R.C. Sproul, Sr., and the NPP

I have, of late, been perusing The Trinity Foundation’s website looking at their take on the Norm Shepherd controversy at Westminster Seminary (PA). I came across a section on the site called “Horror Files” where John Robbins, the director of The Trinity Foundation, writes letters about the various goings-on in the evangelical world.
In the most recent “Horror File,” dated May 2006, he asks why men like R.C. Sproul, Sr., and D. James Kennedy haven’t spoken about issues surrounding the New Perspective on Paul, the Federal Vision and the Norm Shepherd controversy. While I haven’t read much of D. James Kennedy, nor listened to or watched his sermons, I can say a little about R.C. Sproul. I do this for the benefit of readers who may have the same question as Robbins. It’s best to let Sproul speak for himself.

In addition to the controversies provoked by the ‘lordship salvation’ question and the ECT initiative, we have also seen serious questions raised within the Christian academic community, particularly with respect to the concept of imputation. The so-called ‘New Perspective on Paul’ has inclined some scholars to embrace a shift in the understanding of the New Testament concept of justification. Paul is seen as teaching not so much an individualistic notion of personal justification (in a legal sense), but of speaking of the change of a person’s status with respect to the covenant community.
The ‘New Perspective’ has led some to conclude that the historic conflict between Rome and the Reformers was a case of false dilemma, in which the either/or fallacy was committed. That is, both sides erred in their understanding of the Biblical view of justification. Thus a pox is declared on both houses.
The controversy at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia over theologian Norm Shepherd’s teaching regarding justification remains unresolved. The number of Shepherd’s followers has increased over the years since he was dismissed from Westminster.
“With all these contemporary debates regarding aspects of the Reformation doctrine of justification, it is a welcome relief for Francis Turretin’s work on the subject to appear in this special volume drawn from his larger work, Institutes of Elenctic Theology.” (R.C. Sproul, “Introduction,” in Francis Turretin, Justification, ed., James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), xii-xiii.

You’ll note, if you click The Trinity Foundation link above, that John Robbins claims Sproul is “silent” on the New Perspective and the Shepherd controversy. My hope is that by publishing this, confusion will be cleared.


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12 responses to “R.C. Sproul, Sr., and the NPP

  1. Darrin

    So after reading Sproul’s comments that you posted, I see that he mentions the NPP, but I’m at a loss to know, from these words, what his position is on it. Any ideas? He seems to make some historical comments but that is all.

  2. Nick Hill

    Sproul’s back cover comments on John Piper’s book “Counted Righteous in Christ: Should we Adandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteous” is also telling. R.C. Sproul says: “The Gospel must be defended in every generation. Today, as in the sixteenth century, the central issue is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. John Piper clearly and powerfully proves this is the view of the Bible and not merely of orthodox Protestant theology. The church must say ‘No!’ to those who depare that imputation is passe. If imputation is passe, then so is the Gospel.”

  3. Ian

    Hey Darrin,
    My purpose for posting that quote was to indicate, that at least in some measure, Sproul wasn’t silent on the issue. It would appear from the context that he is advocating Turretin’s understanding of justification over and against the NPP and Shepherd.
    His statements are part of a list of contemporary issues on justification, so I don’t think it was meant to be an exhaustive analysis.

  4. Ian

    Hi Nick,
    Thanks for the comment, greatly appreciated. Helps clarify that Sproul hasn’t been completely silent on the issue.

  5. Darrin

    I don’t think what you posted though addressed Robbins concern. By ‘silent’ it certainly seems he meant they have not come out publicly for or against these specific heresies. I love Sproul and I haven’t seen anywhere where he has addressed this….I don’t necessarily agree with Robbins that they have to say anything at all; but Sproul in particular has been a great defender of the forensic, declarative nature of justification so when the doctrine comes under attack, perhaps Robbins is trying to draw more men out into the battle. I just don’t see how those comments in any way address the NPP, FV, or Westminster situations; they merely acknowledge that they exist which is altogether different. I think Sproul has aged and is in poor health and the situation with his son, who also seems to be flirting with the FV guys, hasn’t helped matters for him.

    As to Nick’s quote, as we’re all well aware, with these new variants on imputation, how one defines the word is the all important qualifier. I’m sure what Sproul means by it is different than what the others mean by it.

    I too would love for Sproul to address these things directly because I think his influence could be used by the Spirit to help others see the eternal dangers of progressing down these other paths.

  6. Rogers Meredith

    Having read your post on Robbins and the ensuing comments I kindly ask the following:
    1. Precisely, what is meant by FV?
    2. When and by whom was it declared to be a damnable heresy?
    3. A question related to the first also comes to mind: are there elements of the FV that do not lead to eternal condemnation and if so could you please identify them for me?

  7. Ian

    Hey Rog,
    For me:
    1) I think that like many movements, the FV isn’t monolithic. As you well know, various members hold various view to varying degrees. My thoughts are that the common denominator is the objectivity of the covenant. It would appear to me that all of the other views espoused by the FV flows out of this one.
    2) I wouldn’t declare FV a heresy.
    3) Thus far I wouldn’t say that any of the FV doctrines lead to eternal damnation. But I have to admit, my only real introduction comes via Doug Wilson. I can’t really speak to what other men like Wilkins, Schlissel, etc. say.

  8. Rogers Meredith

    Thanks. So then would you consider Darrin’s consideration of the FV (what ever that is) as being among so called “specific heresies” as premature at the least and uncharitable certainly? For while the specifics of what has been called the FV remain largely unknown there are specific names associated with that moniker, many of whom are my associates some of which I even call friends. Darrin should be ashamed of himself. After reading his post one is inclined to wonder if he is one of those jitney theologians so fond of the internet; thank God he is not in the ministry where he could do some real harm.
    On a more positive note I would suggest that you read the collection of essays bearing the FV title; published by Athanasius Press.
    Cordially in Christ

  9. darrin

    Pastor Rogers,

    Thank you for demonstrating what it means to be charitable and gracious. You can have your “corporate justification”, your “covenantal faithfulness”, and your covenant inclusion based on baptism instead of faith; hopefully it’ll work out for you in the end. Let’s not pretend these “pet” doctrines of the AA crowd haven’t been exposed for what they are in many places.

    the “jitney theologian”

  10. darrin

    Here’s a timely bit of news:

    PCA General Assembly Overture Against Auburn Ave. Theology Adopted.


  11. Rogers Meredith

    Well I didn’t mean it that way though I did rebuke you. My point is this: given it is wrong for me to exercise authority over you then it follows it is wrong for Robbins to do so also, but over others.
    Still two wrongs don’t make a right.
    Having said that I do ask your forgives for mishandling you; my apology is this: none of these men have been declared heretics by the larger church. The overture you speak of was unknown to me until I read your email. I promise that I will look into it.
    However in my understanding of Presbyterian polity (though not necessarily PCA polity) an overture is not a judgment. That would be, of course, forthcoming and dependent upon the findings and judgment of said commission which is, I suppose, yet to be formed.
    Still it is germane to the whole discussion that neither the Louisiana Presbytery (AA) the Midwestern Presbytery (Mark Horne) or the Northwest Presbytery (Liethart) have acted upon these men or their credentials in a censorious manner. Nor, as I have pointed out, has the CREC against Wilson.
    Again please accept my apology and I do ask your forgiveness. My motivation was ands still is directed against those who act in a decidedly individual and unecclesiastical fashion, particularly so against men that remain my friends, brothers and associates.By the way a comission is not a trial; it has no power to defock anyone. Also Ian my apologies for using your wonderfull blog for argumenative purposes.

  12. Allen R. Mickle, Jr.


    Found an interesting document reporting all the ins and outs of the Norm Shepherd controversy. Very helpful.


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