It is Hope Enough: Robert Charles Sproul (1939–2017)
With the news of R. C. Sproul’s death, many in evangelicalism are paying tribute to him today. I have profited immensely from Dr. Sproul’s teaching over the years, so I wanted to offer my own expression of thanks to God for the life and ministry of R. C. Sproul. He was a gift to the church of Jesus Christ.
I believe my first introduction to R. C. Sproul was through his video series titled Knowing Scripture. I was in Junior High at the time, and my home church was watching Dr. Sproul during our Wednesday night Bible studies. His teaching was dynamic; his personality was friendly, his presentations were clear and easy to understand.
A few years later, when I was a senior in high school, my flexible schedule allowed me to come home for lunch a few days a week. My mom discovered that R. C. Sproul was on one of the TV channels during my lunch break so we would watch and listen to his teaching together. I absolutely loved those lunchtime meals around the TV watching Dr. Sproul. I am sure most High School students watch great preaching with their mom during their free time! But I was captivated by his clear and compelling teaching every time I heard Dr. Sproul speak.
I spent my final year of college attending Biola University in Southern California. It was during this year that I started my theological library. Two of the first books I purchased were R. C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God and Knowing Scripture. I still remember spending my work breaks as a substitute teacher in Southern California sneaking away to read Dr. Sproul’s books. While in California, I learned that Dr. Sproul was coming to town to do a conference with Dr. Ligon Duncan on the atonement of Christ. I registered and attended the event, eager to see Dr. Sproul in person. The conference opened the first night with a Question and Answer with Dr. Sproul. I was mesmerized as he answered every question with a depth of insight that I had never seen before. At one point during the conference, R. C. Sproul and Ligon Duncan set up at a table to do a book signing. I quickly purchased Sproul’s book The Holiness of God so that I could have Dr. Sproul sign my copy. When it was my turn to meet him, I gave him my book and nearly froze. I was standing face to face with the man I had watched and admired for so many years. I was terrified. I wanted to talk to him but found myself almost entirely speechless. I finally mumbled something like, “My family and I have really profited from your ministry over the years, Dr. Sproul.” But I said it in what was probably barely a whisper, so nervous was I, that he didn’t hear a word I said. He asked me my name, signed my book, and I moved on and spent most of my time talking to Ligon Duncan. I might be the only person that ever thanked Dr. Sproul to his face unbeknownst to him!
After Biola, I decided to go to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. On the first day of my preaching class, Dr. Russell Moore asked each student in the room to answer two questions: 1) Who has been the most influential preacher in your life? And 2) What is the most impactful sermon you have ever heard? The second question can be particularly difficult for someone who has listened to a lifetime of preaching. But in that moment I honed in on one message that had gripped every fiber of my being from start to finish. The name of the sermon was “The Curse Motif of the Atonement,” delivered by R. C. Sproul at the Together for the Gospel Conference in 2008. I was at this conference when Sproul, unable to stand for his lengthy message, took his seat on a stool behind the pulpit and proceeded to unleash one of the weightiest, soul-stirring, most beautifully terrifying explanations of the cross of Christ I have ever heard. I don’t think I moved a muscle for the 58 minutes he spoke. He walked us through the pages of Scripture expounding on the holiness of God, the sinfulness of sin, and the gravity of bearing the curse of God. I felt as though I had experienced something of hell’s heat and heaven’s glory in that hour.
When the sermon was over, I came to learn that Dr. Sproul preached this message from a single note card. As someone who takes a 10-page manuscript to the pulpit every Sunday, even if just as a security blanket, I still marvel at Dr. Sproul’s breadth of biblical knowledge, theological insight, and razor-sharp preaching precision.
Dr. Sproul was a theological giant, a modern-day reformer, a prolific writer, and a man of refreshingly strong conviction and courage. If I had the opportunity to meet him again (in this life), I would have said with a much louder voice, “Thank you, Dr. Sproul, for your ministry. Thank you for being unashamed of the scriptural truth of God’s absolute sovereignty. Thank you for standing on the shoulders of the reformers and introducing me to their heritage. Thank you for always preaching and teaching with such enthusiasm, passion, and clarity. Thank you for your years of faithful ministry. Your teaching has deepened my love for the Bible and the God of the Bible. You have had a profound impact on my family and me over the years.”
Dr. Sproul ended his sermon on the curse motif of the atonement with these words, exhorting current pastors and future preachers like myself. I will never forget them.
“Every person in this room and every person outside, in this hotel and on the street and across the world, who has not been covered by the righteousness of Christ, right this minute draws every breath under the curse of God. If you believe that, you will stop adding to the gospel and start preaching it with clarity and with boldness because, dear friends, it is the only hope we have. And it is hope enough.”