It seems Saturdays have been filled with kids basketball these past three weeks, and I’ve hardly had time to sit and compose a Weekend Reading. However, after this week’s events, I felt it impossible not to pen something regarding the passing of theologian R.C. Sproul.
If you were to google his name today, the search would be populated with obituaries and laudatory remarks and tributes from famous men and women – I especially identified with John Piper’s tribute, which rightly expressed a profound sense of gratitude for Dr. Sproul’s teaching focus on the holiness of God, and the special way in which he could so clearly convey the complex ideas of theology to people who never attended seminary.
Joni Eareckson Tada wrote a tribute that displayed how Dr. Sproul’s teaching on the sovereignty of God was immensely comforting and helpful at a time when despair and confusion would wreck even the most spiritually wise Christian.
Dr. Sproul’s ministry, Ligonier, has posted something from Dr. Stephen Nichols, a man Kate and I greatly admire and enjoy listening to and interacting with during Ligonier events.
Now it hits me all at once how hard this is going to be to write more. One of my heroes has died. Great people have written well. What shall I say? I didn’t know him well personally. We were not close. Our interactions were limited to some time I had in service to his ministry a few years ago, and though my relationship to the ministry remains very close, my interaction with Dr. Sproul was never frequent. Rather, I am like the millions of others who read his books and was changed by God because of them.
It is with tears now that I recall that powerful moment seven or so years ago when, so overcome with the weight of my sin and pride, I repented on my knees in my living room in the middle of the night. Earlier in the evening, I had been determined to finish Sproul’s book, Chosen by God. But at around 2am I’d had enough. I couldn’t take anymore. The man had leveled an all-out assault on my pride as he described a God whose Word spoke of gracious and sovereign salvation in terms I’d never before contemplated. I’d been a Christian for years, but as a busy young father and husband, building my first business in the cutthroat realm of politics, these truths were the last thing on my mind.
What a world of change God has wrought since those formative days!
I suppose this is what God does with godly men and women: He uses them to transform others and get their attention – not so that they can focus on the messenger, but so that their gaze is more continually heaven-bound than it was before.
That is what Dr. Sproul did through his writing and teaching.
One thing that he especially did for me was to connect me with the beauty and excitement of the Bible and show me a God who was so magnificent and so holy, that gazing upon the mercy of His Son’s cross became automatically more precious to me.
Aside from being a great teacher, he was also a great man of character and personal faith. And though, as I mentioned before, I didn’t have a lot of personal interaction with him, one moment is especially and indelibly seared upon my mind. My friend and former business partner Matt and I were down in Florida to help set up and conduct a large telephone town hall conference call event for Ligonier, with Dr. Sproul as the main speaker on the program.
As we completed setup of the software and phone system, Dr. Sproul and his wife Vesta entered the large ex-mansion that is now Ligonier ministries headquarters in Sanford. Their gait was slow and sober, marked with heavy expressions they traversed the long corridor that lead into Sproul’s office where we were setting up. They had just come from the hospital where they’d visited Denise Sproul, their daughter-in-law who was fighting cancer and had a very negative prognosis for recovery. She would die a short time later in December of 2011 – the day before my son Ollie was born. That night, the weight of the world looked to be upon their shoulders, and I began to wonder if we could continue on with this event.
Still, Dr. Sproul rallied and even made some wisecracks at the expense of my friend Matt. And so we got the event started. Eventually, the time came to take questions from callers, and when one man called from a Pitsburg hospital where his wife was dying, I looked up from my laptop to see his wife Vesta had reached out and grabbed R.C.’s hand, conveying strength and affirmation to see him through the poignant and painful moment. She reached toward his bible, perched an arm’s length away on the desk, but he waved her off – perhaps already knowing what passages he would require (as it turned out), or perhaps just focused on listening as the man from Pitsburg expressed grief and frustration at his wife’s pain: ‘Why would God allow this? What could be done?’
“What would he say? What could he say?”, thought I.
Of course, the man from Pittsburgh couldn’t know that minutes earlier Dr. Sproul had come from the bedside of his daughter-in-law. To most any other man the situation would have either obliterated their resolve or perhaps caused them to revert coldly to some automatic reply engrained from years of rote memorization. Instead, with the compassion, wisdom, and clear Biblical communication that marked his entire ministry, Dr. Sproul expanded on the grace and sovereignty of God in sickness and death and, indeed all of life.
This titan of theology had been tested before my very eyes. What I witnessed that day was what happens when right theology is lived out righteously, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
May the Lord continue to bless the memory and ministry of R.C. Sproul. We will miss him greatly.