The Gospel of Luke is a favourite for many Christians, including R.C. Sproul. In today’s book he guides the reader through this beloved gospel, the way Luke wrote it, fixing our eyes upon Christ, from start to end.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review “A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel” by R.C. Sproul. 400 pages, published by Christian Focus in November 2011. It’s available in Amazon Kindle for USD9.99. For this month or what remains of this month, it’s available in Logos for free.
The Sproul Factor
My faith has been blessed by Dr. R.C. Sproul. Not because of Ligonier Ministries, which he founded. I have watched a few of their videos and teaching series but that’s not the big reason. Nor is it Sproul’s books. I haven’t read his most famous book, the Holiness of God. I’m a bit embarassed to say that the only Sproul books that I have read are his children’s books, which I got for my children. We love them. I don’t watch or read Sproul. I mostly listen to him on the podcast, “Renewing Your Mind”. Although Sproul passed away in 2017, listening to the podcast makes it feel like he is still alive somewhere scribbling with a chalk on blackboard, growling, grinning and chuckling.
In Sproul’s case, his biggest impact on me was not the teaching, it was the teacher. He was larger than life: the humour, passion, precision in doctrine, the love of life, he loved kidding around. I’ve read Stephen Nichols’ biography on R.C. Sproul but as much as Nichols tries, and it is a valiant effort, you can’t capture the essence of Sproul in a bottle. And I think this is the problem with biographies of Martyn Lloyd Jones, or Spurgeon, or Amy Carmichael, or any other saint.
If you are a Sproul fan, you might come to this book looking forward to more Sproul. If yes, you might want to stick around for a few more minutes, before you rush off to buy the book.
I bought this book. I didn’t get this book for free from Logos’ Free Book of the Month programme. I got it much earlier. In late 2017, I began a preaching series on the Gospel of Luke. Chapter by chapter, verse by verse. Seeing that I was going to preach through the book over the next few years, I collected what I considered the best commentaries on Luke. After nearly 5 years of studying the Gospel of Luke and using various commentaries, I am confident to review commentaries on Luke.
If you are looking for R.C. Sproul’s famous wit and deep insights, this is not the book for you.
If you are looking for a commentary as a reference, this is not the book for you.
I’ll give some book recommendations early in this review.
If you want to dig deep into the language or the historical, cultural, sociological significance or the different interpretations of the Gospel of Luke then I found the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament on Luke by Darrell Bock to be the best technical commentary.
If you want to be moved, to be exhorted, to adore God in His Word then the best devotional commentary to me is the Reformed Expository Commentary on Luke by Philip Graham Ryken.
I wanted to lean on Sproul but his book offered so little. Then, Logos gave this book away for free. I have this podcast. So I gave Sproul’s commentary a second look. After finishing the book, I understood what Sproul did here. And if you listen to the end, you might be surprised as I was with this book.
“A Walk with God” is a no-nonsense commentary. By that I mean he jumps straight into Luke 1:1. There is no background, no outline, not even an introduction to his book because Sproul doesn’t want to talk about his book, he wants to talk about Luke’s book.
The very first words in this book are:
I am sure that every Christian has one gospel that stands out as his or her favourite. If I were forced to choose, I would have to select Luke’s. I have studied and taught it in various settings. It seems that the more I read it, the more excited I get about it.
At the outset of Luke (1:1–4) there is what is called the ‘prologue’. It is very short, but contains a great deal of important information. In it Luke gives his reason for writing: ‘so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught’ (1:4).
There are 24 chapters which corresponds to… guess what? Yes, to the 24 chapters in the Gospel of Luke. Each chapter has several devotions. For example, in the first chapter there are five devotions titled:
- Introduction (I just read some parts of it)
- Gabriel Sent to Zechariah
- Gabriel Visits Mary
- Mary Visits Elizabeth
- Birth of John
You will note that there is no fancy devotion title. The devotion title is essentially the Bible heading. I’m trying to imagine the editor looking at the 104 devotion titles. No alliteration, no provocative line or question to pull the reader in. “R.C. Can’t you spice it up a little? Instead of “Mary Visits Elizabeth”, why not “The Virgin meets the Old Lady”?”
Everyday, somewhere there is a preacher, Bible teacher, thinking of a spiced up sermon title, chapter title. In this book, in this series of devotions, it is straight up, no-nonsense.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
Let’s take a deeper look at “Mary Visits Elizabeth”. I want to show you want you can expect in this book. This is a commentary on Luke 1:39-56.
This is how the devotion begins:
After the angel left Mary, she went to the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, Luke records that ‘the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” ’ As the angel greeted Mary, so does Elizabeth. ‘But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ she asks. Young Mary would normally have paid homage to Elizabeth, the older of the two; but Elizabeth recognises that she is in the presence of one whom God had highly favoured.
Notice that the way Sproul sets the scene, there is no need for you to reach for the Bible. You have all you need here to picture the setting. He makes a quick comment on the cultural setting: Normally the younger would pay homage to the older but here it is reversed. If he didn’t point it out, some readers of Luke’s Gospel might have missed it.
He then moves towards the emphasis of the devotion, which is Mary’s song, also known as the Magnificat. He makes a quick comment on a theological debate: Some say that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was sinless. Sproul cites Thomas Aquinas, who saw in this song, Mary confessing her sins. Sproul restrains himself from saying more. Sproul is an expert on the Reformation. He can write a whole book on Mary’s Sin, not that he knew the specifics of her sin, but he knows that Mary like all of us needs a Saviour.
He moves on:
One of the reasons why Mary sings this song of praise is that she recognised something of great importance: God knew who she was. He noticed her. As a peasant of Nazareth she was not considered to be very important by anybody except her family. Yet God selected Mary to be the mother of Christ. So from the depths of her heart she cries out, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.’ Mary experienced what every human being wants to experience: a sense of her dignity.
Sproul quotes Mary’s song in full. Luke 4:46-55. You don’t have to reach for your Bible to read it. If you are like me, you might not know how to read or appreciate poetry. Sproul is at hand. He writes:
Imagine the pomp and circumstance of the emperors in the ancient world. They would march in procession and have slaves bearing their thrones along the way. As they were being carried along, the crowds would bow down to them. They were elevated on thrones in the air for people to admire the self-made gods. Then God would come and, with one tug of his wrist, emperors and kings of the ancient world crashed from their pedestals. This is what Mary says, ‘He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.’
After a bit more exposition of the passage, he ends the devotion with the following:
Some Christian people seem only as zealous as the strength of the memory of their last religious experience. But there are times when we are called upon to live for Christ when we don’t feel like it, when we don’t have an overwhelming sense of his presence. Every Christian knows what it means to go through the ‘dark night of the soul’. That is when we discover what our faith and memories are made of.
Even if you never experienced another blessing from God or sensed his presence again as long as you lived, you would have no justification to do anything but live each day in praise. You could do nothing but live in gratitude to God for what he has already done in your life. We easily forget, but we are fortunate that God does not forget. When he makes a promise, he keeps it. Mary understood that as she sang.
What makes a devotion, a devotion, is the way it lands. Somehow the writer must steer the mind and heart from the text, the accompanying explanation or anecdote, and bring the reader towards God. At the end of every devotion, all 104 in this book, Sproul writes with the aim that your eyes gaze up above and beyond the ceiling, to the Holy God enthroned above.
As a summary, in each devotion you can expect a quarter of it to be background or setting, a quarter is Bible verses, a quarter is the exposition and finally a quarter is the exhortation.
Some devotions are heavier on the background. For example, in Luke 2:1, the Gospel writer Luke name-drops Caesar Augustus. Sproul picks up on that to give us a history lesson on Caesar Augustus. In other history books, even Christian ones, when profiling Caesar Augustus the focus is on how great or how evil he was. Not so for Sproul. He is keenly attentive to the God behind every man. He writes:
It was in that small village [Bethlehem] that Christ was born. But notice, the only reason historically why Jesus was born in Bethlehem was because of this powerful imperial decree by Caesar Augustus.
It was no coincidence that this imperial decree of Caesar’s happened to take place at this time, forcing them to make the journey to Bethlehem. Here is the most powerful emperor in the world acting out the decree of God himself. Caesar Augustus, in the final analysis, was but a pawn in the hands of the Lord God omnipotent.
Devotions should be read one at a time with some space in between. Give the reader time to meditate on what was just read. Spurgeon’s famous devotion was titled Morning and Evening. You read one in the morning and another in the evening. If I wasn’t reading this book, “A Walk with God”, to review it, I would do the same. One in the morning, one in the evening. You should give yourself time to meditate between devotions.
In the entire Gospels, whether it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, what would be the most poignant moment to meditate on? Which part of the story of Jesus, should we pause and ask God to search our hearts? The Crucifixion and Resurrection.
I thought he could have written more; an extra devotion or two? I am not asking for emotional manipulation here. You could say that Sproul was being consistent with how he handled Luke’s writings. Luke wrote this much, and so Sproul commented that much. But if we take Luke’s Gospel as a travelogue, then the Crucifixion and Resurrection is the destination. Because of what these events mean for the whole book of Luke, I think Sproul could have helped the reader see this and show it by slowing, pausing and forcing the reader to meditate on the events of the Cross. Especially, when we consider who this book is for.
Who Is This Book For?
As I said earlier, I barely touched it when I was preparing sermons. That’s because every insight he shares, whether it’s on the language, or the historical, cultural, theological, every insight he shares I can find it in a technical commentary. And over there it would be described at length: the historical development and the multiplicity of views or interpretation. Whatever Sproul offers here is light in comparison.
In my studies, I didn’t just want to know the facts, I also wanted to see and savour God. Here, the pastoral or devotional commentaries are helpful.
Forgive me but every time I talk about sermon preparation and commentaries, I have to issue a disclaimer. I don’t read commentaries to find the best bits to share on the pulpit. I don’t follow them blindly. I don’t see them as authoritative. I approach the commentaries the same way I would approach friends. Knowledgeable, yes but not authoritative.
My problem with Sproul’s commentary is if I was approaching Sproul here, with my sermon in mind, I wouldn’t gain much from the conversation. Everything he says, I already know. Mary visits Elizabeth. The younger pays homage to the older. I already know that. Caesar Augustus, the history of the man. I already know that. I know, not because I am knowledgeable or read a lot, but sometimes it’s because I’ve been a Christian long enough to pick up on these things. I’ve heard it, I’ve read it, so when I read an insight in Sproul’s book, it is rarely new. For this reason, I never took it out of the shelf for the many years I had it, until this month.
Now, as I read “A Walk with God” by R.C. Sproul, not for a sermon in mind, but for itself, I can give you a profile of the ideal reader of this book.
Imagine a young man wakes up in the morning. He has to go to school. He needs to wash up, eat breakfast, many things to prepare. His mind is racing for the new day.
But he doesn’t do any of that. This young man has decided to wake 10 minutes earlier every morning so that he would have time to do a devotion. His daily devotion.
For material, he doesn’t want to do “Our Daily Bread”. He has already done that. He found the bite-sized devotion useful but now what he really wants is to go through the Bible. He wants to read the Bible but it’s so hard. And he is so busy. He doesn’t have the time to do an in depth study and if we are being honest, even if he had the time, he wouldn’t know how.
So this young man wakes up, opens “A Walk with God” by R.C. Sproul and reads. There are no knots to untangle. He doesn’t even need to have two books in front of him. A Bible and the devotion. He finishes the devotion. Gives thanks to God. And the day kicks off.
The young man does this every day and after 104 days, he finishes the book. He says to himself, “I understand Luke! I know why he wrote what he wrote and I see God more clearly now than before.”
With this confidence, he reads other books of the Bible, maybe with help or without. And he has achieved this level of confidence because a teacher once showed him chapter by chapter, what Luke wrote in his Gospel. A teacher showed him that there is nothing scary about exposition. And that teacher, R.C. Sproul wrote this book for that purpose.
Sproul’s Favourite Gospel
You will remember that Sproul said if he was forced to choose his favourite gospel, he would pick Luke’s. Well, he loved it so much that he has another commentary on it.
The St. Andrews Expositional Commentary on Luke by R.C. Sproul weighs in at 553 pages which is 50% more pages than the book I just reviewed. It’s based on a series of sermons Sproul preached as the pastor at St. Andrews. This commentary was published in 2020 which explains why I didn’t see it when I was looking for commentaries many years ago. I haven’t read the St. Andrews one, but I just make a note here, so that if you are looking for a commentary on Luke by R.C. Sproul, you might want to compare the two and see which suits you better.
To conclude this review, “A Walk with God” is written for the Christian beginning his journey. If you can see the purpose, then even the mature Christian can gain from the simple re-telling of the Gospel of Luke as shared by one of the greatest Bible teachers of our time.
This is a Reading and Readers review of “A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel” by R.C. Sproul. It’s available for free. At least for the next few days. Free from Logos. If you missed the free offer, then it’s available in Amazon Kindle for USD9.99.
Let’s end in a no-nonsense, unembellished note. If you like books, if you like Christian books, if you like Christian book reviews, then subscribe to Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Thank you for listening.
- A Walk with God by R.C. Sproul. Amazon. Logos.
- Luke (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (BECNT) by Darrell L. Bock. Note that it’s in two volumes. Amazon. Logos.
- Luke (Reformed Expository Commentary) (REC) by Philip Graham Ryken. Note that it’s in two volumes. Amazon. Logos.
- Luke: An Expositional Commentary by R.C. Sproul. Amazon.
- Morning and Evening by Charles H. Spurgeon. Website.