- Hardcover: 219 pages
- Publisher: Baker Pub Group (December 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080101090X
- ISBN-13: 978-0801010903
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 41 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,059,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification Hardcover – December 1, 1995
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About the Author
R. C. Sproul is professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.
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R.C. Sproul wrote this book in response to the new ecumenical mood. He explains why the precise language used by the Reformers was not theological hair-splitting, that the stand they took against Rome was not a tragic, unnecessary tempest in a teapot. He shows that current attempts at finding a unity of faith are essentially meaningless because both sides can read diametrically different theologies into the same words.
We learn that the ultimate issue of the Reformation had to do with the grounds of our justification: on what basis will God ever declare a person to be just? The Roman Catholic Church says the only way God will ever declare a person just is on the basis of inherent righteousness. Of course you can't be righteous without the help of Christ and grace, but though these are necessary for justication, they are not sufficient. You must cooperate with infused grace such that righteousness inheres within you; it becomes your own.
The problem, says Sproul, is that "all the benefits of sacramental grace, as powerful and effective as they are claimed to be, do not gain us the holiness required by absolute justice. We need a greater righteousness than whatever righteousness inheres in us, by whatever means of grace it so inheres, in order to stand before God's judgment" (p.107).
The Reformation view, by contrast, was that the only grounds by which God ever declares one just is the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. It is the righteousness that properly belongs to Christ alone that merits salvation in front of a just and holy God. So we are justified by faith alone in this sense: faith is the instrument by which we embrace Christ; we put our trust in him, and in him alone as the grounds of our salvation. The moment we put our trust in Christ, God in a legal action transfers, or imputes, the righteousness of Jesus to our account. At the end of my life I stand before the judgement seat of God and I am clothed, not in my own inherent righteousness, but in the righteousness of Christ. God declares me just in Christ. The bottom line in the dispute, then, is this: covered by whose righteousness do I hope to stand at the last judgment: Christ's, or my own?
So the one word over which the whole controversy was fought was the word "imputation." You take away the concept of imputation, as Rome does, you take away sola fide; you take away sola fide, you take away the gospel.
Sproul clarifies the difference between the two positions with his discussion of the Roman Catholic conception of merit. Here he sees an "unresolved paradox," namely the claim that merit is rooted in grace, that it is "gracious merit." The idea is that the ultimate meritorious ground of our justification is found in the merit of Christ, but as the sinner must do necessary works of satisfaction in the sacrament of penance, he essentially must "merit the merit of Christ. Salvation is accomplished through the merit of Christ and on the merit of the believer" (p. 149).
This finds its ultimate expression in the idea of the treasury of merit, which is filled by the merit of Christ and the supererogatory merit of Mary and the saints, who had more merit than they needed to get into heaven. That excess can be transferred to those who are deficient, by the authority of the church, through an indulgence.
Sproul has elsewhere said that "there is no concept within the Roman Catholic Church more basally repugnant to the Reformed faith than the concept of the treasury of merit. A person who believes in justification by faith alone weeps at this notion." Why? Because "we believe in a treasury of merit, too, one that is inexhaustible. But we don't believe that one nickel of that treasury has been contributed by anyone other than the Son of God. That's the issue: the sufficiency of Christ and Christ alone to redeem me."
ECT proclaims a unity of faith between Evangelicals and Catholics. Clearly that cannot be true. For it to be true, either Rome would have had to change from its position articulated at Trent by embracing sola fide (and it has not), or Evangelicals would have to no longer consider faith alone to be essential to the gospel. Standing with the Reformers, Sproul believes that sola fide is the very essence of the gospel, and is alarmed to see his peers on the one hand unhesitatingly affirming sola fide, while on the other hand proclaiming a unity of faith with Rome in a document that utterly ignores this doctrine.
If Luther and the Reformers were right that the doctrine of sola fide is the article upon which the church stands or falls, and if the Reformation, by recovering the good news that this doctrine proclaims, can properly be described by the words "post tenebras lux" - after darkness, light, then we would do well to heed Sproul's words that "the light of the Reformation is waning" (p.48). This book, clear, thorough, and irenic in tone, deserves to be read by all thoughtful Christians who care to learn more about the precious Biblical truths of God's one and only gospel.
Sproul grounds this book in historical theology. He wants the reader to see why the 16th century reformers disagreed so sharply with Rome over this vital doctrine. Along the way, he wants modern readers to understand that just because opposing parties may agree on the same terms, that does not mean they agree on the same meanings. What follows is a solid, relatively short (less than 200 pg) exposition on what is meant by justification from the perspective of traditional Catholic and Protestant thought. His analysis of the thought on justification by people like Aquinas and Calvin is especially valuable.
The author's hope in this book is that the reader, by understanding the importance of its doctrine, its full meaning, and richness, would be motivated to move beyond the general secularism of the age. He wants the evangelical believer to be aware of subtle shifts in thought and doctrine that move the whole foundation of faith, and he wants the reader to understand the importance of events in theology that have framed the issue clearly, so that later generations could learn more clearly and directly.
The general evangelical reader may find the subject more complex than they are normally faced with, because of the weightiness of the material covered. Yet Sproul was obviously motivated to inform the reader of the importance of the subject in as precise a language as possible. This book is certainly recommend, even if the events around the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement are fading, for the evangelical reader who wants to dig into how high, wide and deep the work of Christ is.
R.C. Sproul, which I highly recommend. R.C. just had a way of breaking it all down, what an excellent theologian and teacher he was; he will be sorely missed.
The author compares the Roman Catholic and Reformation view of justification and makes the case that we are justified solely by our faith in Christ with our good works an important, natural and necessary outcome of justification. I purchased this book at the recommendation of a friend while studying the teaching of James and the relationship between faith and good works (cf James 2:14-24).