April 10, 2020
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  • 1:34 pm Guided meditation for students
Introduction: What is Reformed Theology? with R.C. Sproul


A few years ago a professor from Gordon
Conwell Theological Seminary, north of Boston, Dr. David Wells, published a book
that fell like a bombshell on the playground of the nation’s theologians.
And the name of the book was “No Place for Truth. ” Now the subtitle, I think, is
significant as he wrote in the subtitle, “Whatever Happened to Evangelical
Theology?” And in this book that caused quite a stir in the evangelical world, Dr.
Wells outlined his concern for the demise of confessional theology in the life of
the church today. And I’d like to begin our series by reading a brief comment from
that book by Dr. Wells. He makes this statement: “The disappearance of theology
from the life of the church and the orchestration of that disappearance by
some of its leaders is hard to miss today, but oddly enough, not easy to prove. It is
hard to miss in the evangelical world in the vacuous worship that is so prevalent,
for example, in the shift from God to the self as the central focus of faith and the
psychologized preaching that follows this shift. In the erosion of its conviction,
in its strident pragmatism, in its inability to think incisively about the
culture, and in its reveling in the irrational. ” I recently attended a
meeting in Philadelphia of the board of an organization known by the acronym ACE,
which is the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which was brought together
in the first place largely through the stimulus provided by Dr. Wells’ book, for
this group is concerned to help call the church back to its confessional
foundation, understanding that Christianity has a theology. Now the
purpose of this series that we’re beginning today is to give an overview,
kind of a glimpse of the essence of that theology that is called Reformed Theology,
as distinguished from other branches of historic Christianity. Now we won’t have
the time or the opportunity to go into all of the details of Reformed Theology, but I
want to give sort of a compendium, an introduction to the main ideas that we
find in Reformed Theology. And the first thing I want to say today is that Reformed
Theology is a theology. Now that sounds rather redundant, I realize that, but I
want to make this distinction clear that there is a difference between religion and
theology. One of my favorite illustrations of this comes from a personal experience
that I had several years ago when I was invited by the faculty and the
administration of a college in the Midwest that was a Christian college, and they
were without a president at the time, and as a result the school was going through a
period of self-evaluation, and they asked me to come to address the faculty on the
subject “What is a Christian College?” And when I appeared on the campus, the dean
greeted me and gave me the cook’s tour of the facilities, and as we were going
through the faculty office building, I noticed one of the office doors had the
name stenciled across the top of the door, “Department of Religion. ” And I didn’t
say anything; I just sort of filed it back in my mind for a few moments, and then
later on that evening as I addressed the faculty on the question, “What is a
Christian College?” before I began my message, I asked them a question. I said,
“I noticed this afternoon that you have here at this institution a Department of
Religion. And my question is, has this department
always been called the Department of Religion?” And there was an elderly
professor in the back of the room who raised his hand and he said, “No, it used
to be called The Department of Theology. We changed it about 30 years ago to The
Department of Religion. ” I said, “Well, why did you change it?” He didn’t know.
And I asked the rest of the faculty, and they began to guess why they changed it.
They said well maybe to make it easier for our students to transfer their academic
credits from our institution to other universities and so on. Well I took off on
that point to address the question, “What is a Christian College?” or what is
Christian education? And I reminded my colleagues that evening that there is a
profound difference between the study of religion and the study of theology. Now
for those who are watching this presentation, I have put on my blackboard
a brief diagram where I distinguish between two approaches to the question of
faith. One I call God-centered, and the other I call man-centered. And the
illustration that I use here has a circle with the word theology in it and a line
coming underneath it to a sub-circle, which says anthropology. And the purpose
of my diagram is to show that in a God-centered approach to faith the
discipline or the study of humanity, the science of anthropology is subsumed under
the science of theology. This reflects something of the way in which university
courses were structured in the Middle Ages when it was said that theology was the
queen of the sciences, the idea being that all other disciplines in education are
subsumed under the search for ultimate truth that is found in the study of the
nature and character of God. And it assumed that the study of humanity was
always to be pursued in the light of our understanding of God since man is created
by God and that we are the image bearers of God, to have a proper understanding of
what it means to be human we have to first study the prototype rather than looking at
the reflection of that. And then below the center line, I have the man-centered
approach to things indicated by a circle that reads anthropology and then under
that is a smaller circle that says religion. If we go to secular universities
today and study religion usually that study will take place in the context of
the Department of Sociology or of Anthropology. And the difference is this:
the study of theology is the study of God Himself, first and foremost. The study of
religion is the study of particular type of human behavior. We notice that there
are all kinds of religions in the world, and when people are involved in religion,
they’re involved in certain characteristic things like prayer and worship and
sacrifice and singing and devotis and that sort of thing, all of which belong to the
trappings of human religions. And when we study religion from a human perspective,
we are examining how people who have certain beliefs about the supernatural
behave in their personal lives and in their cultic lives. But when I say at the
outset that Reformed theology is a theology, not a religion, I mean by that
that it is not simply a way of behaving that we can determine by studying the
affairs of men, but rather it is a belief system that is indeed an entire life and
world view with God at the center. Now we live in a culture that has certain
axioms and adages that are popular in the nomenclature of the day. You know, you’ve
heard it said it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. And
that idea communicates that what God is really concerned about with us is that we
be religious. Doesn’t matter what the religion is, as long as we’re sincerely
religious. Well that idea is on a collision course with Biblical
Christianity, because in the first instance the Bible acknowledges that man
is incurably religious, he’s homoreligiosus, and that wherever we look
in the world, we find all kinds of manifestations of religion. When the
Jewish people were called by God and consecrated and set apart to be a holy
nation, they were not the only religious people in the world. All of the nations
around them had their peculiar religions. But when God made His covenant with His
people and called them to be holy, to be different, at the very beginning of His
law He made certain things absolutely clear. The first thing is, “Thou shalt
have no other gods before Me. ” And the second, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself
any graven image. ” At the very beginning of the Old Testament covenant at Sinai was
an emphasis on faith that was to be different from other religions, a faith
that would be focused and centered on the character of God Himself. Now we know what
happened very early in the history of Israel in the Old Testament. We recently
had a conference in Orlando on the essentials of the Christian faith where I
called attention to an incident that is recorded for us in the 32nd chapter of the
book of Exodus, and I’ll read a part of this episode to you, beginning at verse
17. We read this: “Now when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted,
he said to Moses, ‘There is a noise of war in the camp. It is not the noise of the
shout of victory, nor the noise of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I
hear. ‘” Now imagine this scenario. Moses is just now returning from Mt. Sinai. He
has been alone with God, conversing with God, as it were, face to face. And when he
comes down from the mountain, he meets Joshua, and Joshua comes to Moses and he
says I hear this loud noise coming from the camp. And Joshua’s first instinct was
to guess that there was some kind of war going on, because you don’t hear this kind
of whooping and hollering and shouting from a mass of people except on the field
of combat. But as he drew closer, he said wait a minute. It’s not the sound of
victory; it’s not the sound of defeat. It’s the sound of singing that I hear. And
he realized that he was approaching the whole assembly of the people of Israel as
they were gathered for religious observation singing lustily in their
celebration of their religion, but it was a celebration that centered on a golden
calf–A golden calf that the people had imposed and begged the high priest, Aaron,
to make for them, that they could have a god like all of the other nations, a god
that was tangible, a god they could see, a god that was contemporary, a god that was
relevant, a god they could get excited about. And the first high priest
consecrated by God Himself exceeded to these demands from the people, and built
them a golden calf. Now in the meantime while this was going
on initially Moses, you recall, had been on Sinai in a relationship with God. And
God knew what was going on at the foot of the mountain; Moses didn’t. Listen to what
God says to Moses in verse 7: “And the Lord said to Moses, go get down for your
people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have
turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. And they have made
themselves a molded calf and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and they said, ‘This
is your god, oh Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt. ‘ And the Lord
said to Moses, I have seen this people and indeed it is a stiff necked people. Now,
therefore, let me alone that my wrath may burn hot against them, and I will consume
them.” Now the people were engaged in religion, but the religion they were
celebrating was a religion that had a theology of this world, a theology that
distorted and corrupted the very character of God, a theology that moved away from
true and honorable worship of God to the worship of creaturely man-made things. And
God said to Moses look at this; they’re worshiping this calf. And they’re saying
this is the god who brought us out of the land of Egypt, as if that calf, made by
their own hands, could have delivered them from anything. They prayed to the calf;
they offered worship and sacrifices to this calf. And the calf was deaf; the calf
was dumb. It couldn’t see anything; it couldn’t do anything. It was not
omnipotent but impotent. But it was a substitute for the living God. Now in the
first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul says that God has revealed Himself through
the things that are made so clearly and so manifestly that everyone in this world
knows the eternal power and deity of God. And yet the primary sin of the human race
is to take that knowledge of God and to push it down, to do what the Apostle says
in Romans, to suppress the truth and hold it in unrighteousness and then exchange
that truth for a lie and serve the creature rather than the creator. The
exchange is between the uncorruptible, transcendent, holy God who is for the
corruption of creaturely things. In other words, friends, the most basic sin that
we, not just pagans in far off aborigine lands or in primitive tribes commit but
that we commit is the besetting sin, the proclivity for idolatry. And idolatry
involves religion, but even the Christian religion can be idolatrous when we strip
God of His true attributes and place at the center of our worship something other
than God Himself. Now if we’re going to look at the essence of Reformed Theology,
I have to say to you that the most strict focus of Reformed Theology is on theology,
on the knowledge of the true God. We live in a day when people say theology doesn’t
matter. This is what David Wells was decrying in his book, “No Place for Truth.
” What counts is feeling good, being ministered unto in our psychological
needs, having a place where we can feel the warmth of fellowship and have a sense
of belonging and of relevance. And theology is something that divides,
something that stirs up controversy and debates. We don’t need doctrine we are told; we
need life. At the heart of Reformed Theology is the affirmation that theology
is life, because theology is the knowledge of God. And there is no more important
knowledge that exists to inform our lives than the knowledge of God. This is what
the Protestant Reformation was all about. There were scandals in the priesthood;
there was problems of … there were problems of immorality both among the
Roman Catholic people and among the Protestant people. And Luther at that time
said Erasmus attacked the Pope in his belly. He said I’ve attacked him in his
doctrine. And Luther even admitted; he said we find scandalous behavior among our
own people, but what we’re trying to do first is come to a sound understanding of
God, because our lives will never be reformed, our lives will never be brought
into conformity to Christ until we first have a clear understanding of the original
form, of the model, of the ideal, of true humanity that is found in Christ. And
that’s a matter of theology. So we start with the clear acknowledgment that the
Reformed faith is a theology, a theology that permeates the whole structure.

Otis Rodgers

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Ligonier Ministries Posted on March 30, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    What Is Reformed Theology? This series by R.C. Sproul is now available on YouTube​ with subtitles in Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.

    Reply
  2. SR Kim Posted on April 9, 2015 at 11:34 am

    한국말로 자막 달아 주셔서 감사합니다. Thank you for your effort to make subtitles in Korean. I wish this lecture have great impact on Korean churrch!

    Reply
  3. Génesis Díaz Posted on June 16, 2015 at 4:03 am

    Gracias por los subtítulos en español

    Reply
  4. Jessie Bland Posted on November 20, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    thank you dr sproul

    Reply
  5. Liberty Garden Posted on January 7, 2016 at 2:35 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this wonderful series. I'll probably have to listen to it 4 or 5 times to begin to understand.

    Reply
  6. bolza Posted on January 25, 2016 at 2:02 am

    thank you! 감사합니다!

    Reply
  7. Rick Stewart Posted on February 27, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Silly me. Here I was thinking I was supposed to study the word of truth, rightly divided. I'm supposed to study reformed theology! I've been set free. Do Presbyterians do anything but use multi-syllable words, stories, and admire each other?

    Reply
  8. dr Đuro Trkulja Posted on August 1, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Much obliged dr R.C. Sproul. God bless you!

    Reply
  9. Chriss Martyn Posted on February 17, 2017 at 3:26 am

    Gracias por poner subtítulos 👍

    Reply
  10. Edison Quisigüiña Posted on April 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks for share this series with us.
    God bless you 🙂

    Reply
  11. Christoph Gouws Posted on May 18, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    I don't think we're in control of anything

    Reply
  12. SoundMind Posted on July 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    The major error of limited atonement is that it teaches salvation is completed at the cross only. We are not saved only by the cross the world is reconciled (as enemies, ungodly, sinners) but we are saved by his LIFE!  You have to come to Jesus Christ for His Life, otherwise you will not receive the forgiveness, because the forgiveness that He paid for is in His resurrected Life.   Salvation is not just getting your sins forgiven.  Romans 5: 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.Col 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

    Reply
  13. SoundMind Posted on July 27, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    The tension and dilemma is created by the false teaching of Calvinism.  We are saved by the Life of Christ! (When you have a unbelief you will not enter His rest, read book of Hebrews.)  Calvinist and universalist both believe that the cross is where salvation is completed, which is not biblical and pulls a veil over the grace of God.Grace of God is demonstrated at the cross of Christ where the Son of God took away the sins (transgressions of the law) from the whole world.The major error of limited atonement is that it teaches salvation is completed at the cross only. We are not saved by the cross the world is reconciled (as enemies, ungodly, sinners) but we are saved by his LIFE!  You have to come to Jesus Christ for His Life, otherwise you will not receive the forgiveness, because the forgiveness that He paid for is in His resurrected Life.   Salvation is not just getting your sins forgiven, if that is all you want you will go to hell and then the lake of fire. Romans 5: 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.Col 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins

    Reply
  14. The Gathering Church Posted on October 2, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Thank you! So true!

    Reply
  15. Clifford Newby Posted on October 16, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Awesome series unfortunately most hate reformed doctrine because they want to be there own saviour and dictate how they are saved and not how Jesus says we will be called and chosen. Free will restricts God's free will because we are in control of our salvation? I think free will is the most heretical idea of all time. God has chosen me and I'm thankful because left to myself I be in hell some day for all eternity.

    Reply
  16. Clint Martin Posted on October 25, 2017 at 12:07 am

    https://banneroftruth.org/us/giveaways/100000-likes-giving-away-289-banner-books/?lucky=13264

    Reply
  17. am gentry Posted on December 26, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Why is there so much argument over whether someone is a Calvinist or not? John Calvin was not the first theologian to come up with the idea of unconditional election or predestination (Paul, Augustine, and then Martin Luther)? Besides there is no system or paradigm that can account for every tension in Scripture. People talk about how unbiblical Dr. Sproul's view of salvation is but yet there isn't a single rational Bible believer who doesn't respect Sproul's grasp of theology or Church history. In saying all that, Am I a five point Calvinist? Never gave much thought to it. However, Ephesians 1:3-5 does make a strong case for RC's view of election. I think that people don't like this view of election because it makes God to be unfair or a liar.

    Reply
  18. Nugget of Truth - Eric King Posted on July 12, 2018 at 10:21 pm

    Challenge for the early church and dispensationalism:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQc52PrRbLc

    Reply
  19. SpotterVideo Posted on May 11, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Watch the following YouTube video by Dr. Ken Wilson "Was Augustine the first to introduce "CALVINISM" into the Church? ".

    What has come to be known as "Calvinism" came out of Augustine's attempts to explain how infants could become the "elect", through infant baptism. Since the infant had not come to faith, it must be based on the will of another. It could not be based on the will of the child.

    Does regeneration precede faith in Ephesians 1:13, and Acts 11:15-17?
    .

    Reply
  20. Bob G Posted on May 12, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    Maybe someone here can explain to me the difference between the U, I, and P of TULIP… 2 of 3 points are redundant…same point, different perspective.

    Reply
  21. James Nichiniello Posted on June 4, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    The more I study Gods word the more I find this theology to be true. This doctrine is found from beggining to end not because I want it to be, but because it is

    Reply
  22. Chicken Nugget Posted on August 27, 2019 at 5:19 am

    Crazy how even then, the prosperity gospel was already prevalent. Based on feelings and the watering down of theology–to even getting rid of it. Sad reality. 19:27

    Reply
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