R.C. Sproul: The Influence of Dr. John Gerstner

R.C. described Dr. Gerstner as a lifeline through seminary [Pittsburgh Theological Seminary]. Many could see the influence Gerstner had on R. C. Many even heard it. No doubt R.C. was the brightest shining star in the constellation of Gerstner’s students over decades of teaching. You might recall, however, that R.C. began his time at PTS not all that impressed with Gerstner. That changed almost immediately.

In a fall class in his first year, Gerstner was offering a critique of the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, when R.C. rose in defense. Earlier that spring, for a college class, R.C. had written a paper critiquing the classical arguments for the existence of God from a presuppositional viewpoint. R.C. had become a presuppositionalist under the influence of Dr. Thomas Gregory, who had been taught by Van Til himself. R.C. made his case. Then Gerstner spent the next ten minutes dismantling R.C. Or, as R.C. put it, it took Gerstner ten minutes ‘to wipe off the spot where I stood. And not only did he dismantle my arguments and destroy them, but the thing was I knew it… I lost, and I knew I lost.’ In that instant, R.C. had a deep-seated respect for Gerstner that continued to grow over the years.

Gerstner was the champion of orthodoxy at Pittsburgh. Jeffrey S. McDonald, Gerstner’s biographer, speaks of Gerstner’s isolation among the faculty…. Gerstner would often simply stay quiet in faculty meetings. He knew his vote would not matter, and he also knew his colleagues ‘appreciated my not talking too much, because it was a waste of time.’ But he was never quiet in class, or on the debate stage, or in the many pulpits he filled.

R.C. sensed a similar theological isolation. He recalls that there were about five other theologically conservative students at PTS at that time…. R.C. also felt the tension in his classes from the theologically liberal faculty. The seminary curriculum had one course that surveyed all of the New Testament books. As they finished Acts, the professor said, ‘Most theologicans get excited about Romans, but I don’t. Let’s go now to 1 Corinthians.’ These students were studying to be pastors, yet they were not taught even one minute’s worth of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans’ It’s easy to see why R.C. called Gerstner a ‘lifeline’ during his seminary days. Of Thomas Gregory, R.C. said succinctly, ‘He was precise, and he knew his stuff.’ The exact same could be said of Gerstner. Precision and a high level of competency, mastery, would come to be similar hallmarks of their protege.

Taken from the brand new biography R.C. Sproul; A Life by Stephen Nichols (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), pp.60-62.

Published in: on May 15, 2021 at 9:32 PM  Leave a Comment  

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