4 June, 2023

Jack Cottrell and My ‘Macedonian Turning Point’

by | 19 September, 2022 | 5 comments


By Ronald L. Nickelson 

The year was probably 1982. I was age 27, and I was bored. I could have been good at the job I held as a captain in the U.S. Air Force, but I wasn’t—and my performance evaluations fairly reflected that fact. The job fit my college major just fine, but for some reason it didn’t fit me. 

Then one day a man by the name of Jack Cottrell from Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary showed up at my church in Fairborn, Ohio. He had come to teach a Wednesday-night series on the Holy Spirit. Professor Cottrell announced that attendees could take the six-week class for either college or seminary credit, so I gave the latter a try. I was startled a couple of months later to receive back my research paper emblazoned with the grade of A-. 

That fired my imagination. I knew little about the Bible at the time; I had rarely cracked it open since having been baptized into Christ some 17 years prior. And yet Jack Cottrell planted a seed that made me realize that there was something more important to pursue than anything else: theology—the study of God.  

So, I quit the Air Force and, with the support of an understanding wife, enrolled full-time in Cincinnati Christian Seminary in the fall of 1984. Years later, I would characterize those six Wednesday night studies under Professor Cottrell’s tutelage as the “Macedonian turning point” in my life, with allusion to Paul’s experience in Acts 16:6-10. 


And what a turning point it was! I began to devour the Bible as I read it cover to cover every year for at least a dozen years. Whenever I sat in one of Professor Cottrell’s classes, I felt as if we were in one of those “Vulcan mind melds”—his wavelength was mine as well. Graduation in 1987 was followed by a pulpit ministry, and then completion of another degree program. I also entered the Air Force Reserve as a chaplain and taught at a Bible college for three years.  

What followed was a 20-year ministry as editor and then senior editor of the Standard Lesson Commentary. Each transition was firmly rooted in that first encounter with Jack Cottrell when he set aside personal comfort to drive 140 miles round trip for six Wednesday nights to teach a class on the Holy Spirit at a small church. Only eternity will reveal the full impact of Jack Cottrell’s decision in this regard. 

But there’s a footnote I can’t resist adding. After the preacher at my church (Ned Noble) had had the foresight to arrange the Wednesday-night series, I overheard a deacon question why the church should pay this extra expense when we were already paying for preaching services. If only that deacon could have foreseen the “Macedonian turning point” to come! But then again, none of us are so privileged to know such things, are we? That’s where faith comes in—the faith that Jack Cottrell had in 1982. 

Ronald L. Nickelson is senior editor emeritus of the Standard Lesson Commentary. 

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


  1. Michael Hines

    I think every student who studied with Jack Cottrell had some sort of life changing experience. Mine wasn’t all that dramatic, but it sure changed me. Like most of Jack’s students, my change occurred as a result of “The Doctrine of Grace.” Even now when I teach Romans at church I lean heavily on what I learned from him.

  2. Rob Tuttle

    He was the first to unlock the book of Revelation to me and continues to be the theologian that I go to the most.

  3. Lynn Lusby Pratt

    I so appreciate the backstory Ron provided here. Even cooler, who knows how many more similar backstories there are, as relates to Dr C! Wonderful!

  4. Peter Ignatius

    A million AMENS to what Ron Nickelson writes. I went through a similar turnaround in my faith and perception of God all because of Dr. Cottrell’s “Doctrine of Grace” at Cincinnati Christian Seminary. My ministry in India continues to be fueled by this one class.

  5. Ronald L. Nickelson

    Although I was baptized into Christ in 1965, I don’t believe I was really converted until I took Dr. Cottrell’s “Doctrine of Grace” class in the mid-1980s. I remember several nights leaving class on legs that would barely hold me up. I had been confronted with the reality, implications, and cost of God’s grace as I had never been.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest News

News Briefs for May 31

Central Park Christian Church in Topeka, Kan., is planning a “Rooftop Revival” this weekend to bring the community together and help raise funds for the church’s youth ministry. Also briefs about funeral arrangements for Nell Stacy, a new book on Hebrews by Chad Ragsdale, and more. . . .

What I’ve Learned in Switching to an A Cappella Church of Christ

In the fall of 2020, as COVID restrictions were being eased, my wife and I were church “free agents.” I suggested we try an a cappella congregation I knew in Louisville, Ky. We jumped in, and two years later I joined the staff as involvement minister—a lifelong Christian Church guy now teaching, discipling, and worshipping in four-part harmony. Here are five observations from my experiences serving in an a cappella church. . . .  

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Excerpts from 3 Essays About Pentecost

“It is my conviction that the day of Pentecost is the focal point in the history of the world,” Wm. E. Sweeney wrote in 1929, “. . . that all the lines of history before that time converge to that great day, and that all the lines of history since that time have diverged.” . . .

Follow Us