I didn’t personally know R.C. Sproul, but here are some memories of my encounters with his work.
A. In the college library, I saw his book, The Last Days According to Jesus. I wanted to read it, but I did not at that time. I would read it years later. I vaguely knew who he was at that time, perhaps because I saw his books advertised in the Christian Book Distributors catalog. I had gone to elementary, junior high, and high school with someone whose last name was “Sproul,” so that may have been why R.C. Sproul’s name stood out to me.
B. During the summer after I graduated from college, I listened to him a little more. I was listening to James White debates on the Internet, and I found R.C. Sproul’s “Renewing Your Mind” radio program somewhere. The episode that I heard was about how certain Puritans opposed the concept of people agreeing to be damned for the glory of God.
C. I went to Divinity School after college, and I had a job shelving books at the library. I came across a book by R.C. Sproul. He was telling a story about when he was in seminary in the 1960’s. His professor was pretending to be a Mormon, and the students had to come up with an answer to what he was saying. The professor argued that God had a body, and R.C. Sproul retorted that God cannot have a body because John 4:24 affirms that God is spirit. The professor responded that God being spirit does not preclude him from having a body, for people are spirits, yet have bodies. R.C. replied that the passage means that God lacks a body, for its point is that God cannot be confined to a particular sanctuary. The professor then said, “But, Mr. Sproul, that will never do,” then said that God’s body is very big, and that is why God cannot be limited to a single sanctuary.
R.C. gave up, and other students tried to answer, until they gave up. Finally, they asked the professor how to answer the argument that God has a body. The professor appealed to John 4:24. R.C.’s hand shot up, because wasn’t that the answer that he had given earlier? Did not the professor tell him that this answer would never do? The professor said, “But, Mr. Sproul, what sort of answer is ‘That will never do?'” You can read R.C. Sproul’s telling of the story here. I liked that story. R.C. Sproul had long come across to me as learned and professorial, the sort of person who knew how to respond to challenges and questions. But he was telling the story of when he was a humble seminary student.
D. When I lived in New York City, I listened to him a little more often. I remember a sermon that he gave on the Good Samaritan, and he said that a good question we should ask ourselves is, “Who isn’t our neighbor?” His point, of course, was that we should love that person, too. I also heard a lecture from a series that he gave on the “Last Days According to Jesus.” He was arguing that “this generation” in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 meant the generation of Jesus’ day. People point to that to argue that Jesus expected the end to come soon. At the time, I did not get to hear how R.C. Sproul got out of that problem. Later, I would read The Last Days According to Jesus, where he presents a partial preterist (I think that’s what it would be called) perspective.
E. When I lived in Cincinnati, there were nights when I would listen to Christian radio when I was asleep. An episode of R.C. Sproul’s program was in my dreams. I was trying to respond to a professor in the dream, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise! But the professor was making interesting points: about how Lutheran views on predestination differs from Calvinist views, for example. I would later listen to that episode on the Internet when I was awake. I always liked listening to R.C. write on his chalkboard when he was lecturing.
F. I was becoming disenchanted with evangelicalism during my time in Cincinnati, and a Christian friend was trying to win me back to it. I expressed a problem with the idea that Jesus was the only way, and my friend presented a quote by R.C. Sproul that essentially said “Take it up with Jesus: he’s the one who said it!,” albeit with intellectual language. When my friend was responding to another skeptic online, he asked the skeptic if he had read Josh McDowell and R.C. Sproul, as if they would help this skeptic see the light. I liked R.C. Sproul, since he struck me as the sort of person who fairly summarized and evaluated different points-of-view. But I had a slight problem with my friend pointing to him as the end-all, be-all. “All doubts flee! R.C. Sproul is here.”
G. My Dad reconnected with a friend from high school, and she was a Primitive Baptist, a Baptist who believed in double predestination. My Dad did not buy into that point-of-view. She lent my Dad a book by R.C. Sproul, and he did not find it convincing. He thought that Hebrews 6:4 was talking about a Christian who left the faith, not a non-Christian struggling with a relationship with God (or something to that effect). R.C. Sproul, of course, believes that a Christian cannot leave the faith and lose his or her salvation.
H. When I lived in upstate New York, I was scheduled to give a sermon at my church about Martin Luther. I read Sproul’s Faith Alone as part of my preparation for that. I got the book years before because someone on Christian Mingle, out of the clear blue sky, recommended it to me. Here was my write-up about it.
I. I got a bunch of free R.C. Sproul booklets from Ligonier Ministries when they were being offered.
J. Jason Engwer at Triablogue linked to atheist Bible scholar Robert M. Price’s tribute to R.C. Sproul. I haven’t listened to Price’s “Bible Geek” show in a while, part of the reason being that I have not been entirely comfortable with the format of his new website. (Maybe it’s better now.) But I appreciated Price’s thoughtful praise for Sproul’s The Psychology of Atheism. Price said that Sproul weaves together Freud and Rudolf Otto and depicts atheism as a repressed mysterium tremendum, as one finds the presence of God too traumatic. Here is a series by Sproul about this topic online.