Yesterday, theologian R. C. Sproul died (1939-2017). Truly, a giant has fallen among us.
Knowing that numerous members of the Midwestern faculty appreciated and were impacted by Dr. Sproul’s ministry, I asked them to share brief reflections for the Center for Public Theology, an endeavor that in certain ways would not exist but for Sproul’s influence.
Dr. Jason Allen, President of MBTS:
R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God was placed in my hand at just the right time. In college, as a new believer, it reframed my understanding of God and led me to countless other books and resources by Dr. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Over the years, my appreciation for his ministry resources was surpassed by my admiration for the man himself. Sproul’s mind was stocked-full of biblical truth. His passion for the truth was palpable; his defense of the truth indomitable. In R.C. Sproul’s passing the church lost a giant. But Heaven gained a worshipper fully prepared to practice what he’d preached—to worship the thrice holy, sovereign God that is.
Dr. Jason Duesing, Provost of MBTS:
I trusted Christ my freshman year in college. My church experience growing up was diverse denominationally and thus early on my questions were ecclesiological. Did I need “another” baptism? What does the Bible say about local churches? What are Protestants, actually? Then, a few years later, while on my way to Passion ’97 in Austin, Texas, a friend of mine played a cassette of R. C. Sproul lecturing on Martin Luther for Ligonier Ministries. In that car, I now know that I heard my first church history lesson. This ecclesial orphan was mesmerized, helped, and put on a path toward finding answers for my questions. Now I teach church history and am driven to help people just like me discover the treasures and joys for life through theological history that Dr. Sproul spent a lifetime lecturing, preaching, and sharing. Thank you, Dr. Sproul.
Jared Wilson, Director of Content Strategy at MBTS:
Aside from C.S. Lewis, I am hard pressed to think of another author whose work I read more of in my adolescence and college years than R.C. Sproul’s. I read The Holiness of God in my early twenties, and it was so profoundly influential for me. Sproul sent me to Rudolf Otto, and I learned about the experience ‘mysterium tremendum,’ which helped give shape to all of the ‘fear and trembling’ that typified my childhood. The Holiness of God seemed to hold the key to unlocking what made Dr. Sproul so blessedly different from even the most well-spoken celebrity preachers. He was obviously a man who walked in the graciously disturbing orbit of the true numinous. I re-read it fifteen years later with some men in my last pastorate. We all wrestled with it, some of us newly, others of us again. One of our guys was a previously unchurched man who made a profession of faith in our community. Before seeking us out, his only exposure to the Bible was from a radio preacher he’d been listening to. That preacher? R.C. Sproul. His own young testimony in that book of following the late-night draw to his campus chapel and becoming overwhelmed by the sheer weightiness of God seemed to hang over his entire ministry thereafter. As the shadow of the blinding light of Paul’s dramatic gospel hijacking on the road to Damascus falls over all his epistles, as Isaiah’s discombobulation in the temple reverberates throughout his prophecies, has any preacher of R.C. Sproul’s prominence seemed so wondrously weighted by the righteousness of God?
Dr. Matthew Barrett, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at MBTS:
R.C. Sproul changed my life. Fresh out of high school, I was theologically starving. Yes, I had read the Bible front and back, but no one had yet taught me how to think systematically. Enter R.C. Sproul. He took me by the hand and sat me down to eat a doctrinal feast. After the night shift on the loading dock, I would rush to the bookstore with my paycheck to buy his books. Why? Because he was theologically precise and his ability to present complex theological issues with crystal clarity was unparalleled. He looked Christianity right in the face and said, “Your God is too small!” Sproul made God big again. And he made me a theologian in the process.
Dr. Owen Strachan, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at MBTS:
No one can sum God up; no one can lassoo him, and reign him in. The greatness of God exceeds all comprehension. Few theologians proved better able to communicate God’s grandness than R. C. Sproul. His account of Luther’s conversion in The Holiness of God created existential space for generations of Christians to reckon with the infinity and magnitude of the divine. His teaching videos for Ligonier—I first watched them on a VCR in a college dorm room in Maine—mixed deep learning, pungent wit, and vibrant love for the Lord. Sproul’s model continues to instruct and inspire me; his work was in truth “theogetics,” always probing both the way people think and the way Scripture calls them to live. He could hang with the best of academicians, but took delight in speaking sensibly, reversing the order that sometimes inheres in the guild. It was an honor to speak at a 2016 Ligonier conference in Seattle; though Sproul could not attend, he gave a memorable Q&A session that dazzled and informed his admirers. Beyond that special moment, I will never forget his first two messages at Together for the Gospel; he told the story of Huss, Wycliffe, and Luther like no one else ever has, and he did so with crystalline theological precision.
A giant has fallen among us. But this is the reality about all who are in Christ: from the mightiest to the weakest, all who love the holiness of God rise, redeemed and renewed, in heaven.