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Retiring theology prof leaving legacy of spirituality, integrity

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–When Stanley A. Nelson retires as professor of theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary at the end of this academic year, the impact will be felt not only by students, but the entire seminary community.
“Stan Nelson has been turning students into theologians for two decades,” said Rodrick Durst, academic dean at Golden Gate. “He communicates the rightness of the believers’ church principle at every opportunity and has held all of us accountable to that fundamental Baptist distinctive.”
The believers’ church tradition places the church as the primary doctrine from which to develop theology. It locates God’s kingdom in the church, viewing the church as empowered by the Spirit to mirror God’s intention for what the world will become.
During his tenure at Golden Gate, in Mill Valley, Calif., Nelson, 66, also has served as pastor of Benicia (Calif.) Fellowship and in several interim pastorates.
For the last several years, he has spent considerable study in the area of spiritual formation. In 1995, he completed The Spiritual Directors’ Institute, a three-year program in spiritual direction at The Mercy Center, Burlingame, Calif., and has conducted sabbatical research in the area of spiritual growth and maturity.
“His commitment to spiritual formation and discipline has transformed and matured many of us, including myself,” said Durst.
Seminary President William O. Crews praised the theology professor for his influence among students.
“We are grateful for the tremendous impact Dr. Nelson has made in the lives of countless students who are serving effectively because of his teaching, his devotion to God and his profound passion for the church,” Crews said. “While we will miss him greatly from our classrooms, we look forward to the ways his ministry will continue to bless the countless lives who are part of the churches and ministries that our graduates and former students lead around the world.”
Nelson said he is grateful for the way teaching has complemented the years he served as a pastor and as a missionary.
“The orchestration of these three components has really enriched my life,” Nelson said. “I’ve tried to teach to change students and not just share information.”
A hallmark of Nelson’s teaching over the last decade has been his development of “narrative theology” to teach the truths of the Christian faith. That narrative approach “anchors” theology in the significant shaping periods of Christian history and in the story of the Christian church, according to Nelson, rather than patterning it after philosophical methods.
One implication of using the narrative approach is that teaching becomes part of the “witness” of Nelson’s Christian life.
“I have known few teachers who lived ‘do as I do, not as I say’ as much as Stan Nelson,” said Herb Drake, a staff member at Golden Gate and co-pastor of a nearby congregation. “He would agonize over the best way to express a difficult concept to his students, but the way he would live his life was always the greater teaching opportunity.”
Drake, who also co-edited Nelson’s theology lecture notes in book form, said Nelson demonstrates special concern for students.
“Every student is important to him — and not just as a name and a face,” Drake said. “Stan’s concern is more than just that his students learn in class. He also views himself as one of God’s laborers whose task is to be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is already doing in those around him and clarify that work.”
Another faculty member who works closely with Nelson commended his colleague’s influence in his personal life.
“Down deep, I trust Stan’s judgment and integrity as much as anyone I’ve ever known,” said Dwight Honeycutt, who occupies the seminary’s William A. Carleton Chair of Church History. “In our friendship I have experienced him perhaps more than anything else as a truth-teller. His respect for persons is such that he cannot do otherwise.” Nelson and Honeycutt have well-known reputations among students for their teasing and banter between one another.
“Since 1972 I have probably not made a truly major decision without first seeking Stan’s counsel,” Honeycutt added. “He has touched my life with grace.”
Nelson came to Golden Gate from the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomosho where he served two years as professor of theology. Previously he was an associate in the personnel selection department of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) in Richmond, Va., where he served 12 years as director of the missionary journeyman program, the overseas summer mission program, and was a candidate consultant for missionary personnel. He traveled extensively for the board throughout East Africa, South America, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia to survey mission personnel needs.
In addition to his teaching experience and service with the mission board, he was pastor of four Southern Baptist churches in Texas, Kansas and North Carolina.
He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va., and master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
He has also done advanced graduate study at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and the University of Nigeria at Ibadan. More recently, he spent three sabbaticals at Oxford University in England studying at Regent’s Park College.
Nelson has contributed a number of articles to such publications as The Baptist Program, The Student, World Mission Journal and Baptist Faith and Heritage. He is author of the book “A Journey in Becoming”, published by Broadman in 1983, and his theology lecture notes, “A Believer’s Church Theology”, were re-published in 1996.
A native of Turon, Kan., he is married to the former Norma Jean Baird, a social worker and church musician. The couple has two married children, James, an artist in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Lisa, a student and businesswoman in San Francisco.

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  • Cameron Crabtree