I am greatly indebted to R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. R.C. has written many books that explain the Reformed doctrines in a simple, accessible way. He has acted as the “salesman”—in a very positive sense of the word—for Calvinism, and his salesmanship has been unsurpassed in the 20th century. In a time in history when so many Christians have abandoned the sound doctrine and followed wolves in sheep’s clothing into emotionalism, mysticism, and subjectivism, R.C. took the task to bring them back gently, carefully, and lovingly to the beauty of the Biblical doctrine, to the understanding of who God is and how His sovereignty applies to their salvation. Several of his books were translated in my native language, Bulgarian, and they had a tremendous impact on the spiritual growth of Christianity in my native country. I can say, R.C.’s books did more for the propagation of the Reformed doctrines in Bulgaria than the dozens of Reformed missionaries who visited and stayed in the country for the last 20 years. R.C. Sproul’s work has been of great value to the church, both in the United States and abroad.
To use the words of Jango Fett, “I am just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe.” And like every simple man, I have my heroes. And R.C. Sproul is one of my heroes.
But heroes can be disappointing at times. And this time I am disappointed.
The reason for my disappointment is the coming Ligonier Conference. The topic of the conference is appealing: Tough Questions Christians Face. In these tumultuous times, when there are more and more questions asked, a conscientious, active Christian would be attracted to a topic like this. And I was attracted. I considered going there. Until I saw the specific topics of the sessions. Here are some of them:
Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
Is the Doctrine of Inerrancy Defensible?
What Is Evil and Where Did It Come From?
Why Do Christians Still Sin?
Is the Bible Just Another Book?
Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing of Loved Ones in Hell?
And so on.
Now, these are important questions. Christian authors in history, from the early church to our days, have written books on them. Christians must know the answers to these questions, just as they must know the answer to every other question in the universe. No doubt, these are valid questions for a Christian to ask.
But are they really “tough” questions?
I don’t know of many Christians that lay awake at night wondering if Jesus had to die. I don’t know of any church or group that is troubled by the issue whether the Bible is just another book. These “tough” questions weren’t tough even for the pastor of the small Pentecostal church in Bulgaria where my wife and I became Christians. He had no systematic theological education and yet he had solid Biblical answers to those questions just by reading his Bible. Even as new converts we knew our relatives and friends may go to hell if they did not repent, and while this thought wasn’t comforting, we knew it was God’s will—and we weren’t even Calvinists at the time. We knew why we as Christians still sinned, and we had in a rudimentary form the doctrine of progressive sanctification. The doctrine of inerrancy has never been an issue from the moment we believed, and I am not aware of any Christian who has any problem with the fact that the Bible isn’t “just another book.”
Far from being “tough questions,” these are fundamental questions that shouldn’t be an issue for a Christian. A new convert must learn the answers to these questions at the very start of their walk with the Lord. If they don’t, then their pastors haven’t done their job well; then what they need is not another Ligonier conference but another church. If the pastors have done their job well in teaching those fundamental doctrines of the faith and the person still has problems, then they need repentance and faith, not a conference. If a person still has doubts about fundamental tenets of their faith after many sermons, teachings, and Bible studies by their pastor and elders, then such a person will hardly learn anything from a conference—and most probably won’t even sign up for such a conference.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews talks about such fundamental questions of the faith in Hebrews 5:11–6:3. He very clearly says that these questions—repentance, faith, baptism, resurrection from the dead, eternal judgment—are stoicheia and archēs, “first things,” “elementary doctrines.” He doesn’t say they are “tough questions” that need to be discussed over and over again. To the contrary, he enjoins his readers to not lay again those elementary doctrines for a foundation, but “press on to maturity.” These things are “milk,” he says, and milk is the food for babies, not for mature men. Mature men eat solid food, and he tell his readers, “by this time you ought to be teachers.”
He is writing to the Hebrews who by that time had had the Scripture for about 1,400 years; and not all of it at once, but books were added one after another. In reality, they had had the complete canon for only 400 years. The law was read only in the synagogues, and the average person most probably couldn’t afford a Bible in his home. For several generations the Law was lost and it had to be found and recovered. There were no commentaries, concordances, no printing presses, no mass production of Bible study tools. The touch with the written word wasn’t as thorough as it is today. Besides, those elementary doctrines weren’t as clearly expounded in the Old Testament as they are in the New; Christ was revealed and yet in a sense hidden until the day of His appearance. And yet the author rebukes them that they haven’t become teachers by the time he is writing his letter.
In comparison, the Christian Church has had the Bible for over 1,800 years now. For 500 years we have had the printing press, and we have used it to produce billions of Bibles and Bible study tools. The Information Revolution that started with Gutenberg favored mostly Christianity because it was the Christians who first made use of it, and they are still the best in using it for their testimony to the world. In the last 20 years the world made an enormous leap in making all kinds of information available, and there again, Christians are leading the pack by using the Internet disproportionally better than any other group in the world. No other intellectual movement has the abundance of concordances (in fact, no one else has anything like a “concordance”), study tools, dictionaries, thesauri, different translations of the Bible, picture dictionaries etc., etc., etc. And in addition, the elementary doctrines are open and revealed in the New Testament in a much clearer way than in the Old.
In short, there is no excuse for us as Christians to go back to the elements of our faith and lay them as a foundation over and over again. The answers to those questions—“Did Jesus have to die?” or “Is the Bible just another book?”—must be taken for given, for a foundation that is firmly established and proven. If the Hebrews were supposed to be teachers by first century AD, we today must be professors, and we must be eating solid food. Elementary doctrines can’t be “tough questions.” Ligonier Ministries have no reason to label them “tough”; by doing so, they are not helping Christians, they are only encouraging immaturity, irresponsibility, and laziness in Christians, in their attitude to studying and applying the Word of God.
So obvious it is that those questions are not “tough” at all, so blatantly obvious, that I am tempted to think that Ligonier Ministries are self-consciously trying to divert the attention of their audience from the real tough questions of the day. That same author of Hebrews tells us what the real tough questions for mature men are:
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14).
“Trained to discern good and evil”! Indeed, this is the mark of a mature, responsible man: He can apply the standards for good and evil in his life and in the society around him, he knows good when he sees it, and he knows evil when he sees it. He has a practical standard for action, he understands the times and he knows what Israel should do in those times. A mature and responsible man doesn’t need to lay for foundation the elementary things of his faith. He applies them in practice.
We are in times that require maturity, understanding, and practical Christian standard for action. These are not times for babes, these are times for real men. And if Ligonier wants some really tough questions for their next conference, I have some suggestions:
How Does a Christian Man Leave Inheritance to His Children in a Time of Runaway Inflation?
How Do I Teach My Children a Biblical Worldview?
How Do I Create a Successful Christian Enterprise?
How Do We as Christians Preserve Our Liberties in This Nation?
What Should Be Our Political Program For Action?
What Do We Do about the Public Schools?
Why Haven’t We Stopped Abortion Yet?
What Law Does God Want for Our Nation?
What Law Does God Want for Other Nations?
Are We Assured of Victory or Defeat in History and on Earth?
How Do We Baptize a Nation?
It’s about time for Ligonier Ministries to come out of the nursery. R.C. Sproul helped so many of us to make steps forward toward developing a solid Biblical worldview. This conference is a step back, a return to our days as infants. We don’t need that, and the Church doesn’t need that.
The Church needs a clear, relevant, victorious call for battle (1 Cor. 14:8). These are times when people and ministries either lead or follow. If they neither lead nor follow, they better get out of the way. I know Ligonier has all the resources to lead. It’s about time they use them.