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Monday, December 18, 2017

At the Passing of a Theologian

R.C. Sproul died last week, and I will miss him. No, he wasn't my friend. I talked to him once or twice, but only for a moment and he wouldn't have remembered me. But he changed my life, and I'll always be grateful to God for that.

I first "met" Dr. Sproul in some audio tapes my mom had lent me. They were his signature series, The Holiness of God. He expounded on Isaiah 6, unfolding the text in a way I had never experienced it before. He brought home with clarity and gravity the "holy, holy, holy"-ness of God, the sin condition of Man, and God's grace and mercy at the collision of the two. He wasn't bombastic, but he also wasn't shy. "Here's what it says and we're taking it as it is." This holiness of God was beyond any I'd ever heard before. God isn't merely removed from sin; He is "other", and "other" to an extreme. My view of God was radically changed from that series.

From there I started listening more. I got his tapes. I read his books. I went to his conferences (where I heard many more excellent speakers). He was always the same. He taught Scripture as if it was relevant, accurate, understandable, and authoritative. He didn't twist words or concepts, but merely pointed them out and let them stand on their own. Dr. Sproul gave seminary-level teaching (he had a famous tendency to include some Latin phrase in most of what he taught) in a man-on-the-street way. He was not afraid to take up tough subjects. He contended with Evolution with His argument and book titled, Not a Chance. The universe cannot be created by "chance", he had argued, because chance is not a thing. "Say that again," he would continue. "'Not a thing.' Again. 'Not thing.' Again. 'No Thing.' Chance is nothing." He grappled with those who wished to reduce Scripture's sufficiency and authority in International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. He warned well-known Christians against departing from biblical salvation in their drive to merge Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). But his manner was as significant as his content. R.C. was enthusiastic about God. He was excited about His Word. R.C. was always "up" when I heard him speak, whether it was a teaching session or a Q&A. I don't remember him being harsh or unkind even once. He had the capacity to disagree with friends and opponents without being mean or spiteful or inflammatory, something I find extremely rare today even among Christians I admire.

From R.C. I learned a host of things. I learned church history and I learned logic. I learned soteriology and other fancy theological concepts. I learned of the sufficiency of Scripture and, of highest importance, the Sovereignty (with a capital "S") of God. I learned a lot. I didn't agree with him on all points -- who agrees with anyone on all points? -- but I admired and respected the man and my life has been permanently marked and enriched by his teaching and his life.

One of those Latin phrases I learned from Sproul was Soli Deo Gloria -- to God alone be the glory. And we pronounce that now at his passing. I thank God for Dr. Sproul. He is now in the presence of the Holy God he so loved. He is now the perfect theologian. He is now hearing those seraphim he taught about for so long, crying "Holy, holy, holy!" We have lost a great teacher. He has gained that final closer walk with God.

For a helpful compilation of responses from the likes of John Piper and John MacArthur to Dr. Sproul's death, you can visit Tim Challies' site with an All-R.C. Sproul Edition of his "A La Carte". Lots of good stuff there. (It's somewhat amazing, in reviewing what others have said, to see the number of names -- men like Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, John Piper, and Stephen Nichols -- who all say that this man, particularly in his teaching on the Holiness of God, was the biggest influence on their lives.)

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