12 December 2010

Bénédictions sur Vous, mon Frère

A MOST BLESSED BROTHER AND FATHER in the faith died yesterday. There will be many places that one can find words on the contours of his life and the arc and trajectory of the ministry God gave him. But here you will find only a reflection.

Brother Roger Nicole (his title of preference) last wrote for Tabletalk this past February (we had hoped to have him interviewed for an upcoming issue—the request was out, but I don't think it was completed). Back in August 2009, he called me a few times regarding his February 2010 article; and a couple of times he left voicemails. I saved them, first, because the Roger Nicole was calling (and how often does one get such a thing from a theologian of his caliber?), and, second, I thought to myself, who knows how long he'll be around? So I wanted an audio record of him and his unforgettable thick accent (which grew thicker with age).

My experiences with Professor Nicole go back well before last year, however. When I arrived on the Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando) campus in 2000, one of the first classes I signed up for was his seminar on the Westminster Assembly. Beyond that, and a few reading electives, I found myself often sitting across from him in his office (with his highly prized and ancient monographs behind him) discussing the contours of Christian theology, especially of the Reformation period, and especially on the doctrine of the atonement.

It wasn't at all unusual to be discussing this or that finer point of theology with him (me often struggling to make sure I got everything he was saying, because, seriously, he would ramble on in encyclopedic fashion—that and his aged accent made it difficult), and then suddenly he'd jump up directing you to follow him, at a quick pace, downstairs to the library, which library housed his personal library of some 20,000 volumes. At the time, his collection was uncategorized, except for in his mind. On these occasions, he'd lead you right to a book (or books) that dealt with the exact topic you've just been speaking about. (How he remembered where everything was, I'll never know. I have problems with my own 700-volume library.) His gift of a first-print edition of John Milton's De Doctrina Christiana in English (1825) stands as one testimony to such occurences (he also imparted his secret about how he obtained so many books without it breaking him).

As far as I could tell, he thrived in this atmosphere, spending genuine time with students, gently challenging their assumptions, and pointing them in directions he hoped they'd go. And he did this, it seemed, primarily because he loved the Christ of God and the people for whom that Christ atoned. I know he sometimes dreamed about writing more, but for whatever reason it never materialized. Quite incommensurate with his lack of celebrity status is his lasting legacy in Christ's kingdom, for he has touched the lives of countless would-be pastors and teachers who went on to serve God's people face to face.

May his love for Christ and his church—manifested in his passion for the Holy Scriptures, his exactness regarding the doctrine of the atonement, his allegiance to the God revealed in his Word, his desire for true Christian unity, the gentleness with which he dealt with doctrinal differences, and his concern for biblical equality among all people in the church—be ever true of us.


Reformation said...

He left a legacy in this scribe's family going back to the 40's.

Thanks for your post.

JT said...


Thanks for this moving tribute, brother.


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