April 22, 2021

What Is R.C. Sproul’s Conversion Story, and What Can We Learn from It?

Nathan W. Bingham & Stephen Nichols
What Is R.C. Sproul’s Conversion Story, and What Can We Learn from It?

R.C. Sproul spent his life teaching Christians from all walks of life about the things of God. How and when did God draw Dr. Sproul to Himself? Today, Stephen Nichols illustrates Dr. Sproul's conversion story, testifying to the efficacy of God's own Word.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: This week on the Ask Ligonier podcast, we're joined by the president of Reformation Bible College. He's also a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow, and he is the author of the new biography on R.C. Sproul. Dr. Nichols, thanks for joining us. Could you tell us about R.C. Sproul's conversion and what we can learn from that?

DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: Well, R.C. would say this often, Nathan, that he's probably the only person in church history that was converted by Ecclesiastes 11:3. So this is a unique conversion story, but it's also one that's really informative for us.

So let's go back to 1957. Dr. Sproul is a freshman at Westminster College; this is about an hour's drive north of Pittsburgh. He went to church all his life, but we could easily classify it as a liberal church. He'd never really heard the gospel. And so here he is one night, he's in the student lounge of the dorm building, and he gets summoned by an upperclassman, who was also one of the leaders of the football team, to come over to his table. So of course, R.C. is going to do this as a freshman on the football squad. And he comes over to the table, and this upperclassman is sitting there with a friend of his, and they're doing a Bible study and there's an open Bible on the table. And R.C. never saw anything like this"people actually studying the Bible together, especially peers.

And this kid"and R.C. never told me his name; not sure if he has given the name"he turns the Bible around to show it to R.C. And he says, "Look at this verse." And it is Ecclesiastes 11:3, and I'm pretty sure most people listening to this have no idea what that verse is, so I'll give it to you. It says, "If a tree falls, whether it falls to the north or to the south, wherever it falls, there it shall lie." Now, I don't think any of us would think of that as a Romans Road kind of a verse. But the Holy Spirit brought conviction to R.C. Sproul through that verse. When R.C. saw that verse and the words of that verse on the pages of that Bible, he said he knew instantly: "That was I. I was that tree. I was the fallen tree, dead and rotting, just lying there on the ground." He goes back to his dorm room and has this time of struggling and prayer, where he calls out for the mercy of God, and God saves his soul that night.

Well, there's a number of things we can learn from this. One is we can just thank God for that moment because we think of this ministry, decades of ministry, thousands of lives that were impacted through Dr. R.C. Sproul. And in one sense, it all goes back to that moment of his conversion in 1957.

We can also learn of the power of God's Word. We hear this, don't we? God's Word will not return void. God says that His Word will accomplish the purpose He has intended for it. We must believe that. We can never falter, we can never waver in our belief in the power and the efficacy of the Word of God.

I think the other thing we learn from this is our obligation to proclaim God's Word. And there was nothing fancy here"and even this text, Ecclesiastes 11:3, you think about this"this was just the verse they happened to be studying together. And all this young man did was turn a Bible around and show it to R.C. Sproul. That's all he did. He just simply let God's Word speak for itself. So there is a real lesson there for us.

I think if you and I, Nathan, were planning how to bring about or how to proclaim the message of salvation, we'd probably leave human instruments out of the equation. We'd probably put it on the shoulders of angels or something. But God has determined that it's through the preaching of His Word that He will bring about salvation of souls. And that's a tremendously humbling thing, but it's also something that we can be excited about because just by sharing God's Word, we can have an impact on lives. And we'll never know, we will never know until we get to eternity, what the impact of simply being faithful and proclaiming God's Word will be.

So, I think that's what we can learn. It's a great moment in R.C.'s life, but if we take a step back from it, I think we can learn there of the power of God's Word and of our call to be faithful disciples, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.