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Review: The Sage of Jasper

I launch this review with a major question.  Is Gus Nichols worthy of the ten year effort exerted by Scott Harp, the author of the biography “The Sage of Jasper: Gus Nichols — A Biography?”  

The answer is an unqualified, yes!

Scott Harp. The Sage of Jasper: Gus Nichols—A Biography. Charleston, Ark.: Cobb Publishing, 2019. 535 pages. $25.

Scott Harp. The Sage of Jasper: Gus Nichols—A Biography. Charleston, Ark.: Cobb Publishing, 2019. 535 pages. $25.

Harp spent hour after hour, days without end, perusing the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation as well as newspapers and other journals, collecting important data about this tireless, noteworthy Alabama servant of God.  The book preserves the source of these countless details as endnotes to each chapter along with listing personal conversations with those who knew and admired Gus Nichols.  The book has 50+ chapters with addenda, the first being a time-line of Gus Nichols and his family. It also includes 150+ photographs of Nichols and other settings.

As Harp unfolds the Nichols’ biography, the reader is compelled into an escalating admiration for this exceptional Jasper, Ala., preacher, who pursued every available avenue in order to declare the whole council of God to as many men and women as possible.  

Nichols was born in 1892 in Kansas, Ala. He lived in Jasper from 1933 until his death in 1975. He preached in houses, public buildings, outdoor groves, town squares, and church buildings. He published tracts, pamphlets, and religious journal articles, as well as columns in newspapers. He turned out books and volumes of sermons.  He specialized in give and take, question and answer sessions. He used radio and sometimes television to great advantage. Perhaps even more admirable was the fact that he nurtured his own family in the faith.

Nichols was mostly self-educated but grew as a Bible student and preacher.  He dedicated five hours a day to study, mostly the Bible and books about it. He employed the available channels to proclaim the Gospel, the foremost being the Gospel meeting.  In these years in Alabama the main community gatherings were the evangelistic meetings. Nichols also visited town markets on Saturday afternoons and visited with whomever would stop about Christ and the Scriptures.

Scott Harp is to be commended for the incisive insights he provides in his Nichols biography regarding this period of Churches of Christ history.

In 1926, Nichols founded a small paper, The Gospel Way.  In November 1935, he commenced editing a new paper, Truth in Love. In January of 1963 he commenced editing Words of Truth.  

The first article by Gus Nichols appeared in the Gospel Advocate in July 1930 when Gus was 38.  He was appointed a staff writer in April 1944, and in December 1948 editor of the Queries Department formerly headed by G. C. Brewer.

Not only did Nichols write for the brotherhood papers, but in January of 1943 he contributed weekly articles to The Mountain Eagle, Jasper’s local newspaper. Five years later, 66 of these articles were bound and sold as sermons of Gus Nichols.  Over the years other volumes of sermons were edited and marketed. In 1966, J. D. Thomas of Abilene Christian issued volume IX in his Great Preachers of Today series which was comprised of sermons by Gus Nichols on “The Great Commission.” Gus utilized the power of the written word though multiple venues and his writings were dispersed globally.

Tom Olbricht

Tom Olbricht

Through most of his career Gus Nichols engaged in religious debates, mostly in Alabama. The debates were a community gathering. Rather than inducing acrimony and driving wedges in communities, they brought religious persons face-to-face and created community rather than disrupting it.  By following these debates one gains an excellent understanding into the history of Churches of Christ from the 1920s through the 1970s.

Scott Harp is to be commended for the incisive insights he provides in his Nichols biography regarding this period of Churches of Christ history. We are indebted to Scott Harp for his impressive research and cogent prose setting forth the life and times of “The Sage of Jasper.”

Tom Olbricht has ministered for Churches of Christ for nearly 70 years. He has taught theology to students and administered at universities including Harding University in Searcy, Ark., Abilene Christian University in Texas and Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

Filed under: Biography of Gus Nichols Gus Nichols Opinion Review Reviews The Sage of Jasper Tom Olbricht

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