Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/04/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. Sproul does what Sproul does best – teaches the gospel.
In this slim hardcover volume, Bible teacher, professor and ministry founder R.C. Sproul – who surely needs no further introduction – draws out the nuances, the implications, and the core elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The impetus for this book came many years ago, when Sproul was suddenly accosted by a man who asked “Are you saved?” Sproul narrates the account of his response in the first chapter, and it also reappears on the back cover:
I recall vividly a time, more than three decades ago, when I was asked this question. Apparently out of nowhere, a gentleman appeared in front of me, blocking my forward progress. He looked me in the eye and asked directly, “Are you saved?” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I uttered the first words that came into my mind: “Saved from what?” I think the man who stopped me on that day was as surprised by my question as I had been by his…
Sproul’s exploration of the question did not end then and there. Not long after telling the above story, Sproul explains how the delegates and attendees of a Christian bookseller convention could not give clear, coherent answers to the question, “What is the Gospel?” Responses varied but were all incomplete at their core: “Most of the answers were something like, ‘The gospel is having a personal relationship with Jesus,’ or, ‘It means asking Jesus into your heart.’ Absent from these definitions were any affirmations of the person and work of Christ and the appropriation of His work to the individual by faith alone.” Providentially, Sproul was invited the following year to speak at this convention, at which he addressed the question, “What is salvation?” He explained then – as he does in the book – how the good news of Christ’s love must be prefaced with the horrific news of God’s wrath, how the word translated as ‘salvation’ means different things at different places in Scripture, and how salvation is at once past, present, and future. Sproul rounds out the first part of the book (“Saved from what?”) establishing mankind’s utter helplessness to atone for sin.
Part 2 is entitled “Saved by what?” and explores the significance and necessity of Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the Cross. Rather than merely a dramatic gesture designed to emphasize God’s great love for us, Sproul explains that the biblical teaching of sin – encompassing sin as debt, sin as enmity, and sin as crime – calls for a much more sober evaluation of the Cross than a simple gesture of goodwill. In this section Sproul does focus on the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion, but also integrates Old Testament teaching of blessings and curses to demonstrate the two polarities of life under God’s rule. Precisely because Christ became a curse for us, believers now enjoy the blessing of God.
Part 3 (“Saved for what?”) projects the future, according to the biblical record, of the approaching Beatific Vision reserved for the believer. Sproul believes the anticipation of the perpetual presence of Christ is an understated doctrine in the Church, and so he spends quite a few pages explaining the true hope of heaven.
In this section Sproul makes a wonderful insight regarding our relationship to the rest of the world after explaining the biblical concept of adoption: “There is no universal fatherhood of God or universal brotherhood of man. The Bible speaks of a universal neighborhood. All people are my neighbors, and I am to treat them with Christian love.” In light of the botched evangelistic episode which precipitated this book, I would have liked Sproul to spend more time on how Christians are saved for evangelism, and how we can apply the teaching laid out in this book in everyday evangelism. That is my only complaint. Although this book is devoid of footnotes and/or endnotes, it proliferates with Scripture. As we might expect, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Barth are referenced favorably, while the concepts of Schweitzer and Pelagius are called into question.
I had the opportunity to read Saved From What? as a devotional volume during my twice-weekly doctor’s appointments, and there was much worshiping, rejoicing and thanksgiving in that office. Saved from what? God’s wrath. Saved by what? Christ’s atonement. Saved for what? Eternity with Christ. There is no better news.