The Five R.C. Sproul Books That Had the Biggest Impact on Me
Posted On February 16, 2018
There was a time not too many years ago when it was not as easy as it is today to find good books by Reformed authors. For much of the twentieth century, many of the older Reformed works remained untranslated and/or out of print, and the few newer books that were published were by (then) small and obscure publishing companies and not easy to get. One of the first popular Reformed authors was R.C. Sproul, and his writings and ministry did as much to spread Reformed theology in the United States as anyone else. Dr. Sproul’s books have had an incredible impact on tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Christians. Many of his books have had a lasting impact on me. When I reflect on which books had the most lasting impact on me personally, five in particular stand out.
Chosen by God is Dr. Sproul’s classic introduction to the doctrines of predestination and election. For many of those introduced to Reformed theology by Dr. Sproul, these doctrines are enormous stumbling blocks. They certainly were for me. This book was an eye-opener because it forced me to come to grips with the fact that these doctrines are not man-made doctrines. They are found repeatedly in the Bible itself. I was forced to realize that if I rejected these doctrines I was rejecting the teaching of Scripture.
I remember the first time I read What is Reformed Theology? I was moving along at a good pace until I ran into a section titled “Reformed Theology Is Catholic.” I stopped and did a double-take. Was this a typo? How can you say Reformed theology is Catholic? Isn’t Catholicism diametrically opposed to everything Reformed theology stands for? Those were the kinds of questions that were racing through my mind. However, Dr. Sproul wasn’t claiming that Reformed theology is Roman Catholic. The point he was making is that the Reformers were not trying to create a new church from scratch. The Reformers were attempting to reform the existing church. There was much in the ancient and medieval church that they appropriated. There was, therefore, continuity between the church of the first centuries and the Reformation church. This book helped me begin to grasp that the church did not begin in the sixteenth century.
During my time at Reformed Theological Seminary in the mid-nineties, a group of Roman Catholics and evangelical theologians got together and published a document titled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” Many evangelicals shrugged their shoulders. Dr. Sproul did not. He recognized that this document undermined the doctrine of justification in subtle and not so subtle ways. Dr. Sproul had friends who signed this document and he urged them to reconsider and recant. His book Faith Alone was an attempt to respond to this document and warn evangelicals of the ways in which it undermined the gospel. What I learned from Dr. Sproul through this book and the events surrounding its publication is that there are times when we have to take a stand even if it means losing long-time friends. Dr. Sproul was willing to lose friends for the sake of the gospel. So must we.
One of Dr. Sproul’s greatest legacies is his involvement with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy that produced the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. When the doctrine of inerrancy was under attack, he helped organize the Council that would do much to reestablish the foundations of this important biblical teaching. Not only did they publish the Chicago Statement, the various theologians involved published multiple academic works defending inerrancy from nearly every conceivable objection. Dr. Sproul himself was asked to write the official commentary on the Chicago Statement. His commentary is a very helpful explanation of what the Council intended with each affirmation and denial. The book Scripture Alone contains several of Dr. Sproul’s more academic works on the doctrine of Scripture as well as his entire commentary on the Chicago Statement.
Dr. Sproul’s book What We Believe is a commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. This book was instrumental in sparking my interest in the theology of the early church. Because the Apostles’ Creed is included or explained in so many Reformed catechisms and confessions, it also helped me begin to see some of the continuity between the early church and the Reformation. This book is also characteristic of Dr. Sproul in that he did not get sidetracked by some of the louder debates over secondary and tertiary issues. He was focused on the essentials—the doctrine of God and the gospel. By the way, this book was Dr. Sproul’s first book, originally published in 1973 as The Symbol.
Dr. Keith Mathison is Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla.