That’s how new I was to R.C. Sproul’s ministry. Delivering the first sermon I would ever preach before my peers at college ministry (Isaiah 48:9-11), I ended up pronouncing his last name “Sprowl” the day I gave my message. Should an esteemed seminary professor ever get a hold of that audio file (they won’t), they may have a laugh.
But I was new to all of this “reformed theology” stuff. I was just a young college kid, a couple of years removed from my understanding of the gospel being shattered and put back together again by another hero in the faith, John Piper. I had begun to read Piper, Lewis, Bonhoeffer, and a handful of pop-theology books. But a college mentor recommended I check out R.C. Sproul. I was wading into the shallow end of a pool I had never been in before, and when I found Sproul, he challenged me to dive headfirst into the deep end, and promised that I wouldn’t drown.
I started where many others did, with a used hardback copy of The Holiness of God, the two-tone blue cover looking very 1980s. I loved Dr. Sproul’s persona. It leapt off the pages of his writings. He was obviously smart and revered (once Ben Stein was astonished at how much he knew about science), but didn’t take himself too seriously, and willing to tell a joke now and then. But he always let the truth of the gospel have center stage. Dr. Sproul was the doorkeeper to other heroes of the faith, particularly Martin Luther and John Calvin. I had heard these names before, but he talked about them in such a way that he genuinely loved them for what they had taught him. I wanted that. I wanted to be steeped in a tradition of church history that made sense, that I felt, that mattered. I owe him my thanks.
I haven’t heard all of his sermons, but I’ve listened to him arguably more than anyone else. For a season in which I worked in a packing warehouse, I listened to his messages and teachings 5 days a week. His influence is felt as often as any other teacher of my lifetime.
I’ll highlight two of my favorite things about learning from Dr. Sproul over the years. First, I appreciated how he used such clear, precise language for theological points I was struggling to grasp. His teaching on sin has been so significant for my own Christian life. I’ve referred to sin as “cosmic treason” hundreds of times because of his influence. I’ve explained the reality of sin with Sproul’s famous “steal his wallet” retort. Perhaps his greatest moment on video is fielding a question related to the seriousness of God’s wrath (see below). He had a way about him of making the complex simple. He did not speak to us in lofty wisdom or speech (though he could have). It was truly a gift from God, and was used by God to save many, many souls.
The second thing I love about R.C. Sproul’s ministry is how widely available he worked to make his resources. Whether it was his teachings at St. Andrews, his radio program RefNet, the Reformation Bible College, online seminary courses, commentaries, articles, TableTalk Magazine, books, seminars, conferences, the Renewing Your Mind Minute, and so much more — most of them made available, free, to the world. One specific example is his Crucial Questions series, an introductory-level study of dozens of society’s biggest questions, all made available for free on eBook. Many would have paid for all of these resources. That wasn’t the force that drove Dr. Sproul to do what he did.
His ministry purpose was simple: He loved Scripture. You could tell. You could hear it in his voice when he preached. He loved being up there, engaging the text, picking and prying at it, investigating it, explaining it. It was the stuff he lived for.
And today, he sees not in a mirror dimly, but face to face. Now he knows not in part; now he knows fully, even as he has been fully known. It is hard to see the ones you appreciate go, but how comforting it is to know he is finally where he has longed to be. I wish I had gotten the chance to tell him thank you for everything he’s done for me and my walk with Christ, but I guess I’ll have to wait.
And now, it’s come full circle. I’ve recommended his books multiple times in the past month to those searching. God will use him even long from this day.
How powerful and fitting Sproul’s words are here:
You can grieve for me the week before I die, if I’m scared and hurting, but when I gasp that last fleeting breath and my immortal soul flees to heaven, I’m going to be jumping over fire hydrants down the golden streets…
Rest in Peace and Glory, R.C.