The Class Goes On: A Tribute to the Life and Teaching of Dr. Jack Cottrell


By Tom Clabourne

When I was last around a table with Dr. Jack Cottrell at the Christian Restoration Association’s board meeting last November, it was obvious to all present that this great teacher’s voice was weakening, even as cancer ravaged other parts of his body . I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room that day who wept deeply over the uncomfortable reality that soon his important voice would be silenced.

Since his passing last Friday evening, I am sure some of his admirers and alumni have expressed their dismay that we have lost not only a good man of God, but a strong biblical voice, always so desperately needed in the restoration movement and the wider church world.

As a former student and ministry colleague of Dr. Cottrell, I share this concern, but I would also suggest a question for consideration: “Is the voice of a truly great teacher ever completely silenced?” I do not think so. The class just continues.

Jack Warren Cottrell has lived most of his life in classrooms. He spent 23 years as a full-time student (should have been 24 – he skipped first year) and 49 years as a respected professor of theology. In both contexts, and elsewhere in life, he was a lifelong learner. And his desire to learn was driven by his love and commitment to the truth.

Jack Cottrel

During a presentation earlier this year, he explained, “My main motivation for what I do can be summed up as follows: my LOVE FOR THE TRUTH. I have always had a passion for sound doctrine. I teach and write because I believe in certain truths so much that I want to share them and convince others to accept them.

As a result, he knew what he believed and why he believed it – a trait increasingly absent in church leaders today in an age where pragmatism reigns supreme. However, while Dr. Cottrell passionately sought truth, he was never afraid to rethink his own theological positions, and he always sought to articulate biblical truths as clearly as possible.

Several years ago, I showed Dr. Cottrell a chart called “God’s Plan of Salvation, which I developed for my congregation during a series of sermons on Romans. I explained that my upbringing in his classes was the basis for most of the content on the board. I asked him to review the chart and suggest any changes he felt were necessary. He contacted me a few days later and assured me that he thought the board was a valuable tool for personal evangelism and classroom teaching. (This was not surprising, since most of the material came from him.) However, he suggested that I change the wording of a sentence that I had taken directly from his teaching. He explained that continued study had led him to believe there was a more biblical way to express this point.

Always a teacher; still a student. You see, the lessons continued, even for Jack Cottrell, and it must be the same for you and me.

As tributes to Jack Cottrell continue to appear in the coming days, I hope people will see that he was much more than just a superior teacher and author. Many were unaware of Jack’s seductive wit, friendly smile, good singing voice and sense of humor. Those who knew him well appreciated his humility, generosity and kindness.

Some will be surprised to learn that Dr. Cottrell’s main area of ​​interest in high school was his Future Farmers of America program as he prepared for a career in agriculture. That all changed during a late-night conversation at church camp with one of his camp counselors, longtime Kentucky preacher Wayne B. Smith, who steered him into the ministry.

I’m sure we’re all grateful that this one-on-one private “lesson” took place in a quiet camp dining room.

Dr. Cottrell usually kept his office door open to allow students to come in, sit down, and talk. There is no doubt that some of these private sessions also had enormous implications. The class continues.

Jack Cottrell was a preacher. During his college and graduate years, he held preaching ministries in five different states, including serving as the premier of a church plant in New Jersey while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary. He had a heart for the Lord’s Church and remained active in local congregations throughout his life.

For a week in 1979, I attended my first theology class under Dr. Cottrell and preached my first sermon at Bethlehem Christ Church near Winchester, Ohio, where I continue to serve. Last Sunday, as I preached from Galatians 3, 43 years later, I realized that most of the truths about salvation I had shared were the result of my time in his classes. His teaching still influences the messages and lessons of countless preachers like me.

Jack Cottrell’s scholarship and teaching have truly shaped generations of preachers, teachers, missionaries and church members, who in turn will continue to carry his voice to future generations. Today, as I look back on Dr. Cottrell’s classes decades ago, I realize that he actively practiced the teaching principle of 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things heard in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people. people who will also be qualified to teach others.

His prolific writings – 43 books translated into 15 languages, countless articles, printed lessons, informative social media posts and website teachings – will continue to teach, correct and train countless people in Justice. His writings were often scholarly and profound, but many more were written so that the average church member could understand and even share the material in a Bible school class or small group.

In some of his last Facebook posts, shared less than a month before his death, he presented the biblical teaching about what happens to Christians after we die. I mentioned these messages in church on Sunday morning. Later, a woman asked me during our church picnic if I could print a copy of these messages for her. The class continues.

John Mitchell, Jack’s colleague at the Christian Restoration Association, wrote just days ago: “If the Lord tarries, I firmly believe that in a hundred years students will be studying the material of Jack Cottrell.

Grace and truth were the two dominant themes in Jack Cottrell’s life as he sought to serve, honor and proclaim Jesus Christ who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, 17). In lectures, articles, sermons, books, and even debates, his goal was always to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Dr Johnny Pressley, who taught for many years with Dr Cottrell at Cincinnati Christian Seminary, explained: “Those who said he was ‘dogmatic’ didn’t understand how often he preceded his statements with ‘in my opinion'”.

However, it has always been clear that Dr. Cottrell’s point of view was only developed after a thorough examination of the words of scripture. As he wrote in his 2018 book, The Word of God is Truth,

A long time ago I made the decision to accept the teachings of the Bible as absolute truth, no matter the subject, no matter how much pain it causes me, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise, no matter if I’m in the minority, and no matter how much it costs me.

This commitment is what prompted Kerry Allen, president of the Louisville Bible College, to write: “Jack Cottrell had a real burden for truth and grace, which burned within him so furiously that neither popularity, nor friendship, nor neither the platforms nor the position deterred him from standing. exactly where he understood that God had revealed in his word.

Dr. Cottrell’s known commitment to biblical truth also helped him slowly transform the Restoration Movement’s understanding of biblical grace, after his teachings initially met with resistance.

Many of us who studied with him believe that his most important teaching legacy was his life-changing teaching on grace. I am one of countless students who consider his Doctrine of Grace course to be the most important and impactful I have ever taken. For nearly half a century, Dr. Cottrell has taught this class more than 70 times, leading generations of students away from the dangerous concept of salvation by works that saturates most false religions and has been subtly rooted in our own community of churches. .

Through Dr. Cottrell’s clear and concise teaching, his students have confidently explained God’s process of salvation to thousands of others using the simple formula that sinners are saved by grace (the basis), by faith (the means), in baptism (the time), for good works (the result).

Now I ask you again: Is the voice of a truly great teacher ever completely silenced?

Since this article cannot go on forever, and since none of us can put into words all that Jack Cottrell has meant for the kingdom of God, join me in celebrating the truth expressed by his former student and colleague, Harold Orndorff, just hours after the transition: “Jack has joyfully received his justification, he has labored for his sanctification, he now joins those who await final glorification.”

Faith has become seen. Our dear brother, my dear friend Jack, can now appreciate more fully the “robe of righteousness” given to him by Jesus the Lamb, about which he wrote and taught with such passion. I also know that as his teachings continue to inform and guide us here, his own learning will continue as well.

I suspect that last Friday night, Jesus, the greatest teacher of all, greeted our beloved teacher with a recommendation – perhaps something like a note at the top of an exam paper – that read: “Bravo , good and faithful servant.”

Tom Claibourne studied under Dr. Jack Cottrell, served with him on the board of the Christian Restoration Association, and preaches Bible truth weekly at Bethlehem Christ Church near Winchester, Ohio.

(Jack Cottrell passed away on Friday, September 16. Visitations and a celebration of life service for Dr. Cottrell will be held on Monday and Tuesday, September 26 and 27 at Bright [Ind.] Christian Church. A full obituary is available here.)


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