Remembering R. C. Sproul
In 1996 I attended a reformed conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That year was my first as a seminarian and my second as a Calvinist. If I remember correctly it was the first reformed conference I’d ever attended. Although it has been over twenty years ago, I still remember the opening night. The speaker’s contagious laugh lightened the room. He was fun and having fun. I still remember him saying, “Pittsburgh is the only city in the world whose fight song for their football team is a polka!” And then he laughed and so did everyone else. That evening we were treated to a great theological mind appealing to us with heart of a preacher. It was a great night and a wonderful conference and I didn’t even mention the impersonation of Detective Columbo!
Some of you will have guessed that the speaker that night was Dr. R. C. Sproul. That was not my first exposure to Dr. Sproul but it was one of the first and it was the first time I saw him in person and it was a treat. I soon found myself a regular listener of Renewing Your Mind and an avid reader of his books. In the mid 90s I was just beginning my seminary career and Dr. Sproul’s career was in full swing. In 1994 the airwaves were spreading the radio program, Renewing Your Mind. In 1995 the Reformation Study Bible was published and in 1997 St. Andrew’s Chapel was established. The Lord was using Dr. Sproul.
The next time I saw him was at Geneva College in or around 1998. It was vintage Dr. Sproul. That night a friend and I went up to him after the lecture to talk. He was warm and welcoming but when he discovered that we were seminary students a smile spread across his face that I’ll not soon forget. In those early years of my development the man took on the status of a theological grandfather. For example, when I was struggling to explain God’s electing grace to others Dr. Sproul was there with Chosen by God. When my brother died Surprised by Suffering ministered to me. And after he had been influential in convincing me of amillennialism he demonstrated that his feet were made of clay when he wrote, The Last Days According to Jesus!
On December 14, 2017 I was painting my daughter’s room. My wife came upstairs to tell me that Dr. Sproul had gone to be with the Lord. I had heard that he was in the hospital and I knew that he was not well. That evening I pulled up one of his Christmas sermons and listened to it as I painted. And as I listened to him extol the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ I experienced a flood of emotion. He had been and continues to be a wonderful influence for Christ in my life and I am thankful for him.
C. S. Lewis says somewhere in the Four Loves that when a friend dies something about you goes with him. In other words, that friend is no longer there to pull out of you those things that only he could pull out. Dr. Sproul’s family and friends are surely experiencing what Lewis so astutely described. However, as a distant admirer I am still affected by his sermons and lectures. When I hear the chalk crawl across the blackboard on one of his audio lectures I can still see him, arms open and pleading for his audience to embrace not only the teaching but the very God who is holy.
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.