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A teacher of the faith

BOOKS | Author looks at five themes of R.C. Sproul’s life

A teacher of the faith
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R.C. Sproul, leader of a modern reformation, just wanted to teach people to know God more deeply.

That’s one conclusion from Nate Pickowicz’s short but packed biography—R.C. Sproul: Defender of the Reformed Faith (H&E Publishing 2022)—that identifies five key themes of Sproul’s life. The 132-page book provides a fitting complement to Stephen Nichols’ longer 371-page life story (Crossway 2021).

Sproul became the star in a Reformed revival, leading the young, restless, and Reformed who found that Calvinism could be cool.

“He was regarded as a theological titan, Reformed royalty, and the proverbial patron saint of the new Calvinism movement,” Pickowicz summarizes. “However, R.C. did not see himself the way his admirers did.” He was just the Pittsburgh guy with a passion to teach theology and the Bible. He said he’d be pleased if the Christian ­bookstores trashed his volumes and just sold the classics of Augustine, Luther, and Edwards.

While emphasizing theology, Pickowicz also tells key stories. A fallout with Chuck Colson and J.I. Packer over Evangelicals and Catholics Together in the 1990s was painful. Sproul saw justification by faith alone as an essential, non-­negotiable doctrine. “He always made the quarrel over the truth, never about the person,” Pickowicz notes. “Everyone who knew R.C. personally understood him to be a kind man.”

Pickowicz chronicles Sproul’s priorities by decade: Bible inerrancy, 1970s; holiness and sovereignty of God, 1980s; justification by faith alone, 1990s; local church, 2000s; ministry expansion for God’s glory, 2010s.

Some readers might wonder about the 1970s fuss over inerrancy. Sproul knew from sad experience that an errant Bible frees the reader to dismiss hard passages and adopt a man-centered faith. Pickowicz also captures Sproul’s passion for worldwide revival, which led Ligonier Ministries to translate teaching materials into many languages near the end of his life in 2017.

Historian Mark Noll lamented the “scandal of the evangelical mind” in his 1994 book of the same name. Without adopting that terminology, Pickowicz shows how Sproul labored mightily to ­battle against that scandal.

Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of the WORLD News Group board of directors.


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