R.C. Sproul’s “Chosen by God,” an Arminian Response

Thesis statement: This presentation reviews and critiques this major Calvinist work by R.C. Sproul, a famous and influential theologian, and shows him to be in error on multiple points.

Robert Charles “R.C.” Sproul (1939-2017) was one of the leading Calvinist authors and prolific writers of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Sproul is renowned for his ability to take complex theological doctrines and make them understandable to the lay Christian. One of his most well-known works is Chosen by God, a primer on the Calvinist position of predestination and all the points of TULIP theology. This book is still selling well, such as on Amazon.com, and is considered a classic in its genre. The stated premise is that predestination “is for all biblical Christians,” though the book goes beyond that one issue.

I will review this book and respectfully express strong disagreements/refutations of many of his main points. I believe this will contribute to knowledge of this centuries-old debate in the context of Reformed theology. My points will include:
• Sproul claims the “titans” of church history support his view of Reformed theology and predestination. He provides lists of supporting and opposing theologians, that are rather one-sided and misleading. I will also discuss additional non-Reformed thinkers, who are better choices than those he lists.

• He says equal ultimacy/double predestination is “anti-Calvinism.” I will present sources from scholars and quotes from Calvin himself implying that he advocated that position.

• Sproul quoted from Jonathan Edwards’ “Freedom of the Will,” to support the idea that we have the free will to always choose what we want and that we never do otherwise. I will quote from sources that show that this position of being both determined and not determined is rather problematic.

• I will address Scriptures Sproul cites to support his idea that regeneration precedes faith. These include John 3:3, 5 and I will argue he exegetes them incorrectly. He also cites Eph. 2:1 about being “dead in trespasses and sin” and Rom. 3:11. I will examine and argue against his claims about those passages.

• Furthermore, Sproul cites Kittel as saying for John 6:44, the Greek word “helko,” means a person has to be “dragged” into the kingdom. Sproul takes that out of context and is incorrect. I will prove that by quoting Kittel and citing other lexical sources.

• Sproul also heavily emphasized Romans 9 to support his position on. He says 9:16 “is absolutely fatal to Arminianism.” That is simply not true and I will address other verses such as 14, 19, 21 and 22. Two important points I will make is that Romans 9 has to be read together with chapters 10 and 11 as an integrated unit and when Paul quotes from the Old Testament, we need to go back and factor in those verses.

• Finally, Sproul presents arguments particularly from John Owen in support of the Calvinist limited atonement doctrine. I will present strong arguments with Scripture and give answers to Sproul’s arguments on this issue. This will include evidence that Calvin himself did not believe in limited atonement. As part of this, I will also refute the argument that world/kosmos, means only the elect only in the universal passages.

Here is my endorsement from Dr. Matthew Pinson:

Dear ETS Program Review Committee,

I am pleased to recommend that the Committee accept the paper proposal of John Wagner. He is proposing a paper entitled “R.C. Sproul’s Chosen By God: an Arminian Response.” I read the paper with great interest. It is a well-conceived and irenic consideration of Sproul’s Calvinist soteriology from an evangelical Arminian perspective. I have worked closely with John in his scholarly endeavors, which have been helpful to the evangelical Arminian community, such as writing a chapter on Jacobus Arminius for his edited work Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation. I hope you will include his paper in this year’s national ETS program. It will be of benefit to many ETS members and attendees and will draw a large audience because of the interest in the Calvinist-Arminian dialogue.


Matthew Pinson
President and Professor of Theology
Welch Divinity School