2010 Ligonier National Conference - Q&A
This evening’s session was a lengthy Q&A where R.C. Sproul asked questions submitted by attendees. On the panel were Michael Horton, Alistair Begg, Albert Mohler and Steven Lawson. We’ve tried to capture in brief form the questions and answers but you may wish to track down the audio or video to hear lengthier responses
Was King Saul regenerate or was he simply a tool in God’s hands who was given the Spirit for a specific purpose?
Horton and Begg declined to answer while Lawson went with “no.” Mohler said that this question not answered within Scripture but is instead answered within the narrative of Scripture where Saul is the antitype of David who is part of the line of Jesus. Saul is presented as being out while David is presented as in. But this particular question is not addressed. Sproul suggested that being empowered by the Spirit to fill a certain office does not necessarily indicate a saving kind of empowering, but again, we simply do not know.
Are you familiar with the theophostic prayer and would you consider it a form of gnosticism?
Amidst much confusion Mohler explained the question to Horton and said the answer is “yes.”
If there is one Holy Spirit guiding believers, why are there denominations and many varied interpretations?
Horton: Why are there so many interpretations of science or any other discipline? The sign of a living discipline is the existence of discussion. It is a sign of vitality that there is enough there to work on still generating discussion and controversy. The Word is not the problem; our ears are dull, our hearts are confused, our minds are drawn to all kind of confusion; we are finite and sinful. We don’t see our theological systems as nailing it down—not even in heaven will we have exhaustive knowledge. God has revealed what he wishes for us to know and it’s significant that for 2,000 years the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed have remained core agreements. This shows us that the Bible is clear in these things.
Sproul said that the Spirit and the Bible are infallible but those who apply rules of interpretation and who benefit from the interpretation of the Holy Spirit are still fallible and fallen creatures. We have many ways in which we come to the text of Scripture and come fallen.
Why don’t Christians care, or care enough, that they are sinning?
Begg: Because we don’t truly understand the nature of the atonement and what has happened in Christ bearing our sins. A low view of the atonement goes in line with an easy-going view of sin in the same way that when people take sin seriously they have a solid and clear grasp of what has happened in Christ dying for us. This was not a moot question for Paul in writing Romans where the same question applied to the people he was writing to. The answer lies in the gospel. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves all day every day and one way we will fail is a fast fall into antinomianism. The ultimate reason is that the believer does not understand what it means to be united to Christ. If we don’t, we’ll have legalism on one hand or lawlessness on the other. People simply don’t know who they are in Christ.
Sproul offered one correction to the question saying that there is no such thing as a true Christian who does not care about his sin. The question should be “why don’t we care to the degree that we ought to care?” And it’s because our hearts are still less than fully sanctified and God has not fully revealed to us the sinfulness of our sin (and thank God for that). If God revealed to me right now the full measure of the continuing sin in my life, it would destroy me. God is gracious and gentle in correcting us gradually.
Lawson added that some Christians are not as sensitive to their sin because they have a lack of exposure to the Word of God. It is the light of God’s Word that shines the light into our hearts. If we are distant from the Word of God there are sins that are not being exposed by the light of the Word. On the other spectrum there can be exposure to the Word of God but it’s mere intellectualism and not something that stirs the heart or the affections. It is all cognitive, touching the head but not the heart. If a person is not regularly coming to the Lord’s table where you’re coming face-to-face with the death of Christ for us and confessing sin to God, you are ignoring a great means of grace. It is here that you are asking God to bring into the light sin that has not been confessed, acknowledged, repented of. Also, Christians who are out of community with other believers are leaving themselves exposed and weak before Satan’s attacks.
After postmodernism what is the next intellectual challenge to the faith?
Horton: Postmodernism just picks up whatever is in the culture and there is a tendency to demonize or lionize it. We always want to ask what people really mean by the term because it may not be entirely bad. In the church there is a little bit of modernism running in our veins and we need to be aware of that. Modernism was no friend of the church so we may be helped by whatever comes after it (which is to say we should ensure that our faith was in perfect shape before the postmodern age). Younger people may be as guilty of wholly embracing postmodernism as their parents are in wholly rejecting it.
If God can do anything, why can’t he lie?
Horton: There are lots of things that God cannot do. His will is bound to His nature. He cannot lie because He cannot do anything that is evil. Omnipotence does not mean that God can do anything.
John 3:16 and Psalm 5:5-6. Please reconcile those texts.
Lawton: There is a distinction in God’s heart as it relates to redemption with regard to the elect and the non-elect. Even the elect prior to regeneration& faith are under the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). John 3:16 speaks to the sphere of mankind. All those who believe show themselves to be the objects of God’s redeeming love.
Would you approach a person in the family who doesn’t want to discuss predestination?
Begg: Check out your motives. There is no need to bash them with theology just for the sake of bashing them.
Mohler: There are ways to humbly help others understand better what you believe. Establish relational credibility before pursuing theological credibility.
Can we reconcile irresistible grace and human will?
Mohler: Use the phrase effectual grace not irresistible grace. Get rid of the straw man: There is no righteous person who wants to be saved, but yet is not allowed to be saved. And there is elect person who is dragged into heaven against their will.
Sproul: The phrase irresistible grace is not entirely helpful because the reality is we resist God’s grace with all our might. But ultimately He prevails over us in our regeneration.
Do we need to be concerned with or study deeply the beliefs of the church regarding Israel or baptism?
Horton: Yes, it is important, mainly because it is grounded in the way we approach the Scriptures as a whole. We often have more agreement between Calvinistic Baptists and Presbyterians on this. If we come to the Scriptures assuming continuity, we are more likely to see baptism as a replacement for circumcision. But if we come to the Scriptures assuming discontinuity, we are more likely to see individual salvation in the New Testament rather than a promise to our children.
Sproul: On the baptism issue, the NT never explicitly commands or forbids infant baptism. We’re making our argument from implications. Those who hold to infant baptism think it is a moral duty to infant baptize children. Those on the other side think it is a moral duty not to. We both want to be pleasing to God. We disagree on which approach is more pleasing to God. So yes, we can discuss it and debate it, but not with rancor or abrasiveness.
Mohler: The question is should infants be baptized. We all agree that believer’s should be baptized. We don’t have this conversation as adversaries, but as folks who want to be submitted to the word of God. Baptists believe that those who should be baptized are those who have been regenerated and professed faith, and only those.
If God ordains evil, how is he not the author of evil?
Sproul: God ordains it in a certain sense. But not in the sense that he causes or forces his creature to do evil. Then God would be the author of evil. Analogy: When I publish a book, the publisher “ordains” that I produce a book on a certain topic. But the publisher is not immediately culpable for what I say, I am. God knows what I’m going to do before I do it, but that doesn’t make God the doer of what I do.
Mohler: God takes responsibility for the ends of His creation. For the trajectory or the direction of the created order.
According to Romans 9, God is not unjust to elect some and harden others. Although God is not unjust, doesn’t this show evidence of favoritism? And doesn’t the Bible teach that God does not play favorites?
Mohler: Is God obligated to treat all human beings at all times the same way? The answer is no, He’s not. God relates to people in different ways. God tells us this upfront in Romans 9. He does not relate to Ishmael the same way as He relates to Isaac, or to the Amalekites the same way as He relates to Israel.
The reality is that none of us deserve to be saved. When Christ wrought redemption, He did so for specific individuals, none of whom deserved to be saved. God is perfect and He is not accountable to be fair. There is a distinction between the elect and the world; it is what it is.
Sproul: But it is still true that “God is not a respecter of persons.” The “favoritism” that God shows to the elect is truly gracious – it is not based on anything in the individuals themselves. God isn’t favoring Isaac over Ishmael because of something in Isaac.
In reference to justification, is there an award for the elect for their works?
Begg: This is the only time I got into an argument with Bryan Chapell. I was arguing for awards, and he was arguing against rewards. But I don’t remember his argument or mine.
Sproul: We find about 25 passages about a judgment according to works. But there is nothing in us that compels God to award them. Our best works are at best splendid vices. Though our works or our relative degree of obedience are not worthy of being awarded, God crowns His own work and chooses to award the work of His grace in our life.
Mohler: James Boyce used to say that anyone looking at the incommensurate housing in this world says to themselves, “It just doesn’t look right.” But the inequalities in heaven will not look morally dubious to anyone.
Horton: If I’m truly holy, part of the party will be rejoicing to see Corrie ten Boom get more crowns than me.
Lawson: There will be rewards, and there will be an accounting according to works (Rev. 22:12). Greater faithfulness will bring about greater reward. Yet the crowns we will receive are emblematic. Our response will be, “This crown really belongs to God. It is all of grace.”