What I Learned from R.C. Sproul

What I Learned from R.C. Sproul

I recall meeting Dr. R.C. Sproul for the first time. He was sitting with his wife Vesta and a few other scholars at lunch. A friend took me there and introduced me to him. “How are you, young man?” he asked. I didn’t respond to his question. Instead, I uttered with all the courage I could muster: “Thank you for your ministry.” Indeed I was thankful and still am.

Dr. R.C. Sproul died on the 14th of December, 2017. He died the year we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I have read the many tributes to Dr. Sproul in these last several days. Some of them written by people I know well and who worked closely with Dr. Sproul. Death provides a time of reflection. Sproul’s death at the age of 78 brought back many memories of my days in Orlando. His influence continues in my library. I have dozens of his books and an unending selection of Tabletalks magazines and almost a gigabyte of his audio lectures. His legacy will live on for generations to come.

Introduction to R.C. Sproul

I lived in Pennsylvania in the late 90’s. I had arrived to study a year in America. The evenings were cold in December. The only distraction I had at night was an old radio that worked half the time. One particular night, I turned on the radio to the sound of Handel’s Messiah. The lecturer was clear and poetic in his delivery. I listened intently for 20 minutes or so to a lecture on Augustine. “You’ve been listening to Renewing Your Mind with Dr. R.C. Sproul,” the voice concluded after each episode. I retired to my room early every evening to hear his talks.

Though my curiosity increased with each year, my commitments to my synergistic theology prevailed. I could not embrace a theology that took away my liberty to have a voice in my spiritual condition. The following winter I returned to Pennsylvania for Christmas. It was there that I read Michael Horton’s “Putting Amazing Back into Grace.” His brilliant analysis of John’s gospel pierced me and persuaded me to put down my lingering hesitations of Reformed Theology.

Returning to college after changing my convictions gave me a tremendous sense of liberty to explore and read unhindered by traditions. I immediately read “The Holiness of God” and “Chosen by God” and experienced the closest thing to a revivalistic episode. I was awed as Isaiah was in chapter 6. I cried with the new knowledge of a God who was far more glorious and powerful than I ever believed.

In his 1986 book, Lifeviews, Sproul began with these striking words: “We are all missionaries.” Throughout the book, he labored in thorough style to make a case for the Christian involvement in society. R.C. was an old-fashioned Kuyperian. God created every atom, and therefore every atom had God’s creative tattoo on them. This insatiable hunger to proclaim the exhaustive nature of God’s sovereignty drove much of R.C.’s ministry, and I delighted more and more as I sat under his teaching from afar.

My Time in Orlando

After I had finished college, I had already drunk deeply of the Reformed well. I was attending a PCA church deeply influenced by Dr. Sinclair Fergunson. I had the luxury of sitting under some of the finest Reformed thinkers alive. The Church had an abundance of wealth, and they used that wealth to educate the congregation with the best scholars alive. It was there where I engaged Dr. Jerry Bridges on numerous occasions (may he rest in God’s peace) and many others who were kind enough to talk to a zealous student.

As my time to choose a seminary approached, my church encouraged me to attend a seminary in Philadelphia. But by then I had already consumed a significant portion of R.C. Sproul’s material. I intently listened to the lectures available and was convinced I wanted to study wherever he was. At the time, it happened to be in Fort Lauderdale. He was an adjunct professor, as I recall. I eagerly began the application process to Knox Theological Seminary, and the day I was to turn in my application two things happened: first, one of Knox’s most accomplished Old Testament professor, Dr. O. Palmer Robertson, decided to go to Africa to do mission’s work. I had heard him speak at my PCA church and very much wanted to sit under his teaching in South Florida. But the second, to my great sadness, was that Dr. R.C. Sproul had a stroke. The stroke signaled his shift from the academic world to something closer to home.

These two coinciding news led me to dismiss my interest in Knox and look elsewhere. I had already visited Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and decided not to attend because they were committed to Van Tilianism. As I mentioned, my academic allegiance was for Sproul, and Sproul a Van Tilian was not. I had read Classical Apologetics twice by then and had virtually memorized the conversation at the end of the book between a classicist and a Van Tilian. I had used it many times against my Presuppositional friends.

The one seminary I had not considered– perhaps it remained hidden because it was so close– was Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Once I learned Dr. Sproul had situated himself in the Orlando area, I thought I could have the best of both worlds: attend a world-class seminary and sit under R.C.’s preaching. And so I did initially. We visited St. Andrews in Sanford, and I began my journey at RTS. For a variety of reasons, we decided to find a closer church. Still, we made the drive to Sanford for every special occasion at St. Andrews and whenever Sinclair Ferguson was speaking. R.C. referred to him as the “Braveheart of our generation.” Still, everything we did had Sproul’s imprint. My wife taught at a classical school started by R.C. Sproul. We attended a PCA church started by R.C. Sproul. The churches we visited early on had pastors influenced by R.C. Sproul. So, I found myself among friends.

I needed a job to help with some of my seminary bills, so naturally, I applied for a position at Ligonier. It was my first official job interview after college. I put on my best tie and drove to the Ligonier headquarters. The interview was bizarre, and the questions were so hypothetical that even one of the interviewers began to laugh. I did the best I could, though left uncertain of my future. It was only four weeks later that I decided to call them back and ask about the job. They told me they were not hiring at the time. I was truly disappointed. My dream of working in the same building with my theological hero fell apart.

The Providence of God

As a good Calvinist, I knew that all things were in God’s hands. I got a job elsewhere and invested myself wholeheartedly into my academic studies at RTS. It was there I was confronted with the awkward charm of Professor John Frame. Frame’s genius did not come through his teaching style. I don’t think anyone would say Frame was/is a captivating communicator. It was, instead, his thorough approach to philosophy and apologetics that drove the point decidedly home. Frame slowly and surely undid my classical apologetics and brought me to the methods of Cornelius

My theology at the time was harmonizing, and the classical apologetics didn’t fit any longer. Little by little Frame was dismantling my sense of neutrality and replacing it with a robust Creator/creature distinction. In other words, the fallen man was incapable of reasoning to God apart from special revelation. The classical arguments brought probability and not certainty. While everyone knew of R.C. Sproul’s Calvinism, most engaged students also knew of R.C.’s severe discomfort with Presuppositional apologetics. It was the first time I began to drift a little from my hero. My exposure to other schools of thought began to take me in a slightly different direction.

But my love for R.C. continued despite my change of theological direction. Many of my classmates worked at Ligonier or were interning at St. Andrews which kept me aware of things happening there. The beauty of it all is that I was able to sit under John Frame and benefit from Sproul in the same town on a frequent basis. It was an endless buffet of theological joy.

Sproul’s Lasting Influence

For those outside the Reformed community, it’s hard to grasp how diverse the Reformed world is. Sproul could preserve friendships with a broad range of Reformed thinkers though he was a unique figure in the Reformed world. As an example, he held to a classic view of Postmillennial eschatology. His book A Taste of Heaven argued for a high liturgy based on Old Covenant patterns. He favored the use of incense in worship. But none of these things defined him. What drew people to R.C. was his commitment to the doctrines of grace, his dogmatic assertion that a man is justified by faith alone, his influential lectures and writings on the holiness of God, and his ability to take the profound and make it understandable for the laity.

As I ponder this giant’s influence in my own life, I conclude with three lessons gained. Perhaps I could gather 100 into a lengthy article, but these three jump at me:

First, R.C. modeled excellent Christian scholarship in writing and speech. It is a rare combination for one to write well and also communicate well. R.C. did both with great enthusiasm. I used to sit around hearing him interact with parishioners about the Pittsburgh Steelers–his cherished football team. I remember how much he knew about them and how he engaged the topic with such enthusiasm, that I, a non-football fan, felt the need to watch a Steelers’ game. He drew me into this topic in a way no one could.

Second, R.C. spoke the Gospel winsomely. It is not enough to talk about the truth. The people standing on a street corner waving Bibles shouting about God’s judgment are speaking the truth, but they are not speaking the truth in love. They are not drawing people to the message, but are perpetuating the idea that Christians are fundamentalists unwilling to engage and prone to shouting down the opposition.

Sproul communicated through the use of logic and rhetoric the beauty of God through a particular display of words and rhythms. He called people to repentance to a God who was beautiful and lovely. He drew people to difficult doctrines instead of driving them away. As a result, a multitude of saints today believe and cherish the glory of God in salvation because of Dr. Sproul’s winsome presentation.

Finally, Sproul taught me to love God. His God was my God. One lesson I hope to communicate to all those who inquire about Sproul in future years is that we are not speaking only of a theological titan, but a man who breathed and exhaled God’s glory each day of his life. He was our modern day Jonathan Edwards.

I remember listening in awe as R.C. worked through the Bible in his famous series From Dust to Glory. Now, Dr. Robert Charles Sproul will no longer taste the dust but will dwell in glory forever and ever amen.

New Publication from Kuyperian Press: A Case for Infant Baptism

New Publication from Kuyperian Press: A Case for Infant Baptism

Kuyperian Press was founded to provide works that are accessible to the layman in the parish. In this new work, Dr. Gregg Strawbridge provides a wonderful summary of the case for infant baptism in the Bible.

What makes this booklet different?

Strawbridge has provided various charts and biblical connections making the case that the Bible’s promise to the children of the covenant has not been forgotten in the New Testament.

“In this little book, Gregg Strawbridge provides a clear, concise and compelling case for infant baptism. He anticipates the important questions, provides succinct answers, and thereby adds a highly valuable resource to the current conversation.”

–          John G. Crawford, Author of Baptism is Not Enough


Lenten Devotional

Pastor Steve Hemmeke has done a fine job in putting this together and I commend it to you as you begin this Lenten journey.

Lent CREC Devotions 2015

I have a contribution for Palm Sunday.

The Evangelical, the Damning Statistics, and What To Do About It, Part I

The results are in and they don’t look good. Christianity Today reports on the Sex Lives of Unmarried Evangelicals. The two surveys offer differing numbers, but the conclusion is summarized in this manner:

Bible Reading? Evangelicals who infrequently read the Bible were 70 percent more likely to have been recently sexually active than frequent Bible readers.

Church Attendance? Evangelicals who attend church less than weekly were more than twice as likely to have been recently sexually active than weekly attenders.

Conversion? Of the sexually active singles, 92 percent had sex after becoming“born again.” That’s largely because the average age when evangelicals under 40 became “born again” was 8.

Evangelical statistics have a way of increasing our national Christian guilt, which is something that usually is already mighty high. Furthermore, the numbers usually paint a more pessimistic picture than what is actually taking place. My general principle when dealing with these statistics is to cut the percentage by a third. When the oft-cited “50% of Christian married couples end in divorce” statistic is referenced, this usually means about 35% of Christian married couples divorce. Those original statistics also included Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. A Non-Trinitarian marriage is anything but a Christian marriage.

But however you do the math, the numbers are still frightening. No one can deny that they reflect a weak evangelicalism. It is not that evangelical churches are fully entertainment driven without any substance, but that the substance they offer is not sustaining, and therefore leading our young generations to find pleasure is worldly entertainment. Part of this worldly entertainment is the casualness of the sex culture.

Since this is the case we have responded in the way we evangelical do best: we have over-reacted. We have bought into the “world is against us” slogan and we have acted upon it with zealous fury. We have sheltered our children to the point of stifling their rhetoric and making them miserable spokesmen for the Lordship of King Jesus. On the other hand, we have overly exposed them to the vastness of sexualized culture. By the age of ten they all have their Lady Gaga lyrics as accurately as a Puritan boy his catechism memorized.

What can evangelical churches do to provide a culture that despises impurity and treasures purity?

The remarkable response–according to the statistics– is by focusing on the simple means of grace of Church attendance, Prayer, and Bible reading one reduces dramatically the chances of engaging in fornication. I have stated many times that the evangelical problem is one of prioritization. And what does priority look like in the church? The damning news is that conversion is not enough. For many parents conversion serves as a perpetual moral babysitter. As long as words are spoken affirming the X,Y, and Z of Christian conversion then we are on our way to bringing up pure children. But conversion or its vocabulary are not enough! The evangelical culture has evangelized their children to death, and then they are left wondering where did we go wrong.

Here is a sample quoted above:

Evangelicals who infrequently read the Bible were 70 percent more likely to have been recently sexually active than frequent Bible readers.

Let’s say 50% of this is true. Without going into detail of what this “Bible-Reading” should look like–a worthy discussion to be had–in what ways are churches inculcating their children with the Sacred Scriptures? In other words, what are they doing to instill a desire in our children to drink deeply of the Biblical narrative? Have churches made the Bible so one-sided and narrowly explicated that our children long to escape to a different narrative of the world?

As we affirm Sola-Scriptura, let us also delve into the Scriptures in a transformative way. “Your word is life,” says Yahweh. And this alone is enough to make the point of the study. When one saturates himself in life, then he will find death-like practices abominable.

To echo N.T. Wright, let’s return to a simply Christian view of life. Our understanding of sexuality needs to be transformed by a new understanding of who we are in Christ. Our new creation life is a life that treasures sex in its right context. Further, it sees the life of another human being as sacred, and therefore violating that sacredness–which is what pre-marital sex is–is a violation of life; a profound misunderstanding of the Imago Dei.

The Scriptures and its reading will help us re-shape our view of ourselves and others, but it must be done in a context that perpetuates the reality that the new world brings a new light and this light is filled with redemptive and ethical consequences. Therefore, forsake the works of darkness and drink deeply of the words of life.

*An additional post on “How to read Bible” will soon follow.

We Need New Ears and Eyes

I began my day reading through Jim Jordan’s magnum opus, Through New Eyes. Jim is a dear friend and we have worked together for three years (09-11). I have literally read and listened to hundreds of articles, sermons, & lessons. If Jim publishes, my eyes will seek to scan it. In many ways, he has taught me to love the Bible in a deeper way than before.

My seminary days were wonderful days. I had the privilege of sitting under some of the most renown Reformed theologians alive. It was filled with excitement and theological epiphanies. But none of these men came near to the theological revivals that James Jordan  caused in my own thinking. Jordan enabled me to appreciate the Bible for its own merit. He caused me to love the Bible for its own structure, poetry, cadence, rhythm, and music. Yes, the Bible is a beautiful song sung by Yahweh Himself in Genesis 1 and closing with the eternal song of eternity in Revelation 22.

In TNE, Jordan observes:

…the universe and everything in it reveals the character of its Creator. God designed the universe to reveal Himself and to instruct us. The problem we have is that sin has made us deaf and blind. We need new eyes and ears, and the Scriptures can help us get them (13).

These new eyes and ears are only re-shaped and re-designed as we allow the Scriptures to do so. The Bible shapes us as a people. The Word of the Lord re-orients our minds to see God’s instruction in everything. The world, and in particular, Scriptures, communicate to us through vast symbols. The revelation of Yahweh contains a specific language that we need to master. And the only way of mastering it is by seeking its guidance day and night.

Hear the Bible

One strong emphasis James Jordan has made over the years is that reading the Bible is not enough. Listening to it is equally important. The ancients did not manuscript copies available as we do, but yet their minds were saturated by the language of Scriptures. Their minds delved deeply into the rich types and symbols of the Old Covenant Scriptures. They heard it read and began to make connections. They did not only accept explicit types and symbols, but they saw that the entire Bible was one story pictured in symbols and types, and since this is the case, therefore every narrative is connected to the one previous and the one after.

Hearing the Bible especially in a community setting takes us away from our natural tendency to isolate ourselves. The isolation of evangelicalism is due to hermeneutical isolation. Individuals are perfectly satisfied to pietize the Bible. And as they do so, they turn their individualism into a standard for others. But when we hear the Bible, when we listen to one another in our communities, and when we allow the Church to speak–as she should–we become part of a greater hermeneutical project.

Hear the Bible, but don’t hear it alone. Hear it, and then contextualize it in this grand story of redemption. And when this is done, sin’s hermeneutical effects began to fade away and our eyes and ears will be able to do those things they were created to do.

For book resources, see here. For his audio series on How to Read the Bible, see here.

Exhortation: Church Covenant Series, Part IV

We come to the fourth part of our Church Covenant, which states:

We will reject all heretical beliefs and practices, using Scripture as our final authority.

This is a strong statement with profound repercussions. We are asking as a Church that you submit to something greater than yourself. In particular, to submit to the authority of the Bible. We live in a culture that despises authority. But God has formed this world with authority structures in it. It’s not that the Bible is our only authority, God has given us other authorities– pastors, parents, and leaders– but what we are saying is that the Bible is our final authority. And that means that pastors, parents, and leaders need to submit to this one authority.

We also reject heretical beliefs. If it does not align itself to the God of Scriptures who is reveled in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, then it must be abandoned. First things, as long as God graces us with His mercy, will always remain first things in this congregation. And it is your duty as members to ensure that it remains this way.

But bad ideas leads also to bad practices. And this is perhaps what makes us unique in this culture. We do treasure practices at Providence that in some ways are long forgotten in our culture. Our view of the Church, worship, families, and marriage, all shape who we are as a people. These practices challenge our passivity and causes us to hunger for righteousness.

This is why as a Church we want to encourage, exhort, and be a source of strength to our members here who are striving to live the life of faith amidst a faithless world. If God’s revelation guides us as a people, then we can safely walk in the paths of truth and godliness.

Prayer: O God of truth, change us to reflect truth daily and live unto You. May our hearts not be far from you, but ever seek your face. On this holy day, we pray that you would cause our lives to embody the truths of your Holy Word, and may be now and forever a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sermon: Prayer, Time and the Transformation of the World, Part II, I Timothy 2:1-4

Text: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

(1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)

People of God, this is the last Sunday of the Church Year. Last Lord’s Day I offered a short defense of the Church Calendar, and the importance of time and liturgy. As Christians we know that time is on our side because time belongs to King Jesus, and King Jesus has graciously given time to His Bride, the Church. The Church is called to use time wisely and cheerfully for the sake of the world. In other words, when the world asks “what time is it?” it is the Church’s role to let her know, not vice-versa. We set the agenda for the world, not the opposite. Now if we could only get Christians on board in this simple proposal, then we could expect some radical things to happen in the world. But what has happened instead? Well, by and large the evangelical, Protestant Church has followed the world’s calendar. She has borrowed money from the world, and now the world wants it all back with excessively high interest rates.[1] At the end of the day we look at each other in amazement and wonder why we are losing the battle. We have been undiscerning, and unaware of how the world functions. Why? Because we don’t know how the Church functions, or what her role is in the world. Let’s be frank: when we think about time, we think more about vacation time than Church time. And we are wrong! And the fruits of this is becoming clearer and clearer in our society. There is no sense of belonging. The youth are leaving in large numbers. They are tired of lights, skits, false transparency, and religious pep-talks. We are all guided by time, but what is happening is that by the time our children turn 18 they take time into their own hands. More