By Richard J. Cherok, PhD
Professor of History, Ozark Christian College
Executive Director, Celtic Christian Mission
Editor, College Press Publishing Company
In 2006, when the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference was held on the campus of Cincinnati Christian University, I was asked to chauffer the main speaker, Dr. Clark Pinnock, to the airport once the conference had concluded. Fully aware of the fact that Pinnock was a well-known (and sometimes controversial) theologian within the wider world of evangelical Christianity, I decided to use our thirty-minute drive as an opportunity to ask a few questions and gain a few insights from this renowned theological mind. And, because I know it is sometimes a human tendency to overestimate the value of a guy who plays on our team, or conversely, to underestimate the importance of the guy we see and know on a regular basis, I chose to ask Pinnock for an honest appraisal of Dr. Jack Cottrell as a theologian upon the broader stage of evangelical Christianity.
I don’t recall whether I was even able to ask any other questions of Pinnock as we made our trek down I-75, but I’ll never forget two aspects of his response to my inquiry about Cottrell. The first was the enthusiasm with which Pinnock offered his evaluation. Pinnock was not a young man at this time and had spoken several times over the past few days (including that morning), and he appeared quite tired as I picked him up for his excursion to the airport. Yet, the moment I asked for his thoughts on Cottrell, Pinnock appeared to regain some of his expended energy in preparation for his comments. In addition to the vibrancy of his response, Pinnock offered a glowing assessment of Cottrell. “Jack is amazing!” Pinnock said. “He’s one of the best systematic theologians anywhere.” Pinnock went on to offer a few areas of “minor disagreement” (as he called it) with Cottrell, but repeated his belief—several times—that “Jack is an incredible theologian!”
As a colleague of Cottrell’s at Cincinnati Christian University for nearly twenty years, I had come to appreciate him long before I ever met Pinnock or heard his thoughts about Cottrell. Even before I was hired as a professor at Cincinnati Christian University, I had come to know and appreciate Cottrell through the many books and essays he had published. As a theologian and a writer, Cottrell had a profound impact upon my life, education, and ministries. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to hear Pinnock offer such a positive appraisal of Cottrell as a theologian.
As an academic, Cottrell was an inspiring example of Christian scholarship. During his forty-nine years as Professor of Theology at Cincinnati Christian University, Cottrell taught thousands of students about Grace and the truths he found in God’s Word. Moreover, Cottrell was a prolific writer, authoring and publishing forty-three books (many of them with College Press) and many additional articles and essays. These writings have been used as instructional materials in college and seminary classrooms around the country as well as in many churches and Sunday schools. Many of Cottrell’s writings have also been translated—and continue to be translated by Literature and Teaching Ministries—into foreign languages to better equip Christians around the world for service to Christ and the church.
Though a highly-respected academic, backed up with solid educational credentials (M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary; Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary), Cottrell was not an ivory-tower professor. Not only did he hold numerous ministry roles throughout his career, but Cottrell was in great demand as a supply preacher, a seminar instruction in local churches, and a speaker for various Christian retreats, camps, and gatherings. Furthermore, he was no stranger to the mission field, having traveling internationally on numerous occasions to proclaim the gospel and to edify churches and church leaders around the world.
Over the past few years, Cottrell has battled the ravages of cancer within his body. Amid this struggle, he continued to write and to answer questions (many of them via Facebook) to help others on their Christian journey. And after all of the possible treatment options were exhausted, Cottrell continued to encourage many as he wrote, “When we are facing death in this fallen world, it is OK to pray for healing and extension of life (plan A), but to remember that if God chooses not answer those prayer, He has a PLAN A+ waiting for us.” So, with Cottrell’s recent graduation into Plan A+ where he will receive his eternal reward, many of us are well aware that we have lost an important voice for truth in a world that seems destined to stray further and further from it. Yet, because of the productivity of Cottrell’s abundant writing and publishing, we are left with a plentiful amount of knowledge from which he wanted the followers of Christ to learn. Thus, “though he is dead, he still speaks,” and we pray that his words will continue to lead others for many generations to come to the One who has now said to Dr. Cottrell, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”