Archive for July, 2021

hagiography [ hag-ee-og-ruh-fee, hey-jee- ]

noun, plural hag·i·og·ra·phies. 1. the writing and critical study of the lives of the saints; 2. a biography that treats the person with excessive or undue admiration.

It must be difficult to write a biography of a friend. You love and admire your friend and want to share that with the world. It is tempting to overlook their flaws, which are some of the things that create or prolong struggles in their life. Your friend and their loved ones may not feel honored by the honesty. It must be a very difficult tightrope to walk.

As a Christian, I know all people are flawed no matter how gifted they may be. Their flaws are not necessarily disqualifying flaws. Or, as in the case of Ravi Zacharias, they may be for many. By that I mean not only disqualifying from office, but so discrediting that their material should not be used anymore.

As I think about a biography, and this biography in particular, I’m not talking about recording the sins that sully a man, but honest assessment of a man with a recognition some parts of his life could have been different, better.

Stephen J. Nichols asked his friend R.C. Sproul about writing a biography about him near the end of R.C.’s life. R.C. agreed, noted that the holiness of God ought to be a major theme, and was interviewed by Nichols who also had access to his library and notebooks. Nichols focuses on the strengths and accomplishments of his friend and they are many. There is nary a mention of his weaknesses, and some more personal struggles that one would think would be part of a biography- the story of a man.

I barely knew R.C. I only spoke with him a few times, and that was quite superficial. But having worked for him I could see some of the weaknesses. He was human after all. Having been an RTS student in the early-mid 90’s, it was hard not to know of some faculty disagreement involving R.C.. Knowing how important family was to R.C. one can imagine how difficult the struggles, sometimes very public, of his children could possibly be to R.C. and Vesta. These are part of the story, and the very places grace works.

For instance, years later he shared a stage with another of my former professors. There had been tension in the past. I thought, “have they worked things out?”. I ended up talking with the other professor and was delighted to learn God had been at work reconciling relationships. I am thankful for both men and all they taught me over the years, and I’m thankful grace won the day in their relationship. That is the kind of stuff Nichols seems to overlook in R.C. Sproul: A Life. But I get ahead of myself.

R. C. Sproul: A Life  - 9781433544774 Nichols, Stephen J

This is still a biography worth reading. There is much of interest here for those whose lives have been impacted by R.C. Nichols helps us see the patterns in his life, the themes of life as well as the influences on his life. He walks us through some of the big controversies (but misses a few others).

Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania

Nichols takes a very linear approach to Sproul’s life, organizing his material chronologically rather than thematically. He begins in Pittsburgh and the place that extended family played in his life since his father served in the European theater of World War II. Later his family would shift from the Methodist church to a Presbyterian church, returning to the religious roots of the family in Scotland. R.C. would later discover that it was a liberal Presbyterian church, but as a child he was far more interested in sports and a girl who moved into the neighborhood, Vesta. His teens years would be marked by caring for his father who had a stroke, and who subsequently died while R.C. was a high school senior.

Nichols then brings us to Westminster College which accepted Sproul on an athletic scholarship. One night he and his childhood friend we going to OH to drink and wanted some cigarettes. At the vending machine one of the stars of the football team invited to look at the Bible with him for a few minutes. God used the unlikely text of Ecclesiastes 11:3 to convert R.C. With a new found faith, Sproul found a mentor in Thomas Gregory who taught philosophy but had an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary and was one of the few theological conservatives on campus. Soon he was majoring in philosophy and taken with his coursework.

Soon Vesta would convert as well, and Sproul would have a late night encounter with God’s holiness which would shape the rest of his life. After she graduated from college, they married and he finished his college education. His senior thesis would be on “The Existential Implications of Melville’s Moby Dick.” This would also be a text and theme he’d return to frequently.

R. C. Sproul (1939–2017)

Sproul did well enough in his studies in philosophy that he was accepted into the Ph.D. program at Edinburgh. Gregory encouraged him to get a theology degree first and he ended up at Pittsburgh, once again one of the few conservatives in a liberal institution. It was here that Sproul studied under John Gerstner who played the role of mentor until his death. Between the context of a conservative in a liberal institution and the influence of Gerstner, Sproul developed a fighter mentality. He was a man who fought for orthodoxy. He didn’t run from the fray, even if standing cost him friendships like the ECT controversy would in the 1990’s.

One of the key moments for Sproul was when Gerstner destroyed his presuppositional arguments in class. Gerstner also helped him see the truth of Calvinism. During his second year, Sproul took a position of youth director at First Presbyterian Church of Charleroi. As a senior he took a student pastorate in Lendora, a community filled with Hungarian immigrants. During these early years, Nichols notes the role of prayer in their marriage and ministry.

A Long, Winding Road

As he began to apply for church positions, Gerstner would tell search committees that Sproul was best off continuing his studies first. With Gerstner’s encouragement he went to the Free University of Amsterdam to study under G.C. Berkouwer despite not knowing Dutch.

With Vesta pregnant again (the first delivery experienced difficulty) and his mother dying, he decided he needed to return to the States after his first year. Arrangements were made with Berkouwer for supervision the next year. On July 1, 1965 his mother died and his son was born (Nichols notes he was called Craig, but I never heard him called that- just Jr. or Precious). On the 18th he was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (to which Nichols adds (PCUSA) instead of UPCUSA). I know American Presbyterian history can be confusing. The PCUSA as we know it did not exist in 1965, but was formed in 1983 by the merger of the UPCUSA and the PCUS (the northern and southern denominations though one of the denominations that earlier merged to form the UPC was called the PC(USA) ). This is a confusion he carries forward throughout the book.

In this largely liberal denomination, R.C. helped found the Presbyterians United for Biblical Confession to further the cause of the historic, confessional standards. At the first meeting he wrote a paper on “studied ambiguity”, the practice of “being purposefully vague so to allow for an elastic interpretation or to allow for latitude on a particular doctrine or view.” Sproul would consistently argue for precision and clarity in theology. He would consistently encounter studied ambiguity.

In the fall of 1965 he began to teach philosophy back at Westminster College. A strange phone call by a friend resulting in Sproul moving to Massachusetts to teach at Gordon College which was fundamentalist at the time. Here he connected with Roger Nicole for the first time. It was difficult for the Sprouls since they were mostly in liberal contexts before. Nichols and a friend of mine who was a student of his at Gordon tell slightly different stories of his quick departure from Gordon. Either way he ended up in Oreland at Conwell School of Theology which was a Baptist school. He would visit with the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, particularly Cornelius Van Til. During his time there James Montgomery Boice began to serve at 10th Presbyterian. They would be close friends, “fox hole friends”, until Boice’s death from cancer. During this time he wrote his first article for Christianity Today.

He was not there long, again, because Conwell would merge with Gordon Divinity School to form Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Sproul had no desire to return to that environment. He also discovered that teaching in seminary bored him. (Some have suggested I should be a seminary professor but I thought teaching the same classes every year would bore me to death.)

The next move was to College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH. He was Associate Pastor of evangelism, mission and theology. While in Florida for training in Evangelism Explosion he met another life-long friend Archie Parrish. Evangelism Explosion worked well in Cincinnati. He preached through Romans and taught evangelism to the people of College Hill. Ironically he missed interaction with students. Another change was on the horizon.

While Nichols never processes this, the possible negative perception of impulsivity is not the point. I suspect he was a bit impulsive, but during this time we see R.C. coming to grips with his gifts and calling. We also seeing God providing R.C. with new relationships that would be important for the future. In the providence of God, this was an important time without which Ligonier Ministries may not have been born, nor would he have the relational capital for the controversies to come.

Ligonier Valley

During this time R.C. was asked to speak at a Young Life camp in Saranac Lake which is in the Adirondacks of NY. This would be the debut of a 5 lesson series on the holiness of God. Meanwhile, R.C. was also talking with people who shared a vision for a study center. He envisioned it in the heart of Pittsburgh. But a woman named Dora Hillman was present at the Young Life conference, and she had 52 acres in the Ligonier Valley near Pittsburgh. As the center was being built R.C. met with Francis Schaeffer about the dynamics of L’Abri. While both would engage in apologetics, Schaeffer was focused on evangelism of youth who visited L’Abri. Sproul would be communicating with Christians to help them defend their faith. He also met with others who would be part of the teaching fellowship: John Guest among them. Nichols notes that Schaeffer’s warning rang true: it would be 24-7 for the Sproul family since they lived on site. Later, another home would be built providing a measure of distance for them but it was hard to segregate life and ministry. Jr. seemed to appreciate this experience of his childhood as he would leave Ligonier Ministries in the late 90’s to form a study center along the VA-TN border.

Remembering R.C. Sproul, 1939–2017
He used the chalkboard as a tool allowing him to think, something I got from him.

Support staff helped extend the ministry of Ligonier. Jim Thompson was key in recording lessons on cassette for distribution. The Gooders would join the staff to produce Tabletalk which would shift from newsletter to monthly devotional over time. Jack and Linda Rowley would bring the new technology of video cassette recorders and players into the ministry. It is thanks to them that I saw an ad in Discipleship Magazine offering a free copy of The Holiness of God series which would introduce me to Sproul which would establish the theological foundation for my life.

The Holiness of God: Sproul, R. C: 9780842314930: Amazon.com: Books

During this time Sproul wrote a biography of Ligonier board member Wayne Alderson called Stronger than Steel. Alderson, working with Sproul, sought to apply the dignity of persons into the workplace. Along with Francis John “Lefty” Scumaci they began to work with management teams to apply these principles. Despite many fond memories of my time working at Ligonier Ministries in the 90’s, one executive could have benefited greatly from such instruction.

Among the people who studied at Ligonier in the early days were Tim and Kathy Keller (Sproul officianted their wedding ceremony), Rebecca Manly who later married and wrote a popular book on evangelism. Gerald Ford’s son, Mike studied there for a time. Church planter Bill Hybels would attend, and I recall Sproul speaking at the church he’d plant in the early days. I think he talked about his views on women in leadership.

His first book, The Symbol: An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, was based on a course he taught at Westminster College that he finally put into book form. At this time the first large-scale conference sponsored by Ligonier was put on addressing the issue of inerrancy. In 1974 the sessions were released in essay form as God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture edited by John Warwick Montgomery. The speakers/writers included John Frame, Peter Jones, J.I. Packer, John Gerstner, and Clark Pinnock (prior to his declension into Arminianism and then Open Theism). This would set the stage for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Chicago Statement, an effort also led by Sproul in 1977. The original group also included Roger Nicole, Edmund Clowney, and James Montgomery Boice. Sproul would write the first draft of 19 affirmations and denials in the middle of the night. Future meetings would include John MacArthur Sr. and Jr. John Jr. would be another of Sproul’s life long “fox hole” friends.

In this time period, the “Kenyon Decision” in the UPC(USA) took place. Kenyon was a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary student who spent time at Ligonier as well. He rejected to ordination of women to elder and pastor. This opposition had been a permitted view, but Kenyon was denied ordination. The Assembly ruled in the presbytery’s favor. Men who did not agree with women’s ordination were put on notice. Sproul didn’t think they’d kick him out but had concern for younger, less visible, men. He decided it was time to leave and enter a new denomination called the Presbyterian Church in America which had left the southern PC(US) over this issue and more. Gerstner argued that men should stay and fight. This was one of the few times they disagreed significantly and publicly. It did not affect their friendship, however. R.C. would remain in the PCA until his death.

Nichols shifts to the topic of apologetics which necessarily brings us to Aquinas. Sproul had great appreciation for Aquinas who was one of the greatest theologians in history. In terms of the doctrine of salvation, Aquinas would lead the Church into the problems that made the Reformation necessary. I’ve often found Sproul’s appreciation for him confounding since he put such weight on the Reformation. In one Tabletalk issue the argument was made that Aquinas was nearly evangelical. Sorry, not buying it.

In 1984 he published the collaborative book Classical Apologetics with Gerstner and Art Lindsey. Prior to this he had written The Psychology of Atheism, and Objections Answered in which he answered the most common objections Archie Parrish heard in his evangelism. From Edwards, Sproul focused on the rational. True doctrine must be rational. Oddly, his own conversion was not the result of rational arguments but simply God’s power bringing conviction. Early on he was a presuppositionalist, but as noted earlier Gerstner changed his mind. The other main school of apologetics is evidentialism (Josh McDowell). Van Til, the main proponent of presuppositionalism, addressed presuppositions people bring to the discussion. If Christianity isn’t true, then we essentially can’t think and reason. Contrary to some claims, it is not opposed to using the classical arguments for God but recognizes they don’t prove Christianity but merely theism. These two views are actually closer in practice than many realize but this is an issue with which I disagreed with Sproul. For me it all comes down to how we interpret and apply Romans 1:18ff. No need to spill blood over it. This would be one of the issues that divides the RTS Orlando faculty in the 90’s. Nichols puts the late Ron Nash in the classical apologetics side. I’m not sure about that. He was a rationalist and held Gordon Clark in high regard, particularly in disagreement with Van Til implying the use of univocal language. He did make much of the Law of Non-Contradiction however. Sproul maintained his friendship with Van Til. So while the faculty disagreed on this issue, the real fighting, so to speak, was among the students who formed parties based on adherence to the various schools and professors. This is not the professors’ fault, but the usual sinful zeal of seminary students.

Heading South

In the early 80’s Sproul had begun to teach at RTS Jackson part time. The costs of running the study center were beginning to be problematic. The growth of the audio and video tape side of the ministry de-emphasized the physical gathering of students at the study center. The board decided to move the ministry to Altamonte Springs, a northern suburb of Orlando where I lived for 6 years. They initially used a local television station for taping. Before building a recording studio at the Ligonier offices, they also recorded at Greg Rike studios. While there for a taping I could see the autographs of Deep Purple members who used the studio to record Slaves and Masters.

Slaves and Masters - Wikipedia

1985 saw the release of The Holiness of God in book form. Nichols notes that over time the mission statement for Ligonier shifted and got shorter, focusing on the holiness of God. This became the centerpiece of Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. God’s holiness encapsulates all that God is. It captivated Sproul due to his late night experience at Westminster College as a student. In light of all this Nichols brings us to Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relations to the Rational. In the midst of this there is an error the editors missed: “one thinks of Abraham before the burning bush”. But more pertinent is the influence of Otto’s book on Sproul, particularly the concepts of the numinous and the mysterium tremendum.

As Sproul moves from Isaiah and the concepts from Otto he is struck by the episode with Uzzah. He first preached about Uzzah in chapel while teaching at Gordon College. He focused on the presumption of Uzzah to think he, a sinner, was more sanctified than the ground. All this was set up by the fact they disobeyed God by not carrying the Ark but putting it on a cart. Apart from the holiness of God, this story makes God seem capricious. But as holy, God’s Ark and mercy seat cannot be approached apart from sacrificial blood. He is “a God who plays for keeps.”

This would be one of the most popular and most important of the books Sproul wrote. It’s message was central to the mission of Ligonier. The holiness of God is foundational to properly understanding the work of Christ in the atonement.

The next book to be published would be connected to this incomprehensible God and His sovereignty, Chosen By God. He explored the doctrine of predestination for “people who are committed to struggling with this difficult, complicated doctrine.” This book has been influential in changing people’s lives, but also churches. One church where I live moved from being Word of Faith to embracing this doctrine and reforming church life as a result. Sproul presents double predestination as asymmetrical: in salvation God is active in effectual calling, but in reprobation God is passive, leaving people in their sins and misery.

The next year would complete something of a trilogy with One Holy Passion: The Consuming Thirst to Know God being published. Sproul presents the classical view of the Trinity including aseity (self-existence, non-contingent). In 1988 Pleasing God, concerning the doctrine of sanctification, was published. While conversion is monergistic (Nichols uses salvation rather than regeneration, effectual calling and justification), sanctification is synergistic in that we cooperate. God initiates by working in us so we will and work according to His good purposes (Phil. 2).

1988 also saw the first Ligonier Ministries’ National Conference at the Hilton in Altamonte Springs. The theme was Loving a Holy God with speakers J.I. Packer, Chuck Colson and Jerry Bridges. These national conferences continue to this day. I was there as a guest or staff (first for the Admissions office of RTS Orlando and then Ligonier) from 1991 to 1997.

ECT and Evolution

In the mid-90’s a controversy arose that challenged Sproul in that it cost him important friendships: J.I. Packer and Chuck Colson. With Sproul stood Boice and MacArthur among others. Sproul and the others believed they needed to stand against what they saw as a compromise of the gospel in Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Whether this played a part in Sproul’s departure from RTS depends on who you talk to. Nichols doesn’t really address his time at Knox Seminary, founded by good friend D. James Kennedy, until the end of the book.

In this context Nichols returns to Sproul’s time at Jackson (including playing golf and talking with Gene Hackman during the filming of Mississippi Burning which movie was one of the reasons I didn’t go to Jackson) and the switch to the new campus in Orlando along with Richard Pratt and a newly retired Roger Nicole. In the early days of RTS Orlando he wrote The Glory of Christ and The Mystery of the Holy Spirit. One of his disappointments was how poorly Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue.

Mississippi Burning (1988) - Rotten Tomatoes

With Not a Chance Sproul stood against evolutionary theory and the arguments of Carl Sagan in 1993. In September of that year, R.C. and Vesta were riding the train back to Orlando. He hated to fly, and until that night he’d ride the train. The train they were riding was engaged in the deadliest crash in Amtrak history. They suffered only minor injuries. Sproul would write of this accident in The Invisible Hand, published in 1996, on the subject of the providence of God.

Nichols then brings us back to ECT. Colson would send manuscripts for Sproul look over its theology. Sproul was concerned in 1991 when Colson’s manuscript for The Body: Being Light in Darkness revealed he “did not quite understand the issues with Roman Catholic theology”. Colson had developed a friendship with John Richard Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor and author, who became a Roman Catholic in 1990. Colson took Francis Shaeffer’s idea of cobelligerence too far. They took it beyond areas of common grace interest to overlook theological distinctives. This resulted in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document which Sproul saw as compromising justification by faith alone. Prior to this coming out, Sproul was largely kept in the dark. He saw Packer as someone he wanted in the fox hole with him in the culture war, adding that he and Packer didn’t disagree on anything (expect church polity).

That changed when R.C. was in his “office” in the country club when Joel Belz of World magazine called him on the pay phone in 1994. He wanted R.C.’s opinion of the document. Blindsided, he believed it a betrayal of the Reformation, the gospel and Christ. When he called Colson, Chuck indicated that Packer reviewed it and signed it. When he reached out to Packer, James reportedly said “I see the problem. Perhaps I shouldn’t have signed it.” Boice, a board member of Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals with Packer, talked with him and walked away dismayed. Packer spoke of justification as the “small print of the gospel”. He was no longer a board member and the dominoes were falling.

There was a closed-door meeting between those who signed and R.C., MacArthur, Michael Horton, John Ankerberg and D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge. Joseph Stowell and John Woodbridge were there to moderate the discussion. Colson stressed unity in the larger body which minimized the profound theological differences. Sproul then engaged Packer on justification. The former said it was essential, and the latter central. There was to be no common ground here, and the friendships with Packer and Colson were over. Unity must include theological agreement, not disagreement, on the most important tenants of the faith.

This controversy prompted Sproul to write Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification in which he interacted with ECT. Due to his coursework with Gerstner, Sproul was quite familiar with the Council of Trent and brought this into the discussion. Not only did ECT ignore the alone in faith alone, but the doctrine of imputation. Apart from imputation there is no gospel.

This controversy also led to The Cambridge Declaration in response to ECT. Sproul joined Boice and others in writing it. This document reaffirmed the solas of the Reformation as well as imputation.

R.C. also took something of a stand against dispensationalism. Gerstner wrote a harsh book critical of dispensationalism. Sproul noted that it was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible and began the process of putting together a study bible that would influence people for Reformed Theology, which is covenantal.

The Geneva Bible was the first to include study notes. It was the Bible used by the Puritans. Nichols greatly reduces the story of how the New Geneva Study Bible came to pass. Initially there was a struggle to get the rights to the NIV (this is before the gender-neutral controversy). Contributors also came from different sides of the ECT controversy. Somehow, out of a convoluted process, we ended up with the New Geneva Study Bible in the New King James which was promoted greatly by Ligonier, and the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible in the NIV which I think is now out of print due to the revision of the NIV.

St. Andrews Chapel and Reformation Bible College

In the next chapter Nichols focuses on the origins of St. Andrews Chapel. Oddly he begins with Gerstner’s funeral in 1996. He then traces their time in Orlando from Orangewood Presbyterian Church (Maitland) to the planting of St. Paul’s in Winter Park from members of Orangewood who wanted a more traditional worship service in 1991. I would eventually become a member of Orangewood from 1996 to 1998 when I was ordained in the ARP. I came under care of Central Florida Presbytery at the 1997 meeting where Sproul, in writing, requested permission to labor out of bounds in the planting of this new non-denominational church. While not a Presbyterian church, Sproul expressed a desire for them to eventually join the PCA (they remain independent to this day).

St. Andrews Chapel was not R.C.’s idea. He did have a Bible Study in his home and some of the members wanted to plant a new church. They asked him to be their pastor. I was friends with the daughter of one of the men who sent the letter to R.C. and soon to be fired by another of them.

40 Years Later: R.C. Sproul on Biblical Inerrancy, Evangelical Focus

As part of this chapter Nichols addresses Sproul’s process for sermon preparation. 1. Read the text repeatedly. 2. Identify the drama in the text. 2. Examine commentaries for controversial or interpretative issues. 4. Think about it for the week. 5. Preach it. He preached without notes and encouraged homelitics students to preach without notes.

Also in this chapter he addresses the death of James Montgomery Boice in 2000. They were personal friends, not just churchmen with similar theological concerns. Their families spent time together on vacations. The cancer diagnosis was devastating to Sproul. The letter he wrote to Jim, which Nichols includes, reveals much of Sproul’s heart. He loved Jim: “I love you deeply, Jim”; “my beloved Jimmy”; and “I love you”.

Nichols returns to controversy with the 35th PCA General Assembly and its discussion of the Federal Vision. It was one of the occasions that Sproul spoke on the floor. I wasn’t there since I wasn’t in the PCA yet, but Nichols tells it dramatically. Sproul had had a stroke 2 years earlier and still suffered some effects. As the men in line realized R.C. was waiting behind them, Nichols indicates, they made way for the PCA’s most prolific author and famous theologian to address the issue.

Later that year his friend D. James Kennedy would die. Here Nichols briefly outlines Sproul’s relationship with Knox. Nichols doesn’t delve into the controversies at Knox but records how first Anne Kennedy mourned the death of her husband, and then the death of the seminary he founded. (Thankfully she didn’t need to mourn the death of Coral Ridge.)

In 2011 Sproul was still suffering the effects of the stroke to some degree, and the effects of COPD. Many Bible colleges were falling on hard times. But Sproul founded Reformation Bible College anyway. Like with most of his life, he was out of step with the mainstream. Most Bible colleges were decided dispensational. RBC would not be. He would also seek to install various safeguards against theological declension which is a common problem with Christian institutions of learning.

R.C. and Vesta began study tours as well. They went to Europe to visit Geneva and Wittenburg. They followed Paul’s missionary travels. They went to New England to see sites associated with the Great Awakening. This was a time of building relationships as well as sharing information about Christian history. Sproul began to be more concerned for a future awakening of the American church.

Tied to America’s declension, Sproul wrote (with other teaching fellows) the Ligonier Statement on Christology. Nichols fails to mention the controversy that followed this Statement. There were charges (that I find false) that it proprogated Nestorianism (separating the two natures). I had Sproul for Christology in seminary, and he understood the dangers of Nestorianism. Additionally, the teaching fellows intended to continue the ministry of Ligonier after his death (something of a return to the early Ligonier days) included the likes of Sinclair Ferguson. If he contributed to the document, I doubt it would lapse into such an error. Nichols specifically mentions himself and Chris Larson, as well as a series of articles written by Keith Mathison and John Tweeddale of RBC.

It is in the context of the teaching fellows (initially Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson and R.C. Jr.) that Jr. finally emerges. These men were Sproul’s “foxhole buddies in the final years of his life”. Later fellows would include Nichols, R. Albert Mohler, Derek Thomas and Burk Parsons. The pieces of the transition were in place as Chris Larson became CEO of Ligonier, Nichols as President of RBC, and Parsons would become Senior Pastor when R.C. was no longer able to preach (which he did until he died).

R.C. had been feeling better in late 2017. He preached every Sunday in November. He’d even hit some golf balls around. He was very excited about the 2018 National Conference. But at the end of the month Sproul got a cold which is no big deal unless you have COPD. Soon he was in the hospital and struggling to breath. It seems like a storybook ending as he breathed his last breath as The Highland Hymn with its hope of heaven concluded.


Nichols includes a number of tributes to Sproul that were made upon his death at the beginning of the final chapter. He also notes a number of facts that some may find interesting. I knew he was quoted in the Christopher Walken vampire film The Addiction. I didn’t know (or remember) that he was cited in the liner notes of a Van Halen album (likely Van Halen III which I never owned but the new lead singer was a professing Christian). I didn’t know Guy Rizzo was just a guy at the golf club he led to Christ (Guy is/was a developer/builder in central Florida). Tombstone was one of his favorite movies.

The Addiction (1995) - IMDb

Throughout his career, R.C. fought studied ambiguity. He could be fiery when in controversy. ECT was among the most painful times of his life. But there was usually the impish grin and laughter. His laugh was like his voice, hoarse from those years of smoking (at one point he noted that quitting was the hardest thing he’d ever done). His faithful ministry was key in a revival of Calvinism as well as Reformed Theology. So many owe so much to him and the supporting staff (especially Vesta)that helped him adapt to new technology and make resources available. I worked there when we were selling Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruit like hot cakes.

He was one of the most important figures behind the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He was vital in the early success of RTS Orlando. He left behind Ligonier Ministries which is entrusted to teaching fellows to carry on the work and is far larger than when I worked there. He leaves behind a massive volume of outstanding, easy to understand books and audio/video series. There are decades of Renewing Your Mind radio shows. He left behind Reformation Bible College and St. Andrews Chapel. Sproul was used greatly by God for good.

This book is worth reading to gain a better understanding of one of the most important churchmen of the 20th century. My (admittedly small) issue is not with what he says (aside from a few factual errors) but with what he doesn’t say. Little is mentioned about Jr.’s struggles aside from his resignation. Little to nothing is said about the various men who led Ligonier Ministries well or poorly. But it isn’t all negative that is left out. He helped Keith Mathison get his first book published, for instance. I’d think that would be important since Keith subsequently worked at Ligonier for many years and is an important faculty member at RBC. We see that he had a number of long-term friendships but only with Boice do we see a glimpse of his heart and some dynamics. Not much is said about John MacArthur (I still scratch my head on that friendship for some reason).

I’m thankful for Sproul. He played a big role in my life even if it wasn’t a personal role. I didn’t have the kind of relationship with him that some of my friends and colleagues did. I spoke with Vesta more than him. I felt more like a fly on the wall than someone who gets behind the curtain. That’s not intended to be critical of anyone, just an assessment of my vantage point during the 90’s.

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