R.C. Sproul: A Life by Stephen Nichols. Crossway. 402 pages. 2021
R.C. Sproul, who went home to be with the Lord in December, 2017, was a spiritual mentor for me. Though I only met him when he signed books for me at Ligonier conferences over the years, he taught me Reformed theology through his books, teaching series and conferences. I was excited when I heard that Stephen Nichols was writing this first biography of Dr. Sproul, and purposely read it slowly, not wanting it to end. Nichols used the access he had – interviews with Sproul specifically for the biography, interviews with Sproul’s wife Vesta, access to Sproul’s personal library and personal notebooks, as well as access to people who knew him for decades and knew him best – to write a thorough a loving biography of Sproul.
Nichols’ biography takes us through Sproul’s life – from being called Sonny from the day he came home from the hospital, to drawing his final breath in a Florida hospital surrounded by family as the last notes of his “Highland Hymn” played on a CD player.
Nichols writes of Sproul, who thought of himself as a “battlefield theologian”, founding the Ligonier Valley Study Center in 1971 near Pittsburgh before moving Ligonier Ministries to Orlando, of meeting and marrying Vesta and being mentored by John Gerstner. He spends time quoting from some of Sproul’s more than one hundred books, including his classic The Holiness of God. He writes about Sproul’s work on the subject of the inerrancy of the Bible and the controversy over the doctrine of justification that arose with ECT (“Evangelicals and Catholics Together”) in 1994, the latter of which cost him friendships with J.I. Packer and Charles Colson. Sproul would say that ECT was the most painful part of his whole career.
The heart of Sproul’s ministry was teaching people who God is. Martin Luther was a mentor for him as much as John Gerstner, and as much a friend to him as was James Boice and John MacArthur.
Nichols looks at Sproul’s legacy and contributions. For me, the thing that I most appreciate about Sproul was his ability to take difficult theological topics and present them in a way in which I could understand them. Nichols writes that Sproul took the complex and made it clear and understandable, without distortion. He made it compelling. He was persuasive.
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