A Tribute to R.C. Sproul

On December 14, 2017 Dr. R.C. Sproul entered into the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Dr. Sproul was a graduate of Westminster College (B.A. in Philosophy), Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (B.D.), Free University of Amsterdam (Drs.) and received additional recognition from Geneva College (Litt. D) and Grove City College (L.H.D.) in 1993.

Dr. Sproul was ordained in 1965 by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and taught at Westminster College (1965 – 1966), Gordon College (1966 – 1968), Conwell School of Theology (1968 – 1969), Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (1971 – 1981) and held the John Trimble, Sr. Chair of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (1987 – 1995). He served on the Executive Committee for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1977 – 1983). He held various leadership roles with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (1971 – 1976), Evangelism Explosion III, International (1980 – 1981), and Prison Fellowship (1979 – 1984).

In addition to several other teaching roles at theological Seminaries, including Knox Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary, Dr. Sproul served on the pastoral staff at Saint Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida.

Dr. Sproul was the founder and Chairman of Ligonier Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing theological education for the church. Ligonier provided and continues to provide a myriad of teaching resources by Dr. Sproul and others, which are primarily directed toward the laity.

Many tributes will be posted for several days and weeks to come which will celebrate Sproul’s life and legacy. My small contribution will be personal in nature as I recount the ways that my life was impacted by his ministry.

The Sovereignty of God in Salvation

R.C. Sproul was greatly used by God as he reintroduced Reformed theology to the evangelical church. He articulated the doctrines of grace with passion, courage, conviction, and authority. He spoke about the depth of our depravity and reminded us that the “flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). Indeed, as Luther said, “Nothing is not a little something!” “Sin is cosmic treason,” writes Sproul. “Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying ‘no’ to the righteousness of God.” R.C. Sproul powerfully proclaimed the hideous effects of sin on a fallen race.

He not only spoke of the depth of depravity; he proclaimed the beauty of sovereign grace. He helped us understand the importance of election and predestination. Chosen by God served an especially important purpose in my life. This book was a theological battering ram. Chosen by God smashed my preconceived Arminian notions. It shattered my Semi-Pelagian understanding of free will and petty arguments against Calvinism.

Positively, Chosen by God elevated my understanding of God’s sovereignty. However, it would be more accurate to say that Sproul catapulted my view of God’s sovereignty into the stratosphere. “If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty,” writes Sproul, “then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God.”

Chosen by God helped shift my understanding of mercy into biblical categories. Previously, I held the view that God was obligated to offer mercy to sinners. But Sproul’s theological battering ram obliterated my presuppositions about mercy. I’ll never forget reading these words: “If God is not pleased to dispense his saving mercy to all men, then I must submit to his holy and righteous decision. God is never, never obligated to be merciful to sinners. That is the point we must stress if we are to grasp the full measure of God’s grace.”

R.C. Sproul captivated us with the wonder of effectual grace. And he spoke often of the perseverance of the saints, or better yet, as he was fond of saying, “the preservation of the saints.” Indeed, “the doctrine teaches that if you have saving faith you will never lose it, and if you lose it, you never had it.”

R.C. not only equipped a new generation of Reformed thinkers; he alerted the body of Christ to theological error. He lamented the rise of theological wolves and deceitful hucksters. And he warned us about the Pelagian Captivity of the Church. Sproul notes, “One thing is clear: that you can be purely Pelagian and be completely welcome in the evangelical movement today. It’s not simply that the camel sticks his nose into the tent; he doesn’t just come in the tent — he kicks the owner of the tent out.”

The first time I saw Dr. Sproul preach at a live event, I stood in line for at least an hour to say “hello” and get a signature in his latest book, Not a Chance. It was a typical scene where several hundred hungry theology students gathered for a chance to visit for a moment with one of the premier theological minds of the day. Sproul was signing books and carrying on in casual conversations. When my time came, I uttered these words: “Dr. Sproul, I want to thank you for your ministry. Before I began reading your books, I was a total Arminian.” Those words caught his attention. He lowered his reading glasses and looked me straight in the eye: “Weren’t we all Arminians at one time!” The crowd roared but R.C.’s infectious laugh overcame the whole room.

Dr. Sproul confronted the love affair with free will in the church: “The semi-Pelagian doctrine of free will prevalent in the evangelical world today is a pagan view that denies the captivity of the human heart to sin. It underestimates the stranglehold that sin has on us.”

Pursuing Church History

Dr. Sproul awakened in me a love for church history that was previously non-existent in my life. He had a special gift for storytelling that invited listeners to enter the world of Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and Edwards. His passion for uncovering the treasures of church history was something to behold. These giants of the faith came to life when R.C. spoke of their courage, tenacity, and faithfulness in proclaiming the unadulterated Word of God.

Passion for the Holiness of God

R.C. Sproul authored at least sixty books, most of which I digested over the past thirty years. Those books are filled with highlights, notes, and observations. But the book that impacted me above all was The Holiness of God. R.C. writes, “We fear God because He is holy. Our fear is not the healthy fear that the Bible encourages us to have. Our fear is servile fear, a fear born of dread. God is too great for us; He is too awesome. He makes difficult demands on us. He is the Mysterious Stranger who threatens our security. In His presence we quake and tremble. Meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma.”

The Holiness of God caught me completely by surprise in my early twenties. My mind was transfixed. My heart was warmed. And my life was forever changed as I poured over the pages of this book which will no doubt be in print for many years to come.

Defender of the Gospel

Finally, R.C. Sproul was a teacher, preacher, and defender of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He articulated the deep realities of the gospel in simple terms and invited anyone with ears to hear to come along for the ride. R.C reminded us that we are “saved by faith alone but that faith is never alone.” He made sure that we memorized Luther’s famous line that, “justification is that article upon which the church stands or falls.”

It is difficult to summarize the life of a man who carried such a huge weight of influence for over thirty years. A few short paragraphs hardly seem fitting for a man who helped change the face of evangelicalism.

In a recent sermon, Steven Lawson admonished his audience, “Give us some men who know the truth.” R.C. Sproul was such a man. R.C. taught the truth, defended the truth, and worked tirelessly to proclaim the truth to the nations.

Dr. R.C. Sproul (1939 – 2017) fought the good fight. He finished the race. And he kept the faith. Enter into the joy of your Savior where you will reign with him unto all eternity.

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