Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thanks Tom Nettles

Tom Nettles
While I was was a student studying church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, I took several courses with Tom Nettles.  He arrived on campus a year after I did and, as a southerner with a heavy southern accent, he was an immediate curiosity among the mostly Midwestern students who attended Trinity.  (As a New Jerseyan who was raised Catholic and probably never met a Southern Baptist until Nettles, he might as well have been from another planet).

I did not get to know Nettles very well during my tenure at TEDS, but I learned a lot from his classes.   During my last year in Chicagoland Nettles left for Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.  He spent 17 years there.

Today I learned that Nettles was retiring from teaching.  I wish him well in his retirement.  I am sure that there are a few more books in the works.

I will close this post with a few memories of Nettles:

  • One day in a course on Jonathan Edwards, Nettles walked into the classroom wearing his graduation regalia. Without an explanation he marched straight to the lectern and started reading/preaching "Sinners in the Hands of the Angry God."  I remember wondering what Edwards would have thought of a guy with a southern accent reading his sermon.  Nettles was a strong advocate of the idea that Edwards did not simply read his sermons, but he preached them with passion.
  • In a course on 19th century evangelicalism Nettles assigned everyone in the class a prominent religious figure from the period.  After we spent the semester studying this figure we were required to participate in a free-for-all theological debate (moderated by Nettles) in which each student had to embody the figure they were assigned.  My figure was D.L. Moody so all I had to do in the theological debate was assert something about preaching the gospel to the lost.  I remember Nettles getting a kick out of my consistent portrayal.
  • During the Jonathan Edwards class Nettles would illustrate some of Edwards's deep theological arguments by referencing episodes of the television series The Wonder Years.
  • On more than one occasion Nettles would break out into song during a lecture.  I never knew the hymns he sang, but he loved to sing them.
  • I used to work in the TEDS mailroom and Nettles taught his Introduction to American Church History course in an adjacent classroom. Though I did not take him for this course, I got to listen to all of his lectures while I sorted the mail. (His voice really carried!). I remember one day he was lecturing on the pro-slavery position in the antebellum South. His pedagogical approach was to take on the persona of a Christian slaveholder (perhaps it was Dabney or Thornwell).  The students in the class were debating him, trying to make a theological argument that slavery was wrong, but Nettles (in character) kept hammering back with Biblical citations that shot down all of their arguments.  It was fun to listen to.  I am almost certain that some of the students thought Nettles was pro-slavery.  
I am curious if any of his current students or other former students have had these classroom experiences.

Congratulations on your retirement, Dr. Nettles.  I am not a Southern Baptist, but I am still glad our paths had the chance to cross.