David Clyde Jones remembered as PCA’s ‘chief ethicist’
Former students at Covenant Theological Seminary recall professor’s profound effect on generations of pastors
Author and seminary professor David Clyde Jones, who trained generations of pastors at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he taught for 40 years, died Sunday after a bout with thyroid cancer. He was 79.
His students remember him for the indelible mark he left on their consciences and credit him for the Bible-centered approach to ethical questions found today in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
“For years, we kept his notes,” Robert Case, a former Jones student and founder of the World Journalism Institute, told me. “Years after we had graduated and had gone on to pastorates, gone on to graduate schools or whatever we were doing, we would still be bringing out David Jones’s notes to help elucidate our views on theology.”
Until his death, Jones served as Case’s theological “guiding star.” When he worked or wrote, Case would ask himself, “Would David Jones be proud of me? Would he be pleased with me, as one of his old students?
“That’s a tremendous power over men’s lives that he had, and there were scores of us,” Case said.
Jerram Barrs, who studied under Jones at Covenant Theological Seminary between 1968 and 1971, found him profoundly influential. He had just finished attending the L’Abri Institute and attended Covenant on Francis Schaeffer’s recommendation.
“I basically remember everything he taught,” said Barrs, who now teaches at Covenant. “I remember even the exam questions on the exam at the end of the semester, because they were so profound and so helpful.”
Jones’ appreciation for Schaeffer’s teachings on theology particularly caught Barrs’ attention, especially the way Jones reflected Schaeffer’s “truth with love” approach to evangelism.
“He was never kind of doctrinaire, [but] always gracious and thoughtful to his students, and always trying to win them rather than feed them with what he thought,” Barrs said. “He was a wonderful example of somebody who was reformed in his heart, in that sense, and not just in his head, saying this is true, these reformed doctrines, but they’ve really got to change our lives as well. And if we really understand them, how can we treat people meanly? And we’ve got to stop blasting people either for their moral sins or for their doctrinal errors.”
Case called Jones the PCA’s “chief ethicist.” As the denomination formed after breaking away from the more liberal Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA) in 1973, Jones served on or chaired committees responsible for drafting position papers on topics ranging from abortion to the use of nuclear weapons.
“Whether it was homosexuality, or abortion, divorce, male-female relationships, ecclesiastic relationships, David Jones was the guy for these really complicated, difficult issues that the denomination turned to for decades,” Case said.
Jones is survived by his wife of 54 years, Sue Ellen Bilderback Jones, two sons and daughters-in-law, and six grandchildren. He taught at Covenant until 2007 and wrote one book, Biblical Christian Ethics.
What enabled Jones to balance truth with love was his humility, Case recalled. He walked among theological giants but still saw himself as a kid from Greenville, S.C.
“He never lost that almost revivalist attitude of ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,’ and that fundamentally is the gospel,” Case said. “And I may have doctoral degrees after my name and all kinds of things I’ve accomplished, but the miracle is that the Lord would love me first.”
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