Reformed Christians have lost one of their great theologians, pastors
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Listen to the 10 min audio
Read the transcript:
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, last week, as Americans and people around the world went about their Christmas preparations, a Christian theologian – a personal friend and a mentor of yours – slipped into eternity. R.C. Sproul, at the age of 78, passed away.
DR. REEDER: Just an absolute titan. We think of the great impact of a Billy Graham in the breadth of the church and his commitment to crusade evangelism.
For me, R.C. should be seen in the same way. His outreach commitment and impact was extraordinary as he took the great historic orthodox Gospel of Jesus Christ and all the theology attached to it, related to it, undergirding it, surrounding it, and he had this marvelous, wonderful -way of communicating it so that what was considered profound truth, he could communicate with such simplicity and attractiveness.
His commitment to reform theology is legendary. His commitment to the authority of the scriptures – their inerrancy, their infallibility – was truly church-shaking, church-encouraging, church-equipping, and that meant that it was world-shaking and world-impactful as well.
I had five mentors in ministry. Of those five mentors in ministry, one was R.C. Sproul and the other was James Boyce and both of those are with the Lord. Three of my mentors are still living, but now both of them are with the Lord.
By the way, interesting, James Boyce and R.C. were very close friends. If you’ve never read R.C.’s book, The Holiness of God, then you’re poverty stricken – it’s just so powerful.
In his book on the holiness of God, he gloriously describes this scene in Isaiah 6 where the seraphim were gathered around the throne and the angels and the seraphim were singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty,” and thresholds are trembling.
When they called me and told me about R.C. on the day he died, one of my first thoughts was, “I know R.C. will be so gloriously enraptured to see his Savior, but I also know he will love to see his mentor, Dr. John Gerstner. He will love to see Dr. Boyce, his dear friend for life. I know he’ll seek out Martin Luther – he loved to study the life of Martin Luther – and, in many ways, R.C. was a reflection of Martin Luther in terms of maintaining, maturing and growing the understanding of reformed reformation theology.
That glorious scene that he so wonderfully paints when he preaches and writes of the Isaiah 6 chapter, that he has now joined it and he is there with praise before the Lord and the trembling thresholds all around him as the glory of the Lord fills the presence of the Lord and R.C. is present in that presence.
And, by the way, R.C. was quite the sportsman. He loved baseball and played baseball. He loved golf –one time, a 2 handicapper – and he also tried to keep me away from making a reverse pivot on my backswing. He was always the coach, whether it was theology or golf. He loved to do trivia. I’d come up, we’d immediately go to three things: theology, Civil War, and baseball.
And, of course, he loved Pittsburgh and I actually played with a number of guys that were with the Pittsburgh Pirates and my dad was a scout in the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was another attraction that we had as well.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, it was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when the Billy Graham Organization, Young Life Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth for Christ, many of those were flourishing and many young people making commitments to Christ. R.C. came along and said, “You know, that’s good, but I really want to see people grow deeper in their relationship with Christ,” and he started Ligonier Ministries.
DR. REEDER: That’s right. And he also was an unabashed churchman. As you said, he was really breaking out in his ministry in the 1970s when I was at Covenant College. I had just graduated and I was a student pastor of a little struggling and new Bible church and he came and did a conference on the authority and sufficiency – inerrancy and sufficiency – of the Word of God – wonderful, wonderful time.
He comes into the PCA and I get to know him there and then, when I had my doctoral work, I had him for a number of classes with Reformed Theological Seminary. Of course, I always tell people, everybody thought that I loved R.C., which I do love R.C., but I loved Vesta more because she’s the one who graded all my papers. And it was wonderful: I got R.C. in the classroom and I got Vesta grading all my reports.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Of course, that was R.C.’s wife.
DR. REEDER: They did everything together. What a great model of loving your wife and what a great model she was for other wives, the way she loved her husband. And, of course, R.C. was an inveterate writer, and author and speaker.
R.C. was a big man with a big laugh – he loved a good joke, he loved good humor. One thing people don’t know is that, if you would talk to R.C. in the last 15 years of his life and ask him, “What has been the greatest joy of your life?” – of course Vesta would be there and there were many, many great things and he loved his children, his son and his daughter – but one of the things he would tell you, the greatest thing in his life was pastoral preaching.
When he became the pastor of St. Andrew’s Chapel, he would tell you that’s been the greatest experience of his life – his pastoral preaching Sunday after Sunday.
TOM LAMPRECHT: What do you think R.C. would want to leave as his legacy?
DR. REEDER: Theology matters because all of life is theology. The way you live reflects your theology. Your view of God, all of life is theology. My personal opinion is that would be what he would want people to understand so do your theology well.
R.C. was a stickler on this – he could not stand to hear people say, “God has an unconditional love for you.” He understood what they meant, but he said, “If God’s love is unconditional, then why is Jesus on that cross?”
God’s love is unmerited, God’s love is unstoppable, God’s love is relentless, God’s love is unconquerable, God’s love is glorious and triumphant, God’s love is overcoming and God’s grace is the outworking of His love into your life because of the unmerited favor of God, but it can’t be unconditional. God is holy and that’s the glorious thing about God’s love is He gave up His Son to satisfy the unimpeachable holiness of God.
He saw that statement, “unconditional,” as diminishing the majesty of God’s love and actually, ultimately, attacking the unmerited nature of God’s love. God’s love is not just a wink, “Well, I’m holy but it doesn’t matter.” No, God’s love is so glorious, He found a way when there was no way to make a way to save you and that way was the gift of His Son, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, there’s always a remnant – God always has a remnant. It’s sad to see someone like R.C. Sproul leave this earth and his gifts are no longer with us but, as we speak, God is raising up others.
DR. REEDER: I don’t even belong hardly in the same room with R.C. – I like the way Chris Larson says that he was omnicompetent – but guys like me are a remnant. There were ten of us that used to meet with R.C. every year. We’d go down to Orlando, play some golf, have a good meal, talk theology, challenge and encourage each other.
I think of all those guys – John Woods, Sandy Wilson, John Sartelle and a number of others, the guys at Ligonier – his dear compatriot, Burk Parsons and Chris Larsons, the Ligonier Ministry, which now has captured all of this material and now will be used of God for that, the Reformation Bible College and, of course, St. Andrew’s Chapel.
Let me just finish today by saying these two things: Pray for Vesta, pray for his son, R.C. Jr., and pray for his daughter, his grandchildren. He’s a big man and filled a big space so there is a big space. When you have somebody that loves you deep, and you love them deep, there is a deep loss so I’m praying for them.
Pray for Ligonier as it takes this next season. Chris and Burk have been preparing for this. Pray for St. Andrew’s Chapel as I’m sure Burk Parsons will continue that ministry, there.
And pray for the PCA – we’ve lost one of our great theologians. Pray for all of us that have been impacted that, somehow, we as that remnant, as you said, will be able to carry forward.
Pray that God will use this in just really glorious ways for the work of the kingdom because, if there was any time that we needed to know that theology matters and your theology is not from human imagination, but divine revelation, from God’s inerrant, infallible, sufficient Word of God, it is in this day.
That would be my second thing, my exhortation is: Take what R.C. has given us, use it, build on it and take it to the next generation.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin. Jessica is editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.