An evangelical great has now found just how sweet the words of 2 Corinthians 5:8 are.
R. C. Sproul died December 14, 2017 at 78 years old. In lieu of today’s regularly scheduled post, I think it wise to offer reflections on this man and his contribution to Christ’s church for the past few decades.
I first came across Sproul’s teaching when I was at a tough place in my life. I was fresh out of college and working my first full-time job. Due to some circumstances at the time, I was depressed. Looking back, I should have been in counseling. I would open my Bible to read it, to study, and I’d stare at the page. I’d stare, stare, stare, hardly reading. If I read at all, I barely comprehended it, even though I’d just gotten a B. A. in Christian Studies from a great university. My lack of ability to have fruitful times in the Bible only further discouraged me. A friend of mine told me that Sproul’s radio program, Renewing Your Mind, was on a local station at 9:00 AM. Music lover that I am, I had been driving to work in complete silence, trying to pray but feeling like I was rambling nonsense to God.
The time of the program matched up with when I needed to be getting in the car, and I tuned in. I’m not going to say that R. C. Sproul blew me away. He didn’t. He wasn’t trying to. The program would open with that bit from Handel, the host would introduce Sproul, and Sproul would teach. Sometimes it was an exposition of the Bible. Other times, he was tackling a particular theological or ethical topic. Whatever it was, he just worked his way through it clearly and methodically. In the providence of God, his teaching kept me focused on Jesus. I knew that the Bible didn’t change just because I was having trouble reading it. I knew that the defect wasn’t in Scripture, but it was in me. Sproul’s radio program was God’s providence for me in that time. I never heard anything about depression or specific to my circumstances. What I heard was just good, solid teaching. It was helpful. It was edifying. It was encouraging. Sproul’s teaching was part of what God used to carry me through that time.
The above reflection leads me to the next. As I said, R. C. Sproul didn’t blow me away or rock my world. Though I know Sproul was the man to make many introductions of many people to Reformed theology, I had already grappled with the five points of Calvinism at that point. Not one time have I ever felt like Sproul was going for something other than accurately and clearly communicating the Bible. He had his own style, in fact, in many of his recordings one can hear the tap-tap-tap-tap of his writing on a chalkboard. He continued using a chalkboard long after other means of visual aids. It worked for him. One might think that such idiosyncrasies would make him seem dated. Not so. How many fashionable little movements in the evangelical world have come and gone during the time R. C. Sproul taught? As Denny Burk, president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pointed out, he taught long before there were many popularizers of Reformed theology at all. He continued to teach the same after the leaders of the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd rose to prominence and began to retreat into (often much deserved) obscurity.
This is, I think, the legacy of R. C. Sproul. He was not flashy or fashionable. He never spoke to be clipped into little sound bites, nor did he attempt cheap profundity that he could employ the tired trope of the mic drop. He never dumbed down, but he expected that if you listened, you made an attempt to learn. The man once reflected at length on the meaning of the word “vanity” and his understanding of it as a child as he introduced his series on Ecclesiastes, meeting many people exactly where they were. Yet, he could also introduce concepts that belong in a college philosophy class. I first heard of Nietzsche’s Übermensch from him.
Al Mohler described Sproul as a “bright and burning light,” and I think that is well-deserved. But in our world of you-won’t-believe-what-happens-next clickbait, sports highlights, and overexposure to amazing technologies to the point of boredom, Sproul is a bright and burning light because of his faithfulness and consistency. If I may employ a sports analogy or three, he didn’t throw a fastball that caused sonic booms; instead, he threw a sinker that caused a ground out almost every time. He didn’t shoot trick shots from all over the court; he never missed a free throw. He didn’t light up highlight reels with explosive runs for massive gains. He gained five or six yards every time he carried the football. He brought biblical doctrine with clarity and consistency to the student and the janitor, the plumber and the economist. R. C. Sproul was a teacher’s teacher, and I am grateful to God for his decades of ministry. Praise be to our God and Father for the saving grace of Christ in the life of R. C. Sproul.
Unashamed Allegiance: My Tribute to R. C. Sproul (1939-2017) by John Piper
John MacArthur on R. C. Sproul