A Tribute to R.C. Sproul
When I was a young boy, I distinctly remember sitting in the living rooms of various families of the churches we attended–watching VHS tapes of Dr. R.C. Sproul. At this time, that was an innovative way to be fed spiritually–to say the least. To have one of the great theologians of the 20th Century on your television in your living room was a big deal back then. Dr. Sproul was one of the first Reformed ministers to use VHS tapes when they were still somewhat untested and experimental mediums. Add to this the numerous R.C. Sproul cassette tapes that lay around our home. R.C. Sproul’s name and ministry was far from foreign in our family in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Tabletalk Magazine was also a common sight in the Batzig home. I would frequently see my mom carrying out her morning devotions with a Bible, Tabletalk Magazine and a cup of coffee. These are some of the early memories of the formative influence that R.C. Sproul had on me as a young boy.
When I was converted at 24, I would drive an hour everyday to build or renovate homes. A radio station out of Greenville. SC would play the Renewing Your Mind broadcast, followed by the Grace to You broadcast. I would listen intently to both of these programs as I drove to work. I would try to fill up spiritually as much as I could on Dr. Sproul’s teaching before going to my thoroughly unenjoyable job. It was on those drives that I was first introduced to the sermons of Jonathan Edwards. In some significant way, listening to Dr. Sproul exposit Edwards’ sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” fueled my interest in Edwards. After work, I would go home and pour through the works of Edwards. In God’s providence, I now host a podcast about the biblical and systematic theology of Edwards, have spoken at numerous Edwards’ Conferences and have essays published in a several Edwards’ volumes. I owe so much to Dr. Sproul for helping to cultivate my interest in Edwards. There was something contagious about the excitement with which he spoke about Edwards as a theologian–as well as about how he spoke about Reformed Theology in general.
There has also always been a simplicity to Dr. Sproul’s teaching that is a model for young men pursuing ministry. J.C. Ryle once wrote a short work pressing the dire need for young ministers to learn this quality. There is always the danger of Reformed ministers staying in the stratosphere and not being able to communicate the deep truths of Scripture in a clear and simple manner. Dr. Sproul has consistently held these two things together–the depths of Scripture and a clear and simple way of communicating them. I am sure that I have failed in many ways to model that approach, but continue to view Dr. Sproul as one of the best examples to seek to follow.
Additionally, Dr. Sproul has never shied away from the difficult theological questions. For instance, he is one of the only theologians that I have heard answer–in such a straightforward and biblically faithful manner–the question, “Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing of Loved Ones in Hell?” Dr. Sproul has encouraged countless ministers to press on to learn the profound answers of Scripture to some of life’s hardest questions. This is a virtue of the utmost degree. Far too many throw up the white flag of surrender too quickly on any number of theological subjects and thereby, inadvertently, do harm to the cause of biblical truth. I, for one, am exceedingly thankful for the way in which he has consistently tackled the hard questions.
Dr. Sproul has exhibited a remarkable humility over the years. Recently, he has admited to having changed his view on the days of creation. In Truths We Confess, he explained:
For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation…Genesis says that God created the Universe and everything in it in six twenty-four hour periods.1
Whatever one thinks about the days of creation, we should all be able to agree that it takes enormous humility to be teachable enough to be convinced of a position–and a highly unpopular one at that–after so many years of being one of the most respected teachers in the church. This also is a model to ministers and theologians in the church.
In a Century of broad Evangelicalism, Dr. Sproul winsomely and persuasively promoted the truth of the sovereignty of God in the spheres of salvation and providence. The way in which God used Dr. Sproul to help multitudes understand the biblical teaching about His sovereignty is perhaps the greatest part of his legacy. Calvinism was highly unpopular in the 20th Century in America. Dr. Sproul–together with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer and John Piper–is to be thanked for his contributions in replanting this all-important truth back into the church in America and throughout the world. It is incalculable how many believers have been convinced of biblical Calvinism by his book Chosen by God.
Another one of Dr. Sproul’s massively important contributions has been his emphasis on the holiness of God and reverent worship. As was true of the time in which he emphasized the sovereignty of God, so many in the church have had wrong views of the absolute holiness of God. The Holiness of God is on the list of most formative books of almost every minister I know in the Reformed church. Through this work, and other things that he has taught, Dr. Sproul has helped fuel a revival of interest in Reformed worship that captures a sense of the majesty and holiness of God.
Dr. Sproul has helped provide solid theological resources for the well-being of the church for over 40 years. Ligonier Ministries has introduced us to many–if not most–of the great theologians of our day. The National Conference has been a staple in the lives of a myriad of ministers and congregants alike for decades. Add to this the impact of the Reformation Study Bible, the many Reformation Trust volumes, Ligonier Academy, RefNet, the Ligonier blog and, of course, the celebrated Tabletalk Magazine. Furthermore, the way in which the lives of men and women have been impacted through Ligonier’s partnership with various prison ministries is immeasurable.
When I began the work of planting New Covenant Presbyterian Church back in 2009, I was committed to having a book table full of theologically sound books. Not long after I began the work, Ligonier started their $5 Friday promotions. For years, I have been exclusively buying books on $5 Friday to stock our bookshelf with good books to give away. Not having much in the way of ministry development funds in the early years, Ligonier has, in this sense, helped support our church plant by making otherwise expensive resources affordable. I have watched hundreds of people introduced, for the first time, to good theology on account of this remarkable ministry.
While much more could be said about the influence and impact of Dr. R.C. Sproul, I for one want to express my heartfelt gratitude for his faithfulness to the Lord and service to the Church. I would not be where I am today if it were not for his teaching, preaching and the plethora of resources that he has sought to make available to the church throughout the world. May God continue to raise up and equip many in the church through the life, ministry and legacy of Robert Charles Sproul.
1. Sproul, R.C., Truths We Confess: A layman’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Volume I: The Triune God (P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2006), p. 127
Thank you for having your books translated in Spanish!
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Quite an informative tribute – thanks for it! It would help readers outside the USA to have a different link for the Ryle title you cited. The Google Books version isn’t available, but the one on Archive.org. Hope that helps!
David, Thanks for passing that on. I’ll put the archive.org one in. Good looking out!
Thanks Nick for a worthy tribute, and one that I and so many others could echo in sentiment and sincerity, if not in every detail. Calculating the impact of Dr. Sproul’s ministry in my life and family would be impossible. I’m glad you decided to put this in writing…to whom honor is due…blrssings
Thanks for this, Nick. I greatly appreciate RC, as well. I also appreciate his courage. He was a vocal opponent of ECT (even though a friend and colleague, JI Packer, was associated with it). And he gave a brief but compelling speech at GA re: erecting the FV study committee.
Well-spoken and well-received.
My own journey has a few different twists, but in some ways is much the same. Dr. Sproul’s VHS series on ‘Creation or Chaos’ converted me from a neo-darwinist scientist to a creationist back in the early 90s. His book ‘Chosen by God’ changed me from an A to a C.
While there were other authors involved in the process, none made a more lasting or deeper impact on my thinking and theology than has Dr. Sproul. I pray for his health regularly, as I hate to think he might not be around for the next generation!
…and one other thing…I coined a term a few years back to describe folks who came to the reformed faith through Dr. Sproul’s teaching.
We are “sproul-mates”. 🙂
While I have appreciated much of RC’s teaching over the years, I have never appreciated the exorbitant salaries (well over $200k per year) that were paid at Ligonier. It would have been wonderful to see the excellent theology paired with sacrificial living and missions trips instead of American consumerism and cruises. And it would have been far more powerful to have heard how the truth of God permeates the difficulties of RC’s life, instead of keeping up a successful public face.
“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” 1 Corinthians 4:2 NIV
Don’t be too hasty in your pressumption in their faithfulness to God with what he bestowed upon them.
Unfortunately I agree. High salaries, apologetic sea cruises, and having your name embossed on the spine of the Holy Bible do not suggest holiness. They suggest celebrity. He seems great teacher, but humbleness is hardly changing your view on creation. It would be fascinating for him to write an autobiography.
Ligonier is not a church, nor a “ministry” in the Biblical sense of the word. They are a business (one Ive been blessed by) with a Gospel focus. Therefore they have much freedom to decide what they are paying their employees. Dont confuse the local church w/ a business like Ligonier, Desiring God, etc. and you will see that their salaries are between them and God.
Amen, Patrick. So many people think that those who work in Christian ministries and churches should be paid “meekly” so they can do more “important” work for the Lord. But I feel Godly men like RC and others deserve to be paid “well” for what they do and allowed to enjoy life’s amenities also.
Great tribute! I could say all the same things and more. Dr. Sproul has, without question, been the number one influence in my Christian life. I also believe he is the primary reason for the present-day resurgence in Reformed theology. He is practically the founder of New Calvinism.
The reason I say this is because he is the only one I know who teaches Reformed theology as such. Most other Reformed pastors and teachers became known for their Reformed doctrine either through Ligonier conferences, Ligonier resource materials, Renewing Your Mind, or Tabletalk magazine. God has truly blessed the church with this remarkable teacher and I hope he remains with us for many years to come.
That is a wonderful and so true of Dr. Sproul. I am outside of the US. I am in Ghana West Africa and I can identify with all that have been said about Dr. Sproul. I was a charismatic who has been recently, about a year ago become convinced of Reform Theology. My journey began with a friend introducing me to Calvinism. It was a long haul of resistance until one day I chanced on, by providence I suppose, a message on election by the late Dr.Boice at one of Ligonier conferences. I downloaded the message and that message finally broke my resistance to Calvinism. Since then I have been following Dr Sproul and have learnt a lot from him. I started reading his crucial questions series, then bought Knowing Scripture. Later on I read What Is Reformed Theology. I have read Chosen by God and I have Everyone Is A Theologian lined up to read. I have not directly sat under Dr Sproul’s ministry but through the power of the internet, I have benefited immensely
I particularly identify with this statement “There has also always been a simplicity to Dr. Sproul’s teaching that is a model for young men pursuing ministry.” I read Dr.Sproul and understanding him is easier. I am currently taking short courses from Ligonier Connect and I hope one day Dr. Sproul’s seminary will offer degree courses online. Keep up the good work Sir and thank you Nick for sharing this. I describe Dr Sproul as my mentor and teacher across the ocean.
It was a federal district court judge who introduced me to R.C. Sproul’s tapes, books, and videos, and I became a “Sproul-mate” too. The judge had the pleasure of introducing R.C. at two lunch gatherings where R.C. spoke; both times, referencing 1 Cor. 13:12 (“now we see through a glass darkly”), he introduced R.C. as “God’s window washer.” I thought it was a perfect description.
I heartily second your thanks to R.C. Although I didn’t have a constant exposure throughout childhood as you recount, I have been helped through many books, conference tapes, and videos with R.C. writing, presenting, or participating in a group discussion. Both Chosen by God and The Holiness of God were instrumental in my awakening to the glory of God in all things; right alongside Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and John Piper’s preaching.
I bless God for the faithful, faith-filled labor of Dr. Sproul and the many hours his family sacrificed with him that he might serve others. I count myself among that number, and hope that my appreciation is understood from a distance by R.C. and his family.
Joining In Your Appreciation of a Faithful Minister,
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Great read Nick, R. C. Sproul’s ‘Renewing Your Mind’ was my introduction into Reformed theology. Once I began my reading and studying o Reformed theology my understanding og God and His Word went from a small snowy B&W TV screen to a HD way of living for Christ.
Thanks for the post
Hope to see you at T4G
Thanks for writing this. When I first picked up The Holiness of God I never knew what I was getting into. So thankful I did and that he wrote that wonderful book.
Dr. Sproul really has been a tremendous help to me in coming to know and appreciate the Bible and Reformed theology much better. Humanly speaking his teachings also helped me to stand firm when I was fiercely attacked by other missionaries on the field who held to arminianism and feminism (from a large well-known international missionary organization!).
Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Dr. Sproul changed his view on creation and became a young earth creationist (YEC). I always assumed being a member of the PCA he was a YEC. (So what is the PCA’s view?) I didn’t even know he held to the framework hypothesis.
Last week however I came across an article by Dr. Byl (who has a PhD in Astronomy) “RC Sproul Waffles on Creation” See at http://bylogos.blogspot.ca/2012/07/rc-sproul-waffles-on-creation.html
It seems Dr. Sproul has, or is changing his mind again and the reason seems to be that he is adhering to modern day science more than to Scripture is on the issue of creation.
In the comments Natham Bingham of Ligonier also came in and try to explain that Dr. Sproul still holds to a YEC position but when others posed some questions to Nathan he didn’t respond.
Concerning adhering to science I was wondering why christian theistic evolutionist are holding to the old earth creation (OEC) position due to the influence of modern science but don’t care about modern science when it comes to the issue of a man becoming alive again after three days and three nights in a grave. Modern science has not proven that yet.
Due to the importance of the creation issue and you being much better informed about Dr. Sproul than I am Nick. I would be very pleased to hear your view on this waffling of Dr. Sproul.
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Thank you for this post, Nick.
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