|Yet R.C. Sproul has never sought the scholarly
recognition that is his due. His learning has always been in the service of the
gospel. He has brought Reformed doctrine to people in the pew. His ministry
really began when he saw that church members did not understand the Christian
faith well enough. John Calvin had defended the position of a "doctor" in the
church: a teaching elder given the charge of instructing the people in the
doctrines of the Word. Calvin saw that as his own calling. R.C. Sproul, without
making any claim to such eminence, has become a "doctor" of the Bible-believing
"Ligonier Ministries" is the label that R.C. uses for his instruction of the laypeople of the church. The name is taken from Ligonier, Pennsylvania, although the center is now based in Orlando, Florida. I recall listening to R.C. in the early seventies, when the center had been established on property in western Pennsylvania given by Mrs. Dora Hillman. His teaching was clear and urgent, and the Lord's gifts blessed his growing ministry. R.C. brought leading Bible teachers to Ligonier. Dr. John Gerstner was one of the first. Francis Schaeffer came; J.I. Packer taught at Ligonier. R.C. is clearly a disciple of John Gerstner, more mellow in manner, but strong in the truth.
From the beginning of Ligonier, Sproul realized the need for spreading his teaching. Ligonier distributed audiotapes, then videotapes in growing numbers. Later he launched radio programs. Above all, he published books dealing with the pressing needs of his large and growing audience. The contributors to this volume show how R.C. Sproul has used the sword of the Spirit to open secular minds to the strong doctrines of Calvinism.
Worship has marked Sproul's ministry increasingly through the years. Surely the doctrines of grace demand adoration of the god who is sovereign in mercy, and who chose to love those who were his enemies. This Festschrift follows the Canons of Dort, which affirm the Reformed doctrine in sharp distinction to Arminianism. The famous five points of Calvinism are all treated here: total depravity, unconditional election, limited (definite) atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Sproul himself has always held that declarations should not only make positive affirmations, but also specify what was being denied. As a member of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, he took the lead in forging denials that drove to the heart of the matter. His convictions on the "solas," also treated in this book, also sharpen the distinctions that make the truth clear. God's grace alone justifies, not his grace plus our works.
|Yet for all his zeal to distinguish and define, R.C.
worships before the mystery of God's salvation. The apostle Paul broke into
heavenly doxologies to rejoice in the infinite wisdom and goodness of the Lord.
Yet Paul knew well that human eloquence never brings God's wisdom to earth. His
foolishness shames the wise. He sweeps aside human eloquence with the
foolishness of the gospel. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the
weakness of God is stronger than men." Mysteries before which archangels fell
silent Paul stated in the brief words, "I determined to know nothing among you
except Jesus Christ and him crucified."|
R.C. Sproul has, in his tapes and writings, argued each of the points covered in the chapters of this book, yet he has done so with the example of the apostle Paul before him. Simple directness shines through all his preaching and writing. This book is dedicated to R.C. Sproul in appreciation of one who sought to build the faith of Christ's church, that it might rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
It was a hero of mine who first warned me that heroes have feet of clay. This put me in something of a pickle. If my hero had no feet of clay, then he at least had these feet of clay, that he was unduly pessimistic about heroes. If, on the other hand, my hero spoke with wisdom on the matter, then he too had feet of clay. I solved the dilemma by adding to the admirable qualities of my hero that he was humble and had an appropriate level of skepticism about lesser mortals than he.
It is a natural thing for a young boy to look up to his father, to see him as a hero. It was all the more natural for me, as I grew up understanding that there were many others who saw my father as their hero. But it was all the more natural for me, for in my circumstance the term fit. He may have been my father, but my assessment of him was true.
|Why my father was and is my hero has changed over the
years. When I was a small boy, it was enough that he loved me and my sister and
my mother. It was enough that he knew how to fix my kite, or that he took me
with him to the golf course. It was still greater that he took me more than
once. The first time he took me, I was five. He took two practice swings on the
first tee. As he began his downswing, I called out from the cart, "One more
strike and you're out, Daddy." Luckily for me, he only fouled that one
As I grew, my father grew in my estimation. About the time that my sights went beyond his tenderness to me, I came across a treasure chest. I was about eight years old and was rooting around in the cellar of our home. I found there an old steamer trunk and opened it up. What I found was a veritable reliquary, overflowing with icons of my father's past greatness. There was a newspaper photo of him driving a double down the left field line in a high school baseball game. There was a varsity letter from Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, and another from Clairton High, both in Pittsburgh. There was also a baseball, signed not by the Pittsburgh Pirates of yore, but by his grateful teammates, after he had carried them on his shoulders to victory. That treasure, I am sorry to report, got lost one day when, owing to the loss of all my own baseballs, its sentimental value to me was outweighed by its practical value in allowing the game to continue. Soon after, it joined the other balls in that netherworld of lost balls.
Now in my mind's eye, my father joined those newer heroes who were beginning to try to crowd him out. He told me stories about his baseball career, about how he had been invited to try out for a place in the Pirates' farm system, but passed on such a long shot (there was that cursed pessimism of his). He told me of his exploits on the football field, how in high school he had served as the backup for Ron Lancaster, who went on to become the Johnny Unitas of the Canadian Football League. My father became then not unlike Terry Bradshaw and Willie Stargell to me. He also told stories of his basketball career, and his exploits in hockey and boxing.
|But the two most significant events in my father's
life derailed any thoughts of future glory on the fields of play. The first was
the death of his hero, his father. My grandfather was the second of the Sproul
men to be named Robert C. He owned a thriving accounting firm in downtown
Pittsburgh. He provided well for his family, but also served as a model of
godliness for my father. Although his age would have precluded his being
drafted, he volunteered for the war in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, and served
his country by working with the quartermasters in the European theater. During
the war and after, the Sproul home became a sort of haven as uncles, aunts, and
cousins lived under my grandfather's roof, along with my father, his sister, and
his mother. The war ended and brought my grandfather safely home.|
As my father passed into adolescence, however, his father's health began to fail. A series of strokes left him debilitated. The need to help care for him, and to help provide for the family, forced my father to give up his array of sports. Finally, when my father was seventeen, his father spoke his last words: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." At seventeen, my father buried his hero.
His exploits in sports earned my father a scholarship to Westminster College, a small Presbyterian school in western Pennsylvania. Here too, however, he never got a chance to shine. Before his freshman season had even begun, while trying to catch a wayward tomato that had fallen from his tray in the cafeteria, he damaged a knee sufficiently to rule out competitive sports.
The second life-changing event came soon thereafter. My father was in the common area of the dorm at school when one of the older players on the football team began a conversation. Beginning with the fact that a life under the sun promises only futility, this young man presented the unvarnished gospel of the Son. That night, there was no close, no praying of the sinner's prayer. Instead, my father retired to his room to wrestle with the angel of the Lord. He knew that he could make no half-hearted commitment. He understood that if he picked up this cross, if he followed this Jesus, it would mean his whole life. Finally, the Spirit of God, like the pale Galilean, conquered, and my father repented, believed the gospel, and professed that Christ is Lord.
|Only two critical parts of the story remain before my
arrival on the scene. First, my father spoke with my mother about what happened.
She was a sophomore at Wooster College in Ohio. She had known my father since
the two of them had been in grade school. They had been steadies off and on,
mostly on, all through high school. At first she was puzzled by this change in
my father, but my mother was soon likewise convicted of her sin, of her need for
the Savior, and of the work of Christ on her behalf. Now the two of them were
bound together in Christ.|
The rest of the early part of the story is my father's education. After his conversion, he nearly flunked out of college. His time was consumed with reading the Bible and with studying the sermons of Billy Graham. That didn't leave much time for other disciplines. But then my father attended a lecture on the philosophy of Augustine. When the lecture ended, he headed for the registrars office to change majors. The same professor not only introduced my father to the study of philosophy, but also to the doctrines of grace. Like so many before him and so many since, my father struggled mightily against the sovereignty of God. By God's grace, God won.
My parents were married the summer before my father's senior year at Westminster College. After graduating, he enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a seminary of what was then the United Presbyterian Church. Like so many other seminaries in that day and today, this one was dominated by unbelief. The faculty could be counted on to deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, and anything else that might prove inconvenient to the spirit of the age. However, the faculty was not monolithic. The seminary had been formed by the merger of two older seminaries. The smaller of the two, the more conservative seminary, managed in their negotiations to secure a spot on the faculty for their young theological hero, John Gerstner.
Dr. Gerstner believed that the Bible was true and that it taught with clarity what we know as the Reformed faith. He taught that faith with vigor and with logical and theological precision to my father. And my father became a zealot for the Reformed faith. As graduation from seminary approached, my parents, now toting about my older sister, Sherrie, looked forward to the end of schooling and to getting on with their life's work. Dr. Gerstner insisted that my father pursue further study. His advice was to study with the best, and that mean G.C. Berkouwer at the Free University of Amsterdam. My parents sold what little they owned and sailed with my sister to the Netherlands.
|My own recollection of those days is rather sketchy,
as I experienced them in utero. But in my father's fictional novel, Thy
Brother's Keeper there is a tale about a young American theology student in
Amsterdam, who is forced to spend many hours learning the Dutch language by
reading Dutch works of theology, writing down each word and its translation, one
word at a time. My father distinguished himself as a student and even was
written up in the local paper because of his prowess on the baseball
An opportunity to teach at his alma mater brought him home to America. This brief stint was followed by teaching at colleges and seminaries in Boston and Philadelphia, and finally a position as associate minister of theology at a large United Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. This covered roughly the years from 1965 to 1971. While teaching in academia and the church, he also had opportunities to teach at camps and conferences. It was at Saranac Lake in New York that he first taught on the holiness of God.
Back in Pittsburgh, he was not forgotten. A group of men dreamed of opening a study center that would serve as a kind of battlefield seminary for laypersons who were actively engaged in ministry. They asked my father if he would be the principal teacher there and run this ministry. He accepted the call, and our family moved to the Ligonier Valley in western Pennsylvania.
During the early 1970s, the nation was reeling from hardships abroad and at home. American involvement in the Vietnam War was drawing to a close. The sexual revolution had just hit its stride. The president was virtually forced to resign his office. The age of Aquarius was disintegrating as young people looked for something more substantial than "tune in, turn on, and drop out." Many of these seekers found their way to the nascent Ligonier Valley Study Center. There they found not only shelter from the storm, but teaching that was at the same time biblical, theological, and practical. They were taught the Reformed faith in all its fullness.
The study center grew slowly. Although I was sheltered from such things, I have been told that there were many months when there were no paychecks. But the study center was founded on a call to faithfulness, not on a carefully laid out business plan. In time, God began to reward that faithfulness as the ministry grew. In 1975, in what may have been the first use of videotape technology in Christian education, my father filmed his first version of The Holiness of God. Ligonier not only had to persuade people of the value of the teaching, but often had to train churches to use video.
|Over the years, the study center gradually shifted its
emphasis. It began training young men and women involved in campus ministry.
Before long, my father had become involved with an organization called Value of
the Person, a Christian management-consulting ministry that emphasized something
as simple and biblical as the importance of treating employees with dignity. My
father spoke on this theme in boardrooms and steel mills. Eventually the study
center provided training for hundreds in management at a nearby Volkswagen
The study center hosted a summit meeting among evangelicals committed to the inerrancy of the Bible. Out of these meetings came the Ligonier Statement on the Inerrancy of the Bible. My father also served on the board of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and for a time as its president.
There was also a strategic partnership with Prison Fellowship. Now our students were neither businessmen nor parachurch ministry workers, but prisoners who were allowed out on furlough to be trained in teaching the Bible inside prison. The variety of students however, did not cause a diffusion of purpose, as Ligonier and my father continued to impress on people the biblical truths of the Reformation.
In 1977, the first issue of Tabletalk magazine was issued as a tool to keep our constituents apprised of the events at the study center. Today my father's monthly column, "Right Now Counts Forever," reaches over seventy thousand subscribers in the United States and around the world. My father's ministry, both at Ligonier and around the world, continued to grow, as audiotapes and videotapes went out to students who could not make it to the study center, and as he continued to publish more books.
In 1982, my father's first radio program, "The R.C. Sproul Study Hour," went on the air. Out of that grew verse-by-verse expositions of several books of the Bible that were later published in book form, and which for several years served as the substance of the daily studies in Tabletalk.
At the same time, my father was becoming more and more sought after as a conference speaker. Tape sales continued to grow, and the Ligonier Board of Directors decided that it was no longer sound stewardship to invest our donors' funds in the upkeep of the study center campus. So in 1984 the Ligonier Valley Study Center became Ligonier Ministries and moved to Orlando, Florida. By God's grace, the outreach of Ligonier grew faster than it ever had before.
|In the last fifteen years or so, my father has taught
at several different seminaries, written dozens of books, grown the Renewing
Your Mind radio program to the point that it is now heard on over three
hundred radio stations around the world, and now serves as a senior minister of
preaching at Saint Andrews Chapel. He has continued, like his father before him,
to fight the good fight. He has continued, with single-minded purpose, to teach
people the holiness and sovereignty of our God.|
God has gifted my father with a powerful mix of gifts. He is committed to the Reformed faith. He is passionate without being strident. He has a zeal for teaching the laity. And he is a gifted communicator. Like few scholars before him, my father has the ability to take what can at times seem to be complicated theological issues and make them understandable for the nonprofessional. He is able to simplify, without becoming simplistic. These gifts he has returned to the King, that they might be of services in the building of his kingdom.
His public ministry began to grow with the publication of his first book, The Symbol. This book, first published by Presbyterian and Reformed in 1973, was designed to help laypeople understand the historic faith as it is laid out in the Apostles' Creed. It is on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the release of this book that we are honoring my father for his work and ministry.
The contributors to this book reflect two different elements of my father's ministry. Over the years, he has worked side by side with other great men of the faith. With some he served on the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. With others he has fought battles over Evangelicals and Catholics Together. With still others he has labored to keep the work of Bible translation free from the yeast of "political correctness." Many of these colaborers have been gracious enough to contribute to this work. Many of them have described this opportunity to honor my father as an honor to them. But my father has always been, first and last, a teacher. So other contributors are former students of my father's, each now about the business of teaching others about the doctrines of grace. These are men who began as his students, and, because of his faithful teaching, have come to be colaborers.
|There are, sadly, two important names missing from our
list of contributors--two men who, if they were still with us, would have been
delighted to be listed. James Montgomery Boice was always a friend to my father
and a fellow soldier. Each encouraged the other. As long as they both labored,
neither could cry out, like Elijah, "I alone am left, O Lord." We regret that
his untimely death kept him from these pages. John Gerstner was to my father
first a teacher and finally a colaborer. But throughout this life, Dr. Gerstner
was a hero to my hero. He modeled both the theological precision and the zeal
that have marked my father's work from the beginning. He was a man who feared no
man, but feared God. He was a man whose personal holiness outshone his
theological acumen. Both Dr. Boice and Dr. Gerstner spent their lives teaching
and defending the sovereign grace of God, and now they enjoy the fullest
communion with out common Lord. Both men likewise commune with the souls of just
men made perfect. And both men, from the vantage point of the throne of the
Lamb, would echo the sentiments of our only true Hero, "Well done, thou good and
Our goal in this work is actually two goals that fold into one. We do want to honor my father for his faithful labors over the years. We enjoy a long tradition of works written to honor scholars for their life's work (in fact, my father edited Soli Deo Gloria, a Festschrift in honor of John Gerstner on the occasion of his retirement from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary). The sad truth, however, is that too many of these works become hollow trophies. They languish as unread historical markers. My father, however, has always believed that theology belongs to everyone. He has made it the center of his life's work, like that thundering bull Martin Luther, to teach the laity the fullness of the holiness of God, which finds its expression in the Reformed faith.
We honor my father, then, by creating a book for everyone. What you hold is not a dusty, erudite tome, but a heartfelt celebration of the doctrines that define the Reformed faith and so define my father's ministry. Our hope is that thousands who read this book will not only conclude that my father is a great man, but, more importantly, that he serves a great and sovereign god. Our goal is not that the ranks of those who see my father as a hero will swell, but rather that our vision of our true Hero will swell. Our goal, like Calvin's, is that as we understand the doctrines of grace better, we will worship God better.
|As much, however, as people look to my father as a
hero, they do not and cannot love him as I do. He was first a hero to me because
of his prowess in sports. As I grew older, he became a hero to me because he was
a soldier for the Reformed faith. But now, once again, as I seek to raise up
warriors for the kingdom of God in my own children, he is a hero because he is
my father. His work continues as I seek to raise his grandchildren in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord, despite my own feet of clay. Together, all
we who have been bought by the blood of the Son labor to make manifest the reign
of the Son over all things.|
Though man knows not his time, we do know that our days our few. That is not cause for despair. Instead, it should be a goad for us, that we would give our lives in useful service. And it should be a joy to us who are in Christ Jesus, for we know that we will soon be like him, for we shall see him as he is. When that day comes for my father, I pray that the last words he will hear from his son are the last words he heard from his father, "You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith." And then he will be ushered in to receive a crown of righteousness.