2011 Fall Conference - Session 5 (Questions & Answers)
Saturday afternoon at The Autobiography of God conference, Voddie Baucham, Michael Morales, R.C. Sproul, and R.C. Sproul Jr. answered several questions submitted by conference attendees. Chris Larson, executive vice president of Ligonier Ministries, moderated the session:
Larson: What books or authors are currently informing your love of Christ and discipleship?
Morales: I enjoy Desmond Alexander, who is doing excellent work in biblical theology. We will have the privilege of hosting him here soon for our Doctor of Ministry program. He makes Scripture come alive.
Baucham: Graeme Goldsworthy and Dennis Johnson.
R.C. Jr.: Geerhardus Vos for biblical theology. The other is a modern classic, and we are reading through it in my course on the doctrine of man. It is Desiring God by John Piper, and we are blessed by his wisdom.
Larson: If you could restart your ministry, is there anything you would do differently?
Sproul: How much time do you have for my answer? The thing I would do is to get in the pulpit more often. I was ordained to the teaching ministry, and I came to the pulpit later. The pulpit has been my great joy.
R.C. Jr.: When I look to my earlier years, I have some embarrassment, not over what I believed, but because I spent most of my time speaking to those errors furthest away from me. I was speaking to people with my same convictions, and that was a mistake. First, I need to look at my own sins and preach on those. We need to be speaking about our sins to our people. One of those sins is the pride that leads us to talk bad about others.
Baucham: I would change much of the time I spent in training and the places I received it. I have found that much of the time spent since my training is to backfill what I missed while in school. I would have been a much better steward of where and what I studied.
Morales: I pastored a church for four years, and then have been an associate pastor while teaching at the college level. One thing I wish is that I could have been in the homes more. I love ministering the Word, but there is no escaping the role of the shepherd in applying the Word in the home. This is what I have learned from the great pastors who have come into my life since then.
Larson: If the state or federal government required you to officiate and recognize same-sex marriages, how would you respond?
R.C. Jr.: The response would be “no.” There is an ancient tradition illustrated in the book of Acts that holds that Christians have an obligation to obey those in authority until those authorities order you to do something God forbids or forbid you from doing something God commands. This gets tricky and fuzzy when the state claims authority where it doesn’t belong. I would argue that if the state required me to preach only from 1 Timothy, I might have to disobey, not because God does not want me preaching from 1 Timothy but because the state does not have lordship over the pulpit. But sometimes we are too eager to draw our swords when we should be willing to go to the stake for Christ. We are also too quick to allow the state to intrude where it doesn’t belong.
This takes a great deal of wisdom. The example given in the question is an easy one. If I understand Canadian law correctly, and I’m not precisely sure that I do, then you can be arrested for preaching from Romans 1 in the pulpit. If that is so, I don’t know why people aren’t preaching from Romans 1 regularly and telling the state to come and get them.
Larson: The next question involves a family split over doctrine. What is the best approach of a family split over doctrine where children are involved so that we might maintain a cohesive unit? The example given is that one spouse is Roman Catholic and one is Reformed.
Baucham: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands so that they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1–6). The rest of the passage talks about Sarah obeying Abraham. But the crux of the matter is faith. We have to believe that doing what God says we are to do will put us in the position where God will vindicate Himself.
Sproul: The question doesn’t say who is Catholic. That can make it more complicated, but we have some pastoral wisdom from the previous question. If the husband is Roman Catholic and he requires wife and children to go to the Roman Catholic Church, it is the duty of the wife to disobey. He is forcing her to go to an apostate body, and that is just not allowable. If she had to disobey in this area, however, she should she still submit to him in other areas. I could not in good conscience participate in a Roman Catholic Mass, even at a friend’s wedding, because I understand the theology of it. If I participate in it and understand the Mass’ theology, then I am sinning.
Larson: How can a sinner who cannot exercise his faith be nevertheless held responsible to exercise repentance? How can God declare someone guilty if all the person can do is sin?
Morales: Paul says, essentially, “Who are you, o man, to shake your fist at God?” This is the first, humbling answer. Then we go on and explain that though we are guilty of Adam’s sin, we increase our guilt by our own sin. That does not mean we are not suddenly not accountable. I think Dr. Sproul’s illustration of grace and justice from his years of teaching applies well here.
Sproul: Suppose God came to me and said, “I want you to cut the grass and if you don’t, you will be guilty.” Then He points out a pit and says, “Now don’t jump in that pit you, otherwise you will be unable to get out and do the job.” If I go jump in the pit, I do not lose my responsibility to mow the grass. This is essentially what happened in Adam.
We are responsible for our own moral inability, and God owes us nothing besides judgment. We chose to jump in the pit. If God comes to me and the grass is not cut, I cannot say He owes me grace. The minute we think God owes us grace is the minute we do not understand it. Grace is unmerited kindness.
Larson: How many of you haven’t heard Dr. Sproul’s illustration of grace and justice? What is it, Dr. Sproul?
Sproul: In 1966, I was teaching a freshman college course of 250 students and assigned three 5–8 page papers that would be due over the course of the semester on October 1, November 1, and December 1. I told the students that unless there is a death or they were are in the infirmary, then they would get an F if not turned in on time. When the first paper was due, 225 students turned in the paper and twenty-five did not have them ready. The twenty-five begged for leniency because they said they were unprepared for college life. I gave it and said, “’Don’t do it again.” On the next due date, November 1, fifty students came without their papers and begged for grace because of homecoming. I said, “Okay,” and gave them an extension. That made me very popular until December 1. One hundred students did not have their papers and said, “Don’t worry Professor Sproul, we’ll have them to you in a few days.” I began marking those students down. Suddenly, they all said, “That’s not fair.” I pointed to one student who had a late paper in November and December and I said, “Oh Johnson, it is justice that is what you want. Your paper was late in November, I’ll go and mark it an F.” Complaints about fairness stopped immediately.
When we first receive grace, we are overwhelmed. The second time we get grace, we take it for granted. The third time we fail, we demand grace. The first time we demand grace, a bell should go off in our heads. God never owes me grace, and He never owes you grace.
R.C. Jr.: Going back to Dr. Morales’ answer, Romans 9 is one of the few such questions that is asked and answered in Scripture. “Who can resist God’s will?” Paul says. It’s really not an answer. His answer, on God’s behalf, is basically this: “I’m God. You belong to me. I can do with you what you will. My goal is to manifest my glory.” If you cannot swallow this, then you do not know the living God. This doesn’t make it easy to swallow, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to encourage dueling verses, but take your Arminian friend to this text and ask them how any of it makes any sense in the way you understand things. Stay with this text. I have friends who transferred to my church because their former church, whose pastor was preaching through Romans, skipped over this text.
Larson: Why do sinners suffer for eternity for sin when Christ did not?
Sproul: Because Christ is of infinite value, His suffering for even one second is of infinite value. Even if a sinner suffers an eternity in hell, and even if eternity never ends, a sinner cannot suffer infinitely. He can never fully satisfy the debt he owes to God even when he spends in an eternity in hell.
As humans, we always stand on the side of human beings. Even if we are penitent sinners and others are impenitent sinners, then at least we have in common that we are sinners. Until we are glorified, we are never going to fully identify with the glory of God. We are always going to have more sympathy with other human beings than the best delight in God’s holiness. The most sanctified person in this world is closer to Hitler than he is to Jesus. We don’t understand that. We do not understand the gravity of our sin. Were the Holy Spirit to reveal it to me all at once, I would die and couldn’t handle it. Thankfully he reveals my sin to me slowly.
I can’t stand the thought of anyone except myself being in hell forever. I know that if I heard that verdict, I would be crushed, but I could not say, “that’s not fair.” That’s why nothing less than the perfect sacrifice, one of infinite value can avail for me. It’s a horrible to know that my non-Christian friends will go to hell if they do not turn to Christ.
R.C. Jr.: The suffering of Jesus is of infinite value because of the incarnation. This is God and man together. That said, one of the great horrors of hell is that an individual goes to hell as a person, as one without the grace of God. Actually, a sinner never goes to hell saying of the verdict: “That’s fair.” They continue to offend the holy and righteous God forever. They continue to sin and store up wrath forever.
Larson: The word orthodoxy is mentioned in different contexts. What is the basic meaning of the word?
Morales: Orthodoxy refers to historic Christianity. We have creeds like the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. Orthodoxy is the true church that has embraced these doctrines in distinction to the heretics who have denied the truth of the faith.
Larson: How should we deal with separation from a professing Christian who is outwardly involved in sin and yet a part of the covenant community?
Baucham: Matthew 18 shows us that we are to confront sinners in a process that might lead to excommunication. That is part of what sets the church apart from the world.
Sproul: But as an individual, I cannot carry out the penalties of excommunication before the church has delivered its verdict.
Larson: Is there a great gulf or a small stream between John Wesley and John Calvin?
Sproul: In what degree? Theologically? In my opinion, Wesley was regenerate and understood the basics of the faith. However, the doctrines of grace are not minor principles. They talk about the doctrine of God and how people are saved. Wesley did not affirm most of these doctrines of grace. These differences are extremely wide and important, but are not essential for salvation. You do not have to believe in the biblical doctrine of election to be saved or to be a true church. It is not a doctrine of the essence of the church, but it is a doctrine of the well being of the church.
Thus, those who are very hostile to the doctrines of grace are hostile at their great peril. If people ask whether Arminians can be saved, I say, “Yes, barely.” But this is my answer only if they hold to the traditional doctrines of Arminius. When I hear some preachers say the doctrine of predestination is the doctrine of demons, such as Jimmy Swaggart, I worry about the state of their souls.
But most Arminians are not Reformed simply because they have not wrestled strongly with Calvinism. You don’t have to be perfect in theology to get in the kingdom.
R.C. Jr.: There is a temptation to be binary. We can say on the one hand that “this is not in the Apostles’ Creed, so it doesn’t matter and we shouldn’t talk about it.” On the other hand, other people say it is damnable heresy to deny the doctrines of grace. Both ways are errors. We have, however, a historical outworking of the right approach in Wesley and Whitefield. Eventually, Wesley preached a strong sermon against election, and Whitefield then responded with one of the best historical arguments against Arminianism. The response was magnificent, strong, and gracious. In that strength, many of Whitefield’s followers pressed further and asked Whitefield if he would see Wesley in heaven. Whitefield said he didn’t think he would see Wesley because Wesley would so much closer to the throne than he would be.
Still, errors regarding the doctrines of grace are exceedingly serious, just as our errors are exceedingly serious.
Larson: What would you say to parents trying to decide between home schooling and those who want their kids to let their kids be witnesses in the public schools?
Baucham: I think they are making a category error. They are confusing discipleship with evangelism. Essentially, they are asking this question: “Should I give my kids an education that points them toward Christ and acknowledges His lordship, or should I let my kids have an influence on unbelievers.” It is a false dichotomy. Why do we think the only way to have influence on unbelievers is to send our kids to public schools?
We have to discuss things properly in the same category. A question that recognizes the same question would be this: “Should I give my kids an education that acknowledges Christ’s lordship or should I give an education that doesn’t do that?” That is easy to answer, and that’s why people do not ask it.
Sproul: The economic question is a tough one. You can get a free public education or pay private school tuition. Yet a free education can be the most costly thing ever. Public schools are not today what they were fifty or twenty years ago when there was not such a strong built-in hostility to Christianity. Government schools today are a lot different.
Larson: Jesus says, “If you love me you, will obey me.” What does obey really mean in our lives as Christians. If we trust Christ as Savior, how do we deal with the doubt about our own salvation when we do not obey?
Sproul: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). The simple answer is to get in the Bible, as the Spirit works through the Bible to give us assurance.
R.C. Jr.: This warning from Jesus can be very helpful. The solution is not to make everyone assured, for some people need not to be assured because they might be falsely assured. First we start with the gospel. Then we see the Devil’s strategy is accusation. He accuses us of not obeying. Ironically, the Spirit works in a way we think is similar because when We works, He shows us how sinful we are.
Baucham: Pastorally, you worry about the one who does not worry about how obedient he is. The person who is not worried has a standard that is too low.
R.C. Jr.: A great theologian once gave this answer: First, we ask this question “Do I love your God with ALL my heart, soul, mind, and strength?” Of course, we will answer, “no.” Then we ask this question: “Do I love as much as I ought to?” We will again answer, “no.” The last question is this one: “Do you I love Him at all?” The blessing of a robust view of depravity is that we can see the work of the Spirit in us. If we are so sinful, we could only love Him by His grace; thus, if we love the biblical Christ at all, then we are God’s children.
Larson: Thank you all so much.