With the recent public confession of sin by pastor R. C. Sproul Jr., it seems appropriate to discover more about him and his public ministry.  What kind of influence does he have? What does he believe? Where did he come from?

His influence is in conservative Christian circles. He is a writer and teacher at Ligonier Ministries.  And he has two blogs (his own and the Ligonier one). His influence appears to mostly be in homeschooling circles through  conferences. And with the help of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC), where he was a speaker at their first conference, his influence has grown.

Much of what he writes is uncontroversial; much of what he believes is straight teaching (orthodox); much of how he writes (especially the last few years) is more moderate. But he also has some interesting views.

For instance, he espouses paedocommunion. And he helped write the Tenants of Biblical Patriarchy. And he has spoken at various family economic conferences.

I first heard of him at a Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) conference back in 2006. Among the good things he said, one comment stuck out like a sore thumb:

“[I want to] help the Reformed live like the Anabaptists and teach the Anabaptists to think like the Reformed.”

I think he meant something better than what he said. But I do not know.

More significantly, at that 2006 conference he asserted that the bible teaches “family integrated churches.” At the time I was just getting my head wrapped around that nebulous concept. By 2011 it was clear what that term meant and where Sproul stood on the issue (especially since he is in the NCFIC movie, Divided):

“[Sunday schools] were designed not to teach the faith to the children of the covenant, but as an outreach to the lost and undereducated. Sunday Schools began as combination of mercy ministry and evangelism. It wasn’t intended for us. These well-meaning folks didn’t listen to the regulative police, and now we have youth leaders with purple hair eating worms for the kingdom. Worse, our fathers have become as weak and shiftless as the fathers of those little urchins of a century ago.”

But Sproul Jr. was not foaming-at-the-mouth mad about this movement. He warned readers away from emphasizing age-integration over more important matters: “The octogenarian Sunday School teacher isn’t the devil’s handmaiden.”

Even though he seems moderate on this issue, he is so tied to this model that a common-sense woman’s or men’s meeting (taken straight from Titus 2!) makes him uncomfortable—after all, it separates the family members from each other:

“I would certainly want to be careful about this [men’s and women’s meetings], though I would agree that there might be times when these kinds of meetings are fitting.”

Family integrated church beliefs tend to attract homeschoolers. Sproul Jr. is no different:

“There is, in evangelical homeschooling circles, a growing divide. On the one side there are those of us who might be called movement homeschoolers. We homeschool because we believe it to be the Biblical choice, not because we merely prefer it. We tend to adopt many of the secondary lifestyle issues related to homeschooling, lots of children, modest dress, husbands as the heads of their homes, courtship, denim jumpers.”

Such a contrast was not made in arrogance but—more so than other past homeschooling leaders—with a tangible air of humility:

“I have failed to practice a judgment of charity. I have treated professing Christians with whom I disagree [about homeschooling] with less grace than I treat poisonous snakes.”

Yet his view on homeschooling, gracefully couched in loving terms, is still a radical homeschooling stance. In his book, When You Rise Up, he simply asserts:

“Of course, my prayer is that every family would homeschool from birth. If that’s not you, my prayer is that you will homeschool from now on. It may require difficult changes. It may require the awkward work of repenting to your wife and to your children for how you have abdicated your responsibility.”

It is one thing to argue for homeschooling’s superiority, it is another to give it the moral authority of God.

Where did he come from? I want to clear the air: Sproul Jr. was deposed from office back in 2006. He and his church leadership repented of their sins. Their overseeing denomination granted forgiveness and allowed them to leave peaceably (I verified this independently; see also the links offered by Wikipedia).

None of this is to say that everything that Sproul Jr. says or writes is wrong. Nor is it to say one should never listen to his suggestions, ideas or advise. This information is offered so that more conservative homeschoolers will be informed and act accordingly. May that be so.


See also:

What is a family integrated church
Scott Brown’s new family integrated church declaration and why you should care
Uniting church and family


10 thoughts on “What Christians should know about Sproul Jr.

  1. Interesting blog post. I’ve had some concerns about R.C. Junior along these lines for some years. I was always uncomfortable about the fact that he essentially disciplined people in his congregation for breaking vows when they were leaving over the PC issue. I love Ligonier and have supported them for some time but I found R.C. Jr’s association with them a distasteful aspect of the ministry.

    I do think that R.C. Jr has gotten more humble over the years. As his age and mine track closely I’m realizing that seasoning and wisdom come with age and I imagine he regrets a lot of actions and words of his past even as they inevitably follow him. I don’t think he’s the same man who would say what amount to over-reaching statements. Some people never seem to grow up (especially in the NCFIC camp) but R.C. Jr seems to have.

    I was very grieved to hear of this sin and I pray that he will be able to recover from this after a sustained period of humbling.

  2. Pastor, you are too gentle in your rebuke of these wicked men, Sproule Junior, Phillips and Wilson, not forgetting Josh Duggar and others. Adultery is a heinous sin and adulterers should go to prison. Some states in America have a one year prison sentence for adulterers but it seems they rarely, if ever, send such to prison. I live in Northern Ireland and I stood as an Independent candidate in our recent elections and I called for the punishment of adulterers and the re-criminalisation of homosexuality in my Manifesto. I was not elected but I did share Biblical principles with many, many people simply by being a candidate. Phillips and co. have disgraced their testimony and given the unconverted cause to mock and blaspheme. These aforementioned men portrayed themselves as knights in shining armour, determined to protect the virtue of their wives and daughters. Yet they were either involved in abominable wickedness or they were covering up such wickedness. There are some sins that shouldn’t even be mentioned among Christians and adultery is one of them. There is never an excuse for adultery and it is one of the easiest sins to avoid (except for those who are looking for it, and they surely will find it.) I’m weary of hearing Christians make excuses for such filthy men, asking people to pray for them. They knew how to avoid certain sins before they committed them. How they got away with their sins for so long is a mystery because as far as I’m concerned, the early signs of adulterous behaviour are easy to spot, and, once detected, the offender should be warned and stopped in his or her tracks. If they don’t stop, their innocent spouses should be told about their behaviour and the church should discipline them and the discipline should be more than a slap on the wrist.

    1. Dear Susan, What we know about Sproul Jr. is not as severe as Phillips. And what I have written about the man (Doug) compliments the other commentaries out there about his wicked activities. He will try to come back and my articles will be here, documenting his errors and even past scandals he has yet to repent of. I try to write about what others do not. And there are plenty of articles about his wicked activities.

      I am glad to see you ran for office. Keep praying…and yes, even fasting, for the spread of the Gospel and the protection of the families and churches from men like him.

  3. “What we know about Sproul Jr. is not as severe as Phillips.” In the magnitude of their evil deeds Doug Phillips does appear to have outpaced RC Sproul Jr. But in their character and deceitfulness they are cut from the same cloth. Susan-Anne is right when she speaks of “covering up such wickedness,” and RC Sproul Jr may be even more cunning at deception than Doug Phillips. RC Sproul Jr’s Ashley Madison scandal is just the latest example of that.

    RC Sproul Jr signed up for an Ashley Madison account, (he didn’t just “visit,” and the article I’ve linked to proves it) a site that facilitates affairs and breaking wedding vows. It didn’t make it okay that Sproul’s wife was deceased. By registering for an account on a cheater’s web site he was encouraging other married people to break their wedding vows with their husbands. No man of God would have gone anywhere near such a wicked site, but the fact that he did indicates Sproul has an objectifying and degrading view of women that’s endemic in Patriarchy circles. Susan-Anne is also right about “except for those who are looking for it, and they surely will find it.” How would any Christian man even find out about Ashley Madison unless they were “looking for it”? The first time most Christians even heard about Ashley Madison was when the story broke in the news. Sproul had signed up for an account more than a year prior to that. Where does Sproul spend his time on the computer where he could even find such wicked things? In my view he has a lot more explaining to do.

    But it doesn’t end there. He not only registered for an adultery account he told one lie after another when he “confessed.” I’m not willing to go quite as far as Susan on this issue (criminalizing adultery), but I have to agree with her that you’ve been “too gentle” toward Sproul. Is that deliberate or are you just failing to connect the dots?

    1. Dear Geoffrey, Given the content of your other comments, it seems you have some intimate knowledge of these issues within conservative Reformed homeschooling circles (Doug in particular). Please do not let your source of knowledge fuel your interactions with those who do not have such knowledge.

      As a Presbyterian who takes church membership seriously as well as the authority of the church, I am in a bind: on the one hand Sproul Jr.’s denomination is not formally recognized by NAPARC; on the other hand, lack of formal recognition does not necessarily nullify my responsibility to be charitable with those outside of NAPARC.

      Similarly, lack of recognition by NAPARC could be construed as a free-for-all approach to any and all churches and leaders that I disagree with or find in error. But who maintains such an inter-church relationship but the most hardened Independent church (Presbyterian or otherwise)?

      So, should I take his office as a minister in another denomination seriously? Or should I just ignore it and warn people away from all micro-Presbyteries and Independent churches? The independency of too many American churches just makes a mess of inter-church relationships.

      Furthermore, in light of the Ninth Commandment (and the general call of the Golden Rule) I try to be careful in what I write. In the case of this article you replied to, I obviously used this sad event to draw attention to his aberrant doctrinal views.

      In the case of my original newsy-article about him I wrote: “It is especially this last action by the Presbytery (a group of churches that are responsible to each other) that will be most instructive to the homeschooling community. Admittedly, I am a Presbyterian. And I respect my brothers and sister who are Independent. But I hope the actions of the Presbytery will show a positive light on accountability of local leadership by other churches…In this case, if the Presbytery deposes (removes his pastoral credentials) a large number of churches will not receive him as a pastor if he flees. Yes, he could find a church that would ignore the discipline. But at least his option would be narrowed while a greater witness of churches will have testified to the world the man’s guilt (as in the case of Tchividjian).”

      And so we wait and see. If someone has first-hand knowledge of what the Presbytery will do, then I could report on that.

      It is too easy to judge matters when we are not on the scene. I think any fair-minded person would see that more things are going on behind the scene then a single blog posting by Jr. will tell. I think I do smell a rat. But thinking I small a rat and knowing are two different things. And that is where the Golden Rule comes in. There is no perfect justice on earth.

      So, no I am not trying to be “gentle” as such but rather careful per the Ninth Commandment (please read LCQ 144, 145). Nevertheless, I will think about a follow-up article that may present the (to me) obvious questions that should arise from any fair-minded reading of Sproul’s posting. But maybe not. It is not as though the Sproul Jr. fans read my articles.

  4. Thanks Pastor Mathis for that very considerate and thoughtful reply. You’ve explained your position very well, and in such a way that I can respect you for it. I don’t intend for my frustrations to seep through, or take it out on you. But as you can probably tell I’m frustrated with the apathy over this RC Sproul Jr Ashley Madison scandal, and a litany of other messes in the church. How is it ever to be cleaned up with so much apathy? Hardly anyone seems to be asking the hard questions, and questions which should be obvious, and yet are lost on most people. Here’s an exception to that, Questions to ask RC Jr.

    I would encourage you to write a follow up article. Ask the hard questions. You’re likely to find a lot more interest from the “Sproul fans” than you realize. Many of them are sitting on the fence confused, not knowing what to think. An article from someone as fair minded and respected as you is really needed.

  5. Pastor, grace and peace.

    It’s interesting that in Luke 15, the Father love-tackles and welcomes the repentant younger brother, even though his repentance was hardly spectacular. He still smelled of slop likely, and his speech had more holes in it than, well, RC Jr’s confession.

    It’s the older brother who is not willing to celebrate the repentance of the younger brother that is, in the end, condemned in the story.

    I hope you get your audience back, write great articles, show those guys at Examiner that they lost a great worker. But trying to get your mojo back through being a Blogging Older Brother isn’t healthy. It isn’t safe. For you, brother–for your soul. Read Luke 15. Tell me who the bad guy is in that story–is it the younger brother with shaky repentance or the father who lavishes and welcomes?

    We don’t know each other, and I imagine you could fill my pulpit and preach me out of a job, love my flock better than I could–you are probably my superior in so many ways. I’m not against you. But I think pieces like this are dangerous for the soul of the church and the author.

    1. FINALLY!!!! A hint of grace in a cold world.
      Doctrine is indeed important (and lacking today). But, some discussions tend to get out of hand.
      Articles like this especially tend to scare &/or frustrate babes in Christ.

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