Message 7, Questions and Answers #1:
Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, Russell Moore, and R.C. Sproul answer questions on topics such as why Adam sinned, the importance of creeds and confessions in the church, how we can know if our worship music is pleasing to God, and more.
- If Adam was born free from evil and sin, why did he sin? (00:05)
- If God is sovereign, what is the purpose of intercessory prayer? (02:20)
- Is it important that a church subscribe to a confession (such as the Westminster Confession of Faith)? Why or why not? (04:39)
- What parts of the law are still relevant to us today? (06:57)
- Why are people so hostile to the doctrine of election? (11:48)
- Is it a sin to be angry with God? (15:37)
- Can you still be a Christian if you do not believe that Scripture is the inerrant and infallible Word? (17:39)
- How can we objectively determine if our worship music is pleasing to God? (22:50)
- How does one react to being declared homophobic before being able to show love to friends or family who have “come out” as homosexual? (34:29)
- What has been the best work you have found on the subject of theodicy, if any? (45:15)
- What is the gospel? (51:54)
Note: Answers given during Questions and Answers sessions reflect the views of the individual speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dr. R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Here is our Statement of Faith.
LARSON: So, we’ll go with a softball Dr. Sproul since I know you like softball questions. If Adam was born free from evil in sin, why did he sin?
SPROUL: I don’t know. That was easy. I’m not kidding. I mean, there — I could give you 20 theories if you want to hear them, but none of them work. So that’s, I think the biggest mystery we have, is how a creature made in the image of God without any predisposition to evil, without any inclination to evil would ever choose to do evil. And that’s where I put the mystery.
Other people say that the only answer to that is that he was created with an evil inclination, and they have to deal with the problem of how that squares with the integrity of God’s judgment upon them. And they say well that’s — they don’t believe that God’s the author of evil, even though He created Adam already with an inclination to sin. And how that can be squared is a mystery for them. I don’t like their mystery. I’ll choose mine. OK.
LARSON: Theology of humility.
SPROUL: I have to tell — I’ll tell you this about this, I was asked that question once — this is 40 years ago in the presence of John Gerstner and I said that I don’t know and I don’t know of anyone who does know. And I know that I don’t know and I know this side of heaven I’ll never know. And he really jumped on me. He said, “That was a very arrogant statement.” I said, “Arrogant, I was trying to be humble. I was trying to say, “Think I’m going to untie this knot that nobody else has been able to do? And he says, “Well, do you think that you’ve already reached the consummation of all knowledge that you could ever acquire in your lifetime?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, you might learn the answer tomorrow, so don’t be so arrogant today.” But 47 years later, he knows now because he’s in heaven. But I still don’t know.
LARSON: We have a question here: If God is sovereign what is the purpose of intercessory prayer.
FERGUSON: Well, there are layers of answers to that. One purpose is obedience to God, because in so many different places we are urged to pray, and we are urged to pray without ceasing. So, even if we were not able to explain why we should pray, we should pray because God has commanded us. So, that’s a sufficient answer. Second part of the answer is that God has decreed that much of what will take place will take place through the secondary causation of the intercession of the saints. That’s part of His purpose.
Perhaps — you know, with questions like this I often say to people, ask that question of Jesus, because it — was it not in His deity, but in His humanity that He engaged in intercessory prayer, John 17 being the great illustration of it. Why does He do this? Because it is the Father’s good pleasure that through His human intercession on our behalf the Father will work out His decreed purposes.
And that’s true not only of intercessory prayer, it’s true of witnessing, evangelism, breathing, persevering, obeying any exhortation of Scripture. Why do we do this if God is sovereign? A, because he’s sovereign and B, because He works out His sovereign will through — frequently through secondary causation.
And then the other thing I would say is, take some time to read carefully the chapter on the providence of God in the Westminster Confession of Faith or in the parallel London and Philadelphia Confession, if you’re a Baptist, which they stole from the Westminster confession of faith.
LARSON: Alright, so a question that follows up quickly on that. Is it important that our church subscribe to a confession such as the Westminster? Why or why not?
FERGUSON: Is that me?
LARSON: It’s a question to the panel.
LAWSON: Go Sinclair.
FERGUSON: Anything smaller than that or theoretically larger will not give you the stability that a solid confession of faith will do. For example, you might say the Bible is our confession. But that wouldn’t help us. All that tells us is that the contents of this book constitute our confession. The real question is tell me what the contents of this book are and what a really good confession of faith is, is a summary of the theology of the confession written, of course, in a particular a lot of historical context but with a view to the people of God in every place and in every generation.
So that, for example, I’ve been, you know, in intervarsity in the United Kingdom, 10-point confession of faith was for me a terrific nurturing organization. But the value of that 10-point confession of faith pales into insignificance with something like the Westminster Confession of Faith. Western Confession of Faith will do you as the one book you have on a deserted island will do you if you’re an elder, if you’re a pastor, as a foundation for virtually everything you encounter in the life of the Christian church and principles for applying the gospel to situations that the Westminster Divines never contemplated would exist.
FERGUSON: And R.C.’s written a great exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
LARSON: ‘Truths We Confess.’ ‘Truths We Confess.’ Three volumes. Available in the bookstore. Sorry. What parts of the law are still relevant to us today?
SPROUL: Well, in one sense all of it. We make distinctions between the ceremonial — or among the ceremonial law, the dietary law, the civil law, the moral law. To the Jew, every law commanded by God in the Old Testament was moral in the sense that it had moral significance to it. But we make — it’s a useful distinction to distinguish the moral law from the ceremonial law because we know that the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in the perfect work of Christ and we know that the dietary laws have been set apart.
They had a historical significance that differs from the moral law of the Old Testament. We make a distinction in theology between the natural law of the Old Testament and the purposive law of the Old Testament. Now, that’s easy to get confused because we make a distinction also between natural law and revealed law.
But that’s not the distinction in view here. The distinction in view here is there are laws that God gives in the Old Testament and in the New that are an expression of His own character that is immutable. So that if we set them aside or if He set them aside, He would be doing violence to His own character. For example, if God would say now in the new covenant it’s OK to worship idols, God would be denying His own deity, and supremacy at that point. But when we talk about purposive laws, we say they are laws of God gave for a specific historical purpose, preparing the world for the fulfillment of those purposive laws in the person and work of Christ.
Now, this is a question that I don’t think would be a mistake for us to talk about the rest of the time here because we are living in a time of — since the Reformation — unprecedented antinomianism, the idea that the law of God, particularly the moral law of God in the Old Testament has no relevance whatsoever for the New Testament Christian.
And I remember making a statement years ago of those who say that the moral law of the Old Testament has no relevance to the New Testament Christian is antinomianism. I got a letter from a professor at a seminary, he had his PhD in biblical studies and he said to me why are you calling us antinomians? We’re not antinomians because we believe in the commandments of Christ. We don’t believe that the Old Testament law’s relevant to us, but the New Testament law is. I said what you are now articulating to me is the classic example and definition of antinomianism, because what antinomianism refers to is the Old Testament law and its relevance to us today.
And the Christian ought to be able to say with the psalmist “Oh, how I love your law,” because, you know, we make a distinction between the Word of God and the law of God, but God’s Word is His law and His law is His Word. And that moral law is something that the church needs to hold with great precision and care. It’s what Luther — I mean, what Calvin called the ‘tertius usus’ or the third use of the law. God’s revelation of what is pleasing to Him from His people.
I said at the beginning that I would say yes to all of it, because all — the law has its other purpose, the purpose of being the mirror that reflects our sinfulness, that reveals to us those — the holiness of God. It is the schoolmaster that drives us to Christ. We recite the Ten Commandments, or part of the Ten Commandments every Sunday at St. Andrews. We preach the law so that people can be pushed to the gospel.
And not only that, the moral law has the significance of being a restraint to evildoers. I mean, people don’t always obey the speed limit and maybe if the speed limit’s 55 they’re driving 65, but without that sign it’s 85. So that the law has a restraining impact of common grace, see even in that, but that’s all I’m going to say about this.
LARSON: Why are people so hostile to the doctrine of election?
SPROUL: I think there are two reasons. The principle objections to the doctrine of election are one: People see it as expressing too low of a view of humans. People will acknowledge that we’re fallen, that we are by nature sinners, and that we are depraved, and we have been morally impoverished by the fall. But they don’t believe in a doctrine of original sin that says in the fall we have lost all moral ability to incline ourselves to the things of God. They think that that demeans humanity.
And I have to say as on the side, that those who take that view are usually operating on a humanistic understanding of humanity. That they have a concept of free will that is the same as the second humanist has, that the will is not impaired by the fall. Maybe they’ll admit that it’s being weakened a little bit, but it’s not in bondage to sin. The soul is — the will is not deadened. We believe in free will in the sense that we still have the faculty of choosing, we still have the ability to choose what we want to choose but it’s the want to that’s in big, big trouble.
The other objection is that they think it makes God look unjust or unfair or capricious or arbitrary. And then — and I add to that as a subscript that they also think that it destroys the motivation for evangelism and the free offer of the gospel and that sort of thing. But, I think they’re — those who deny election’s God is a puny God and their God is too small and their human is too big.
MOORE: One of the things I think also is that within the church sometimes we tend to take the scary doctrines of the New Testament and turn them into the comforting doctrines, and the comforting doctrines and turn them into the scary doctrines. But when you look through the Pauline letters, the doctrine of election is not meant to be something that startles us, it’s meant to be a comfort. How do you know that you really belong here you Gentile believer? You’re not accidentally here, you’re here because God came looking for you.
And how do you know that God’s going to see you through? It’s because you didn’t initiate this, God initiated this. How do you know that the mission of God is going to go forward with success and with triumph? It’s because God is sovereign over all of these things. That’s meant to be a comfort to the people of God. But we receive it as a frightening, scary doctrine that ought to unsettle us rather than settle us.
By contrast you come to something such as the Sermon on the Mount ,and we assume that this is a comforting thing that we ought to crochet and hang in our kitchens. The Sermon on the Mount ought to terrify us if we actually understand what Jesus is saying, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” That ought to cause us to fall to our knees and to examine ourselves.
And so sometimes I think we don’t receive what the doctrine of election is actually meant to do, to create within us a sense of confidence in God’s power and God’s goodness to us, and to enable us to go forward with confidence and evangelism and in missions.
LARSON: How many of you were here last year? OK, so you’re — we’re ready for this next question.
SPROUL: That was two years ago.
LARSON: No, that was last year. Right? Is it a sin to be angry with God?
SPROUL: What’s wrong with you people? Well, you know, the New Testament has a lot to say about anger, and it says be angry, but don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. But there’s also the warnings of our Lord against unjustifiable anger. And there’s never, ever a justification to be angry with God. How dare you be angry with the God of the universe who does everything well? Now, understandably when things go wrong and people shake their fist in the face of God, we understand, and as our former president used to say we feel their pain and all of that. And there’ve been lots of people who have been angry at God. But, when they are angry at God they’re revealing that they don’t really understand a whole lot about who He is and how holy He is.
And now, there’s a sign on I-4 that says God is not angry and so, there are people who think that it’s not right for God to be angry with us. But let me tell you something, he’s angry about that sign, on I-4. And he’s angry about people who say He has no wrath because the Bible — the biblical God reveals not only His tender mercy, but also He reveals His wrath. But again, we have no just cause ever to be angry with God. And if I find myself feeling angry with God I should say to myself not what’s wrong with God, but what’s wrong with me.
LARSON: Dr. Lawson, can you still be a Christian if you do not believe Scripture is the inerrant and infallible Word?
LAWSON: Hm. I’ll have to think about that one. Obviously we have put our faith in what the message of Scripture says that we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. If you do not believe that that is an inerrant message, in some way there would be a flawed faith in God if you did not fully believe that the message is from God. I suppose that there are people who are liberal who could be saved. I mean, I’d have to think about that one. I know R.C. knows the answer to this.
But I would really have — if they came into my pastor’s office and said I don’t believe the Bible, but, you know, can I still be a Christian, I would say no. I mean, it’s an act of faith in the Word of God, the message of the Word of God in order for you to be saved. And if you have cast doubt upon the message of Scripture itself, then I don’t see how you could have true faith in Christ.
I think the written Word and living Word there is a certain inseparable link between the two. So I don’t know that I have the answer to that and I’m sure others up here would have the final word on that. But, I would — if I was a pastor and you’re in my office, I don’t know that I’d be wanting to give you, a green light that you are truly saved if you cast doubt on the Word of God. I mean that’s — you’re in a league with Satan now, who said, “Has God said?” So, I know when I was saved I had no idea about the issue of the inerrancy of Scripture, God just so worked in my heart that I was persuaded of the truthfulness of Scripture.
I didn’t, I mean, one year I preached a message here, ten reasons to believe the Bible is the Word of God. I didn’t know any of those 10, but God’s work in my heart by His Spirit, I was so convinced and persuaded that God was speaking to me as the Bible was read to me as a young person that I put my faith in what this message says. And there was no doubt in my mind that this was the Word of God. And then over the years, many different reasons only fortified my faith in my trust in Scripture.
So, I’ll yield to some of the other men on that.
SPROUL: If you frame the question a little bit differently. Is affirming the doctrine of inerrancy of Scripture an essential truth for salvation? I would say no. I think that it’s very important to the well-being of the Christian, but a person, you know, could be a Christian and commit all kinds of sins and get involved on all kinds of error particularly in a day when you’re subjected to an avalanche of higher critical theories against the Scripture. At some point though, you’re going to have to wrestle with the view of Jesus.
And, we don’t have to have an inerrant Bible to know what Jesus taught about the Bible. All we have to have is a generally reliable historical document. If we have that, that’s enough to tell us what Jesus of Nazareth view of Scripture was and who He is. And we can know that he’s our Savior and that he’s the Son of God and all that. And we realize that He taught if anything a higher view than inerrancy, He calls it the truth of God.
And if we are not persuaded by His testimony, that’s a very significant reason to examine our own souls because it may be very well that my disbelief of the Scripture flows out of an unregenerate heart. And I think in many cases that’s true, but I still would allow for the possibility to be — somebody to be regenerate and at least for a season be an inconsistent believer and not have yet been persuaded of that particular truth.
What’s even worse are these crazy doctrines that you’re getting all over the place. You know, like neo-orthodoxy teaches that the Bible’s the Word of God but not inerrant. I mean that’s even worse. When you start saying that God errs. That’s bad news.
SPROUL: I would say to those theologians, “What’s wrong with you guys?”
LARSON: How can we objectively determine if our worship music is pleasing to God? I’ve got other questions, but I —
SPROUL: By immersing ourselves in His Word and to find out what pleases Him, to see what the original purpose of worship is. That what God requires of His people in worship, that He wants people to worship Him in spirit and in truth. And I think the Scriptures have a whole lot more to say about worship, particularly in the Old Testament than what the church seems to be involved in today. Today we’re asking the question, how can I build my church, how can I get people to come, how can I get people interested in worship, how can I make worship relevant to them, and make our worship not boring to them?
When Bill Hybels, before he started Willow Creek out there in — near Chicago, they did a canvas of a couple of thousand of people who had been in church but left it, and they kept a record of — they asked them why did you leave the church and they kept a record of the answers, and they collated them. And the number one answer they heard from people was that church was boring. The number two answer they got was that it was irrelevant.
So, in an effort to reach those people, he set out to change the churchiness of church in which he said I don’t ever want people to come to Willow Creek and think that it’s boring or to think that it’s irrelevant. You know? And so I think that his motive for trying to address those questions was born out of a real heart for evangelism, and so on.
But I, again, the question you ask is not what makes people happy, but what is it that’s pleasing to God? One of the things that — thank you, but this question comes up every year and we’ve gone through the worship wars and the crisis of worship in the contemporary church.
And I think we — I think it’s fair to say — wherever you’re coming from on this issue — that the gravitas, the weightiness of worship has been significantly diminished in the contemporary church. And I think we’re going to live to regret that.
MOORE: And another thing I think that we are in danger of is losing the generational connectedness of the church as a worshiping people. It’s not just now that churches have different services that are divided up generationally — it’s that we have different campuses or different congregations in which people are around only those of their own generation. And that is typically defined in terms of worship expression.
I think that’s a very dangerous thing for the people of God who are supposed to be admonishing one another, remembering what worship is, teaching one another (Ephesians 5) in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. When that is lost as generational connectedness we lose something of the sense of what it means to be the body of Christ.
I was with my elderly grandmother, 88 years old, pastor’s widow, not long ago having suffered a stroke. And thinking about the fact that I can sing hymns to her that she knows and I know because we were formed and shaped together by the same hymns. That won’t be true of my children and it won’t be true when the time comes of my grandchildren.
I think that’s a serious loss to the unity of the body.
FERGUSON: Can I add to what Russell has said? The parallel passage in Colossians 3. In Ephesians 5, it’s, “Be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” That seems to me to be not simply descriptive and indicative, but exhortatory. And so it gives us a platform, we sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs. And, I ask all my first year students how many of you in your churches sing hymns?
I would say now most of them don’t know, because they see one verse at a time on a screen and they don’t know what they’re singing. They don’t know what the third verse is going to be. They don’t know what the driving theology is. We are — we’ve become like scientists who do it because we’re capable of doing it without thinking what’s the deficit of this; A, not having hymn books and having only one verse at a time. The latter of the deficit is you actually don’t see what the hymn is saying, only what the verse is saying.
And the second deficit is that you don’t know where this belongs either in the entire history of the church, nor do you know where it belongs in the theology of the church. So you’re not learning the, the whole doctrine of Scripture. It is all very discreet like the way you — people used to learn Scripture as kind of promise boxes here and there as though the Bible had fallen from heaven in a promise box.
So that statement “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” I then ask them, well, how many of you sing psalms. And maybe one or two tentative hands will go up and I say, what did Paul say the first sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit is? And I get stares. He surely doesn’t mean singing psalms. What if he did mean singing psalms? He certainly didn’t mean the first sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit is that you don’t sing psalms.
So, you know, here I am angular, awkward, I’m shy by nature. I’m in a ‘we can do it culture,’ and I’m wanting to say very quietly, actually what it does say is when you’re filled with the Spirit, sing psalms, whether psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are all categories of psalms or were there three different kinds of songs in a way is a next question down. But, what is our attitude? Our attitude, actually, it doesn’t matter a rap to God whether we sing psalms or not, even although he’s commanded us to do it. Can I continue while I’m on a run?
Colossians 3, he says, as Russell is saying, as we are teaching each other. So that’s part of the function. Read the Psalms, a third of them are directed upwards, a third of them are directed inwards, a third of them are directed other words. So one of the things we’re doing is we’re teaching each other. Well, what are we teach each other? It’s what we’re teaching each other as we let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly that will determine the music that accompanies what we sing.
And that’s the dominant thing and if we have musical gifts, that’s the big question. What is the music that expresses the affections that are provided in this hymn? What’s the music that expresses how we can exalt the holiness of God, how we can beat our chests in lamentation? Which most modern songs, modern songody in Christian church, almost bereft of lamentation, because it’s written for churches where nobody dies. Because we’re all under 28. And so, we don’t know that actually there are Christians who live to be 38, and 48.
And — but we think we have got it and we can teach the whole church. And we have allowed that to happen. So this is a matter of huge importance because we are not taking what Scripture teaches us to direct the music that we use to accompany the theology that we sing. And once we do that then I think all of those questions about the music — while the answer will vary from culture to culture. I mean, I don’t sing psalms to Israeli melodies. I sing psalms to Scottish melodies.
OK? So, there’s great diversity within the culture but within the cultural understanding of the music, the music’s going to be shaped by the words and the truth of the gospel that we’re singing. And we just — you know, we need to have courses in our seminaries (if we are hymn-singing seminaries on how to write good hymns for the people of God in our modern day. I’m sorry, I’ve gone on. But —
MOORE: I think it’s really important about the — about the connection between the music expressing the meaning of the psalm or the hymn. And I think there’s a danger of overreacting to the problem that Sinclair just mentioned. To the sort of happy-clappy, worship expression is turning everything into this dark and foreboding sort of sound where everything sounds like a lament. I see that happening in some places because they don’t want to be the sort of thing that they’ve experienced in the past.
So, I heard a rendition of ‘Joy to the World’ one time in a church that was awful. This bleak, dark, funeral dirgess sort of a sound as though ‘Joy to the World’ had been written by Kurt Cobain instead of Isaac Watts. And it doesn’t communicate the exuberance behind the song about the coming of the kingdom of Christ. So that has to be thought through carefully as we’re worshiping and teaching one another together.
LARSON: How many of you were at the concert last night for Dr. Sproul’s new hymn project? Wasn’t that wonderful? For those of you who weren’t able to be there we’re going to debut some of those songs tomorrow evening. And there’s the CD available over there in the bookstore, and it’s actually on the Ligonier app too. You can listen to it, stream it for free there. But, we’re trying to demonstrate some of this at Ligonier through Dr. Sproul’s hymn writing work.
So, eager to show that off tomorrow for your benefit, edification for your church. Turning to cultural questions, questions that — I’ve got several here along this line. How does one react to being declared homophobic before being able to show love to friends or family who have ‘come out’ as homosexual? How does one react to being declared this? Huh? Anyone who wants.
SPROUL: It’s a serious thing that we have to face today because if you express disapproval of any form of behavior in the culture, you’re likely to be accused of indulging in hate speech. And even homophobia, the word itself suggests fear of those who have a particular sexual orientation. I don’t think it has anything to do with fear. I think it has to do with whether this is a behavioral pattern that is acceptable to God. And if we preach what the Bible teaches, then we — that must mean that we hate people who are into this thing.
That’s really a silly inference from it. And I have homosexual friends, people who are homosexual whom I love, and they are my neighbors. And if they — and they know very well that I don’t think that God approves of their behavior. But they understand that my coming to that conclusion has nothing to do with how I feel about them as people. I can love them as much as I love people who are not involved in that kind of activity. And so to say that somebody who expresses disapproval of a particular condition is engaged in hate speech or homophobic, that’s just slanderous.
And, but I think we’re increasing — we’re seeing increasingly that trajectory in the culture, and I see within a very short period of time, preachers being called on the carpet about threatened with the loss of their IRS exemption and so on if they speak against homosexual behavior or gay marriage, you know? And, you know, the story already about people who will not bake cakes for same-sex marriages or provide flowers for same-sex marriages, have had significant consequences that they’ve had to pay.
And I see the day coming, and it may be within the next two weeks, where if somebody comes to St. Andrews and they want me to perform a same sex marriage, I’m going to tell them no. I can’t. And if the government says you must or you go to jail, then I hope that my friends will visit me in jail.
MOORE: There are a lot of people when they say that you’re being homophobic, what they’re trying to do is to just shut you down, and not to have further conversation. There are a lot of people though that when you’re evangelizing them and they say as you’re witnessing to them, we think you’re homophobic, you have to understand the mindset that they have often. The mindset is that if you reject this part of their lives as being morally wrong before God, they see this as part of their essential identity. So what they hear you saying is I not only am saying that you are a sinner, I am saying that you are something less than human and repulsive because I am denying something that is at the core of who you are.
We ought not to take offense at that. We ought to say this tells us what our project is in sharing the gospel. Part of what we’re sharing is that this self-identity is wrong, this understanding of who I am is wrong, and this understanding of that someone — some of the people that we’re talking to think if the gospel is addressing this part of my life, then the gospel has no right to interrogate that.
We got to expose that with the light of the gospel. There are some people also who are saying that they are somehow beyond the reach of the blood of Christ because they can’t imagine what it would look like for them to be redeemed. That also needs to be exposed with the light of the gospel.
So I think that when we’re accused of being homophobic or bigoted or narrow, our first thought shouldn’t be: how wrong you are about me. Our first thought to be how wrong you are about you, and how wrong all of us are apart from the Word of God in the light of the gospel. And so we don’t give up on those people and we don’t pull back, we keep pressing forward with the gospel and with the witness that we have.
LARSON: How would you respond to a practicing homosexual who argues that God made me this way and therefore homosexuality is not sin?
SPROUL: Well, God made me heterosexual and He still restrains my sexual behavior. He forbids me to be involved in fornication, forbids me from being involved in adultery and no matter how strong my hormones are and how they are raging, if I’m not married I am not allowed to be engaged in heterosex. Now, if somebody says to me my inclination or my orientation is homosexual rather than heterosexual, and that’s the way I was made, therefore, I can indulge my inclinations in heterosexual — or homosexual behavior which God clearly forbids, then he’s in the same boat that the heterosexual is who’s trying to live a life of chastity. Where he’s even in many cases having to act against strong passions that are driving his character.
And, again, God recognizes that — I mean, God has created people homosexual, but it still remains a question whether it’s biological or an acquired disposition. That debate’s not over yet. I mean, a lot of people think it is but I don’t think it is.
FERGUSON: No, I think we need to, I think this is one of things R.C. is saying here is we need to bring people on to see things in a larger context, because we see them in a larger context. None of us is the way God made us in the beginning. All of us are warped, and one of the things Scripture helps us to see is the diversity of that warpedness. But in a sense, we’re all sitting on the same city, same couch here.
And I in the particular ways in which my warpness manifest itself struggle with these things, and as a Christian I don’t say God you made me this way and so I suppose it’s right for me to continue this way. I’d say, God, you made me for a much greater destiny than this and you’ve promised by your Holy Spirit that you’ll be able to restore me to that, so show me how to do it.
And much depends — I think much depends on the spirit, in which a conversation takes place that in one context you would say one thing to a person, in another context as in all things you might be casting your pearls before swine. And what that begins to get you into is that you respond to whoever is antagonistic to the gospel with the same spirit of antagonism to them that they have displayed to you. And some of these expressions that are used to describe our position will be in many circumstances just part of the demeaning that we bear for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And you don’t find New Testament Christians getting angry about that. And one of the reasons you see that is because you don’t see the Lord Jesus getting angry about all that was spat out on him. Because he recognizes you don’t win people to a crucified Christ by spitting back in their face. And so there — you know, I mean this issue of the language that’s used, the intimidation factors; what is very much happening in our society is an amazing illustration of Romans 1:18-32 which eventually touches on the very same thing that when people engage in behavior patterns that our contrary to the created order they’ve got to involve as many people as they can in it. Because that’s their big defense.
And I think that’s one of the things that’s happening. And so, when we have the opportunity to sit down and explain what the gospel is, you know, Paul has almost written the text for us there, not just in 1:18-32 but, you know, in what follows. So, you know, I think as in the Scriptures you look at the acts of the apostles, Paul deals with different situations depending on the situation but with one in the same gospel.
And one of the things we very much need to learn as we grow as Christians is that kind of gospel fixedness and atmospheric flexibility depending on where we’re speaking and to whom we are speaking. And I think that’s a very sane and helpful thing for us to do. Paul did it. I think Jesus did it as well.
LARSON: I have a question here about what has been the best work you have found on the subject of theodicy, if any? So Dr. Sproul, the subject of theodicy
SPROUL: Subject of?
LARSON: Yes, and preferred book or treatise that might discuss that. You might begin with the definition of the theodicy.
SPROUL: The problem of theodicy; the term theodicy comes from the combination of two words, theos, the Greek word for God, and dikaios, the word for to justify, or justness, and the whole idea of a theodicy is to give an apologetic that justifies God for all of the existence of evil and calamity and suffering and affliction that is in this world. You know, the — John Stuart Mills presented the antithesis where he said you can’t believe that God is both omnipotent and good or loving at the same time.
Because if God is omnipotent and doesn’t remove all this pain and anguish and suffering from the world, it’s because he’s not loving or he’s not good. But if He cares about all this pain and suffering and is good and loving and wants to put an end to it but can’t, then he’s no longer omnipotent. And so attempts at theodicy have been tried to — to be given to answer that question.
It’s really focusing on the problem of evil and I’ve seen 30 or 40 academic philosophical theodicies offered in history. And, I’m not satisfied completely by any of them. I think the best one was the one given by Augustine, you know where he talks about evil as having no ontological status. Evil is not an independent reality, it’s a parasite. And we — it’s a negative or a privation, a lack of the good and Aquinas seconded the motion on that.
And, when we talk in the Westminster catechism about what is sin and we say it’s any lack of conformity to — or want of conformity to and lack of obedience to the law of God. So it’s defined in terms of lack. If you read the Scriptures, evil is determined in terms of unrighteousness, impiety, ungodliness. It’s a negative definition of a positive goodness. And so Augustine argued that the problem of evil depends upon the existence of good for its ever being raised as a question.
Because if there’s no such thing as goodness ultimately then there’s no such thing as evil, which is where the nihilistic existentialist came — they said there’s neither good nor evil. That’s their theodicy. But Augustine said, yeah we do have a problem answering the — how evil can be, but the pagan has a worse problem, he has to account not only for evil, but he has to account for the good that makes him complain about the evil.
So, indirectly he argues back to the character of God. And, to me — you know, here’s a case where you take Leibniz’s theodicy where he traces it back to different kinds of evil. Physical evil which is calamity or suffering effect, metaphysical evil which he equates with finitude, the same thing Paul Tillich tried to do.
And then moral evil, and he says that moral evil grows out necessarily of metaphysical evil and physical evil, and it’s because we’re finite that evil is a necessary consequence of finitude. Well, if that’s the case then we can look forward to more of it in heaven because we — even though we’re in heaven forever we’ll still be finite, we’ll still be creaturely. The metaphysical theodicy just doesn’t work. It doesn’t really solve the problem, and it ends up actually denying the sinfulness of sin.
And we’re not allowed to do that. What we have to do is to acknowledge the reality of evil and not call evil good and not call good evil. However, from a biblical perspective even though we’re not allowed to call good evil or evil good because evil really is evil and good is really good, nevertheless, though evil is evil it’s good that there is evil or there wouldn’t be evil. Because God is absolutely good and for God to ordain in any sense the presence of fallenness within His creation.
If he — even if you backpedaled and say well He allows it, He doesn’t ordained it. Well, whatever He allows He ordains because He could have stopped it and we know that. He knew in advance what Adam was going to do and He could have prevented Adam from doing what he did but He chose not to prevent Adam from doing what he did because in a certain sense — and all that phrase ‘in a certain sense’ — Augustine was very strong about that, using — in a certain sense, God ordains everything that comes the pass, because He makes use — He works through evil to bring about His good.
It’s the whole story of Joseph. You meant it for evil, God meant it for good. So, the only way we can deal with evil is put it underneath the umbrella of the character of God and of His sovereignty, because God is certainly sovereign over evil, this is what you were preaching about today and could eradicate it tonight if He chose to. So, the fact that that still is and is not yet been renovated in full in the consummation of the kingdom, is good. Doesn’t mean that the evil’s good, but it’s good that it’s there, or it wouldn’t be.
LARSON: We’ll end with this. And — feel free for each of you to chime in on this in the next few minutes. The question is: What is the gospel? And then they expand. I have learned it is an event. I have heard live the gospel, pray the gospel, experience the gospel, the kingdom of God is the gospel, the Old Testament, New Testament is the gospel, the whole Bible is the gospel. I am confused! Exclamation point. What is the gospel?
SPROUL: That person is not the only one who’s confused. When I would teach in a doctor of ministry program, and Sinclair’s had the same experience I’m sure when we’d have the clergy in there, and I would ask him to define the gospel. And if I got 10 percent of them to give an adequate answer to it, I would be happy. Because that word’s thrown around so much it’s died the death of a thousand qualifications.
In New Testament terms the gospel is the proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ plus how the benefits of that work can be appropriated to us by faith and by faith alone. So, the gospel has a narrow definition: it’s the message about Jesus. Now, there are other good tidings; the kingdom of God, all of that. But specifically if you look at what we call the kerygma in the New Testament, the apostolic proclamation of the gospel, it focuses on Christ, who He is, what He did and how we receive His benefits.
So if I tell you that if you come to Jesus you can get meaning for your life or you can have peace in your soul or you — God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. That may be true — that’s not the gospel. Don’t confuse that with the gospel. The gospel’s about Jesus.
LARSON: Going once.
FERGUSON: I’ll just give the same answer in a different accent. You know, I mean, if a student asked me that question I would say, well, Paul has told us in the first few verses of 1 Corinthians, 15. He says, “These are the things that are of first importance.” And he states facts with an interpretation. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, third day rose again. And that is, I think, probably in the New Testament, at least in Paul’s letters, the simplest foundation. But, as we, as we grow as Christians — well, here is Paul saying in Romans twice, I want to explain my gospel to you, and there he’s taking that statement, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, third day rose again,” and he’s saying let me now unpack more and more of the significance of that.
So that from one point of view, you can sit down with a child and say this is the gospel. And from another point of view, since Christ Himself person and work — as Calvin says Christ clothed in the gospel, is the gospel. You know — we are ransacking the Scriptures all the time to discover the fullness of that. But as to the — you know, as to the foundation of it, you know, the answer is really pretty simple and clearly stated in Scripture. And as R.C.’s saying, kind of different from what people often say.
LARSON: Thank you all so much. Let’s thank our panelists this afternoon.