I Remember R.C. Sproul

The first theology book from a Reformed perspective I ever read was R.C. Sproul’s, Chosen By God. It is a slender volume and I read it when I was sixteen or seventeen. I have never re-read or referred to that book since, and yet I vividly recall much of it. I recall the introduction where R.C. distinguishes between acknowledging the fact of God’s predestination and understanding how Christians are to derive comfort from the doctrine. That resonated with me. I was a member of a Baptist church at the time that had a high regard for the Bible. I was aware of the teaching of Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. I could see the fact of predestination. Yet this teaching perplexed me. At the time I viewed this teaching as standing in paradox with human free will. Like the Trinity or the two natures of Christ, here was another mystery of our faith. Furthermore, the whole matter seemed academic – an issue for seminary students; not for the average person in the pew.

R.C. exposed me to the broader Biblical teaching and set the doctrine of predestination in it’s wider context. This was my first exposure to the so-called “five points” of the doctrines of Grace. I began to see how these teachings were connected as a coherent whole. Fallen human nature, God’s call, the atonement, and Christian perseverance are all interdependent. I recall R.C’s appeal to Augustine and the four-fold state of man, his illustration from John Edwards and Carroll’s Cheshire Cat to teach on the freedom of the will, his Greek word study of John 6:44, and his unique (and persuasive) explanation of the perplexing passage in Hebrews 6. Although Chosen by God is a short book, R.C.’s argument was cogent, his appeal to Scripture relevant, his illustrations memorable and to the point, and the whole is easily understood by an average high school student.

This was R.C.’s genius. His gift was his ability to communicate complex ideas in simple ways. He lectured on Kierkegaard and Calvin and brought great thinkers out of the Philosophy and seminary classroom and into the family room and car radio. He communicated Confessional Presbyterian Christianity to a broad swath of diverse Christian traditions. He influenced Pentecostals, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians and so many others. R.C. influenced me in my desire to be a teacher of the church. I was never tempted to become an academic theologian. My goal was always to communicate God’s truth simply. Yet I quickly realized how difficult simple and engaging communication can be. I am still learning from R.C. ways to communicate more effectively.

God is Mindful of the Humble (Luke 1:46-55)

“This song of Mary’s is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate, most vehement, one might almost say, most revolutionary Christmas hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas songs, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of brining down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of the world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men. These are the tones of the prophetic women of the Old Testament: Deborah, Judith, Miriam, coming alive in the mouth of Mary.”

“Mary, filled with the Spirit and prepared. Mary, the obedient handmaid, humbly accepting what is to happen to her, what the Spirit asks of her, to do with her as the Spirit will, speaks now by the Spirit of the coming of God into the world, of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. She knows better than anyone what it means to wait for Christ. He is nearer to her than to anyone else. She awaits him as his mother. She knows about the mystery of his coming, of the Spirit who came to her, the Almighty God who works his wonders. She experiences in her own body that God does wonderful things with the children of men, that his ways are not our ways, that he cannot be predicted by men, or circumscribed by their reasons and ideas, but that his way is beyond all understanding or explanations, both free and of his own will.”

“Where our reason is offended, where our nature rebels, where our piety creeps anxiously away, there, precisely there, God loves to be. There, he confuses the understanding of the clever. There he offends our nature, our piety. There he will dwell and no one can deny him. And now, only the humble can believe him, and rejoice that God is so free and so wonderful, that he works miracles when the children of men despair. He has made the lowly and humble to be lifted up. That is the wonder of wonders, that God loves the lowly: ‘God has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.'” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dec 17 1933)

Gifts to the Rich

“One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty” (Pr 22:16)


“Next is the matter of our not craving to be rich. For as soon as that lust for gain takes hold of us, it is certain that we will become thieves; it cannot be otherwise.”

“Let us consider for a moment who the rich are: insatiable men who can never be satisfied and who are much more difficult to be content than the poor. If we were to make a comparison between the rich and the poor, we would find that just as there are some who are tormented and grieve, and who are led to steal, and engage in many adverse practices, so the majority are content to accept what God has given them and follow their course. But when we come to the rich, as for kings and princes, we find that they are so inflamed and covetous for the goods of this world that we cannot satisfy them; indeed, they are almost grieved if the sun shines on the poor. In brief, we see that the majority of the rich would not even be satisfied had God given them the whole earth to possess. For, as I have said, they are still jealous that the poor have a common ray of light, and that they drink water, and work, and even succeed better than the rich [in happiness]… And although he draws their sweat and blood, it seems to him that when they eat at his expense they are wringing him of his very intestines and bowels. And unfortunately, this parsimony, or rather brutal cruelty on the part of the rich, is far too common.”

“And let those who enjoy the vogue, who have money in their purses, be especially careful not to oppress the poor, for they always have their traps set. For that is what the rich do; if they see that a poor man is going under, they hurry there like hunters and immediately fall upon him, turning this way and that, and through their weaving have the poor man entrapped in the end.”

“And instead of the rich imagining that they have gained everything [by their own industry] when they have been enriched at the expense of others, let us realize that they have cut the throats of the poor and have made many widows and orphans, even though they don’t think so.”

(John Calvin: Sermon on the Eighth Commandment)