A Good Overview of R.C. Sproul’s Theological Passions
By David P. Craig
This is the third biographical book I’ve read on one of my theological heroes: R.C. Sproul. The other two being by his son, Growing Up (with) R.C.: Truths I have learned about Grace, Redemption, and the Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul jr.; and R.C. Sproul: A Life by Stephen J. Nichols. R.C. is arguably (in my opinion, most definitely) the greatest and most influential evangelical theologian of the closing of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first century. I am hopeful that more biographies will be forthcoming – that especially address some topics I will delineate below.
I like, the author, have been following R.C.’s teachings and have read all of his books, been to three Ligonier conferences, and have been heavily influenced by Dr. Sproul in my own life and ministry as a Senior Pastor. Many people have had their foot in the door to R.C.’s influence via reading his classic book the Holiness of God or through the Video series by the same title. In my opinion this book was the most important theological book written in the twentieth century, and will continue to be read until the return of Jesus Christ.
What Pickowicz does in this brief biography is really highlight the key points of Sproul’s life: his childhood in Pittsburgh; his conversion to Christ in college; his scholarly pursuits as a philosopher and theologian; and then hones in on his key ministries (Ligonier Study Center, Ligonier Ministries, and Senior Pastor of Saint Andrews Church) and worldwide theological influence through his speaking and writing.
The most interesting insight to me was how the controversies Sproul was involved with were reflections of the same controversies in the reformation during the 1500’s. As a template for what Pickowicz writes in the book early on he writes, “Once I began research for this book, it occurred to me that R.C.’s five decades of ministry loosely reflected the five solas of the Reformation. In the early 1970s R.C. led the Evangelical charge for the inerrancy and authority of the Bible (sola Scriptura). In the 1980s he labored for the rediscovery of the holiness and sovereignty of God, with his contribution Chosen by God firmly articulating the heart of sola gratia. In the 1990s he was quite literally contending for sola fide, as he was forced to stand against his own friends in opposing the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement. The fourth decade of his public ministry brought him into pastoral ministry—the shepherding of Christ’s church. For years he had defended the Protestant view of salvation against the errors of Roman Catholicism, which propagates salvation through celebrating Mass; R.C. was emphatic that the sole source of our salvation and central focus of church worship was Christ alone (solus Christus). Finally, in the last decade of R.C.’ s life, Ligonier Ministries broadened their worldwide reach as R.C. began to explore other expressions of ministry such as founding a Bible college, releasing two albums of original hymns, publishing children’s books, and more—his attempt to do all things for the glory of God—soli Deo gloria.”
The author does a good job of summarizing the theological emphasis of Sproul’s teaching and writing. He emphasizes the sola’s and their importance for Sproul, and for evangelicalism in the twenty-first century. Thus far the works listed above by Nichols, Sproul jr., and the current offering have a lot of material that can be gleaned through Sproul’s writings, videos, sermons, and lectures.
I hope someone who was close to him (maybe Vesta, his wife, or Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, or Burk Parsons, hint, hint) will write a more personal biography that will examine some of these issues: (1) How did he spend his time? Sproul was prolific (the author writes that Sproul estimated he lectured, taught, and gave close to 30,000 speeches/sermons). I’d like to know how he did his lecture, sermon, and video preparation. There is some insight into this, but I’d like to see more. So far, not one has really talked about “how” he did what he did. Everyone has talked about the content, but how did he put it together. (2) How about his prayer life? When did he pray? Did he have any methods of prayer? (3) He loved sports – the Steelers and Pirates; and was at one time a scratch golfer. I’d like to know how he spent his free time. Did he take days off? I know he didn’t like to fly, but how about vacations and how did he integrate work with free time? (4) So far the three biographies above make R.C. sound super human and almost sinless. Not that I want “dirt.” But I’m glad that the Bible includes weaknesses as well as strengths of all of the saints. I’d like to know more about his struggles and how God helped him through those struggles. (5) He was an accomplished pianist and enjoyed the arts – I’d like to hear more about his side interests and how this influenced his love for God and giving glory to God in all things – including golf and playing the piano. (6) How did he balance life and work with family? He seems to be a wonderful husband, father, and grand father, but how did he do it? How did he make time for his family in the midst of so many demands? I could go on and on.
I hope and pray that someone will be able to write a respectful and yet more intimate biography of Sproul. Maybe we will never get that. But I hope we will. Like many who love R.C. as a theological mentor I hope that someone will “take up and write” what we don’t know and can’t find from his own works. I long for a biography that gets into the soul of Sproul. Since R.C. Sproul never wrote an autobiography, maybe we will have to wait until heaven to ask him ourselves.
I am grateful for the influence of Sproul, and for those like Pickowicz who have taken the time to write about him and his theology. May many more biographies be forthcoming so that we can learn from a man who had a passion for God, truth, the gospel, Jesus, and His Word – for His glory. Thanks to the author for a job well done – R.C. would be pleased that His Lord and Savior was honored, the gospel was proclaimed, and God received glory. I especially recommend this book for those that aren’t as familiar with R.C., as a good introduction to his life, teaching, and worldwide influence for the glory of God.