Both Dr. R.C. Sproul, the Reformed theologian and founder of Ligonier Ministries and Mister Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s television host, have been gone for years – but neither have been forgotten by their legions of followers and fans.
When Fred Rogers succumbed to cancer in 2004 at the age of 74, he was hailed as America’s teacher and friend to generations of children, a tender gentleman whose walk matched his talk.
Dr. R.C. Sproul, who died in 2017 due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, enjoyed his own fervent followers, too – though mostly devout Christians who subscribed to Calvinistic theology or who otherwise enjoyed his rich scholarship and practical preaching and teaching.
It’s unlikely that many people would naturally connect Rogers and Sproul, but both men had more in common than you might otherwise think.
Shortly before graduating from Rollins College in 1951, Fred Rogers announced that he planned to attend seminary and become a minister. But then he saw television for the first time, which was only in its infancy. He was perplexed why it was only being used for silly or inconsequential things. In an instant he saw its potential – to reach millions for the Lord.
“I don’t think I’ll go to seminary right away,” Fred told his parents. “I think I’ll work in television.”
So, after graduation, Rogers took a coveted position as a page at NBC, eventually working on several network programs, including the Gabby Hayes’ children’s show. By 1953 he was working at WQED, a public television station in Pittsburgh.
Finally answering God’s call to what he assumed would be formal ministry, Fred Rogers decided to enroll at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1955. For eight years, he took classes during his lunch hour or in the evenings and on weekends. He graduated in 1963 and was ordained a Presbyterian minister. Only with all his entertainment and now ministry training, Fred Rogers decided to be an evangelist for television.
Some would later observe that Fred didn’t wear a clerical collar or robe – but a sweater.
Around the same time, a high school-aged R.C. Sproul was forced to abandon his football dreams when his father suffered a series of strokes. Instead of competing on the gridiron after school, Sproul went to work to help support his family. The loss of the game made him develop an anger toward God.
After his father died during his senior year, Sproul was able to enroll in Westminster College and was converted to Christianity after a seemingly chance encounter on the way to a bar. As providence would have it, the star of the football team crossed paths with R.C. as he hustled back to his dorm for his cigarettes. The player shared the Gospel with him in a way that convicted the freshman. Once he got back to his dorm, he got down on his knees and began his lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ.
Marrying and then finishing his undergraduate studies, Sproul took a job in a hospital electrical shop – and then enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. One year behind Fred Rogers, R.C. graduated in 1964 with a Masters of Divinity degree.
Although both graduates of the same seminary, and committed ordained Presbyterian ministers of the Gospel, the Lord led Rogers and Sproul on very different paths – yet two roads that He used to nevertheless influence and shape millions more.
The lives of these two talented and yet uniquely distinct ministers are a reminder that God takes imperfect people from varied fields of reach and influence to accomplish His purposes.
Image credit Ligonier Ministries and Mister Rogers Neighborhood.