Remembering R.C. Sproul

It is with a heavy heart that I welcome you back to this episode of Five Minutes in Church History. We acknowledge the passing of Dr. R.C. Sproul. Dr. Sproul, of course, was no stranger to Five Minutes in Church History. We even had him on here talking about his books for his time on a deserted island, and he will be missed.

Dr. Sproul was a figure in church history that will have a legacy in church history. I remember reading that he was an American-born theologian. Well, I’d like to modify that and say he was a son of Pittsburgh. Yes, he was an American, but he was born in Pittsburgh on February 13, 1939. His dad, also R.C. Sproul, was the proprietor of R.C. Sproul and Sons Accounting. Their offices were right in downtown Pittsburgh. On Christmas Eve of 1942, when Dr. Sproul was just a young boy, his father landed in Casablanca and Morocco to serve in World War II. When you talked to R.C. about his early childhood, he would tell you, “It was about the war.” These early years of the 1940s were dominated by World War II. In fact, R.C. remembers typing his very first letters, they were X’s and O’s. His mother would type letters to her husband, and R.C. would hop on her lap and at the bottom of that letter type his lines of X’s and O’s; hugs and kisses for his dad.

He would spend much time behind a typewriter for the rest of his life. You wouldn’t have known it if you popped in on R.C. in high school. You would have thought he was all about sports. He said he loved hockey the best, but he was probably the most proficient at baseball. He was good enough at sports to get an athletic scholarship to college to Westminster College. He went unconverted, but in his Freshman year he was led to Christ by the captain of the football team. It was also in college that he met a professor, Dr. Thomas Gregory, who had a profound impact on his life. It was Dr. Thomas Gregory who introduced R.C. Sproul to Augustine, and to the great Reformers, and to this wonderful stream of the classical Reformed tradition.

It was also in college that R.C. Sproul had what he called his second conversion. One night as he made his way to the chapel, almost drawn there, he said, he found himself going through the large oaken doors, under the gothic arch, and there he had his conversion to the holiness of God. I remember him saying one time that when he was first a Christian, he devoured the Old Testament. As he devoured it and read it, he realized very quickly that this God of the Old Testament is the God who plays for keeps.

Before he graduated from college, he married his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, Vesta. The first book he wrote was entitled The Symbol, and I love the dedication to that book. He writes in there, “To Vesta, to the Romans a pagan goddess, to me, a godly wife.” It’s hard to think of R.C. without thinking of Vesta.

After The Symbol, R.C. went on to write many books. The Holiness of God, of course, stands out, Chosen by God, and Classical Apologetics, the book he co-authored with his mentor from seminary, John Gerstner. These were all part of Dr. Sproul’s legacy. Of course, Ligonier Ministries is a part of his legacy, founded as the Ligonier Valley Study Center in the hills of Western Pennsylvania in 1971, and then it moved to Orlando.

He was involved in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He took a courageous stand against Evangelicals and Catholics Together, because as he read it, “The Gospel is at stake here.” In 2011 Dr. Sproul founded Reformation Bible College.

If you pull on the strands of his life, you keep coming back to that doctrine that he came to grips with as a college student at Westminster College: the doctrine of God. As R.C. once put it, “God is holy, and we are not, and in between stands the God-man, Jesus Christ, and his perfect work of obedience and his atoning death.”  That was the message and the legacy of R.C. Sproul.