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.

4 comments:

Jeff Douglas said...

Dr. Nettles has influenced me more than any other professor. I am grateful for him. I had him for Church History at Southern Seminary. Several of of us arrived early for out final exam and were waiting in the room when Dr. Nettles walked in, also about 15 minutes early. He asked if there was any last minute helps he could give us to prepare us for the exam. One student spoke up and said that we had studied for days, but we would really appreciate it if Dr. Nettles would do "Trouble in River City." He sang the entire song from memory, flawlessly, with gusto. It was great. I was never more relaxed about taking an exam.

John Fea said...

Great story, Jeff. Sounds like Nettles. Although I don't think I ever heard him do "Trouble in River City."

David Moore said...

Nettles was the second reader for both my and my wife's theses. He was a wonderful encouragement to us during our time at Trinity.

Douglas Mann said...

Good piece on Dr. Nettles. During my time in his Edwards class I read diligently and worked hard to complete the difficult readings on Edwards throughout the course. As the final week's reading approached I was also working feverishly to complete the final research paper. On the last day of class we had to turn in our research papers as well as read the final selection of Edwards' sermons. In the wee hours of the morning as I was completing work for class later that day I finally got to the last sermon, I opened to the assigned pages and read the title . . . "On Procrastination." I laughed and welcomed the excellent lesson Dr. Nettles was teaching to a group of young students, via an Edward's sermon.