The greatest command, said Jesus, is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Sometimes missing today among many professing Christians is the emphasis on the mind.
A great evangelical theologian died December 14, 2017, R. C. Sproul (rhymes with role), the founder of Ligonier Ministries. And I think he exemplifies the notion of loving God with our mind, as well as our other faculties. Even his radio program was called “Renewing Your Mind with R. C. Sproul.”
Sometimes one gets the impression that the more religious you are, the less likely you are to be educated. But Dr. Rodney Stark of Baylor University factually disproves that myth.
In his book, America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists (2012), Stark notes, “Angry atheists frequently claim that religious folks tend to be uneducated and are inclined to stay that way—putting little value on book learnin’. This fantasy is probably the most outrageous of all regarding people of faith. Americans who never attend church are significantly less likely to have finished high school than are those who attend weekly.” (p. 72)
Stark adds, “Religious students have a superior level of academic achievement, however it is measured….Evangelical Protestants were second only to Jews in being college-educated, significantly exceeding all other religious groups as well as the nonreligious….the more often students attended church, the more likely they were to enroll in college….The idea that churchgoers tend to be less educated is false.” (pp. 134, 139, 140, 141)
The great thing about R. C. Sproul is that, while he was an intellectual and taught the meat of God’s Word, he had the ability to communicate deep truths in an understandable way.
I interviewed Sproul for Christian television a few times. In one of those interviews he noted, “As the church embraces more and more secular ideas, and as preachers in their zeal to bring people into the church tell them that God loves them unconditionally, the unbeliever hears the preacher say, ‘I don’t need to repent. I don’t really need Jesus. God loves me just as I am, unconditionally.’ And it’s not the Kingdom of God; it’s more like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
For this column, I reached out to some Christian leaders that knew him or were influenced by his teaching for a statement on Dr. Sproul and how he encouraged Christians to think.
Dr. Sam Lamerson, president of Knox Theological Seminary, where he taught some occasional classes, wrote: “Dr. R.C. Sproul was a rare mix of a great communicator and a good scholar….I became an academic, in part, because of the witness of Dr. Sproul.”*
Dr. Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, sent me this eulogy: “Dr. Sproul was granted that rare combination of sincere devotion with penetrating intellectual power. This harmony of gifts made his preaching, writing and ministry magnetic to many within and without Reformed Christianity.”**
Author Dr. George Grant writes, “He was brilliant…Over the 35 years that I knew him, that first impression has only been reinforced a hundredfold. Without ever using notes, he could wax eloquent on everything from Greek morphology to Modernist philosophy, from the wonders of the Magisterial Reformers to the feats of the Pittsburg Steelers.”***
Lee Webb, vice president of broadcasting for Ligonier Ministries and host of “Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul,” wrote: “[His teaching] brought me great comfort and encouragement to know that Christianity could stand intellectual scrutiny. …Dr. Sproul could lay claim to the theological ‘ivory tower,’ but his great passion was to bring that rich theology down to people like me to understand and embrace it.”****
Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, emailed me, “R. C. Sproul was a Christian apologist and theologian to the layman and laywoman in the pew and on Main Street. He had a great burden to equip the church to defend the faith in the public marketplace… to equip the laity to do so as well was quite evident to all those with whom he came into contact.”*****
Del Tackett, creator and teacher of the Truth Project, pointed me to his blog, where he had written, “[Dr. Sproul] was instrumental in developing in me the understanding that it was all about God.”
By contacting his office, I found out that John MacArthur had likewise already issued a statement, including this sentence: “One of R. C.’s most admirable characteristics was his refusal to shy away from difficult doctrines or shape his teaching to suit whatever might be popular or politically correct at any given moment.”
Thankfully, R. C. Sproul’s legacy endures through his books, taped lectures, and radio broadcasts. His life work reminds us to love God with our all our mind.
——Note: The full text of the emails (and dates) received:
*Dr. Sam Lamerson (12/15/17): “Dr. R.C. Sproul was a rare mix of a great communicator and a good scholar. I came to know of him through his cassette tapes and he challenged me to think more carefully and biblically. I became an academic, in part, because of the witness of Dr. Sproul. The Kingdom of God is richer today because of the way God used Dr. Sproul. I am thankful to have been his student, thankful for what he did for Knox , and thankful to our Lord who uses us for His glory. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “We sorrow, but not as others who have no hope.”
**Dr. Peter Lillback (12/15/17): “Dr. Sproul was granted that rare combination of sincere devotion with penetrating intellectual power. This harmony of gifts made his preaching, writing and ministry magnetic to many within and without Reformed Christianity. We will miss him greatly. However, his legacy continues not just in his publications but in the lives and institutions that were impacted by his life devoted to the glory of Christ.”
***Dr. George Grant (12/15/17): “Grace, peace, and joy. I met R.C. Sproul during the first week of March 1982 in San Diego at the International Council on Inerrancy’s Congress on the Bible. I was introduced to him by Franky Schaeffer and immediately, I was struck by Dr. Sproul’s boundless energy, enthusiasm, and sense of humor. He was brilliant; that much was obvious—like so many of the other men who spoke at that conference: Francis Schaeffer, James Boice, John Frame, Jim Kennedy, John MacArthur, Roger Nicole, and Ed Clowney. But his garrulous laughter, his rapier wit, and his attentiveness in conversation adorned his genius with peculiar grace. Over the 35 years that I knew him, that first impression has only been reinforced a hundredfold. Without ever using notes, he could wax eloquent on everything from Greek morphology to Modernist philosophy, from the wonders of the Magisterial Reformers to the feats of the Pittsburg Steelers. And yet, he always somehow managed to communicate even the most complex ideas with utmost clarity and simplicity. He was, by any measure, a marvel. Over the years, I read his books, listened to his lectures, subscribed to his podcasts, attended his conferences, read his Table Talk, and studied his methodology. I was greatly privileged to speak at his conferences, come to know his family, and enjoy his hospitality. He was a beloved and kind mentor. He was and is my hero.”
****Lee Webb (12/15/17): “When I first encountered Dr. Sproul’s teaching way back in 1990, I think the thing that made the biggest impression on me was his intellect. It brought me great comfort and encouragement to know that Christianity could stand intellectual scrutiny. And he defended the truths of Scripture in such a robust, yet down-to-earth fashion. Dr. Sproul could lay claim to the theological ‘ivory tower,’ but his great passion was to bring that rich theology down to people like me to understand and embrace it. I will forever be indebted to him for allowing me the great privilege of sharing the Renewing Your Mind studio with him.”
*****Dr. Richard Land (12/17/17): “R. C. Sproul was a Christian apologist and theologian to the layman and laywoman in the pew and on Main Street. He had a great burden to equip the church to defend the faith in the public marketplace. His burden to defend the veracity of God’s Word and the great doctrines of the Christian faith and to equip the laity to do so as well was quit evident to all those with whom he came into contact. God used him greatly and we will miss him.”