In Honor of Thomas Nettles (Matthew Barrett)
Over at Books At A Glance, several tributes have been paid to Thomas Nettles in light of his retirement as Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he has taught since 1997. As one who has great respect for Tom and as one who has had the privilege of writing and co-editing with Tom, I would like to take a moment to express my own gratitude for him as well. While there are many things I could mention, I will limit myself to two things I greatly respect about Tom.
First, Tom Nettles is a man who is unashamed of God’s Word and what it teaches, even when it is unpopular to do so. There are few theologians and historians like this today. Many are willing to affirm their beliefs around like-minded company or when their beliefs are highly esteemed by everyone else. However, when those beliefs become controversial, unpopular, or politically incorrect, few men will stand for them without embarrassment. Most will simply be quiet. Few will continue to voice and proclaim their theological convictions when the going gets tough.
Not Tom. When inerrancy was a doctrine that was abandoned, even laughed at, by those in the SBC, Tom boldly defended its significance and biblical credibility (see his book with Rush Bush, Baptists and the Bible). And long before there ever was a “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement (if we can call it that), or Calvinism ever became “cool”, Tom heralded the doctrines of grace, returning Southern Baptists to their rich heritage.
What I love about Tom is that he is only concerned about one opinion, and that is his Savior’s. His fervor and conviction is something young theologians should imbibe. There are far too many jellyfish theologians today. Tom has been a theologian with a spine, a backbone, unashamed and unapologetic. He fears God rather than man. And he seeks the approval of God, rather than the applause of man. In a world of politics, how rare this is. May his tribe increase!
Second, Tom’s passion for history is contagious. As a former student of his, I remember taking many different classes, but none of them were quite like Tom’s. Yes, he is a historian. But do not let that label fool you. The man is just as much a theologian (as every historian ought to be!). I remember walking out of his class on Baptist History one summer (a class difficult to survive even for the best of students), and thinking, “I didn’t receive a mere history lecture, but a theology lesson as well!” He would often begin looking at an individual in church history only to smoothly and effortlessly transition into their theology and its importance for today. Few historians do this as well as Tom does. Some are very good at remembering and analyzing history. But not many can utilize history to articulate theology. Tom is gifted in this regard, and God has used him mightily to strengthen those in the church and in academia.
Furthermore, I would be remiss not to mention Tom’s secret weapon: singing. I have never known a professor who, in the middle of a lecture, would begin singing a hymn to illustrate a point. Tom’s urge to break out in song showed me just how much this man loved God and his Word.
Thank you, Tom, for the model you have been to me and so many others. May the Lord raise up many more to follow in your footsteps.
Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.