Book Review: Chosen by God, by Dr. R.C. Sproul

For a long time I have been prejudiced against Calvinism. Not only was I prejudiced against it, I later found out that I was somewhat scared of it. I had accepted the opinions of others as to where Calvinism had diverged from Truth and avoided it like the plague.

Yet over the years I began to develop an appreciation for fairness and logical consistency. Partly this was due to my encounters with the prejudices of other Christians who wanted to pigeonhole some of my theological ideas irrespective of their actual basis. The funny thing about prejudice is that it works both ways. I was frustrated by the dismissal of Christians who would not even engage in discussions about doctrine without resorting to logical fallacies, yet I was guilty of the same thing. What was I to do?

After reading some of Calvin's theology and the theology of the Reformers, I was surprised to learn how much of it I agreed with. I thought, "Is this Calvinism? It certainly doesn't fit my idea of Calvinism. Was Calvin actually a Calvinist?" I needed this to be broken down. I could do more in-depth reading later, but I had to first confront this "5 points" business.

Being dissatisfied that I was not able to identify classical Calvinism in what I had read, I turned to an old standby - Dr. R.C. Sproul. I had enjoyed reading one of his books before and I liked to hear him on the radio. If anyone is a Calvinist, I thought, this guy is. So I embarked on reading his book on the Calvinist perspective of predestination, and did so very carefully, reading slowly over points that I thought might prove to be crucial to giving Calvinism a fair shake. After all, I wanted people to extend to me the same courtesy.

After having read the book, I can honestly say I have a greater appreciation for the Reformed position on predestination - and although this seems somewhat premature of me to say this since I just finished the book days ago, I honestly cannot find anything grossly wrong with it. I say this knowing full well that Dr. Sproul is nothing if not a very convincing fellow, and while I had previously adopted a view of predestination closer to the Arminian emphasis on foreknowledge, I know that I must eventually read something that breaks down the Arminian concept point-by-point to be fair. Just as I had some preconceived ideas as to what Calvinism was that proved to be wrong, the same thing is likely for Arminianism.

Sproul does an excellent job reducing the arguments of the basic tenets of Calvinism's 5 points, and expounds on each of them, modifying the acrostic "TULIP" so that a fair explanation of each aspect is dealt with apart from the presumptions about what "irresistible grace" is, for instance. He remains consistent throughout, and while he makes no bones about the fact that he is a bona fide Calvinist, he doesn't browbeat the unconverted. His acknowledgment of being a former Arminian softens the blow of his persuasive arguments.

I have never been one to identify myself in a way that is dichotomous. I really don't like either/or propositions when they are unnecessary, and this is no different. I just think things are often much too complex to be one or the other. So don't look for me to call myself a Calvinist any time soon. I do realize that we all have adopted ideas consistent with our particular Christian traditions, and I realize that the basis of things we take for granted as being true often have a root in an unidentified theological assumption.

What has turned me off to Calvinism in the past, aside from my misunderstanding of it, is it's implications. I know that this is no valid reason to believe of reject something, but I still have some reservations as to a broader Calvinistic perspective on Providence. The thing that really left a bad taste in my mouth was a comparison Sproul made between the death of David's infant son and the loss of his own infant grandson. I don't have a problem acknowledging that David lost his son because of God's judgment, but without his pointing to a specific sin his daughter committed on par with David's, I have a hard time making that jump. Sproul attempts to debunk the idea that Calvinism leads to Fatalism, but I really think these were his weaker arguments. If they are dissimilar, they may have a lot more in common than he would like to admit.

All in all, I think the book is very good, and I would recommend it. It has given me a new perspective on predestination. I may still not like all the implications of Reformed predestination, but at least I have met them head on. And I feel that being more informed as to a perspective I was once unwilling to entertain has contributed to a more balanced view consistent with reconciliation - reconciliation of my own ideas with Scripture, and reconciliation in the body of Christ. We don't have to agree on everything, but we can be civil about it. If we want others to hear us out, we must do likewise.

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Comment by Dr. Henry, President of the AOCI on March 17, 2010 at 9:27am
LOL.....that's funny ...at the same time, I am sure many Arminian Theologians (such as Dr. Stanley Horton) has influenced many to believe in Christ as well. God bless
Comment by Michael Shanlian Ph.D. on March 17, 2010 at 9:23am
Dr. Henry,
It is interesting two ministers who have influenced thousands to accept Christ all over the world are Dr. D.J. Kennedy and Dr R.C. Sproul both reformed theologians! BTW I do not ever plan on growing up!!!!!!!!!!
Comment by Dr. Henry, President of the AOCI on March 17, 2010 at 9:07am
Dr. Shanlian. You are dead on. It truly is a blessing to have you connected to the AOCI. We need to get over our own issues and stay open so we can learn. Even as a traditional Arminian, on of my favorite theologians is Dr. Sproul!! I just love this guy! Someday when I grow up, I want to be just like him...LOL!!! God bless you brother Shanlian.
Comment by Michael Shanlian Ph.D. on March 17, 2010 at 8:35am
Christopher,
Right on brother! I was first exposed to the teaching of RC Sproul in the mid 1990's. I attended a Fundamentalist Bible college that excoriated Calvinism. Like you, once I began to study what they actually believe my prejudice began to melt away.

I appreciated the emphasis on the Sovereignty of God. Many pulpits today are silent on that subject. Dr. Sproul challenged my thinking on presuppositionalism vs. rationalism as it pertains to apologetics. In other words do Christians assume God exists and build their apologetic from that point (presuppositionalism)? Or do we have evidence that points to the existence of God (rationalism)? After careful study for several years I switched my apologetic from presuppositionalism to rationalism. When I attended Liberty University I wrote a paper about which apologetic is closer to classical Christianity. My professor was so impressed he told me to have it published.

I have several of Sprouls books and CD teaching series. Do I agree with everything? No, but I am much closer to a reformed position than I used to be. I certainly count them as brothers and sisters in Christ. I also discovered that the majority of reformed Christians I have met along with Dr. Sproul actively witness for our Lord.

We all have theological baggage no matter what denominational perspective we espouse. The key is to respect the views of others and like you said, not to pigeon hole people. If an individual has excepted Christ as their savior by faith, then what they believe about TULIP or any other theological rubric is a personal choice and should not be a barrier to fellowship!

Great Job!
Comment by Dr. Henry, President of the AOCI on January 26, 2010 at 7:23am
Well Said brother Chris. What we must do as theologians (which is very difficult to grasp even for laity) is to preach and teach what is found in the Word of God even if we understand it it or fully comprehend it. The reality is that Scripture teaches both schools of thought!...LOL. An example would be like the doctrine of the trinity. I don't know of anyone who fully has a full comprehension, never the less we should embrace it, teach it, and speak of it. There in is the challenge for our frail minds to comprehend the "MAJESTY" of God!! I just added another blog on exegesis and will be adding a few more. God bless you brother Christ and may our LORD expand your understanding and revelation of Who He really is!
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on January 26, 2010 at 7:12am
Dr. Henry, I was actually going to ask you what you would recommend I read to get a better grasp on Arminian theology. I'll look for Dr. Olson's book, but probably won't be able to get to it for a while. I went to the library and looked for The Holiness of God, but it was either checked out or I just didn't see it. A couple of other books grabbed my attention, so I went with them.

I don't plan on choosing sides per se, but again, I can't deny that I may lean more one way than the other in a practical way. I think your assessment of these schools of thought as "incarnational" is important. I think there are things to be learned from many different perspectives, but there are limits to our search of the mind of God. Even comprehending eternity is near impossible.
Comment by Dr. Henry, President of the AOCI on January 25, 2010 at 9:14pm
Brother Chris, now this is what I call "Theological Study". The same can be said for the other side (Arminian). There is much mis-understanding with this school of theology. I would recommend that before you side on either, read Dr. Roger E. Olsons Book called "Arminian Theology-myths and Realities. John Wesley once said, "To say, This man is an Arminian, is like saying, This is a mad dog"....LOL...Dr. Olson debunks the propagated mis conceptions and misrepresentations of not only our brothers in the Calvinist side, but also dives into the side by side doctrines concerning Justification, Predestination, Atonement, Grace, etc. This is a solid defense for Arminians. However, I am stil looking and yet perhaps may be writing further on this subject.

In the final analysis, I believe both schools of theology mean the same but both have a multi faceted and incarnational look at scriptures which make them unique when compared to the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God. Study on brother....because what you are doing is what makes theology the most profound and wonderful studies that the LORD has given us. Praise be to our God for both Calvinist and Arminians!!!!!!

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