The first time I heard R.C. Sproul speak, it was through a YouTube video in 2010. Our family was living in a literal desert in West Texas due to my husband’s new career choice. Our family had just left a fundamental independent Baptist church. The only reason we started attending that church in the first place was 1) it was where my husband’s new co-workers went to church and 2) it was local, like 3 minutes from our home local.
The entire county had a population of about 500, with most of those living in the small town we resided in. Our church choices were very limited, either the fundamental Baptist one or the Catholic one. At that time we had no idea what it meant to be an independent fundamental Baptist.
Comically, I remember getting stopped at our tiny local post office by my daughter’s Awana teacher to inform me that our new church was a “strictly King James only church”- her exact words. She was rebuking me, standing right there in front of the post office, for writing NIV translations of the Bible verses cited in my daughter’s Awana book, which I had been doing so that my daughter could clearly understand the intended purpose of the lesson, along with its respective scriptural reference. The teacher was not too thrilled with what I was doing and wanted to correct my “error”. I laughed it off, which made her angry, but it did not deter me from continuing to write those easier to read NIV scripture references for my 10 year old. After several more disturbing incidents that went past comical and entered the realm of damaging and un-Biblical, we eventually left that church and began driving about an hour away to attend a regular Baptist church.
As painful as it was to maneuver church life in that year or so that our family attended that fundamental Baptist church, it was there that I first heard the term “once saved always saved“. The pastor often used these words from the pulpit, but failed to explain them. They felt like blasphemy to my soul and I was provoked to delve into refuting them.
So I started seeking, and reading, and watching sermon after sermon of various Bible scholars and theologians I had never heard of.
God was beginning to lead me to the glorious living waters of reformed theology, though at the time I was struggling to embrace it. I began hearing R.C Sproul’s name pop up pretty often from other theologians. I finally typed his name in a search engine and clicked on one of his videos. Not more than five minutes into the video, I turned it off. I told myself that his scratchy gruff voice was too distracting. I also remember feeling uneasy at the idea of learning from an old white man in a suit, simply because I disagreed with the old white man standing in the pulpit of our local church in that tiny West Texas town who said “once saved always saved” in one breath, while calling Mexicans “wetbacks” in another breath.
However, because God is God, and I am not, I eventually got past that initial ugly heart-ed first impression of Sproul. God kept leading me back to his sermons, lectures and articles I found on his Ligonier website. Eventually it was through his books and the RefNet app, I finally grew to love that old white man in a suit, along with his gruffy voice. I was able to finally stop looking at the flesh and start hearing the content of what he said, ingesting what he wrote and meditating on where I fit, as a Mexican/Latina American, in God’s kingdom, chosen and predestined. It probably helped that we also changed churches.
Learning from Sproul felt as though I had been wandering about in the desert aimlessly, looking for anything to quench my thirst and then stumbling upon an oasis.
There are so many reasons why I love the life, work, and ministry of R.C. Sproul, but I will only mention a few. I never met the man personally and have no sweet face-to-face or in-passing memories to share. All I have are the raw impressions that he had on my understanding of scripture and theology at large. Knowing that there are many who can probably do a much better job at writing out their own personal reflections on such a well loved man, I can simply offer my own thoughts of appreciation on a man whose desire to glorify and worship a Holy God came through his work. His work made a lasting impact on my heart and hearing the news of his passing brought me to tears. Not necessarily tears of sadness or mourning, but tears of gratitude.
I dropped out of high school at 17. It took me over 15 years to finish up a bachelors degree in English. My only reason for wanting a degree in the first place was simply to land a job that paid better than minimum wage and to stop looking and feeling like an insignificant statistic, which is every single parent’s goal and desire. I am no longer that single parent and I’m just about finished up with two masters degrees in seminary, and it will have only taken me 2.5 years, not another 15.
All that to say, I know I am not the sharpest tool in the shed. I don’t have a brilliant mind nor do complex concepts come easy for me, not just in theology, but in any subject really. Anytime things get complicated or big scholarly words are used, I get lost rather quickly. The dictionary app on my phone is my best friend. My “first language” was hood English and I had to work hard to learn how to use proper grammar. Still today I often have to ask my husband to explain commonly known idioms of the English language and when I try to use them on my own, there is a great possibility I will use them out of context, which brings him a bit of a chuckle.
It takes me several days to finish a chapter in any good theology commentary because I need to visualize the concept in my mind before I can comprehend it in my heart and that can only happen if I read paragraphs and sentences several times, sometimes using flailing hands. When theology gets really heady, my brain hurts and the author’s desire to come across as intellectual or scholarly distracts me from understanding the content.
I never had that problem with Sproul’s books or talks, though I might still need my dictionary app from time to time. The first book I read from him was What is Reformed Theology. It changed my entire understanding of what I was learning or what I assumed I knew about faith. I no longer had to piece together what this theologian said with that theologian. All the basics of reformed theology were in his concise book, bringing me great comfort, but not before challenging my very being.
I finally learned that “once saved always saved” actually meant perseverance of the saints, which Sproul calls a bit misleading. He states in his book that he preferred to use the word “preservation” and that we are only able to persevere because God first preserves us, and none of us, not even the most disciplined saint this side of heaven has the internal fortitude to persevere on his or her own. It is God’s very grace in love that keeps us tethered to him, literally preserving us for his purpose and glory.
It took several months for me to accept that doctrine. I prayed and wrestled with God at great lengths to help me understand it. I cried often when alone. I reflected and replayed in my mind the day I got saved and dissected it, to no end, asking myself, “did I choose God in that moment, on that day, or did he choose me, before the foundations of the earth, and simply chose that day to finally ‘close the deal’?”
This reality pushed me to think about who I was in the world and in God’s church. It was easy it was for my modern Latina American sensibilities to assume I had made changes to my life for God and it was going to take an act of God to make me see otherwise. Sproul’s second book, Chosen by God, taught me something different.
1) Choosing God allowed me to be the keeper of my own destiny. It helped me remain self governing, autonomous. However, Sproul taught me that God cannot be sovereign if I continued to believe I was autonomous. Any God with that kind of power and overarching control was a bit too intrusive, too powerful, too sovereign. I grew fearful. Anxiety rose up in my heart because it meant that I had to trust God wholly and completely, and I fought it. When one’s testimony is not boring and there are many things in one’s past that felt too scary to reconcile God’s sovereignty with, well it was challenging, to say the least. Sproul wrote that for many, God’s sovereignty typically comforts Christians but it did the opposite for me. I wanted to be the one responsible for my changed life, not God. Slowly, through much wrestling, I began to understand that sovereignty meant that God is the supreme authority in heaven and earth and that all other authority, like my own, is significantly less or in reality, non-existent.
2) Choosing God also meant that sharing the Gospel, evangelizing, and doing any form of missionary endeavor relied on me pulling up my boot straps and “getting it done”….and if things were not working or people were not accepting the Gospel, it meant that I had to work harder, which by the way, eventually left me emotionally depleted, burnt out, and broken and wondering why my “good works” were never good enough, causing me to feel inadequate and insignificant as a Christian. Sproul taught me that not only was evangelism my duty, something I never doubted, but that evangelism was also a privilege, meaning I was given permission to see it as something I get to do, not just something I have to do and that it is God alone who brings an increase to his kingdom, not my inadequate efforts. That reality freed me from seeing myself as insignificant. We all want to bring in the harvest in evangelistic work. God protects us from pride and self boasting when we realize we don’t always have to know the role we have in someone’s life in bringing them to make a decision for Christ. Just knowing that we can take pleasure in simply being part of the process by sharing the Gospel, bearing witness to the Gospel and providing others with an outward call, while also knowing that God alone has the power to call a person to Himself inwardly, in His time, not mine.
Sproul was telling me through his books, his sermons and his online lectures that God, in choosing me first, before the foundations of the earth, had been doing the work necessary to propel me to change and make that final decision to follow him on that day. Not only did my outward parts change, which others could drastically see, but most importantly my inward parts changed and are still being changed, day by day.
To continue God’s work in believers life, nothing in life, including the various difficult circumstances we find ourselves in, is wasted.
Even when He lead our family to a difficult church so that I could hear “once saved always saved” was not pointless. That difficult pastor that brought me grief and made me angry, God also used to lead me down a path that would change my entire way of understanding scripture and Him.
Sproul taught me that through God’s radical unearned grace act of justification, the love gift of regeneration, and the emotional roller coaster ride of progressive sanctification, God gets all the credit. When God gets all the credit and preserves us so that we can persevere, we don’t have to kill ourselves emotionally to save the world.
God led me to learn from Sproul and in that leading I learned about “reformed theology”, which helped me to inevitably relinquish the control I thought I had and allowed me to let God be God in my life, not me.
Through Sproul’s writing, I was finally able to have language to apply to what I saw happening in my heart and mind.
Sproul made reformed theology accessible to this dull shovel. I have learned that repentance and change was not just a one time event, but a lifetime posture.
And that is why, in gratitude, this Latina cried at his passing.
P.S. – After reading one of his small pamphlets, Can I Be Sure I Am Saved, I bought 20 copies and gave them away like candy. I never actually doubted my own salvation. I bought it because I often wondered about the salvation of others, especially when I came across pastors who called Mexican’s wetbacks. But that is different post all together. Nevertheless, I highly recommend that little pamphlet.