Monday, December 17, 2007

Getting the Gospel Right

I recently finished reading R.C. Sproul’s Getting The Gospel Right, in which he examines the statements Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT it’s now known as) and The Gift of Salvation. The overall focus of his investigation is “Has the Roman Catholic Church finally bowed to the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (sola fide), or have Protestants conceded their own hard fought battle for the doctrine of sola fide from the Reformation to the Roman Catholic position?” Sproul’s consensus: neither party actually forfeited their doctrinal views, though Protestants conceded some ground due to vague wording.

Here is how:

Sproul notes that when speaking on Justification (article 7); the “Gift of Salvation” certainly SEEMS to point toward a Reformed view of Justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ: “…God, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends…”

But sadly it falls short as a result of the RCC’s view of Justification, which it believes is on the grounds of “infused righteousness” at baptism (rather than being imputed to man from Christ by faith alone as the Reformers demanded it). So it still enables Roman Catholics to consider Justification as based on the righteousness of Christ, all the while still believing the congruent MERIT OF MAN is involved in maintaining this “infusion” of righteousness which is necessary for Justification before God. Basically the RC signers of this declaration could in good conscience subscribe to what the statement said as long as the nature of Christ’s righteousness (imputed or infused) is left unspecified. Tricky, tricky.

When speaking on Faith (article 8) the statement declares that justification is “received through faith”, is “a gift of God”, and “issues in a changed life” but as Sproul adeptly notices that “received through faith” does not equal “received by faith alone” and thus sola fide is not accomplished. The framers of the statement have completely sidestepped the issue altogether of “justification by faith alone” vs. “Justification = Faith + Merit”

When speaking on An Assured Hope, the statement falls short of declaring a person capable of having assurance of their salvation, but only being able to “….have assured hope for the eternal life promised to us in Christ.’ An “assured hope” is not the same as actual assurance at all as Sproul notes, but rather a “hope or desire without actual assurance of the outcome”. The RCC has not departed at all from its historic position from Council of Trent that declares that ”no one can know with the CERTAINTY OF FAITH, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God”.

Its a very good book, I definitely recommend it. R.C. Sproul trudges through both statements “Evangelicals and Catholics Together”, and “The Gift of Salvation” with a fine-toothed comb and an eye for what each party was actually willing to “put on the table”, so to speak theologically, shows the emptiness of the "unity" that was believed to be reached,and wraps it up with a solid articulation for what the Gospel IS, and summed up some key points:

  • Justification is by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone.
  • Justification requires mental understanding of Christ’s vicarious atonement, but never merely mental assent to this fact. (cheap grace)
  • Doctrine does not save, but essential elements of the gospel cannot be rejected without harm.
  • Sanctification must be distinguished from justification, but never divorced from it, as neither exist or can stand apart from the other.

    With the exception of some advanced theological terms some newbies would need clarification of; this book would be a great read for even the immature Christian, especially since R.C. spells out everything he says so succinctly and to the point. A lot of the book would probably be redundant if you have already read Sprouls Faith Alone though, thats the only negative I can think of. His closing remark sums up the thrust of the whole book; "To be faithful to the Great Commission," Sproul concludes, "we must get the gospel right." Hopefully we can all say amen to that.
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