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NORTHCUTT, JESSE JAMES

NORTHCUTT, JESSE JAMES (1914–1994). Jesse James Northcutt, pastor, seminary professor, and administrator, son of Elijah Lecil and Mittie Pearl (Lamkin) Northcutt, was born at Haskell, Texas, on June 10, 1914. The sixth of seven children, Northcutt had four brothers and two sisters. When he was between the ages of four and ten, his family moved to Ranger and then to Olden, Texas, and finally to Duncan, Oklahoma. At the age of thirteen, under the influence of a Sunday school teacher, Northcutt was converted and baptized in the First Baptist Church of Duncan. He enrolled at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, but faced a fierce internal struggle concerning his call to become a preacher. Northcutt had not known any preachers in his life who left a positive impression. Eventually he committed his life to preaching and graduated magna cum laude in 1936.

In the summer of 1936 Northcutt moved to Fort Worth to enroll at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among the professors he admired were H. E. Dana, Lee Rutland Scarborough, and Walter Thomas Conner. The combination of theological insight and Christian commitment Northcutt saw in Conner appealed to him in a special way. Northcutt would later write an article about Conner's theological legacy.

After Northcutt completed his master of theology degree in 1939, Conner persuaded him to pursue doctoral studies. Also in 1939 he was elected to the faculty. For several years Northcutt served as a faculty member and graduate student at Southwestern Seminary. He earned his doctor of theology degree in 1947.

In 1944 Northcutt was elected to succeed Jeff Ray as professor of preaching at Southwestern. He enjoyed teaching homiletics (the preparation and delivery of sermons) and pastoral ministry courses. Still, Northcutt could not escape the notion that God wanted him to return to the pastorate.

In 1948 he was called to become pastor of the First Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas. The Abilene years were fruitful and the church prospered under his leadership. Northcutt returned to Southwestern Seminary in the fall of 1949 to preach a campus revival. Then President E. D. Head suggested to Northcutt that the seminary would soon need a successor to Conner in theology; Head was convinced that Northcutt should have the job. After a brief but highly successful pastorate in Abilene, he moved back to Fort Worth in 1950 to begin teaching theology.

Northcutt discovered, however, that he did not enjoy teaching theology as much as teaching homiletics. In 1951 he resumed his role of professor of preaching. Here Northcutt would make a major contribution to the strong tradition of Baptist preaching. Duringa teaching career spanning almost half a century, Northcutt taught more than 10,000 Baptist preachers.

Before delivering a sermon to a contemporary audience, Northcutt insisted, the preacher must come to terms with what a biblical text meant in its original setting. He taught his students to interpret particular texts by means of the grammatical-historical-theological method. He also investigated the original language of the text, the meaning and relationship of the words, and the grammar. Only afterward did he advise students to seek theological meaning applicable to the contemporary situation. In 1963, with coauthors H. C. Brown, Jr., and H. Gordon Clinard, Northcutt published Steps to the Sermon.

Northcutt was elected dean of Southwestern Seminary's School of Theology in 1953 and continued in that administrative position for two decades. In 1973 the seminary was reorganized and he was elected vice president for academic affairs. In 1978 Northcutt returned to full-time teaching and was elected the E. Hermond Westmoreland Distinguished Professor of Preaching.

Southwestern recognized him as a distinguished alumnus in 1969. In addition to his academic work, Northcutt also was a member of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth and served as president in 1976–77.

Northcutt married Fannie Yeager on December 24, 1933; they had two daughters, Shirley Ruth and Jesse Ann. In 1976 benefactors, friends, and family established the Jesse and Fannie Northcutt Lectures on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Seminary. The first lectures were given in 1979 by James Flamming, the Northcutts' son-in-law. Fannie died on January 11, 1978. Northcutt subsequently married Nannie Don Beaty on August 1, 1981. Northcutt died in All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth on December 13, 1994, due to complications from Parkinson's disease.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Baptist Standard, December 21, 1994. H. C. Brown, Jr., H. Gordon Clinard, and Jesse J. Northcutt, Steps to the Sermon (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1963). Joel C. Gregory, "Interpretation in Preaching," Southwestern Journal of Theology 27:2 (Spring 1985). Phillip Endel Lee, Jr., "A critical evaluation of Jesse James Northcutt's homiletical design in comparison to Augustine's instruction as exemplified in De doctrina Christiana" (Ph.D. dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2000). Jesse Northcutt Collection, A. Webb Roberts Library, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth. Scott L. Tatum, "The Contribution of Jesse James Northcutt to Southern Baptist Preaching," Southwestern Journal of Theology 27:2 (Spring 1985).

Ben D. Craver

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Ben D. Craver, "NORTHCUTT, JESSE JAMES," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fno31), accessed July 26, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.