The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

I first became a big fan of R.C. Sproul, perhaps surprisingly to some, through his apologetics teaching series "Defending The Faith," which aired on the NRB network. I was working at a Cracker Barrel at the time in the dish room, and would use the opportunity to talk about God and proclaim the gospel to my co-workers. One guy in his early 40's said he was going to be a pastor and briefly attended SEBTS, but had fallen away from the faith. He questioned the goodness of God, since God was supposed to be all-powerful, all knowing, and yet evil existed. I gave my best answer to that, which I felt was fairly satisfactory, but he had another tactic ready. "Well who made God then?" He asked.

I didn't know how to answer that one. For me, that was like asking why ice is cold. God by definition is unmade. I told him that, but he said that wasn't possible, that that didn't make any sense. I realized I had always accepted that God was unmade, but didn't really know how to prove that or show how that could be logical, so I simply told my friend that it was so, and that if something had made God, whatever made God would have to be God.

After my discussion with the guy, I sought out how to better defend my faith, particularly in this area, and that is how I came across Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. Now, I am at his Bible college, Reformation Bible college. I read The Holiness of God once on my own, then again for a class at RBC, taught by none other than R.C. Sproul's son.

The Holiness of God's first few pages starts out in essentially a story format. It is a true story, of R.C. Sproul's first real encounter with the holiness of God, but it is written in a fiction novel sort of way. This has the wonderful effect of drawing the reader in immediately, and gives the all-important sense that what Sproul is talking about is of the utmost importance. And after all, the holiness of God is the Christian's highest concern, for God says to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Sproul is compelled to rise from his bed at midnight, cross the snow-covered campus, and enter the chapel to pray. What made him so restless, so vexed in his soul, was what he had learned earlier that day in his philosophy class. Sproul says he was a new Christian that focused on Jesus Christ, the second person of the trinity, but had only a vague sense of God the Father, the first person of the trinity.

That day in philosophy class, however, began to shed light on God the Father. God the Father had created everything out of nothing. This is what Sproul could not grasp, what he could not fathom. Artists rearrange material to produce something, but God had no material to rearrange, not even a blank, empty canvas. He created space from nothing, and He filled space with all that is. The stars, planets, galaxies, and people, all the way down to blades of grass and grains of sand. This God was powerful, He could command things to be out of nothing, for before God created all there was, was Himself!

Sproul learned that God has the power of being within Himself. This also happened to be the answer for my friend from Cracker Barrel. God is pure being, He is the only thing that is not dependent on something else for its existence. He alone is Creator, the uncreated; all else is His creation, the created. And we are His creatures.

Sproul later explains that holiness, while it does mean to be morally pure, primarily means to be set apart, to be "other." God is set apart from us, indeed transcends us, most fundamentally because He is the uncreated being, He is pure being, He is the one who has the power of being within Himself. As such, God has Lordship over all things, because He has made all things. So to come into contact with the holy God of the universe is to come into contact with the One infinitely set apart, infinitely beyond and transcendent of ourselves.

I don't want to give much away. Suffice to say, if you desire to encounter the holiness of God so you can learn how different from us He is, how much greater He is, so that you can become more like Him and less like yourself, then you should get a copy of The Holiness of God. The teaching series form of this book was very instrumental in the development of Chuck Colson's faith as a new believer, and many others have testified to its impact on their lives.

A few highlights of the book are:

1.) Sproul discussing Isaiah seeing God being high and lifted up and Isaiah's reaction of "Woe is me!" Because Isaiah was met with the contrast between himself and God.

2.) Sproul illustrating how things that are considered holy in Scripture are things set apart for a special use/purpose.

3.) Sproul pointing out that the disciples were more afraid after Jesus calmed the waters of the sea because they realized they were dealing with someone beyond a man, something transcendently holy, for even the winds and waves obeyed Him.

4.) Sproul's discussion of how Billy Graham's presence alone at a golf tournament (or any minister for that matter), can cause others to feel a sort of "holy presence," or a pressure to be pure, such as not cursing around them or acting more proper than they normally would otherwise.

5.) Sproul's excellent chapter on Martin Luther, entitled "The Insanity of Luther," where we learn of Luther's torment (perhaps demonic) over guilt for his sin and eventual conversion to Christ and understanding of justification by faith alone, and that such justification did not violate God's holiness.

6.) Discussion on Uzzah, whom God killed for trying to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling by touching it as it toppled over. The reason? God had commanded no one to touch the Ark of the Covenant, and Uzzah made the mistake of thinking his hands were cleaner, less offensive to God than if the Ark hit the ground!

7.) A true story Sproul tells of offering his students grace on a paper they didn't have complete on time, only for the students in turn to take advantage of that grace. When Sproul decides to give them what they deserve, justice, they cry out, "That's not fair!" This example clearly showed me how we look at difficulties in our own life and think of them as being less than fair when in reality we actually deserve far worse.We demand mercy and grace as a right and get angry when we get what we deserve, justice, instead.

8.) Sproul's treatment of God's interactions with Job and how in the end Job recognizes the holiness and goodness of God when God points to His power and authority to create and make all things, holding them in place and causing the universe to continually function properly (see Job 38 and following).

9.) Sproul explaining that "God's glory is the outward manifestation of His holiness."

10.) Sproul's recounting the joy of his mother and the tears in her eyes when as a child playing stickball outside in the streets everyone ran out and celebrated noisily the end of WWII. Sproul says this moment left a deep impression on him forever, and he knew that peace was a thing to be celebrated.

That is just a smattering of the good things in this book. It is a one-sitting kind of read, has a chapter on being holy as God is holy, and will have you laughing at turns, crying at turns, but mostly leave you trembling where you sit or lay as you awaken to the holiness of God.  It is widely recognized as a classic, and one that I highly recommend.

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