[From the archives.]
R.C. Sproul Denies the Existence of God!
I was reading R.C. Sproul’s monograph on the doctrine of the Trinity and found that he categorically denies the existence of God. It’s right there on page 49.
He didn’t say there is no God, of course. Only a fool says that, and Dr. Sproul is no fool. But he not only denied the existence of God but went on to say:
In fact, if He did exist, I would stop believing
Say it ain’t so, Doc!
But it is so, and I find myself agreeing with him.
Words Mean Things
Dr. Sproul was speaking in the context of ancient Greek philosophers. For them, something exists because it is in a state of reaching its potential. They called this a state of becoming, also known as a state of existence.
For the ancients, this state of becoming/existence was different from a state of being, also known as essence. Essence, to them, was very different from existence. Essence was for those who were in the pure state of being, not those in a process of becoming.
This was the world of thought the early church theologians found themselves in when they considered God as revealed in Scripture.
They read the Bible and saw that the Holy Spirit is referred to as God (eg., Acts 5:3-4), Jesus approved people addressing him as God (John 20:28-29), and of course our heavenly Father is identified as God as well (Ephesians 1:3). So how can they all be God?
The early theologians describe it by relying on philosophical terms to say that God is One in his essence. And there is plenty of Scriptural support for this statement; the Bible is full of passages about God’s unchanging nature, which makes him the epitome of essence.
For the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though, these theologians recognized different attributes in each and that these Three also actually interacted with one another. We see this, for example, when Jesus prays to the Father (not to himself), or when he says that he will send the Spirit (not that he will become the Spirit). Or let’s take the example in Luke 3:21-22:
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus is being baptized, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice is heard from heaven. The Father is not the one being baptized, and neither is the Spirit. Jesus didn’t descend as a dove, and neither did the Father. The Spirit is not the one who spoke from heaven, and neither is Jesus. Yet all three of them are present in this event.
So how did the early theologians express this reality that Father, Son and Spirit are all one God yet each take part in events in distinctly identifiable ways?
The Meaning of Person
They used the word “Person”. In doing so, as Dr. Sproul explains, they meant that the God who is one in essence also has three subsistences. We don’t use the word subsistence much, but back then it was closely related to the word “person”:
The word person is equivalent to the term subsistence. In this word, we have the prefix sub with the … root word, sisto, so subsistence literally means “to stand under.” Thus, this word gets at the idea that while God is one in essence, there are three subsistences, three persons, that stand under the essence. They are part of the essence. All three have the essence of deity.
The essence of deity – of Godhood – is not lost by the fact that God subsists as Father, Son and Spirit. And the fact that we use the imperfect word “person” in our attempt to describe God as he is revealed in the Bible also does not reduce God’s essence one bit either.
The Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, the Spirit is fully God, and so Paul can say:
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14.)
That, essentially, is who God is: Father, Son and Spirit.
[After posting this piece, Ligonier Ministries (founded by Dr. Sproul) sent me a tweet with a link to a video of Dr. Sproul explaining the non-existence of God.]