25 September, 2022

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

by | 20 September, 2022 | 7 comments

By Tom Claibourne  

During my final time around a table with Dr. Jack Cottrell at the Christian Restoration Association board meeting last November, it was evident to all present that the voice of this great professor was weakening, even as cancer ravaged other parts of his body. I’m certain I was not the only one in the room that day who deeply mourned the uncomfortable reality that soon his important voice would be silenced.  

Since his passing last Friday evening, I’m sure some of his admirers and former students have expressed their dismay that we have lost not only a good man of God, but a strong, biblical voice still so desperately needed in the Restoration Movement and the wider church world.  

As a former student and ministry colleague of Dr. Cottrell’s, I share that concern, but I would also propose a question for consideration: “Is the voice of a truly great teacher ever completely silenced?” I think not. Class simply goes on. 

CLASS WENT ON FOR JACK COTTRELL 
Jack Warren Cottrell lived most of his life in classrooms. He spent 23 years as a full-time classroom student (it should have been 24—he skipped first grade) and 49 years as a respected professor of theology. In both settings, and elsewhere in life, he was a lifelong learner. And driving his desire to learn was his love for and commitment to truth.  

JACK COTTRELL

At a presentation earlier this year, he explained, “My main motivation for what I do can be summed up thus: my LOVE FOR TRUTH. I have always had a passion for sound doctrine. I teach and write because I believe in certain truths so strongly 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 missing in church leaders today at a time when pragmatism reigns supreme. However, while Dr. Cottrell pursued truth with a passion, he was never afraid to rethink his own theological positions, and he sought always to articulate Bible truths in the clearest possible way. 

Several years ago, I showed Dr. Cottrell a chart called “God’s Plan of Salvation,” which I developed for my congregation during a sermon series on Romans. I explained that my education in his classes was the basis for most of the chart’s content. I asked him to review the chart and to suggest any changes he thought necessary. He contacted me a few days later and assured me he thought the chart was a valuable tool for personal evangelism and classroom teaching. (That wasn’t surprising, as most of the material came from him.) However, he did suggest I change the wording of one phrase I had taken directly from his teaching. He explained that continued study had led him to believe there was a more biblical way of expressing the point. 

Always a teacher; always a student. You see, class went on, even for Jack Cottrell, and so must it be for you and me. 

CLASS GOES ON FOR THOSE WHO DIDN’T KNOW HIM WELL 
As tributes to Jack Cottrell continue to appear in the coming days, I hope people will see that he was far more than just a superior professor and author. Many were not aware of Jack’s winsome spirit, friendly smile, good singing voice, and his sense of humor. Those who knew him well appreciated his humility, generosity, and kindness. 

Some will be surprised to learn that Dr. Cottrell’s primary area of focus 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 toward ministry.  

I’m sure we all are thankful that this private, one-on-one “class” took place in a quiet camp dining hall. 

Dr. Cottrell typically kept his office door open to allow students to walk in, sit down, and talk. No doubt some of those private sessions had enormous implications, as well. Class goes on. 

CLASS GOES ON FOR PREACHERS LIKE ME 
Jack Cottrell was a preacher. During both his college and graduate school years he held preaching ministries in five different states, including serving as the first minister for a church plant in Greater Philadelphia while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary. He had a heart for the Lord’s church and remained active in local congregations his entire life. 

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

CLASS GOES ON FOR BIBLE STUDENTS AROUND THE WORLD 
Jack Cottrell’s scholarship and teaching have truly shaped generations of preachers, professors, 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 from several decades ago, I now realize he actively practiced the 2 Timothy 2:2 principle of teaching: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable 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 righteousness. His writings often were scholarly and profound, but many others were written so the average church member could understand and even share the material in a Bible school class or small-group setting.  

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

John Mitchell, Jack’s colleague with the Christian Restoration Association, wrote just days ago, “If the Lord tarries, I firmly believe a hundred years from now students will be studying Jack Cottrell material.”  

CLASS GOES ON AS WE LIVE AND TEACH GRACE AND TRUTH 
Grace and truth were the two prevailing themes of 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 classes, 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’ missed how often he prefaced his statements with ‘in my view.’” 

However, it was always clear that Dr. Cottrell’s view was developed only after extensive examination of the words of Scripture. As he wrote in his 2018 book, God’s Word Is Truth,  

Long ago I made the decision to accept the teachings of the Bible as absolute truth, no matter what the subject, no matter how much pain it causes me, no matter how much I would like for it to be otherwise, no matter if I am in the minority, and no matter how much it costs me. 

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

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

Many of us who studied under him believe his most significant teaching legacy was his life-changing teaching on grace. I am one of countless students who consider his Doctrine of Grace class to be the most important, impactful one I ever took. Over nearly half a century, Dr. Cottrell taught that class more than 70 times, steering generations of students away from the dangerous concept of salvation by works, which saturates most false religions, and for too long was subtly ingrained in our own fellowship of churches.  

Thanks to Dr. Cottrell’s clear and concise teaching, his students have confidently explained God’s salvation process to many thousands more using the simple formula that sinners are saved by grace (the basis), through 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? 

CLASS GOES ON, EVEN AFTER THIS LIFE 
Since this article cannot go on and on, and since none of us can put into words all Jack Cottrell has meant to the kingdom of God, join me in celebrating the truth expressed by his former student and colleague, Harold Orndorff, just hours after Jack’s transition: “Jack gladly received his justification, he worked on his sanctification, he now joins those awaiting the final glorification.” 

Faith has become sight. Our dear brother Jack can now appreciate more fully the “robe of righteousness” given him by Jesus the Lamb, about whom he wrote and taught so passionately. 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, welcomed our beloved teacher with a commendation—perhaps something like a notation at the top of an exam paper—that said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  

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

(Jack Cottrell died on Friday, Sept. 16. Visitation and a Celebration of Life service for Dr. Cottrell will take place this coming Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 26 and 27, at Bright [Ind.] Christian Church. A complete obituary is available here.) 

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com

7 Comments

  1. Debbie Field

    Will you please share your “plan of salvation” which you use?

  2. Dan Garrett

    Well said.

  3. Wes Thompson

    I couldn’t agree more. While I never met Jack personally, I have his books, which are dog-eared, underlined, highlighted as well as read and re-read. I am eternally grateful for his love for Biblical truth and passion for sharing and teaching it. Truly, “he, though dead, still speaks.” Thanks Jack!

    Wes Thompson,

  4. Rick Shonkwiler

    Tom,

    Very well written as you captured the essence of our professor and friend. I first heard Jack teach at CIY and these 46 years since have been molded and shaped by the years in class at CCU. While he was tough in the classroom, he was tender in our conversations as he took this young seminarian and answered his “simple-minded” questions. I always appreciated how he would listen hard to my questions before he answered.

    His life will cast a good shadow over many generations as those of us who studied with him continue to teach today. Thank you, Jack Cottrell, for your faithful obedience to the call of Jesus in your life!

  5. Eddie Tison

    Well said, Tom. I share your sentiments. I was just telling someone today about how many times I have heard someone talk about the life changing effect of taking Doctrine of Grace. I had the same experience, although I heard it first in his Theology and Life class.

  6. Cindy Pratt

    A heartfelt article, Tom. Thank you for sharing.

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