In 1994 I was a freshman in Bible College at an Assemblies of God school. I had been born-again in and had grown up in an Assembly of God church so when I felt the call of ministry on my life, I naturally attended a school which followed the tradition I was part of. Pentecostalism, the tradition I grew up in was about as far from what is generally referred to as “Calvinism” on the theological spectrum as one can get which is what made my introduction to Dr. Robert Charles (known as R.C.) Sproul so interesting. I had heard of RC Sproul from a friend of mine, but didn’t know much about him. That was about to change.
One afternoon, a friend and I walked the short distance from our dorm to the campus bookstore, mostly out of boredom because it was the beginning of the semester, and we both had just spent an ungodly amount of money on textbooks, so despite my love of reading, I wasn’t exactly looking to drop more coin on books. However, as we were perusing the small bookstore, I came across a book entitled Grace Unknown by R.C. Sproul. Remembering the good things that friend of mine had told me about Dr. Sproul, I bought the book with money I really didn’t have to spend. As we were walking back to the dorm, the friend I was with asked me in a somewhat agitated tone why I had bought the book. I replied I had heard good things about the author and wanted to check it out. In an even more agitated tone he replied that R.C. Sproul was a “heretic!” I asked him why and he gave me a brief explanation of why he felt that “Calvinism” which he stated R.C. Sproul taught was wrong and antithetical to what the Bible taught. I patiently listened to his thoughts, and told him that I was going to read the book for myself. He shook his head in a somewhat disgusted manner which seemed to communicate to me that he felt I was wasting my time.
I read the book and enjoyed it, for it gave me some things to think about regarding the means that God saves men from sin. I was struck by how knowledgeable Dr. Sproul was, but also by how humble he was in his writing. He gave all glory to God, didn’t promote himself, and seemed to be writing in a way that reached off the page into my heart. I had some conversations with the friend who had recommended R.C. Sproul to me, but I really didn’t change my view on the means of salvation. At the same time, I came away with a great respect for R.C. Sproul, and I now realize that God was beginning a work in me by revealing what Dr. Sproul would refer to as , “The Doctrines of Grace” to me.
In December of 1997, I tore my ACL playing intramural basketball at college, and ended up sitting out of school for three years at first to recover from my surgery, and then because I accepted a position as a Youth Minister at a church pastored by one of the men who had been my Youth Pastor. In 2001, feeling God leading me to return to school in order to finish my degree and pursue ministerial credentialing, I returned to college. While there I took a Systematic Theology class. One of the methods the teacher used in the class was to show teaching videos of Dr. Sproul. He would allow the video to play for a few minutes and then would pause it and tell us the ways he felt that Dr. Sproul was in error about theology, especially regarding the means of salvation and how “Calvinism” was incorrect.
At this point let me pause and say my intention is not to mock or make the Assemblies of God or Pentecostalism look bad in anyway. Despite the fact I eventually left the Assemblies of God and embraced The Doctrines of Grace, I still have a great affection for the tradition I was formerly associated with. I consider many in that tradition my brothers and sisters in Christ, am grateful for how God used many of them to change and shape my life in a godly way, and for the fruit I have seen God use them to produce. That being said, I do believe that they are in error on certain theological issues, namely their Soteriology. I relate these stories to illustrate the positive effect Dr. Sproul had on my life not to insult the tradition I formerly was associated with.
For me the Professor’s tactics had the opposite of the effect he intended. I came away from those lectures convinced he was in error, and Dr. Sproul was correct, and that began a journey of learning for me. I began to read about what I had once referred to as “Calvinism” but came to call “The Doctrines of Grace”. I read more of Dr. Sproul, and listened to his radio show. I also read Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield's sermons, John Calvin, Martin Luther, a plethora of Puritan writers, John Piper, and many others. I joined a Reformed Theology book club, and had a conversations with men (and women) who had been Reformed for a long time in order to understand more of what I had initially learned from Dr. Sproul. God used the writings and sermons of these people to show me what the Bible has to say about Soteriology. I slowly moved away from the incorrect view I had before my meeting Dr. Sproul in Grace Unknown to one that seemed to be truly consistent with scripture. I became a part of the Reformed tradition. I don’t say that to boast. I say it to show how God used a humble, learned, and courageous man like Dr. Sproul to lead me to a greater understanding of Him and his Gospel.
I was sad to learn of Dr. Sproul’s passing, my prayers are with his family and friends, and I am sad that his days of teaching and reaching this world with the Gospel are at an end. However, I rejoice that Dr. Sproul has left this broken world and joined the Church Triumphant. God bless you Dr. Sproul, for like a lifeguard you pulled me out of the deep end of confusion regarding sound doctrine and led me to a better understanding of God and his Gospel. I will always be thankful that God used you in my life.