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…