ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
– 1 Corinthians 15:26
As I’m sure you have heard by now, the esteemed Reformed teacher, pastor, and theologian, RC Sproul, died this past Thursday (December 14, 2017). There are many moving tributes and comments flooding the internet right now, and rightfully so. I didn’t want to just add my voice to that chorus, but it felt remiss not to make a few comments about a man whose ministry has shaped me and most of my audience in ways that are almost unimaginable.
I honestly cannot remember my first exposure to Sproul’s teaching. I know that I used to hear him on the local Christian radio, but he was just one voice among many. Although the airwaves in my town were dominated by the likes of Greg Laurie, James MacDonald, Chuck Swindoll, and other Arminian preachers, I remember fondly hearing the strong voice of Dr. Sproul. Although I didn’t know it at the time, his views on providence, holiness, and the necessity for precise theology was a boon to my soul.
When I got to college and began to study theology and biblical studies, I began to have categories for these distinctions. Although still not following Dr. Sproul’s teachings in any serious way, I began to look back and understand why it was that his characteristically raspy voice sounded so clarion clear amidst a chorus of decisional regeneration.
I began listening to podcasts shortly after I graduated from college. Renewing Your Mind was one of the first shows I subscribed to. Having listened for years now, I have heard most of his famous lecture series many times over. Particularly impacting on me was his discussion of the various views on the Millennium. I remember distinctly a feeling of freedom listening to it the first time. This giant of the faith, a man who was a teacher of thousands and millions… had the humility to acknowledge that he really wasn’t sure. He had a position, but he was able to recognize the difficulties and limitations of that stance. Eschatology was one area myself that I had not deeply studied at the time, and couldn’t make heads or tales of the debate. Not only did Dr. Sproul help clear up the contours of the positions, but he gave me permission to be tentative. That was game changing for me.
This was characteristic of Dr. Sproul as a public figure. Although he was a stalwart and fierce defender of the faith, he was a defender of the faith because of what Christ had done for him. The humility and grace that Christ exercised in his humiliation were on full display in the life of Robert Charles Sproul. We would all do well to emulate his faithful obedience. This blog, especially in recent history, has engaged in a lot of polemics. Sometimes it has even been a polemic against Dr. Sproul! However, it is not uncommon for me to sit back from a post I’ve written and think about what Dr. Sproul would say to me if he read this. The same man who looked at a crowd and asked “What’s wrong with you people?!?” also wrote children’s books. The man who often remarked about marrying his childhood sweetheart was not afraid to take someone to the mat in order to protect and promote the glory of God.
When I write a post, I often ask, what would Dr. Sproul say to me if he read this? Would he be proud of me? Would he be disappointed? Would he laugh and pat me on the back and say “You get ’em Arsenal!”
I hope that he would be proud. Just as Paul was a man whom we should emulate, Robert Charles Sproul is a faithful servant of Christ who we would all do well to follow after. In this age, he followed Christ, and he has gone before us in the age to come and has received his reward.
In a beautiful and bittersweet turn of providence, Renewing Your Mind was broadcasting the Eschatology portion of his Systematic Theology series this past week. As I read of the news of Dr. Sproul’s hospitalization and began to understand that he probably wasn’t going to wake up, I listened to a man who was my teacher for over a decade tell me that he wasn’t sure when Christ was going to return in relation to the Millennium. I listened to him teach me again about the final judgment, the nature of hell… and I marveled at God’s providence as he taught me about the believer’s final and blessed hope in Christ the morning after he entered that blessed hope. I never met Dr. Sproul, but I have to believe that when Jesus greeted him that he smiled and said “Robert my child, welcome home. Wait until you see what episode airs tomorrow!” Even in death, Dr. Sproul continues to teach us, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. His legacy lives on in the lives of the Reformed community, let us always remember the gift he has given us and the gift that he was to us.
requiescat in pace, soli Deo gloria!
Robert Charles Sproul 1939-2017