Throwback Thursday: R.C. Sproul thought he could hold ecumenist compromisers’ feet to the fire, but they trumped him instead

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 10, 2016 and has been substantially revised.

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Have you ever been involved in a debate/argument where you presented what you thought was an irrefutable point, only to have your opponent turn the tables and cleverly use that point against you? That happened to R.C. Sproul in…

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together
By R.C. Sproul
Baker Books, 1999, 208 pp.

5 Stars for the contents of this book

1 Star for R.C. Sproul’s naive attempt to hold his compromising, ecumenist friends’ feet to the fire.

Theology? Most people don’t want to discuss theology, right? But it’s extremely important to know what the Gospel of Jesus Christ IS and what it ISN’T.

As the Word of God says…

  • We are all sinners.
  • The wages of sin is death and eternal separation from God.
  • But God the Father so loved us He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to live a sinless life and pay for our sins by dying on the cross.
  • Jesus defeated sin and death by rising from the grave.
  • Jesus offers the free gift of salvation and eternal life.

https://carm.org/what-gospel

But HOW exactly does one appropriate the free gift of salvation? Some claim by baptism. Others say that Jesus only opened the doors of Heaven and that people must do their part by obeying the Ten Commandments and being “good” in order to merit salvation. But what does the Bible, God’s Word, say?

Back in 1994, Chuck Colson and his ecumenical Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) initiative boldly declared that both evangelicals and Catholics believed in the same Gospel. Many evangelicals were rightly shocked by ECT’s claim. Evangelicals believe, as the Bible teaches, in salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, while Catholics unabashedly believe in salvation by sacramental grace and merit. The two views are diametrically opposed and are absolutely irreconcilable.

In 1995, evangelical theologian, R.C. Sproul, responded to ECT with the book, “Faith Alone,” which accurately contrasted the opposing salvation theologies of evangelicalism and Rome. See my review of that book here.

Colson and ECT’s next chess move was to publish their “The Gift of Salvation” declaration in 1998, which reiterated that both evangelicals and Catholics believe in salvation “by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Sproul then countered by writing this book, “Getting the Gospel Right,” in 1999, which critiqued the studied ambiguity of “The Gift of Salvation” and clarified even further evangelicalism’s view on justification and salvation in comparison to Rome’s false view.

Screenshot 2020-08-12 at 12.16.21 PM
R.C. Sproul, 1939-2017

“Getting the Gospel Right” was published in conjunction with the release of  “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration,” a declaration from Sproul and other evangelical Protestant leaders that defined the Gospel from an evangelical perspective. The STRANGE thing is that Sproul enlisted a couple of the most prominent ECT ecumenists, Timothy George and J.I. Packer, to help draft the declaration (!!!!) and more than a few ECTers subsequently signed it (i.e., Gerald Bray, Bill Bright, Harold Brown, Chuck Colson, Richard Land, Max Lucado, Richard Mouw, and Pat Robertson). Sproul had unwittingly allowed the ECT ecumenists to trump his efforts at delineating the genuine Gospel. Their rebuttal/counter-move could be described as, “Oh yeah, R.C., we believe all that, and WE STILL embrace Roman Catholicism as Christian.”

Sproul obviously had good intentions, but he didn’t think it through. He allowed himself to be “outmaneuvered” by the ecumenical Gospel-compromisers.

This theological “chess match” might seem like a lot of gobbledygook to some Christians, so let’s break it all down to its bare essentials:

Evangelicals believe justification and salvation come before sanctification (being more obedient, more Christ-like). You can’t know God or please Him until you acknowledge and repent of your sinfulness and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone. Once you accept Christ and are born-again as God’s child, then you can grow in obedience to the Lord. But “good” works won’t save you.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” John 1:12

Catholics believe the opposite. They believe sanctification comes before justification and salvation. By receiving the sacraments and obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules, Catholics believe they can become intrinsically righteous and justified and can hopefully merit salvation.


Below: A simple summary of the difference between Gospel Christianity and Catholicism:

A. The evangelical position: Justification and salvation in Christ by faith alone, then sanctification.

B. The Catholic position: Sanctification via sacraments and meritorious good works, hopefully leading to justification and salvation.

The two theologies are opposed. They cannot both be right.


The Catholic position is basically the same philosophy shared by natural man and all of the world’s religions, which teach that people must become increasingly “good” in order to possibly merit Heaven, Nirvana, Paradise, etc. R.C. Sproul understood the clear difference between the genuine Gospel and Rome’s false gospel, but he took the wrong tack, an accommodating one, in dealing with the ecumenical, Judas compromisers.

Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone. Religion won’t save you. Trying to be “good” won’t save you.

“I have not come to call the (self) righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:32

29 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: R.C. Sproul thought he could hold ecumenist compromisers’ feet to the fire, but they trumped him instead

    1. Thanks, David. I absolutely agree with your sentiment. I was blessed by R.C.’s ministry and I miss him. I give him an A for effort in defending the Gospel. He took a regrettable approach in this one instance and was taken advantage of. But that doesn’t define his life-long ministry.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Good review. I have never read any of Sproul’s work. I have listened to a few of his sermons and lectures and I will confess, I am not a fan of his delivery. I am not sure if in the American Gospel Christ Crucified if you have gotten to the part where Sproul is quoted but I did think the documentary used his thought out of context. Tom, I appreciate your well roundedness and how much you read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mandy! We haven’t gotten to the Sproul segment yet in “American Gospel: Christ Crucified.” I’ll be watching for it tonight.
      I wasn’t in agreement with R.C. on some secondaries, but I was grateful to him for his very outspoken stand against ecumenism with Rome. He and JMac and D. James Kennedy were the only “prominent” pastors/theologians I can think of who were outspoken in their opposition to ECT.
      Thanks again for your encouragement! The Lord puts it in my heart to continue digging through the muck of the RCC’s false gospel and evangelical ecumenical compromise.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 👋🏼 Thanks! It’s fun to dig through these old posts, but this one’s a little disturbing with how R.C. Sproul was a bit too magnanimous and optimistic and allowed himself to get outflanked.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s 6AM and I’m starting to psych myself up for the painting ahead. We have a ranch house so I’ll be using the step ladder mostly. There’s one area I’ll have to use the extension ladder but it’s a relatively small area. 84F and sunny today. Perfect painting weather!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Great weather! Didn’t start until 11:30 because I had to take my wife somewhere and petered out at 2:30. I expected to finish all of the trim today, but only did half. That is some tedious, tiring work! How’s your Friday starting off?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. My Friday is good! Went to go to John MacArthur church to try to buy a book that I couldn’t order online and it turn out they don’t have it too. Was the only one wearing masks besides an Asian seminary students

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Glad you’re having a good day but too bad about the book.
        RE: no masks at GCC
        Social group pressure. Too bad. That was the kind of conformity expected at the IFB church.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I imagine IFB churches social pressure is greater than at GCC; it was in Seminary that I first guys who came from IFB background in their past and they told me Grace felt more gracious than IFB subculture lol. But yeah I can imagine there’s probably social group pressure at GCC too.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yup, I don’t mean to say that the IFB and GCC are similarly legalistic, but strictly in regards to social distancing and PPE. the folks at GCC feel pressured to conform to JMac’s convictions and risk their health, even if they personally disagree with him.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow never heard of this book though I have heard and read Sproul’s Faith Alone. I’m sadden to hear of those who are ECT were outmaneuvering Sproul; seems some of those guys are slippery and ready to qualify statement of faiths to begin with so they no doubt be easy to sign and qualify other statements of faith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good comments! Yup, Sproul had excellent intentions, but the ECTers were slippery and ready and able to qualify all statements of faith in order to still embrace the RCC as Christian. This had to be “maddening” for Sproul.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I mentioned previously that many/most of the times Colson “attended church” on Sunday, he was by his wife’s side at her Catholic Church. He was a crypto-Catholic. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point he had a conversation with someone in the Catholic hierarchy about converting to RCism, but was advised to stay within evangelicalism and crusade for ecumenism instead. Pope Francis advised Tony Palmer to do exactly that.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Crissy! I’m very grateful for R.C. Sproul’s efforts to oppose ECT’s muddying of the Gospel, but his strategy backfired in this instance. I’m guessing he thought that by including the ECTers in a crystal clear definition of the genuine Gospel, they would be forced to realize/admit that Catholicism’s gospel was not the same thing. Of course, the ECTers didn’t realize/admit their error as R.C. had envisioned, thereby using the “chess match” to advance the cause of ecumenism.

      Liked by 1 person

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