Dr. Robert Charles Sproul has been many things over his accomplished lifetime – an acclaimed Bible teacher, theologian, author, radio speaker, jokester, golfer, even artist and musician. As one close associate said, he might best be described as “omni-competent.”

Better known as “R.C.” to his family, friends, students, readers of his books, and hearers of his lectures, Sproul forged a reputation as a staunch, determined defender of the Scriptures, becoming a central combatant in the so-called “battle for the Bible” during the 1980s and 90s. He also was noted for being unusually skilled in distilling theological truths and principles into everyday language.

Born on February 13, 1939, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sproul passed away on December 14 at the age of 78, going home to the Lord whose Word he relentlessly and fearlessly defended.

As a member of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), he helped to draft and later signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978. He then wrote a reader-friendly commentary on that document, initially called “Explaining Inerrancy” and later republished under the title, “Can I Trust the Bible?” 

Full of Depth and Life

But just inside Sproul’s sometimes stern, impassioned exterior existed a man who thoroughly enjoyed life and relished a good joke. He balanced his devotion to Jesus Christ with a number of hobbies, including reading, golf, sketching, painting, music (he played piano and violin), and hunting. He typified the view that although the mission of Christians is a serious one with eternal consequences, believers dare not take themselves too seriously.

More than one friend commented that R.C. would frequently laugh uproariously. Chris Larson, president of Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, observed, “He was always full of life, always finding a way to tell a good joke. He was intimidating at first glance. R.C. was omni-competent, but the human side of him was what made it all work.”

Dr. Phil Ryken, president of Wheaton College and formerly senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia where Sproul attended and taught, agreed. “R.C. exuded joviality, a very warm quality for a Christian believer. He was the same person privately as he was publicly. I had great respect for his analytical abilities, and his tremendous gift for understanding complex truths and communicating them to a broad audience, helping the ordinary Christian to understand profound theology.”

Another friend and avid fan of Sproul is Dr. Harry L. Reeder III, pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian in Birmingham, Alabama. “I’ve known R.C. since 1986. He was one of my professors while I was doing doctoral work at Reformed Theological Seminary. Our relationship grew over the years, and I often took advantage of calling him for insights on theology and practical aspects of ministry, especially apologetics.” Reeder was well-acquainted with Sproul’s enthusiasm for sports, especially golf and baseball. “He was basically a scratch golfer, maintaining a 2 handicap, and when we played together, R.C. was constantly trying to keep me from a reverse pivot on my swing. When it came to baseball, we would often try to stump each other on trivia, especially about the Pittsburgh Pirates, since we were both from that area.”

But it was in grasping the depths of the Scriptures that Sproul excelled the most, according to Reeder. “I marveled at his ability to take profound truth and communicate it with simplicity, being faithful to the Word of God not only in the text but also the context. He was able to see God’s Word as a whole, and yet understand systematic theology and the interdependency of all of its parts.”

Standing for Truth

Ordained as a teaching elder in the PCA, perhaps Sproul’s greatest contribution to the denomination, Reeder said, was “challenging the PCA to be missional without theological compromise, to be theologically accurate and consistent, and to still maintain an evangelical spirit and philosophy of ministry.” He said Sproul was one of several mentors he’s benefited from over his life, noting R.C. was not only accessible but also extremely wise. “I never had a conversation with him that I did not go away with greater insight, whether into God’s Word or how to minister that Word to the church and the world.”

For all his good-naturedness, Sproul proved uncompromising on matters he regarded as non-negotiable. There was a time in the late 1990s when he and several other well-known evangelical leaders had a parting of ways over how to articulate a theological truth while engaged in an ecumenical initiative called Catholics and Evangelicals Together (CET). A lengthy statement of unity was drafted by CET and signed by a number of evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders, but Sproul didn’t approve it, finding some its wording untenable.

In an attempt to heal a widening breach, a meeting was called. A key part of the discussion was Sproul’s insistence that it was important to say “sola fide is essential to the Gospel,” while others would respond only it was “central.” Sproul considered the distinction non-negotiable. He had been good friends with a number of these men, but the inability to reach an accord created a rift that resulted in the termination of Sproul’s relationship with several ministries. This episode, according to Larson, crystallized Sproul’s willingness to stand for truth no matter what it cost him.

One friendship he never lost, however, was with Dr. James Montgomery Boice, longtime pastor at Tenth Presbyterian who died in 2000. Boice’s widow, Linda, said about her husband and Sproul, “as different as their personalities were, for several decades they fought shoulder to shoulder” as they defended the integrity of the Scriptures and other theological issues. She said they had met in the late ‘60s at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and hit it off immediately. They collaborated initially with ICBI (Boice was chairman, Sproul was president) at a time when the view of the inerrancy of Scripture was getting wobbly in so-called evangelical circles. They published statements about the affirmations and denials of inerrancy, and together had a strong influence in the evangelical world. “R.C. wasn’t a pastor,” said Boice, “but excelled at public speaking and preaching, which established a strong bond between him and James.”

Mrs. Boice said the two seemed an “odd couple” in their own right, with Dr. Boice being very precise in his natty attire, organized style, and being more reserved in personality, while Sproul was “much more casual and far more extroverted. Yet they played off each other. R.C. brought out the humor in Jim, and Jim would give it right back. On everything important (biblically and theologically) they really agreed.” In an interview conducted in 2010, Sproul described his relationship with Dr. Boice, acknowledging the odd couple comparison. “Jim was an impeccable dresser; not only that, he was punctilious. We had this thing that he was Felix and I was Oscar (from the film and TV show “The Odd Couple”). I always gave him the Oscar routine. Any time he’d do something particularly punctilious, I would go with the opposite, just to tweak him a little.”

But in dealing with the Scriptures, Sproul said he and Boice complemented each other extremely well. “We did a conference in Maryland where they wanted both of us to speak on the five points of Calvinism. Jim would give his message, and it would be so powerful that it would get me fired up, and then I’d give my message. And it would get him more fired up. We fired each other up so much I felt sorry for the people at the conference.

“We just worked so well together, fit so well together. When he died, it was a huge loss to me. When you’re involved in teaching on the national arena, you’re under the gun all the time. He was my favorite guy to have in my foxhole.”

A Legacy of Truth

Sproul’s education prepared him well for his role as teacher, speaker, and author. He held degrees from Westminster College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

He was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, which was started as the Ligonier Valley Study Center in western Pennsylvania in 1971, a gathering place for Christians to engage in extended periods of study. In 1984 it was relocated to Orlando, Florida, and became one of the world’s leading Christian discipleship organizations.

A prolific author and editor of more than 100 books, Sproul’s writings included “The Holiness of God,” “If There Is a God, Why Are There Atheists?”, “One Holy Passion,” “Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow,” “What is Reformed Theology?”, the “St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary Series,” children’s books, and was general editor of the Reformation Study Bible. He was executive editor of Tabletalk magazine, was featured on the daily radio program “Renewing Your Mind” (broadcast on more than 300 stations around the world), and had thousands of audio and video messages translated into dozens of languages worldwide.

His teaching career included tenures at Gordon College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary (in both Orlando and Jackson, Mississippi), and Knox Theological Seminary. He was founder and chairman of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies; founder, chancellor, and first president of Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida; and director of Serve International. For a time he served as co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida.

One particular quote captured his theological perspective: “Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him … . To love a holy God requires grace, grace strong enough to pierce our hardened hearts and awaken our moribund souls.”

Memorial services will be held at St. Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida, on December 20 at 2 pm. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Vesta; their two children, Sherrie Dorotiak and Robert Craig Sproul; 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

23 Responses to R.C. Sproul: 1939 – 2017

  1. He was my teacher.
    Soli Deo Gloria.

  2. I only got to spend an afternoon with R. C. when he lectured and taught in Tallahassee in 1985 as his church host. What a contributor to the Faith!

  3. Rev. Larry Wilkes says:

    R. C. has run his course and has finished his race. Well done, good and faithful servant!

  4. Murat Tanyel says:

    I heard him many times at PCRT and learned from his many books. I will miss his wit. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!

  5. Maura McLaughlin says:

    I met him once nearly five years ago while on vacation in Flordia. I loved reading his articles in Tabletalk magazine.

  6. Mark Landsbaum says:

    R.C. led me to Christ.

    Forever grateful.

  7. David A. Williams says:

    I was introduced to R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries more than 40 years ago at Mclean Presbyterian Church, Mclean, Va. Words can not express the deep gratitude that I had for him in his influencing my Christian walk.. Thank you dear brother in Christ.

  8. Lewis Codington says:

    What a wonderful servant of God! I still remember him coming to Covenant College over 40 years ago.

  9. Ted Aven says:

    I met R.C. at the first men’s rally at First Presbyterian Church Jackson, Ms.. Have benefited from his teaching and preaching since. Will miss his presence at Ligonier.

  10. Brent McMahan says:

    I discovered RC in 1979. His teaching shaped my faith. What a wonderful teacher…

  11. Jim Wilkins says:

    I greatly benefited from RC’s inimitable teaching content and style over the past 35 years of listening and reading his works. And I greatly appreciated this biography through which I learned more of RC the man. But I doubt very much RC would agree with his biograhy’s author that his hobbies “balanced” his devotion to Christ. I understand the author’s kind intent, but I can hear RC’s raspy and animated voice in my mind incredulously and rhetorically asking, “Balanced??!!? Balanced??!! Under exactly what circumstances should a Christian want to ‘balance’ his devotion to his Lord and Saviour??!!”

  12. William T. iverwon says:

    R. C. loved baseball and especially as a short stop or second baseman he covered the infield and outfield and infield athletically, existentially, and theologically,, his legacy including the fiery R.C. Jr. is enormous and will not soon fade. I don’t think Van Til or Calvin were not much fun –conviviality was not in their purview.

    I took rainbows of students l to Ligonier, R.C. always had high grades of the Aristotelian assessment schemata –his logos and pathos was backed up by a totally committed Christian ethos –impudent impiety of sorts with earthy holiness. R. C Jr. blessed the Iverson Center enjoying “Café Cubano con pasteles with four culture. “There is nothing like a good cup of coffee.” Kierkegaard. B…

  13. Oh my, when i heard R C was now in heaven I got the chills. This man impacted my life, greatly, from his teaching! My husband attended Ligonier in Pa. as a new Pastor. Also with John Gerstner. He had a great influence in shaping our reformed faith, which i will always be appreciative of. We lived in West Virginia at the time, started a church in a house! I received tabletalk for many, many years in the 80″s and 90″s. Actually once again i am receiving table talk. I am so pleased he now sits in heaven in the presence of Our Savior. May God bless and Comfort his family. RC was a very special man.

  14. B. A. Conrad, Chadds Ford, PA says:

    He never knew me, but I heard him speak at “10th” many times. His voice will continue to bless my life as I re-listen to his messages and read his books. The life of believers world wide is enriched because of his work, reaching to the depths of where we live and think. I am only a few months older than R.C., so I shall be meeting him soon. How exciting to contemplate entering heaven and meeting the teachers who have so wonderfully blessed the church.

  15. David Ehle says:

    I once heard RC speak at a conference. He had had a dream the night before he spoke, that Jesus had come back, and that he and Vesta were canvassing the neighborhood with the great news. He spoke as if it had really happened, and his excitement was infectious. I’ll never forget it. So pleased that he now sees the Lord in all His glory.

    I did not know RC personally, but I knew him well through lectures and sermons, and I loved him both as a teacher/preacher and as an authentic Christian man. The death of famous believers in our day has never affected me emotionally, but I am fighting back tears in RC’s passing to glory. I’m not sure he has an equal in our day. He will be missed.

  16. If it were not for R.C. Sproul, I would have given up on the church in the U.S. I thought, “No Christian leaders are left who teach the Gospel taught by Jesus and Paul rather than the “what’s in it for me” gospel, no repentance required, and who flatter sinners instead of telling them the truth.

    Through Dr. Sproul, I was introduced to other Christian leaders who had not abandoned historical Christian orthodoxy.

    Thank you, LORD, for your servant – what a godly impact he has had on so many. He will be terribly missed!

    Hadley Robinson

  17. Nathan R. Andrews says:

    R.C. Sproul’s love for Christ and the Gospel were so evident in his teaching and that wonderful voice! He was a teacher and spiritual grandfather to me. Soli Deo Gloria!

  18. Loren V. Watson says:

    As the story goes, a lady in the audience mentioned northern Mississippi. Ma’am RC said, there is no northern Mississippi.

  19. Evelyn Marto says:

    What a blessing he was to a little unknown church in Pitcairn close to 50 years ago. He introduced us to deep thinking in our Christian walk.

  20. Kathy Cassis says:

    I was privileged to take a semester of systematic theology from him at Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson in 1989. I sat in the front row…because I could. What a delight to hear the deepest theology explained in such a winsome way. I will never forget his graciousness and joy when I asked him for a few days postponement to take my final exam in order to attend the birth of my grandchild!

  21. Alana Bobich says:

    Many comments , are of R.C. in his latter years; I’ll comment on how my and his absolutely sovereign LORD ordained our paths to first cross, before his first stroke, at a two-week module held at a seminary…whereat, believe it or not, he lectured, not on one of his books, but on “Justification by an Imputed Righteousness” by John Bunyan. His emphasis was on “Behold, I am undone”. Attendees came from all over the region; from janitors to attorneys and ministers. His ever humble-but-challenging answer to every question, continued as the Conferences grew and even as his health was declining, increased! As we students of his were weeping, God was healing R.C. and used him mightily; I now pray Romans 8:28, 2Cor.1:22-5:5 for Vesta…

  22. Sam Mateer says:

    What an incredible man. I spent four or five years in the early years of my pastorate attending an underground group meeting monthly in Monroeville, PA where RC and John Gerstner would debate theological issues facing the day in our presbyteries. I would go home with a headache just trying to keep up with them. Years later at a mission conference at Coral Ridge in Ft. Lauderdale I heard him shout from across the room, “Sammy, how are you?” What a personable, deep friend.