Simply, Separately, Deliberately: An Interview with R.C. Sproul Jr.
Tabletalk: How did you become a Christian, and how did you receive the call to ministry?
R.C. Sproul Jr.: I was raised by my parents in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. For that I am eternally grateful. Though I had a number of conversion experiences, my last while a student in high school, I never remember a time that I did not believe the Bible was God’s Word, that Jesus was God incarnate, that He died for our sins and rose again. Having turned to Christ’s work, and committed my life to His rule, I still did not perceive myself to being called to full-time ministry. I attended Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, seeking simply to strengthen my understanding. I started working on Tabletalk magazine during that time, which I loved. My “inward call,” however, was rather less than dramatic. I was grumbling in my own heart about the weakness of pastors in the churches I was familiar with and thought, “Well, if you think it’s so easy, why don’t you try it?” Not long after, I moved to Virginia to start Highlands Ministries and plant Saint Peter Presbyterian Church.
TT: For our readers who may not be familiar, can you tell us a little about Highlands Ministries?
RS: Highlands began in 1996 as an attempt to help Christians deal with the perennial and pervasive problem of worldliness in our lives. In turn, we wanted to, as Ligonier grew in its reach, reach more deeply into the lives of our students. We wanted to teach face to face, personally, in small numbers, and so began to create media based on conversations (the Basement Tapes) and small group events (Couples Camps and Pastors Camps.) In addition, we publish Every Thought Captive magazine and produce Bible studies and curricula.
TT: Can you explain what it means, in the words of Highlands Ministries’ mission statement, to “Live more simple, separate, and deliberate lives to the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom”?
RS: By “simple” we mean that we want to serve only one master. Christians find themselves weary and burned out precisely because we, like our fathers before us, think we can serve the spirit of the age while serving our Lord as well. By “separate” we do not mean leaving the world geographically but in terms of our lives. We are to be set apart, distinct, a city on a hill—in a word, holy. By “deliberate” we mean thoughtful and intentional in our thinking and doing. Too often we allow the broader culture to make our decisions for us; we accept the normal as acceptable. All of these things, of course, we pursue not for our own sake, but that the glory of the reign of Christ over all things might be made known.
TT: What are some of the unique challenges and blessings that come with having a well-recognized and well-respected theologian as a father?
RS: Great teaching! I’m blessed first to have parents who love me and love Jesus. That is the important thing. But sound theology wasn’t, in my youth, a subject to be studied, but it was part of the warp and woof of my household. What I have learned seems as natural to me as the sky being blue. The downside? The realization that every brilliant insight I think I have is really just a memory of what I learned. Many worry for me that I go through my life in the shadow of my father. It does not concern me, since we both live in the shadow of Jesus.
TT: Do you have any encouraging words for those who may feel as if they are not doing enough for God’s kingdom because most of their current time and effort is spent caring for young children?
RS: Of all that our eyes see, the only thing we can be certain will last forever is our children. To labor for their souls, to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is to invest in eternity. What could be more important? And what could be more rewarding? There is, according to John, no greater joy than to know our children walk in the truth (3 John 1:4). No greater joy.
TT: At Reformation Bible College, you have been teaching some of the Great Works courses. What are two classics of Western Literature (besides the Bible) that have exerted a strong influence on your life and ministry and why?
RS: Augustine’s Confessions, because it marries so beautifully and powerfully sound theology with a changed heart. And Shakespeare’s Macbeth, because it reveals the darkness of our own hearts. The Bard potently communicates how sin, pride, and presumption creep up on us, and how destructive our sin can be.
TT: What advice would you give to parents who want their children to be culturally literate in the great works without harming their Christian worldview?
RS: We encourage our students not to see themselves, in reading the great works, as participating in “the great conversation” where we join our ancestors in dispassionately wrestling with the great questions. Instead, we see our studies as participating in “the great confrontation.” We are looking to see how the wisdom of the world has infected our minds that we might tear down strongholds and every lofty thing that exalts itself against our Lord. A proper approach sees reading these works both as preparation for battle and as battle itself.
TT: What was the motivation behind your recently completed series Economics for Everybody?
RS: In dicult times, Christians have questions. The Bible has answers. Economics is a profoundly ethical field of study, as well as a profoundly important one. We wanted to help Christians come to understand just a hint of how God answers our prayer for our daily bread and to grasp how governments, often at the behest of their citizens, interfere in and distort, even destroy economies. We arm, of course, that the Bible equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It equips us, therefore, to be about the good work of being good stewards and good neighbors. Both require that we come to some basic understanding of economics. Our commitment with the series, however, was that we would topple the twin giants of fear and boredom when looking at these issues. I believe we did well.
TT: Why is it so important for Christians to understand what is happening in their local abortion mills?
RS: Three reasons. First, abortion won’t end until our hearts are genuinely broken, and going to the mill breaks our hearts. Suddenly, abstract arguments about rights and court rulings dissipate when you see a mom enter with her unborn child and leave, her baby murdered and in the trash. We, those of us who describe ourselves as prolife, need to be changed. We need to wake up to the scope and depth of the greatest evil of our day. Second, there at an abortion mill, because it is the very gates of hell, is where the Spirit moves in power. There you get a palpable sense of the presence of evil, as if the demons themselves dance on the roof. But you also know the Spirit comes in power. We come away convicted, and souls are won there. Those who are murdering their own children have a hard time suppressing the truth of their sin, and so are ready to hear about Jesus. Third, because this is what our faith is. True religion is visiting orphans and widows in their trouble (James 1:27). No one is more a widow than a woman being led by her husband/boyfriend/father to murder her baby, no one more an orphan than the unborn being put to death by its parents.
TT: What are the top two lessons you have learned from ministering in other countries?
RS: We need them more than they need us. Too often we show up to minister to saints overseas as the Americans come to set the less sophisticated straight. What I have found is I need to learn from my brothers around the globe. They are the ones cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. They are the ones who understand God’s provision in Christ. Second, God is at work in places we wouldn’t expect. As the West descends deeper into unbelief it is all too easy to grow discouraged. But the West is not the kingdom of God. The world is.
R.C. Sproul Jr. is founder, chairman, and teacher for Highlands Ministries in Mendota, Va., associate professor of philosophy and apologetics at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla., and a teaching fellow for Ligonier Ministries. He is also the featured teacher for the jointly produced series Economics for Everybody from Ligonier Ministries and Compass Cinema. Dr. Sproul Jr. travels extensively as a conference speaker and has written several books, including Tearing Down Strongholds, Biblical Economics, Believing God, and The Call to Wonder.