If the Lord tarries, I am convinced that R.C. Sproul will ultimately be considered one of the greatest thinkers and teachers in church history, alongside some of the men whose views he compiles in this book, “Willing To Believe.” Subtitled “Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation,” Sproul focuses in on nine men and their theology concerning the ability of humanity (or lack thereof) to participate in salvation, whether they are synergistic (Pelagius, Cassian [as a Semi-Pelagian], Arminius, Finney) or monergistic (Augustine, Luther, Calvin [with Turretin], Edwards, Chafer).
Sproul eloquently puts forth in the introduction a general synopsis of what is at stake in this discussion (for which a lengthier treatment can be found in his book “Chosen By God”). Even though he disagrees with the synergistic views, he presents them fairly and, as much as possible, in their own words. I found the chapter on Arminius particularly enlightening; I never realized there was as much overlap as there was between him and the monergists (at least linguistically!).
One of the more sobering aspects of this book is how much today’s Church resembles the Semi-Pelagian, if not full-out Pelagian, view. Indeed, at the end of the chapter on Arminius, Sproul mentions Clark Pinnock, one of the leading proponents of Open Theism today. The errors of Open Theism are prevalent, not only in academic circles, but also from behind many pulpits, even if it is not known by that name.
I do have two issues with this work, though. The first thing is an act of omission: I wish Sproul would have included a treatment on Gordon H. Clark’s view of the will. While Clark would have been a twentieth-century addition (along with Lewis Sperry Chafer), Clark’s strong monergistic views, coupled with his views on determinism and God’s will, would have been a welcome addition in this reviewer’s mind. And it’s not as if Clark as not on Sproul’s radar — the former is mentioned on p. 143!
The other issue I have is his treatment of Chafer, with Sproul’s mischaracterization and misrepresentation of “dispensationalist” soteriology. He notes that many dispensationalists charged Gerstner with misunderstanding historic dispensationalism in his work “Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth” (p. 190), a fate that Sproul himself now suffers. He summarizes his own findings on p. 191: “The universe of my experience provides an inadequate basis from which to draw final conclusions about dispensationalism today, but it does point out that no small amount of confusion exists regarding these issues.”
The confusion is clearly in Sproul’s own mind. Setting aside the matter of ordo salutis for the moment, and the relationship between faith and regeneration, Sproul readily admits that Chafer’s soteriology sounds quite Augustinian (pp. 192-193). He then goes on to attack the “dispensationalist” notion that faith precedes regeneration. What Sproul fails to do is define the terms that are used between the two camps; the result of which would be the understanding that, while the monergistic concepts they believe are the same, the terminology they employ differs. It would take one paragraph to explain the “Reformed” definition of regeneration, compared and contrasted with that of the “dispensationalist.” The end result is an uncharitable and intellectually dishonest criticism of the hermeneutical school. Indeed, he was fairer in his treatment to the synergistic views, not seeking to dismantle and parse every word! No wonder many in Reformed circles have such an errant view of what dispensationalists actually believe!
That being said, I highly recommend this volume. I recommend it to the lay believer who seeks to gain a greater understanding of the history of this doctrine. I would recommend it on the undergraduate or seminary level if a soteriology course would allow the time for the study. Throughout the bulk of the book, Sproul does well to survey the various views and contributions, leaving the reader much to consider.
I received this book for free from Baker Books to review.