Evangelical Christians generally agree with one another on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. However, many Evangelicals also divide into two camps, Calvinist and Arminian. Those positions largely center on the sovereignty of God vs. the free will of man. Debates between Calvinists and Arminians have, for the most part, been cordial. Occasionally, however, along comes some combative guy eager to provoke a fight in the midst of otherwise civil discourse. Such is the case with RC Sproul Jr. Throughout his "ministry career" Sproul has been an agent provocateur. Sproul thrills in igniting a dispute like a pyromaniac thrills in setting a building ablaze just to watch it burn to the ground. With his book Almighty Over All; Understanding the Sovereignty Of God, RC Sproul Jr managed to push the entire debate of God's sovereignty vs. man's free will over the cliff into what Arminians and Calvinists alike generally characterize as heresy.
If, as Arminians believe, man is a libertarian free-will agent how far does his freedom extend in light of an omnipotent God? Is fallen sinful man, in all his pride, even capable of seeing his need of a Savior? If, as Calvinists assert, God is sovereign and man and the entire universe is subject to God's will, how far does that sovereignty extend? Is God's sovereignty total and absolute or is His sovereignty limited in certain respects? How does the Calvinist lay claim to God's sovereignty in His creation and yet at the same time assert that man is fully accountable and responsible for his sins? If God is sovereign did He ordain the fall of man? If God did ordain the fall of man, is it not logical to assert God must have created the sin by which man fell?
Reformed theologians have universally agreed that God is not the author of sin and, therefore, God could not have created sin. However, there is one noteworthy exception, RC Sproul Jr:
"I am not accusing God of sinning; I am suggesting that He created sin."RC Sproul Jr, Almighty Over All (p. 54) (1999)
As though it weren't troubling enough that RC Sproul Jr accuses God of creating sin, he goes on to tell us that he knows God's motive for creating sin. How does Sproul divine the mind of God? Not by scholarly application of God's Word. He does so by relying almost entirely on his own human reasoning. In light of what scripture has to say we find it incredibly arrogant and presumptuous of Sproul to think himself qualified at reading God's mind: "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:34), and "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God." (1 Cor 2:11)
Given who his father is it's remarkable how RC Sproul Jr could have strayed so far from the doctrines of the Reformed faith. Reformed Calvinist scholar and theologian Dr. RC Sproul Sr stated the following:
"Herein lies the problem. Before a person can commit an act of sin he must first have a desire to perform that act. The Bible tells us that evil actions flow from evil desires. But the presence of an evil desire is already sin. We sin because we are sinners. We were born with a sin nature. We are fallen creatures. But Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know." Chosen By God (p. 30, 1994)These are complex issues and, we must admit, we feel ourselves less than qualified to address them as expertly as they deserve. The problem is that only a couple of scholars have directly confronted Almighty Over All and their efforts received limited attention. Few people took notice of RC Sproul Jr's book Almighty Over All when it came out some twenty years ago. Since that time Almighty Over All managed to largely avoid the critical review such a provocative publication otherwise warrants. We hope to change that. That said, this article isn't so much a book review as it is an exposé.
Wiser men, far more learned and formally schooled in theology than we are, have wrestled for centuries over these weighty issues. Their answers aren't always as satisfying as we might like. As J. Gresham Machen put it: "For both, the problem remains. How could a holy God, if he is all-powerful, have permitted the existence of sin? What shall we do with the problem? I am afraid we shall have to do with it something that is not very pleasing to our pride; I am afraid we shall just have to say that it is insoluble."
While Calvinists (and Arminians too, for that matter) don't argue that God permitted sin to enter the world, Calvinists flatly deny that God Himself was responsible for sin, let alone for creating sin. Calvinists claim God's absolute sovereignty while at the same time asserting He isn't responsible for sin. When demands are made to explain this seeming contradiction the standard reply is, "It's a mystery -- just another one of those topics that man in his finite knowledge can never fully comprehend or adequately explain about an infinite God." Arminians might call this a cop out, but the reality is Arminians are forced into giving the same explanation for the Trinity -- it's a mystery. Not everything about the nature of God can be explained by logic alone. Say what you will about Calvinists; one thing they're unwilling to do is accuse God of being the author of sin. They're willing to leave the issue a mystery.
However RC Sproul Jr isn't your stereotypical Calvinist. Nor is he his father's son. In his book Almighty Over All; Understanding the Sovereignty Of God RC Sproul Jr presumes to have solved the insoluble. In it Sproul makes some shocking claims, even abhorrent. Of those that have read it some have called Sproul's book heretical. Some even go so far as to label it blasphemous. Such criticism, however, has seldom been leveled by the Reformed, not because they agree with it but because they're probably embarrassed and would rather not draw attention to it.
In 2008 Paul Copan posted Taking Calvinism Too Far: R.C. Sproul Jr.’s Evil-Creating Deity. The article provoked some discussion, resulting in 245 reader comments. Unfortunately reclaimingthemind.org was subsequently abandoned and taken down. Then in 2010 Kenneth Keathley in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach devoted several pages of critical examination to Almighty Over All. That examination, like this one, focused primarily on chapter 3, "Who Dunit," since it contains the most objectionable content of the entire book.
Ironically enough Sproul received a smattering of praise from Arminians for Almighty Over All. Quite obviously they don't agree with Calvinism. What they do agree with is RC Sproul Jr's weaponized version of Calvinism. They commended Sproul for his eagerness to swing the pendulum of Calvinism to the extreme, something many Arminians have gleefully done themselves. RC Sproul Jr claims to be a Calvinist. Why would he use the same arguments for Calvinism that a good number of Arminians have used against Calvinism, arguments which Calvinist scholars argue is just reductio ad absurdum?
RC Sproul Jr makes God the author of sin, whereas scripture makes it abundantly clear that God is not the author of sin (James 1:13, 1 John 1:5). Sproul Jr's claims also contradict the Westminster Confession of Faith: "God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Rom 9:15, 18; 11:33; Eph 1:11; Heb 6:17); yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (Prov 16:33; Mat 17:12; John 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28)." (WCF 3.1)
RC Sproul Jr's sin-creating deity conjecture also flies in the face of what his own father taught. In Chosen By God Dr. RC Sproul Sr wrote, "In spite of this excruciating problem we still must affirm that God is not the author of sin. The Bible does not reveal the answers to all our questions. It does reveal the nature and character of God. One thing is absolutely unthinkable, that God could be the author or doer of sin." (p 31)
How does RC Sproul Jr manage to go where angels fear to tread by accusing God of creating sin, making God the author of sin? To get there he first must set scripture aside. RC Jr's book is remarkably lacking in scriptural support, particularly in the creation account of Genesis. What little scripture he cites is often taken out of context. Instead of putting on a theologian's hat he puts on the hat of a crime detective as he attempts to deduce "Who Dunit?" Sproul Jr acknowledges he was heavily influenced by the Sherlock Holmes stories. "A crime is committed. A list of suspects is introduced, and then slowly that list is narrowed until the culprit is found. With careful logic Holmes investigates who had a motive, who had opportunity, and who had the means." (p. 43) Though inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, RC Jr falls far short of the sagacity of a Sherlock Holmes. Almighty Over All reads far more like a clumsily-written dime store crime fiction than a skillful work of theology.
In tackling such a heady subject RC Sproul Jr also relies on the 18th century philosopher and preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703 - 1758). "Edwards' most enduring and influential work was his lengthy essay, 'The Freedom of the Will.' The argument he makes in this essay can be used to prove conclusively that Eve could not be the culprit, for she had not the means. The argument is surprisingly simple, Edwards wrote that all men everywhere always act according to their strongest inclination at a given time... Edwards was right; we always choose according to our strongest inclination given our choices." (p. 46, 47)
Jonathan Edwards was anything but your run-of-the-mill Calvinist. He was heavily influenced by Enlightenment philosophers. Edwards' views were idiosyncratic. Edwards was a "causal determinist" and some might go as far as to say he showed indications of being a "logical determinist." Edwards is most famous for his sermon Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God. It would appear Edwards' causal determinism had a significant influence in shaping RC Sproul Jr's thinking.
There is nothing inherently problematic about determinism in itself. Calvinists are determinists. But there are varying degrees of determinism, everything from biblical worldview Calvinists to humanists whose worldview is rooted exclusively in the laws of nature and human logic. Logical determinism goes much further than simple determinism in that it places logical necessity and the laws of nature in the preeminent role of deciphering the issues of life. Logical determinists would say God (if they believe in a deity at all) cannot act contrary to logical necessity. In the practical outworking of logical determinism everything, including scripture, is subordinate to logical necessity. In logical determinism there is no mystery because logic always provides the answer, even if that answer appears contrary to what we know of the divine attributes of God as articulated in scripture.
In Almighty Over All Sproul takes up Edwards' causal determinism and dismisses Eve from the "suspect list" of who is responsible for sin and the fall. "Remember God had earlier made a declaration concerning Eve: 'Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good' (Gen. 1:31) If Eve was good, this must mean that her inclination was only good... To be good is to have only good inclination, to have a good nature. And can someone who is good do bad?... She could not have changed her own inclination any more than a leopard can change its spots or a good tree can bear bad fruit. We must excuse Eve from our investigation. Something outside of her must have been the agent of change, that which changed her inclinations from good to bad. Though she was the one who first to ate of the tree, she cannot be the one who introduced evil into the world." (pp. 47, 48, 49)
Using the same line of reasoning Sproul dismisses Adam as the culprit and "he slips quickly off the suspect list." But it gets even more interesting.
Sproul doesn't even blame Satan. "While it is true that he was at the scene of the crime and had opportunity and a motive, he cannot be the culprit. Though the devil, unlike the rocks and trees, is personal, he too hasn't the power to change the inclination of humans. Though incredibly powerful, he is yet a creature. Though he can and does tempt and seduce, he always does so by appealing to our already twisted inclinations." (p. 50) "Like Adam and Eve, the devil was created good. There was a time when his desires were only to obey God. Blaming the devil does not ultimately help us in solving the mystery. The devil, as an angel of light, before his fall, could not have had the inclination to do evil either." (p. 51)
Through this Holmesian process of elimination RC Sproul Jr crosses every creature off the list of suspects, leaving only the Creator as "the culprit." God first created sin. Then God changed the inclinations of Adam and Eve from good to evil so they desired to sin. Moreover they didn't just desire sin, their inclination to sin was irresistible. Adam and Eve had no real choice but to sin because they had to act according to their strongest inclination. God determined that man would fall into sin, God then created sin, and He then gave man the irresistible inclination to sin to ensure the fall would happen. Rather than relying on the Word of God, RC Sproul Jr uses causal determinism to make his case that God is "the culprit" and the cause, for all of it.
The question necessarily arises why would God do such a thing? What might be God's motive? This is where RC Sproul Jr goes even further off the rails by attempting to read God's mind. He asserts that God did all this so He could demonstrate one of His most important character attributes -- wrath. "He is pleased with his wrath... God is as delighted with his wrath as he is with all of his attributes. Suppose he says, 'What I’ll do is create something worthy of my wrath, something on which I can exhibit the glory of my wrath'." (pp. 52, 53)
It's no exaggeration to say that RC Sproul Jr is enthralled with and obsessed by God's wrath, so much so that he calls it a thing of "beauty." "We don't recognize the beauty of his wrath and so miss the glory in the execution of his wrath." (p. 58) And how is this "beauty" manifested by God? By the torment of souls in hell: "We don't often think, for instance, of the glory God receives from the torment of souls in hell. We are willing to jump up and down praising God when he redeems a sinner, but when he damns one, we look away... Nevertheless, we ought to see the glory. We ought to jump up and down praising God for his strength, that he alone has the power and authority to change the inclination of moral agents." (p. 58)
If indeed God is as wrathful as Sproul makes Him out to be couldn't God have found some other way? According to Sproul God is incapable of restraining and containing his wrath. God has no choice but to manifest His wrath: "And like man, God always acts according to his strongest inclination." (p. 54) Furthermore, as Sproul asserts, wrath isn't something God could exhibit just within the Trinity. He had no other choice but to "create something worthy of my wrath." So God created Heaven and earth, populating Heaven with angels and the earth with man, making them all good with no inclination to sin. Some time later God created sin. Then God changed the inclinations of angels and man from good to evil. Following after their strongest inclination, they fell into sin. This was all done so God could pour out his wrath on them. Sproul believes this brings God "glory."
RC Sproul Jr's God has no genuine free will. He is powerless to act contrary to his strongest inclination -- wrath. Sproul's God may be almighty over the works of His creation, but He is not almighty over all because He isn't almighty over Himself. He is a slave to His own inclinations. If He's feeling especially wrathful He has no choice but to put them on full blast.
In light of Edwards' Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God it becomes logically apparent why RC Sproul Jr came to these conclusions. The focus of Edwards' sermon is God's wrath and the torments of eternal hell fire. Edwards' God is characteristically wrathful.
Such a view is in stark contrast with the biblical account of a loving, forgiving, merciful and gracious Heavenly Father. It also contradicts RC Sproul Sr's position that God's most significant character attribute is holiness, a subject which he devoted much of his ministry to. In fact RC Sproul Sr, of his own admission, spoke on the subject of God's holiness far more often than he did any other topic. In the context of Isaiah's vision in the temple (Is 6) Dr. RC Sproul Sr says:
"The Bible doesn’t say that God is Holy. It doesn’t even say that God is holy, holy, but that He is holy, holy, holy. Scripture doesn’t say that he’s love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy or wrath, wrath, wrath, but that he’s holy, holy, holy; exalting this character of God to the supreme degree. This is the song of the angels, adding to it that the whole earth is full of his glory."However, according to RC Jr's view the seraphim might as well have been crying out, "Wrathful, wrathful, wrathful is the Lord of hosts." RC Sproul Jr's deity is best represented by Zeus, the mythological god of the Greeks who rages and hurls down his thunderbolts on those who displease him. RC Jr's deity is unjust, cruel, vindictive, tyrannical, and sadistic. Sproul Jr's God is not unlike a malicious little boy who delights in focusing his magnifying glass on ants in the hot summer sun so he can "glory" in seeing them burn up.
The creation plan of RC Jr's God wasn't to glorify and manifest Himself through His creation. Creation was merely a means to an end -- the end being that He have objects worthy of His wrath. After creating the world, and then resting on the seventh day, God couldn't just sit back and enjoy His creation, glorying in the beauty of His handiwork. What real glory could God receive in His fellowship with man and receiving man's adoration? Perhaps a little, but not much in comparison to the glory He could take in taking out His wrath on man. But how is God to pour out His wrath on good creatures? They'd first have to deserve His wrath, and that couldn't happen without their sinning. So God arranged everything to ensure they'd all merit His wrath. After having made everything good God decided to make it all bad.
Numerous Reformed Calvinist teachers and preachers have shared the podium with RC Jr at Ligonier Ministries conferences and elsewhere. RC Jr has even titled a few of his talks Almighty Over All (though he's never quoted from his own book the things we've exposed herein). More than likely a good portion of those Calvinist leaders have read Almighty Over All. Yet not one of them has ever publicly taken RC Jr to task for it. Would it be fair to assume they all privately agree with RC Sproul Jr but are too embarrassed to publicly admit it? Given what these men have all said about the sovereignty of God we're certain that would be a false assumption.
We're confident men such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Joel Beeke, Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, Al Mohler, Burk Parsons, Derek Thomas et al disagree with many of the claims made by RC Sproul Jr's in his book. In John MacArthur's case he's specifically addressed God's sovereignty and the origin of sin, perhaps even in direct response to Sproul's book (although he, like the others, never makes specific mention of it). We can safely assume they all vehemently disagree with Sproul Jr's evil-creating deity theory. We might also safely assume they've all been too intimidated to take RC Jr to task for fear they won't be invited back to speak at Ligonier conferences and enjoy the privileges and perks that brings them. Now that RC Sproul Jr has become an Anabaptist they might feel emboldened to challenge him.
Some might now be thinking that by weaponizing Calvinism, as RC Sproul Jr effectively has done, it may have been Sproul's intention from the beginning to sabotage Calvinism. That of course would be purely speculative; but the fact of the matter is it would be hard to find any publication that has given as much ammunition to Arminians in attacking Calvinism as Almighty Over All has done. RC Sproul Jr makes for an extremely poor representative for Calvinism, and not just because of his criminal record and the numerous scandals he's caused throughout the course of his "ministry career." But honest Arminians must acknowledge there are multiple examples of disgraced Arminian pastors who've caused them much embarrassment, as well. The two doctrinal positions should not be judged by their most scandalized advocates, nor should they be judged by their advocates who have taken those doctrinal positions to absurd and heretical extremes.
In our view Almighty Over All isn't just theologically errant. Almighty Over All is heretical. We would even go so far as to say Almighty Over All is slanderous. Slander of God is commonly referred to as "blasphemy." Blasphemy comes from the Greek blaptein, "to injure", and pheme, "reputation." By accusing God of the outrageous things he has RC Sproul Jr has slandered the righteous and perfect character of God.
Based on his track record we know RC Sproul Jr won't repent. Nevertheless scripture requires we call him to repentance (Matt 18:17), and so that is what we do here.
We call on RC Sproul Jr to repent of his heresy and slander against the Lord God. Your book is a matter of public record, RC, and so you are obligated to repent publicly.
This post first appeared on Spinderella Sproul: Lessons In Spin With Spinmeist, please read the originial post: here