Few people have done as much as R. C. Sproul to commend theology to the church. He has worked for years through his books, radio and conferences to show God’s people that theology is for all believers, not just for pastors or professors. So I was thrilled to see this three-volume guide to the Westminster Confession (WCF), which in Sproul’s (and my) judgment is the best human-authored summary of biblical truth. Who better than Sproul to make the Confession more accessible to the church?
In general, I found these books to be a great theological resource for laypeople. Sproul has a real gift for explaining and illustrating complex ideas, and his near-encyclopedic knowledge of the history of theology enables him to concisely show what specific issue the WCF is addressing in a given section. He also does a great job of applying the Scriptural truths of the Confession, showing their relevance in church life today. Not surprisingly, his treatments of the major emphases of Reformed theology, such as the sovereignty of God, election and free will, are terrific, and he asks the tough questions I think need to be asked of the Arminian (i.e. not Calvinist) view that most American Christians hold by default. Sproul is at his best on these topics.
I would humbly suggest, though, that the book is better as a brief systematic theology than as a guide to the WCF. Sproul gives very little historical background to the Confession, and he does not concentrate on explaining it line by line. To me these books seemed more like Sproul’s thoughts on theology in the order of the WCF than a commentary on the WCF itself. At times there’s almost a stream-of-consciousness feel—you generally like everything you’re hearing but aren’t sure where you are or where you’re going. In fact, there are several points where things are repeated nearly verbatim from earlier in the book, making you wonder if the editor was out to lunch. One example is that Sproul has a little rhyme he uses to describe antinomianism. This ditty is found on p. 64, 100, and 270 of volume 1, with no indication that we’ve heard it before.
There was very little to disagree with here theologically (again, not surprisingly!), but I was surprised to see Sproul take an almost Roman Catholic view of the recognition of the NT canon, emphasizing the church’s decision more than God’s inspiration of the books. I also thought his section on creation was weak. Although I take the same view of creation that Sproul does, that the days of Genesis 1-2 were literal human days, I didn’t think he responded all that well to other views or presented a strong case for his own.
Although the book has its flaws, I found it to be a good explanation and defense of historic Reformed theology. Sproul has a good sense for what most Christians believe, and he is good at showing us where broad evangelicalism is at odds with Scripture. In these volumes he makes theology accessible to everyone, challenging us to take our faith seriously and also showing that the fruit of that effort is a heart more devoted to God and his kingdom.