In Memoriam R. C. Sproul, Preacher and Teacher of a Thrice-Holy God

Today RTS Orlando joins the broader Reformed and evangelical world in mourning the loss of Dr. R. C. Sproul. Dr. Sproul was known and loved as a pastor, teacher, and colleague to many in the RTS Orlando community.  His relationship with RTS began with a week of special lectures on the Jackson campus in spring, 1978. Later that year he was appointed adjunct professor of systematic theology, while continuing to direct the Ligonier Valley Study Center in western Pennsylvania. In 1982 his role at RTS expanded with his appointment as professor of systematic theology, teaching each spring semester.

Ligonier Ministries’s relocation to central Florida preceded Reformed Seminary’s Florida campus that opened in Maitland in 1989. Dr. Sproul was a leader among the founding faculty of the Orlando campus, and he served a brief tenure as academic dean.  So instrumental was he in establishing the campus that some friends of the seminary on occasion would mistakenly refer to RTS as “RCS.”  Ligonier National Conferences in Orlando became important recruiting opportunities for the school, and Ligonier Ministries employed many students and their spouses.  As general editor of the New Geneva Study Bible (published in 1995), Dr. Sproul worked in collaboration with many RTS faculty members.

To countless others, including me, he was a doorway to Reformed theology and piety. I was raised in a Bible-believing church committed to teaching the whole counsel of God in the pulpit, the Sunday School classroom, and the home. I sensed a call to gospel ministry during my junior year of college and, following the counsel of my pastors, enrolled in seminary immediately upon graduation. In my first semester of seminary, I heard about something called “Reformed” theology. I was initially quite skeptical of this strange, new (to me!) teaching, partly due to widely popularized caricatures, and partly because it seemed to contradict other beliefs I cherished. I knew from my upbringing, however, that I needed to test all doctrinal viewpoints by the standard of Holy Scripture. 

To this end, I entered Christmas break after my first semester of seminary with a used copy of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in hand, determined to follow the Berean example of “examining the Scriptures … to see if these things were so”  (Acts 17:11). During Christmas break, I also picked up R. C. Sproul’s Chosen by God from our church bookstore. 

As I searched the Scriptures under the tutelage of Calvin and Sproul, new vistas were opened to me. I was captivated by a greater sense of God’s majesty and a deeper gratitude for God’s mercy toward miserable sinners. Before long, I was devouring Sproul’s trilogy devoted to the Trinity: The Holiness of God, The Glory of Christ, and The Mystery of the Holy Spirit. Along with the training I was receiving in seminary, these books laid the early foundation for what would become my primary focus as a, yes, “Reformed” theologian, the doctrine of the triune God. 

Two decades later, I joined the faculty where Dr. Sproul once served. During a short season, my family and I attended Saint Andrew’s Chapel and had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Sproul’s expository sermons from the Gospel of Luke. Week after week, Dr. Sproul proclaimed the glory of Christ’s infinite riches from the text of Holy Scripture and led us in worship characterized by reverence and awe before a thrice-holy God. Here I came to appreciate that Dr. Sproul’s Spirit-empowered pulpit ministry was the source from which the power of his published writings emanated. 

We mourn the passing of Dr. Sproul as grateful debtors, committed to honoring his legacy by promoting the grandeur and glory of the Holy Trinity and by preparing the next generation of gospel ministers to lead God’s people in glad, grateful, and reverent worship. 

Scott R. Swain

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