has been granted to him by the Father." Jesus is saying here that the ability to come to him is a gift from God. Man does not have the ability in and of himself to come to Christ. God must do something first. (68) (John 6:65)
A cardinal point of Reformed theology is the maxim: "Regeneration precedes faith." Our nature is so corrupt the power of sin is so great, that unless God does a supernatural work in our souls we will never choose Christ. We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order that we may believe. (72-3)
We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. (110)
Seeking is the business of believers... The Christian life begins at conversion; it does not end where it begins. It grows; it moves from faith to faith, from grace to grace, from life to life. The movement of growth is prodded by a continual seeking after God. (111)
When God regenerates a human soul, when he makes us spiritually alive, we make choices. We believe. We have faith. We cling to Christ. God does not believe for us. (118)
Jesus is irresistible to those who have been made alive to the things of God. Every soul whose heart beats with the life of God within it longs for the living Christ. (123)
I learned one thing clearly in my experience in evangelism: The message of justification by faith alone has not penetrated our culture. Multitudes of people are resting their hopes for heaven on their own good works. They are quite willing to admit they are not perfect, but they assume they are good enough. They have done "their best" and that, they tragically assume, is good enough for God. (165)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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