R. C. Sproul. Can I Know God’s Will. Crucial Questions Series, no 4. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2009. 102 pp. $7.00.
Has any question been asked more often or with more earnest desire than the question of how a Christian can understand what is the will of God? This topic matters, and so it was with great anticipation that I began to read volume 4 in R. C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series. The little book, Can I Know God’s Will addresses a few important and sometimes neglected issues in the discussion of the will of God.
I love reading R. C. Sproul. He has a style of writing, a scholarly clarity, that many authors of today sadly lack. This book has logical thought, real-life illustrations, humor, and the occasional Latin phrase sprinkled in (one can’t have Sproul without Latin). Simply put, this is a book that is easy-to-read without being dull or overly simple.
Sproul addresses the topic of God’s will from what I would consider to be a very solid angle. In defining the concept of God’s will, Sproul speaks of God’s will of decree (that which God in his sovereignty makes happen), his will of precept (that which God commands people do), and his will of disposition (that which God desires to happen but will not force). Until those categories are understood, the question “What is Gods’ will” is a nonsense question. Sproul makes a solid argument for the distinctions between Gods’ will of precept and his will of decree, and shows that we want to know God’s will of precept and disposition while we have little right to attempt to find God’s will of decree.
For many Christians, the breakdown of the different kinds of will of God will be worth the book’s cover price. Far too often we desire to have God tell us the future. We want to know which decision we can make that will make our lives work perfectly without any struggle, difficulty, or pain. In this seeking, we are wanting less to honor God and more to simply have God work for us like a fortune-teller who steers us away from difficulties. However, God has not chosen to reveal the future or his secret decrees to his children, and we ought not think that we can find this “will” through any of our means.
In the other chapters of the book, Sproul addresses the question of God’s will versus man’s will. The author argues that, for God to be sovereign, man’s will cannot supersede God’s will. While mankind is free to choose according to man’s greatest desire, such choosing will never be outside the ultimate decreed will of God. Again, this is a concept that many Christians need to consider.
In the final two chapters, Sproul offers some very practical advice for Christians who are looking into issues of God’s will in career and marriage choices. Since many believers struggle mightily in these areas, Sproul’s points could prove to be valuable aids.
While I agree with the points that Sproul makes in this work, I found myself disappointed in the overall construction of the book. When a person asks about issues related to determining the will of God, that person is generally trying to examine practical versus mystical means of hearing the voice of God in order to receive God’s guidance. It is good that Sproul makes it clear that the word of God, his preceptive will, is what we must learn in order to do what is right. Sproul makes a point similar to John MacArthur’s point in Found: God’s Will, the key to discerning Gods’ will is to obey God’s commands and then to act with godly freedom. Though Sproul makes this point in general, he makes it more weakly than I would like, and does not address the dangerous false methods that many use to attempt to discern God’s will. So, while Sproul’s point is solid, he fails to thoroughly deal with the questions that I think would be on the hearts of many of his readers.
I also question the 3 category approach of God’s will. While I understand Sproul’s use of the 3 wills, it seems to me to be simpler to refer to God’s will of decree and will of precept and to include God’s will of disposition in the will of precept. I wonder if adding this third category truly advances the discussion, or if it in fact might add a level of confusion for those who read Sproul’s work who will then seek to discover a hidden “disposition” that is somehow apart from Scripture. If believers attempt this task, they will then be back at square one, looking for a “will” that they have no way of objectively finding.
The chapters on career and marriage were very wise chapters to insert. However, I wonder if readers who pick those chapters up to read will feel satisfied. Sproul offers some wise questions and wise counsel; however, will readers who are looking for more understand that such wise questions and wise counsel are really what they need? Since Sproul does not deal strongly with the many negative methods that some would attempt to discover the will of God, he might not be able to satisfy readers who find themselves reading chapters 3 and 4.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Though I wish that Sproul had rearranged his work to spend more time on some of the mystical and non-scriptural means that some would suggest for discerning God’s will, I still love that he addresses for Christians to grasp that the will of God is not a secret path that we must stumble upon in order to live a successful life. I would that Sproul spent less time on the discussion of human freedom versus God’s sovereignty and more time on how Christians go about decision-making in general. But with those complaints aside, Christians who need a more philosophical look at the concept of the will of God and the freedom of man can certainly benefit from this work. It is easy to read through in a short time, and the concepts present are certainly solid.
Reformation Trust has given me a free copy of this work for the review that I am submitting.