A Personal Conversation With RC Sproul, Pt. 2 of 3

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Hey TD, we have an exclusive treat for you.  In this honest, candid, and real conversation with RC, you will get a unique look at one of the Christian giants of the last 40 years. He has had a profound influence on my life, and unbeknownst to you, he has influenced your life too.  He is known to many as America’s most influential theologian; yet, while influential, he possesses a sense a humility and authenticity that is endearing, as you will see.. Some of his answers will surprise you. Please read on and glean. – Arthur

RC: When I left teaching in the seminary and started teaching at the study center (called Ligonier Valley Study Center) in the middle of the mountains 50 miles east of Pittsburgh … the closest town was two miles away, with a population of under 200 people … I thought that by doing that, that I had actually committed academic suicide; that I had basically really sentenced myself to everlasting obscurity (starts laughing).

Arthur: Why did you do it?

RC: Ahh, because I love to teach and people were asking me to do it. People wanted me to do it and they wanted to learn.

Arthur: So, basically you’re telling me that if you wanted a fast track to notoriety, that wasn’t going to be the way to do it.

RC: Nooo, hardly! (begins laughing loudly and heartily) …

Arthur: So, you did it for the purity of it, like how athletes talk about the love of the game.

RC: It WAS the love of the game … the love of the students … and got us back to the experiences we had when I was teaching in the college, where students were living in our house, eating meals with us, and learning

Arthur: Did you have a vision for the Ligonier Study Center, or for the students that you taught, as to what this would emerge to?

RC: We were called there to help educate staff members who were there, like for Young Life, Intervarsity, the Coalition for Christian Outreach. These were all people who were college educated but did not have the benefit of seminary. And the leaders of these organizations got together and asked me to come and start a study center, where these lay [leaders] could come and get sort of a shorthand view of seminary theological education while they were in the field. I considered myself what I called a “battlefield theologian,” not an ivory tower theologian. I liked that. These guys were involved on the college campuses with people around the city and they needed to be equipped with theological understanding of their ministry. That was my vision. I was trying to help them become knowledgeable and articulate Christian leaders … lay leaders. That was it. I didn’t think of Cecil B. DeMille and a cast of thousands or anything like that.

Arthur: So, that has expanded and now is reaching the local church. But now you’re far removed from reaching the personal side of [the ministry]. You were a pastor for a little while, right? Then you quit or something? You mentioned many times in messages or in conferences that, “I didn’t have the stuff to become a pastor. It’s the pastor that’s the hero.” But then you went back to the pastorate.

RC: Well, I had a student pastorate when I was in seminary for a year. Then I had two years of experience of being on the staff of a church, and I was happy to be on the staff and not be the senior pastor, because my job was as a minister of theology; I just taught, that’s what I did. What I thought I lacked to be a pastor was the skin … I mean people, they eat you up, they eat you alive; pastors are chewed up and thrown out. They get very little respect. They have power in the church but they don’t have any authority … I was just too thin-skinned, I was too sensitive. My feelings got hurt too easy doing that. (laughing)

Arthur: Did you toughen up to a point where you thought you could do it with St. Andrews (the current church he’s pastoring)?

RC: St. Andrews is another horse that got away. It was called St. Andrews Chapel because there was a handful of people that didn’t have a church to go to that they were happy with. They asked me to start a church, and I said no a few times. Finally, they asked me to pray about it. I finally said, “Well, if all I do is preach and teach, I can do it but I cannot be your pastor. I already got a full time job. We started with a handful of people and that was the understanding, and I just preached and taught, and then we got someone to take care of congregational life and the pastoral life of the church. Burk’s done that. Burk’s really the pastor at St. Andrew’s. All I do is preach and teach. We called it a chapel because the idea was to keep it small … you can’t really do that necessarily

Arthur: The personal aspect that really drew you to teaching … has that somewhat returned since you’ve been there?

RC: Well, I’m not really teaching that much any more. At first, I did a lot of teaching and preaching, but then I had health problems. I used to teach an hour Sunday School class and then I would preach, and then preach again in the evening. Now, I don’t have the Sunday School class anymore and I only preach once in the morning. I was preaching twice in the morning and then once in the evening; but now I’m down to one service a week. It’s all I can handle, health-wise.

Arthur: Winding down here, let’s start with that Young Life group in Saranac, New York. People have their signature series, the one that launches [careers] – like Ravi really got his explosion … the Harvard series was there, but it was when he came to Ligonier conferences repeatedly over a couple year span there that really exploded his ministry. I always tell people that if RC were worried about gate keeping, he wouldn’t have sent those [messages of Ravi out to RC’s supporters]. You sent it out and said that this was the #1 requested message from the whole conference and you wanted us supporters to hear it. I always thought how neat that was that you were not gate keeping. I only found out about Ligonier through John MacArthur, when he was speaking at a Ligonier conference and let his supporters know about it. He was not gate keeping. I thought it was really neat.

With respect to the Holiness of God series, that was so pivotal for you … Can you tell us what was going on in your life and what you were experiencing during this time of forming your messages. What was going on in your life that burst through, that the Holiness of God was borne out of?

RC: Well, the first thing was … I was teaching at a conference that the evangelist, John Guest, was preaching at, and he preached a message from Isaiah 6 … and I had never heard anything like that before. That was the greatest sermon I’d ever heard in my life, and in fact my first sermon in The Holiness of God series on Isaiah 6 … is heavily influenced by John’s treatment of it, as well as by Alec Matire who was John’s professor in England, who wrote the commentary on Isaiah. So, that helped. Then I fleshed it out and expanded it beyond it. Another impact that had a big impact on me was reading Rudolph Otto, the German critical theologian, and his study on the idea of the Holy.

Putting those things together, also with the impact of Edwards and Luther and Calvin on my understanding of the justice of God and the grace of God, that all fit together.

Arthur: Were there things going off in your soul as you were discovering and reading these things – epiphanies and things that made you go, “Wow!”?

RC: (laughing heartily) I tell you what! My whole study of theology has been an epiphany, Arthur … I have had sooo many epiphanies in that sense of the word.

Arthur: Were you moved in studying that topic in such a degree that it just shook you, because every time I listen …

RC: The thing that frustrates me, and you’ve probably heard me say this, was that my study of the holiness of God really … I mean I already knew it … really overwhelmed me in terms of revealing to me how unholy I am and we are. Isaiah’s experience was my experience – “I’m a man of unclean lips and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips.”

One of the things that annoys me about that signature series is that because I’m so interested in the holiness of God, people jump to the conclusion that I must be exceedingly holy myself, and it’s just the opposite. What attracted me to the holiness of God is that I realized that my tendency as a sinful person is to shield myself from that vision of God; and what I needed if I was going to go anywhere in the Christian life, what I needed to keep in front of me at all times is a clear understanding of who God is. Does that make any sense?

Arthur: Oh, totally, totally. I think that’s what it does for a lot of us …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You, God? Infinite!

Stop and think about something or someone infinite.   No, really.  Try and do it.  Try to think of all it entails.  I’ll wait.

If you really tried, you know how difficult it is.  How can you really fathom it in your mind?  In our continuing series, “Who Are You, God?,” Sandra makes a valiant effort at helping us not to fully comprehend the Infinite, but to understand Him more.  It is certainly a worthwhile read.  Enjoy your God further and feel free to comment. – Arthur

Who Are You, God?  Infinite!

Jonathan Edwards stated, “Of all kinds of knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important.”  Knowledge of God.  When we study biology, we classify organisms by the things they have in common.  We use the categories of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.  We say that God is “sui generis.”  It is a neo-latin word that means “in a class of its own.”  We cannot compare God to anything or anyone else.  When we say that He is infinite, we can not wrap our mind around infinite.  All we know about infinite is that it is the negation of finite.  We can introduce analogical language, but as Augustine said around 400 AD, “Anything that we affirm about God analogically, we must deny univocally.”  He is the one that also said, “God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

We are creaturely.  We are localized in one place at one time.  I live in my body that currently resides in the city of South Pasadena.  I entered this planet on November 16, 1958 and there will be a day that I leave this planet.  What governs time?  A day is based on the rotation of the earth on its axis.  A year is based on the time it takes for the earth to orbit once around the sun.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  (Genesis 1:1)  Dates and places do not confine God.  He is the one who created the mechanisms that measure time!

How much of our life is governed and directed by the clock?  At a certain time, we wake up and at a certain time we go to sleep.  The clock keeps our lives orderly and keeps us all on the same schedule.  Our watches synchronize us all.  We all understand what it means when someone tells us that we plan to meet next Tuesday at 7 pm.  There is also an expectation about age.  When children reach 5 years old, they start kindergarten.  When they reach 16 years of age, they can drive a car.  When they are 18 years old, they are considered an adult.  Telling time is one of the first things that we teach our children and celebrating birthdays are done routinely.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”  The linear nature of time keeps things sorted out.  The future is before us, the past is behind us, and we live in this infinitesimally small sliver of time called the present.  The present quickly becomes the past even before we can say the word, “now.”  There is no stopping of this progression.  The things in the past are only kept alive by our memories of them.  Time is inextricably linked with knowledge.  Our knowledge is limited because we cannot see the things that will happen in the future and we quickly forget the things that have happened in the past.  God is not so.  The present, past and future are constant and full realities to God.  In Psalm 139:4, we are assured of God’s deep and infinite knowledge of all, “Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.”  This makes it quite impossible for anyone to ever think, “I’ve never done anything wrong.”

In 635 BC, the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.”  Time, like a river, is an avenue of change.  We are more “human changings” than we are human beings.  The only One who is not changing is God, the one and only true Being.  He is the great I AM.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)  Without God’s Holy Spirit, we would be swept along the river of the time, filling our heads with all the gadgets, distractions, and entertainment of this age.  Satan is also quite savvy to make the most of his time.  After the temptations of Jesus, it says in <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Luke 4:13, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.”  Satan is doing his best to keep us from the Truth.  But, by God’s grace, as we are being swept along, there is an anchor or lighthouse that we can cling onto in His Word.  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower or the grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.”  I Peter 1:24, 25

If the ticking of the clock does not confine God, does God have a time reference?  There are two Greek words that are commonly translated “time” in the New Testament.  One of them is “chronos” and the other word is “kairos”.   “Chronos” has to do with chronological time, the calendar time.  “Kairos” has to do with the opportune time, an event or season of time.” Jesus said in <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Another verse in the Bible that uses “kairos” is found in <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Luke 12:56 when Jesus said, “You hypocrites!  You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?”

God is infinite, but at the same time, there is a spiritual clock that is ticking away.  In II Peter 3:8, we are told, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Divine chronology is based on moral conditions.”  God acts and intervenes in history as well as individual’s lives when the moral condition is ripe for redemption and sanctification.

How then should we live?  In a way, we are all bound by time, but as children of God there should be a spirit of “timelessness” about us.  We are well aware of “chronos,” but we need to be even more aware of “kairos.” <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Ephesians 5:15,16 says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”  In Al Mohler’s blog, he commented on the gay marriage issue that is being legislated in New England.  He said, “New England is losing the remnants of its Christian memory.  We need a new generation of Christians who, like Jonathan Edwards, will bring the Gospel anew to New England.  New England was the cradle of colonial America.  Is it now the cradle of America’s secular future?” As one of my Sunday School students, Emily, mentioned, perhaps the only purpose of time is for us to come to salvation.  Once we come to know the Lord, time as we measure it is insignificant.  We have now entered into an eternal perspective and accounting of time.

Lord, help our every moment be a redeemed moment.  Help us to not constantly gaze on the ticking of the clock as much as the ticking of the moments until we see you face to face. Help us to look and long for the ultimate “kairos” moment for us – the time when we will see Jesus face to face. Impress on us the fact that that moment is as close as a heartbeat away.  Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come. InYour timeless Name, we pray, Amen.

– Sandra Hsieh

T&T Night This Friday!!!

Hey TD’ers!

This Friday night, we will be hosting our annual guys and gals night, affectionately known as T & T Night!  It’s always a blast, always delicious, always eye opening, and always edifying.   This is a very honest, frank, and open evening, where we’ll talk about anything and everything … aiming to find God’s perspective on the issues in our lives.

We will be meeting from 6:30 p.m. – 10-ish.  The girls will be meeting for dinner at Jenny’s house while the guys will be meeting at my house.

If you have any gender specific questions that you would like to make sure we discuss, let your counselors know.  Or, if you prefer anonymity, feel free to submit questions/ideas via the TD web site – http://www.td.mbcla.org.

Looking forward to another great time together! – Arthur

“‘Tell No One About Me’ – Jesus” Bible Study – Start Now!

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Hey TD’ers,

All year, you’ve had a chance to dine on the rich spiritual meals that our fine biblical “chefs” have devotedly prepared for you, using their extensive experience, study, preparation, prayer, and TLC.  During our small group Bible studies, we have been working together to get you acclimated to get a good feel of basic Bible study habits and skills by

– cross referencing Scripture and looking up various passages to let the Bible speak for itself and give us answers

– learning for what things to look for and for the types of questions to ask when studying the Bible

– researching what others have said on the passage or topic

– studying for application and action

In our small groups over the last two months, the counselors have taken a step back to allow you to work with the message notes, just giving you starter questions and some resources to begin allowing your study to have a greater influence on our small group studies.  And it’s been great.

This week, we’re going to go one step further in having our small group study be “cooked” upon a totally new passage – not one developed from the a message/meal that has already been prepared for you.  We’re going to put you in the kitchen, give you the ingredients; and based on the skills and experience you’ve developed through the years,  we’re going to  have you pretty much prepare your own meal to bring to our small group Bible study “potluck” this Friday.  The topic is “‘Tell No One About Me’ – Jesus” and the passage is Luke 5:14-16.

Now let’s be frank, if you don’t prepare well, our small group times this Friday are going to  … well … basically, they’re going to stink.  So, please bring your skill, creativity, and heart to your preparation, bathe it in prayer and diligent and careful study,  and have a GREAT time! – Arthur

Here’s the mp3 for last Friday’s message:

“Full of Leprosy” Luke 5:12-13 (message – Arthur)