I had the privilege of meeting Tom Nettles in 1977 when he was a new professor at Southwestern Seminary and I was a junior at Texas A&M University struggling with a call to gospel ministry. I felt like I was the target of some cosmic practical joke because I had little to no esteem for pastors while sensing that God wanted me to become one. His sympathetic concern and wise counsel were used by God to help guide me into pastoral ministry. A year and a half later his church history class was the first course I took at Southwestern in 1979, just weeks before the “Conservative Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention began in earnest.
As a new seminary student and only months into my first pastorate, I was taught that the effort to elect an inerrantist as president of the SBC was a plot to destroy the convention and turn its seminaries into backwater Bible colleges. One day, after expressing my disdain for this new movement, Tom looked at me as if he expected my head to implode from ignorance. After closing his office door he spent the next two hours schooling me in the nature and authority of Scripture as well as in denominational history and politics. My real education had just begun.
In the ensuing years I have had the privilege of serving with and learning from Tom in a variety of settings. As a young husband I sat in his den one evening and was enthralled as he and his wife, Margaret, catechized their children. I’ve watched him respond to personal adversity and injustice with humility and grace time and again. In fact, I have heard him defend people who have harmed him and rebuke friends who spoke ill of his detractors. More times than I can count he has given me helpful counsel on pressing, complicated ministry and personal concerns.
One of Bunyan’s greatest characters in Pilgrim’s Progress is the bloody warrior called “Valiant-for-truth.” While many rightly aspire to his role in the Christian faith, very few measure up to the qualities that Bunyan recognized to be of utmost importance for such a calling. Not only must such a man stand for truth against the onslaught of error in the world, he must also know how to wield the sword of the Spirit effectively against the deadly enemies that reside within his own soul, namely “Wildhead,” “Inconsiderate” and “Pragmatic” (which meant “officiousness” in Bunyan’s day). In other words, a true Valiant-for-truth must not only love the truth, but also must love holiness and love people. I know of no one who better exemplifies this ideal than Tom Nettles. Through his teaching and writing the cause of God and truth have spread around the world, pointing countless numbers of people to the crucified, risen Christ and encouraging churches and church leaders to be faithful to the inerrant, infallible Word of God.
It is an honor to call him friend.
Tom Ascol, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church
Cape Coral, FL