robert jackson — in memoriam

Today’s Tennessean brings news of the death of Robert Jackson:

Robert grew up in Dickson County, Tennessee, where he went to high school with my grandmother.  Robert came to Nashville in the early 1950s — a young man in his mid-to-late 20s — to take up a preaching appointment at the Riverside Drive Church of Christ in East Nashville.  Shortly after his arrival he became the subject of some unwelcome attention at the 1954 David Lipscomb College Lectures.  In an Open Forum that year, he was marked as an “anti.”

His preaching ministry was not significantly slowed, though.  He remained at Riverside Drive for the better part of the next thirty years.

By the time I knew him he had left Riverside Drive to begin work with the Campbell Road Church of Christ in Madison, Tennessee (a NE suburb of Nashville, for those of you who aren’t locals), where he would remain until his retirement from preaching in 2007.  My grandparents and I attended Campbell Road when I was in high school.  It was a formative time for me in some ways.  My first opportunities to do the kinds of things that teenage boys do in church (e.g. read Scripture publicly, serve on the Lord’s Table, even lead a song or two) came at Campbell Road.

Robert was known, by that point in his life, for the brevity of his sermons (20 mins. on average) — quite a move to make in a fellowship that still values the 45 minute sermon.  Moreover, looking back on it now, there was the tone of his sermons as well (a series of sermons on Psalm 73 stands out); his sermons were less focused on “the issues” by then.  I’ve had occasion since then to look over numerous bulletins from Riverside Drive during the late 1950s and into the 1960s.  The combative Robert seen there (which is understandable, I suppose, given the heat that he and others were taking from the Nashville CofC establishment in those days) had calmed considerably by the mid-1990s.  The sermons were gracious, even dignified, to my young ears.  It was a model that I would seek to emulate in my first, still-wet-behind-the-ears attempts at preaching during my college years.

My grandparents left Campbell Road shortly after I left for college, so I lost contact after that point with many of the people there, including Robert himself.  I’ve had the opportunity, though, over the past two years as I’ve done my research on the Churches of Christ in East Nashville to reflect more on his importance in this city and in my own spiritual development.

His passing, I think, represents in a small way the reality that the NI fellowship is at a crossroads.  Tant, Cogdill and the other major players of the controversies of the 1950s have been dead for a number of years now.  Now it is the younger members of that first generation that are joining them.  What will become of our historical memory as a group as the first generation finally passes off the scene and all those who remember with intense emotion the events of the 1950s, with its “yellow tag of quarantine,” are gone?  I wonder…

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4 responses to “robert jackson — in memoriam

  1. Thanks for the poignant comments about brother Jackson. Most of those younger than their fifties have long forgotten the battles over institutionalism and that is both good and bad. It is good because the personal attacks and sophistry that often found their way into the arguments about the issue are best forgotten. Brother Jackson remarked to my father that though he still strongly believed in the principles he defended in the controversy, he deeply regretted the harsh tone that often accompanied the clashes. I suppose the forgetfulness about those past battles is also bad because the sectarian concepts that were the root cause of institutionalism are still used by Satan to take our focus off of Christ and put it on the traditions of “The Church of Christ Church.” That is true both among progressives and “conservatives.”

    May God help us to learn from the past by considering his church as simply being saved individuals and not a network of congregations that are pressured to support its denominational machinery. But may he also help us to learn the importance of defending such principles with love and mercy.

  2. What will happen?

    I’m not a prophet, but I’d guess probably a lot of the same mistakes along with a few new ones, just as the NI debate was itself an echo of many past controversies.

  3. where can i get some of his tapes

    • Hi Blaine,

      I would suggest contacting the Riverside Drive church or the Campbell Road church — the two places in Nashville where Bro. Jackson spent most of his preaching career — to see if they have audio tapes available.

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