Dr. Robert Charles Sproul (1939—2017) was an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, author, apologist, and Bible teacher.
R.C. Sproul was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended Westminster College near Pittsburgh on a football scholarship. Although the school was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), he was not a believer when he enrolled. However, a fellow football player shared the gospel with him, and R.C. came to faith his freshman year. In 1960, a year before graduation, he married Vesta Voorhis, his childhood sweetheart. (At the time of his death, they had been married 57 years.)
After graduation, Sproul attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where he was mentored by Dr. John Gerstner, who was a formative influence in his life. While in seminary, Sproul also pastored a Presbyterian church in Lyndora, Pennsylvania. After graduation, he pursued doctoral studies (and taught himself Dutch) at the Free University of Amsterdam under Dr. G.C. Berkhouwer.
Upon returning to the United States in 1965, Sproul was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA), although he would later transfer his ministerial credentials to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). (The UPCUSA had become known for its “progressive” policies such as the ordination of women and ecumenism.) Instead of pastoring, Sproul taught briefly at three different schools: Westminster College, Gordon College, and Conwell Theological Seminary. While at Conwell, he taught Sunday school at Oreland Presbyterian Church just outside of Philadelphia. Then he pastored for two years at College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In 1971, R.C. Sproul founded the Ligonier Valley Study Center in western Pennsylvania as a place where Christians could immerse themselves in biblical, theological, and philosophical study. This ministry has grown to be the largest Reformed educational and discipleship ministry in the world. The ministry moved to a suburb of Orlando in 1984 and was renamed Ligonier Ministries. Under the auspices of Ligonier, Sproul published a daily devotional, Tabletalk; launched a radio teaching ministry, Renewing Your Mind; held annual conferences; and published books, audio, and video resources. R.C. Sproul’s first book was published in 1973, but he started to become more widely known through this 1985 book The Holiness of God, which is considered by many to be a modern Christian classic.
With increasing exposure, Dr. Sproul became highly sought after as a speaker and visiting professor. He had the ability to make difficult theological concepts understandable to the average Christian. His theological approach was thoroughly Calvinistic, and the holiness and sovereignty of God was a dominant, recurrent theme in his teaching. After Sproul’s death, his teaching was summed up on the Ligonier website as “God is holy, and we are not. In between is the God-man Jesus Christ and His perfect work of obedience and His atoning death on the cross.”
R.C. Sproul was a staunch defender of biblical inerrancy and helped draft the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He was a critic of Roman Catholic theology and objected to the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which downplayed the key differences, such as justification by faith alone, between evangelicals and Catholics.
Dr. Sproul served on the boards of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, Evangelism Explosion, and Prison Fellowship. In 1980, Sproul accepted a position as professor of theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He traveled there for a few months each year and taught a full load. When RTS opened an Orlando campus, he served as the Senior Chair of Systematic Theology from 1987 to 1995. Sproul then served as Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, from 1995 to 2004. In 1997, he founded St. Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida (a suburb of Orlando), and in 2011 founded Reformation Bible College, also in Sanford.
R.C. Sproul had struggled for years with COPD, and it was for that, in combination with the flu, that he was admitted to the hospital on December 2, 2017. He died 12 days later at the age of 78.
In all, R.C. Sproul wrote more than 100 books as well as many articles for evangelical publications. Through his teaching ministry, he produced numerous audio and video lectures on subjects such as the history of philosophy, theology, Bible study, apologetics, intelligent design, and Christian living.
R.C. Sproul, contrary to the “Presbyterian stereotype,” was neither grim nor somber. He was a passionate and enthusiastic teacher and follower of Christ. He loved to laugh and tell jokes, and he was an avid sports fan. He also wrote several children’s books, wrote over twenty hymns, and enjoyed painting.
Upon the death of R.C. Sproul, long-time friend John MacArthur tweeted, “Today my friend, co-defender of the truth and theological giant is standing in the presence of our Lord whom he loved and served faithfully. R.C. Sproul has stood with me for decades in every major theological controversy and I will dearly miss him. There is no one like him.”
R.C. Sproul was survived by his wife, two children, eleven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. At the time of his death, Ligonier Ministries reached more than two-million people around the world each week through written publications, radio ministry, and audio and video teaching. Through a succession plan that was developed several years ago, Ligonier Ministries will continue, and Dr. Sproul can still be heard on hundreds of radio stations each week as well as through countless videos freely available online.
While we had some strong disagreements with R.C. Sproul on non-essential matters of the faith, such as amillennialism vs. premillennialsm and infant baptism, we believe that, overall, Dr. Sproul was a solid and trustworthy teacher of God’s Word. His teachings are well-worth studying.