Is R.C. Sproul wrong about Martin Luther?

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Puritan Board Freshman
I am trying to figure out how I should see modern Augustinian and Thomistic Catholics who agree with Augustine's clear defense of Sola Gratia. The Catholic Church officially "allows" for strong adherance to Sola Gratia and Predestination among their ranks but as a whole will distance itself from these truths.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I would first say that we don't have infalible knowledge about the state of any person's soul and as I wrote earlier, I think there will be many people in heaven who while on earth didn't have all the I's dotted and T's crossed in regard to their theology. Perhaps some of them will be those Augustinans you mention - contrary to the official teaching of their church? Isn't that the issue? Yes, a person can be saved in the RC church, but it is by believing something inconsistent with her official teachings. I don't think anybody would argue with that, but that seems to me to be an entirely different scenario then ECT and the Joint Declaration present. ECT says that the official position of Rome contains the gospel, so that a person who consistently follows her teachings will be saved. Apples verses oranges compared to the first.

2. Here is a section from James White's book on Justification (page 134) that I think applies to this discussion:

It has long been the practice of opponents of sola fide to to point to the patristic witness and hence preclude the exegetical conclusion of the inspired text itself: "Surely if that is a consistent interpretation of the Scriptures it would have been known from the beginning." (McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 36) But students of church history well know that such an assertion does not follow from the evidence. Many vital biblical topics were not discussed in-depth in patristic sources for many centuries. The Atonement for example, so central and definitional to a Scripture based understanding of the gospel, did not receive full treatment until Athanasius's work in the middle of the fourth century. Even then, the history of the church shows the prevalence of wildly unbiblical views of this doctrine despite the depth of the teachings found in the book of Hebrews.

Regarding justification, one simply does not find the kind of exegetical study and discussion in the early fathers upon which to base accusations against sola fide.. It simply was not the subject of debate in their context, so to put great weight upon their default position, when it is a position informed by tradition and not the kind of thoughtful conflict that drives one into the Scriptures is folly.

3. Do the Scriptures clearly teach sola fide? Shouldn't that be the first question we ask?

4. I understand and sympathize with the desire to avoid needless bickering over secondary issues, but does sola fide fit into that category? Do we really do our Roman Catholic friends any favors by attempting to minimize our differences over sola fide? If you have cancer, the news would certainly be disturbing, but wouldn't you want know as soon as possible, so you can seek a cure? So then, how loving would it be as a doctor to do everything possible to minimize the danger signs?

[Edited on 10-23-2005 by AdamM]

Larry Hughes

Puritan Board Sophomore
D. Hunter,

In short to "get" imputation is to get the gospel & to not "get it" is to not get the gospel. Now this may not happen for a lot of people until death, the last acting of the Law on the person before departure - then they may see at last the Gospel.

Luther said in his day that many a monk was saved on their death beds. As they lay dying & examining their lives & its works...AS Christians. They were driven to terror as death beakoned at last, were their lives & works, we might call them fruit today, enough. Finding absolutely no peace terror set in. Then upon death a crucifix was held before them & they would at last grasping the cross cry out, "THERE'S my salvation!"

Like I tell my wife take all doctrine to suffering, especially your own certian death, THEN you will begin to see Law & Gospel very clearly - or else die a fool!


Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Great quote from Dr. White, Adam! As with most things, he put the point much better than I. Dr. White has been very kind and encouraging to me over a few years now since we began corresponding. Such a great warrior to have for Christian Orthodoxy.


Puritan Board Freshman
Rich, I like Dr. White's work too.


For what it's worth, does anyone think Sproul is saying something different then the official position of the PCA in regard to ECT?

23rd General Assembly, 1995, 23-49, III, 5, Overture 19, pages 228 - 231.


5. That Overture 19 be answered in the affirmative as amended and communicated to the signers of the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Adopted as amended

OVERTURE 19 From the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest
(as amended)
Response to "Evangelicals and Catholics Together"

Whereas, the Presbyterian Church in America is bound by the Word of God as its sole source of faith and life ("Sola Scriptura" - 2 Timothy 3:16; Westminster Confession of Faith 1.1-10; and,

Whereas, this church as part of the Body of Christ has been given the sacred responsibility to proclaim the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20) and has the solemn charge to guard the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8-14), not seeking the pleasure of men but of God (Galatians 1:6-10); and,

Whereas, at the very heart of the gospel lies the crucial doctrine of Justification by Faith alone by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ ("Sola Fide", "Solo Christo" - Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 5:1-21; WCF 11.1-6); and,

Whereas, this church should desire to have no fellowship with those who pervert the gospel but rather expose them (Galatians 1:9; 5:7-12; 2 Corinthians 11:1-16); and,

Whereas, the official Roman Catholic doctrine is a perversion of the biblical gospel of justification sola fide; and, Whereas, the Presbyterian Church in America recognizes that there have always been in the Roman Catholic Church those who have a living faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and we have hopes that their number is growing; and,

Whereas, the Roman Catholic Church is not today monolithic in its adherence to Tridentine theology, many Catholic authorities having embraced diminished views of the Bible as the Word of God and Christianity as a supernatural Faith, while some have embraced a more biblical theology; and,
Whereas, the theological ignorance, confusion, and indifference in Evangelical Protestantism is, in many respects, a reproach to the Lord Jesus Christ; and,

Whereas, the doctrine of Justification by Faith is widely misunderstood and misapplied in Evangelical Protestantism as well as in Roman Catholicism; and,

Whereas, certain influential leaders in the Evangelical world have recently signed the document Evangelicals end Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium which clearly suggests that Roman Catholics by virtue of being Roman Catholics are to be considered brothers and sisters in Christ, and suggests, therefore, that the dispute between the churches of the Reformation and Roman Catholicism concerning the doctrine of Justification by Faith is immaterial;

Therefore, the Twenty-Third General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America adopts and directs to be sent to the signatories the following statement in response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together:

The Presbyterian Church in America remains fully committed to the Reformed doctrine of Justification by Faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 11) and Catechisms (LC 70, 71, 77; SC 33). We reaffirm our intention to proclaim this doctrine to the world and restate our disagreement with any and all doctrinal formulations that fail to uphold the truths of the Protestant Reformation in this most important matter. We further declare that our understanding of justification is not compatible with the teaching of the official Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, we maintain that Biblical unity must be grounded in fidelity to the teaching of Holy Scripture regarding the Person and Work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Presbyterian Church in America continues to believe that Holy Scripture specifically and emphatically condemns any form of the idea that human works contribute to a sinner's justification before God, a conviction to which J. Gresham Machen gave timeless expression in his summation of the teaching of the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians:

"What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modem Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul's lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer's own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical -- not even, perhaps, the temporal -- order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God's law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern "practical" Christians to be a subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity. "

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the difference between the Judaizers and himself was the difference between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief, Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

"Paul certainly was right. The difference which divided him from the Judaizers was no mere theological subtlety, but concerned the very heart and core of the religion of Christ".

(Christianity and Liberalism, New York: Macmillan, 1923, p. 23-25.)

The Presbyterian Church in America acknowledges with sadness that the failure rightly to understand and emphatically to proclaim the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone is a sin to be found among Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. We confess, with shame, the complicity of Protestantism in the theological deterioration of Christianity.

The Presbyterian Church in America humbly acknowledges that Justification is not by faith in a doctrinal formulation but by faith alone in Christ the Redeemer and so it has often happened that people who have a living faith in Christ as their Savior have a most imperfect understanding of that faith and of the way in which salvation comes to them through it. With gratitude to God we gladly welcome certain developments in Roman Catholicism, especially those that have made Holy Scripture a more important part of the faith and piety of many Roman Catholics. We acknowledge that God, in his all-wise providence, has been pleased to put his loved ones in many communions whose doctrine we find unbiblical, even heretical, in important ways.

The Presbyterian Church in America commends the Roman Catholic Church for its principled opposition to some of our national sins and believes that it is altogether proper for the members of this church to be co-belligerents with Roman Catholics in these social and political endeavors.

[Edited on 10-24-2005 by AdamM]


Puritanboard Librarian
Originally posted by Contra_Mundum
In the case of Küng, if you should read him, be sure to read him as a critic of Rome, but not as a friend to Reformation orthodoxy. Küng is a modern day Erasmus, nothing more.

:ditto: Küng? Phooey! Famous Küng quote: "There will be peace on earth when there is peace among the world religions."

[Edited on 10-25-2005 by VirginiaHuguenot]


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
On Hans Küng
Originally posted by Saiph

The concept of justification by faith alone was by no means new with Luther. Indeed, the ecumenically minded Roman Catholic scholar Hans Küng has in effect contended that Luther's doctrine really was fully and satisfactorily Catholic, but of course Küng himself has been rebuked by the pope.

Sidenote/digression: Woe, I have never heard this, have you read Hans Kung ? ?
Makes me want to check his work out.
"œBarth was famously pro-Reformation. But was his theology truly "œEvangelical"? Were there undercurrents in his theology that brought him close to Rome? Barth early on attacked both Liberals and Romans. Yet, as Van Til cogently pointed out, the root of Barth´s theology (despite his later attempts to distance himself), and that of his early partners, and the Romans was dialecticalism. So, finally, though their conclusions differ Barth can acknowledge Hans Urs von Balthasar (Roman Catholic) as his most penetrating, understanding critic, and Hans Küng (Roman Catholic) can say "œBarth´s basic views are not essentially different from those of the "˜old church´" " (quoting myself)

A quote from Tabletalk mag, November 1994
Küng's argument against the doctrine of papal infallibility was seen by some Protestant observers as a powerful biblical critique against this Roman doctrine. It was not, however, a call back to the Reformer's doctrine of sols Scriptura. Influenced powerfully by the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth the logic of Küng's attack on papal infallibility could just as easily be applied to biblical infallibility. Küng's critique was more radical than any Reformer, since he questioned whether any propositions can be said to have a definite truth content.
Küng was advancing a more existential notion of truth. He later wrote: "Truth in the biblical sense means fidelity, permanence, reliability." True faith had little to do with maintaining the propositional truth behind faith. In fact, "true faith is maintained even through untrue propositions."
... "The Christian," he would later write,"believes not in propositions or truths, not even in the Bible, in tradition, or in the church, but in God himself and in Him whom God revealed Himself."
Küng's separation of faith from truth would certainly have troubled Martin Luther, for whom (in the words of J.I. Packer), "Christianity was a matter of doctrine first and foremost, because true religion was first and foremost a matter of faith; and faith is correlative to truth."
Ken Meyers

In the case of Küng, if you should read him, be sure to read him as a critic of Rome, but not as a friend to Reformation orthodoxy. Küng is a modern day Erasmus, nothing more.


Puritan Board Junior
Shouldn't we be using Augustine, Orange and Aquinas as reference points for Catholics who don't know their own Church's heritage on Grace? Above all, we use the scripture. However, if Sola Fide is exclusive in its Reformation sense, then we must stop using or appealing to Augustine, Aquinas, Orange etc.

Good question but I think Augustine was ok on justification.
He did not teach justification exclusively to be extra nos but I am unclear if that is essential or not.

Adam, you mentioned an article on Augustines view. Do you have a link.

I just borrowed "Fath Alone" from a friend to read what Sproul is saying for myself.

[Edited on 10-25-2005 by Saiph]


Staff member
Originally posted by Saiph
Adam, I think you are correct. Teachers are held to a higher judgment. Someone could be saved by sola fide applied, without really understanding all the nuances of the doctrine itself. Sola Fide is just that, a doctrine of how the gospel is applied. God saves man by graciously giving him the gift of faith. Opening blind eyes, or deaf ears, is the analogy Christ used. But, as we mature in faith, our VISION, and HEARING improve by the illumination of the HOly Spirit and the knowledge of the scriptures. I have been a Christian since I was a young boy, and believed many a heretical doctrine along the way. We must pray for wisdom and understanding.
I love Anselms statement fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. Saving faith will always be manifested by a hunger for the word, and a deeper knowledge of Christ.

:ditto: Can't add to that.
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