Derek Nelson is a theologian and historian of Christianity. He teaches courses in both of those fields, as well as religion and culture (such as literature and film), social ethics, and whatever else students are interested in studying with him. In recent semesters independent studies with students have included “Faith, Food, and Sustainability Ethics,” “Christianity and Natural Science,” and “The Christology of Karl Barth.” He and Professor Hartnett of the Classics department recently taught a course on Christianity in Ancient Rome, which included an immersion trip to Rome. Over the last three years, six students have interned with Nelson in the Religion department, and he invites more in the future.
Nelson is the author or editor of ten books, including The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Martin Luther, on which he is working with a team of international experts. This resource sets a new standard in Luther research, and will be published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. His intellectual biography of Martin Luther, co-written with his deceased mentor Timothy F. Lull, is Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther. He has written about 50 articles, essays in books and reviews. He served on the task force that produced a social statement for the ELCA (in which he is an ordained pastor) called The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries.
After graduating summa cum laude from Wabash College in 1999, Nelson earned the M.Div. at Yale Divinity School and the Ph.D. in systematic and philosophical theology at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California in Berkeley. He taught at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania for six happy years. He was visiting professor at Oxford University in 2013, and will be on sabbatical at Cambridge University in 2016.
An avid traveler, Nelson has led groups of students and clergy to Italy, Germany, Mexico, and South Africa, among other international destinations. His study-abroad experience in Karlstad, Sweden was so formative that he has become a strong advocate for students to gain cross-cultural experience. Nelson also directs the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, which serves an ecumenical group of Indiana pastors who are developing as civic leaders. This is funded by the Lilly Endowment and hosted by Wabash College.
Attentive to his surroundings, he lives in the Sugar Creek watershed, Agricultural zone 5b for plant hardiness and sunlight, and the Indiana-Kentucky synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He brews beer and makes furniture, though never at the same time.
Derek was raised on a beef cattle farm in Vasa, Minnesota. He lives in the woods near Crawfordsville and is married to the Rev. Kelly Nelson. They are the proud parents of toddler Madeleine.
2006 Ph.D., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, Systematic and Philosophical Theology Readers: Ted Peters, David Kelsey, Rosemary Ruether and Richard Schenk, OP.
2002 M.Div., Yale University, New Haven, CT. Major Areas: Philosophy of Religion, History of Christianity and Systematic Theology.
1999 A.B., Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN. Religion, summa cum laude.
2006 Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. Certification in Clinical-Pastoral Education.
2003 Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and Goethe Institut, Munich, Germany, Summer Term.
1998 Karlstads Universitet, Karlstad, Sweden, Winter and Spring Term.
Christianity in Ancient Rome
History of Christianity to the Reformation
History of Christianity from Reformation to the Modern Era
Reformation Hist. & Theo: Luther & Calvin
Religion and the Arts: Film
Enduring Questions (Freshmen Seminar)
Introduction to Theology
Augustine and Aquinas
Religion and Literature
God and Ethics
“The Meaning of the Lutheran Reformation for Paul Tillich,” at American Academy of Religion Conference, Atlanta Georgia, November 2015.
“Adaptive Leadership,” at Rostered Leaders Gathering, Indiana-Kentucky Synod of ELCA, Clifty Falls, IN, Oct. 2015
“Criminal Justice and Christian Faith” Krost Symposium, Texas Lutheran University, October 2012.
“Finding Torah Hidden in Law: Luther on God’s Mandates to Israel,” American Academy of Religion Conference, Martin Luther and Global Lutheran Traditions Consultation, San Francisco, CA, Nov. 2011.
“The Absolute, The Relative, and Dynamics of Faith.” American Academy of Religion Conference, Tillich: Issues in Religion, Theology and Culture Group, San Francisco, CA, Nov. 2011.
“The Human Person in Post-Reformation Theology.” Invited Lecture, Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT, March 2011.
“Religious Studies and ‘The Dumbest Generation.’” Presentation at Teaching Religion Consultation, American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA, Nov. 2010.
“Presuppositions of Punishment.” Invited lecture, Roanoke College, Salem, VA. Feb. 2010
Keynote presentations, Bishop’s Fall Theological Conference, Northwest Pennsylvania Synod Rostered Leaders Gathering. Oct. 2009
“Education for a Global Future,” Honors Convocation Keynote address, Thiel College, October 2008.
Commencement Address, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, CA, May 2008.
“Theology of the Ministry of the Laity in Roman Catholic and Lutheran Perspectives,” St. Michael’s Church, Greenville, PA, April 2008.
“Terrorism, Pacifism and the Culture of War,” International Conference at Bethany College, Bethany, WV, October 2007. Presentation on behalf of Thiel Global Institute.
Invited Presenter, “Separating Private Theologies from Public Ethics?” for the Working Group on Christian Theologies of World Religions, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, October 2006.
Respondent, Fall Theology Conference, San Francisco Theological Seminary, November 2004.
Invited Respondent, “Report from Aarhus” Conference, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, February 2003.
Invited Lecture Series: “Reformation History and Theology for Today,” Fairfield University, Fairfield CT, February-March 2000.
Hundreds of other presentations at various churches and community events.
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Martin Luther, co-edited with Paul R. Hinlicky, (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming in 2016), 2 vols.; ca. 1750 pp.
Luther Refracted: The Reformer’s Ecumenical Legacy, co-edited with Piotr Malysz (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015). 288 pp.
One Hope: Re-Membering the Body of Christ, co-authored with Martha Stortz, Jessica Wrobleski, et al. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2015), 102 pp.
Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther, co-authored with Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015). 421 pp.
Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Vol.2: From the Reformation to the Postmodern World, 2nd edition, by William C. Placher and Derek R. Nelson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2015). Ca. 225 pp, forthcoming.
Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Vol.1: From Its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation, 2nd edition, ed. William C. Placher and Derek R. Nelson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2015). 201 pp.
A History of Christian Theology, 2nd Edition, by William C. Placher and Derek R. Nelson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2013). 352 pp.
Theologians in Their Own Words, eds. Derek R. Nelson, Ted Peters and Joshua M. Moritz (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013). 298 pp.
Reviews: Kristin Johnston Largen, Dialog 52 no. 2 (2013): 91-2; Matt Reynolds, Christianity Today 57 no. 3 (2013): 73; Don McKim, Religious Studies Review 39 no. 3 (2013) 157-8; Jacqueline Bussie, Journal of Lutheran Ethics 13 no. 6 (2013); Robert Brusic, Word and World 35:1 (2015), 97-100; William B. Shea, Horizons 41:2 (2014), 409-11.
Sin: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York and London: Continuum, 2011). 176 pp.
Reviews: Joshua Farris, Scottish Journal of Theology 67 no. 2 (2014): 234-6; Mark Mattes, Lutheran Quarterly 26 no. 3 (2012): 357-8.
What’s Wrong with Sin: Sin in Individual and Social Perspective from Schleiermacher to Theologies of Liberation (New York and London: T&T Clark, 2009). 210 pp.
Reviews: Brent Hege, Interpretation 66 no. 3 (2012): 337-8; Margaret Pfeil, Theological Studies 71 no. 4 (2010): 969-70; Tim Perry, Theoforum 43 no. 1 (2012): 187-8; Marit Trelstad, Dialog 52 no. 1 (2013): 70-3; Mark Medley, Reviews in Religion and Theology 18 no. 4 (2011): 548-50; Ryan Cumming, Journal of Lutheran Ethics 11 no. 9 (2011).
Articles and Essays in Books:
“Reformation and Eco-Reformation: Works Righteousness in the Environmental Movement,” co-authored with Robert C. Saler in Dialog: A Journal of Theology, forthcoming.
“North America’s Cool Reception of Scandinavian Creation Theology,” in Niels-Henrik Gregersen, Bengt Uggla, and Trygve Wyller, eds., Scandinavian Creation Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht), 2016.
“Human and Divine Justice in America’s Criminal Justice System,” in Lutheran Forum 49:2 (2015): 51-55.
“Justification, Self-Justification, and Forgiveness,” in Adam Pryor and Carol Jacobson, eds., Remembering God’s Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), forthcoming.
“The Cautions of Justice: Jüngel's Engagement with Politics and the State” in R. David Nelson, ed., Indicative of Grace: Essays in Honor of Eberhard Jüngel in His Eightieth Year (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 189-203.
Enhancements for e-textbook, History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013), chapters 22-43
“The Speaking That Silence Is,” in Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 52:4 (2013), 332-339.
Guest editor, Theology and Criminal Justice, Summer 2013 issue of Dialog: A Journal of Theology, including contribution, “With Liberty and Some Justice for a Few: Thinking Theologically about Criminal Justice.”
“Kierkegaard on Grace,” in Steven Emmanuel, William McDonald, and Jon Stewart, eds., Kierkegaard’s Concepts : Tome III, Envy to Incognito (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2014), 119-26.
“Prayer as Invocation and Vocation in Kierkegaard,” in Steven Emmanuel, William McDonald, and Jon Stewart, eds., Kierkegaard’s Concepts , Tome IV (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2015), 107-13.
“The Logic of Punishment and the Ethics of Sentencing,” in Journal of Lutheran Ethics.11:5 (2011).
“Problematizing ‘Conscience’ in Modern Protestant Thought,” in Journal of Lutheran Ethics 10:11 [November 2010].
“Unity, Ecumenicity and Difference in the Augustana Synod,” in Lutheran Quarterly 24:1 , 76-96.
“Charles Finney and John Nevin on Selfhood and Sin: Reformed Anthropologies in 19th Century American Religion,” in Calvin Theological Journal, 46:1 , 301-27.
“Ritschl and Schleiermacher on Social and Individual Sin,” in Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte 16:2 , 131-54.
“Gerhard Ebeling’s Critical Appropriation of Kierkegaard,” in Jon Stewart, ed., Kierkegaard’s Influence on Theology, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), 97-111.
“Inquiry, Conversation and Belief: William James and Richard Rorty Get Religion,” Heythrop Journal 50:3 [May 2009], 495-507.
“Theological Themes in Criminal Justice,” in Journal of Lutheran Ethics 9:9 [September 2009].
“Sins of Commission, Sins of Omission: Girard, Ricoeur and the Armenian Genocide,” in The Evolution of Evil, ed. Robert John Russell, Martinez Hewlett, Ted Peters, and Gaymon Bennett, (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2008), 318-33.
“Encountering the World’s Religions: Nathan Söderblom and the Concept of Revelation,” Dialog 46:4 , 362-70.
“The Vulnerable and Transcendent God: The Postliberal Theology of William Placher,” Dialog 44:3 , 273-84.
“The Indicative of Grace, the Imperative of Freedom: An Invitation to the Theology of Eberhard Jüngel,” Dialog 44:2 , 164-80.
Review of Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World: Divine Sonship in Its Social and Political Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) in Reviews in Religion and Theology, forthcoming.
Review of Piotr Ma?ysz, Trinity, Freedom and Love: An Engagement with the Theology of Eberhard Jüngel (London: T and T Clark, 2012), in Reviews in Religion and Theology.
Review of Veli-Matti Kärkkainen, Christ and Reconciliation: A Constructive Theology for the Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), in Dialog: A Journal of Theology.
Review of Ann Käfer, Inkarnation und Schöpfung: Schöpfungstheologische Voraussetzungen und Implikationen der Christologie bei Luther, Schleiermacher und Karl Barth, in Lutheran Quarterly 25:2 , 356-9.
Review of Michael Weinrich and John P. Burgess, eds., What is Justification About? Reformed Contributions to an Ecumenical Theme (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 2009), in Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 51:2 , 174-6.
Review of Berndt Hamm and Michael Welker, Die Reformation: Potentiale der Freiheit (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), in Sixteenth Century Journal 40:3 , 260-2.
Review of Willem B. Drees, Hubert Meisinger and Taede Smedes, eds., Creation’s Diversity: Voices from Science and Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2008), in Reviews in Religion and Theology, 16:3 , 417-9.
Review of Tim Grass, Modern Church History (London: SCM, 2008), in Reviews in Religion and Theology 17:1 (2010), 32-4..
Review of John F. Haught, God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (Louisville: WJKP, 2008), in Theology and Science 6:3 .
Review of Samuel Torvend, Luther and the Hungry Poor: Gathered Fragments, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), in Sixteenth Century Journal, 39:4 .
Review of Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), in Sixteenth Century Journal 39:3 .
Review of David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?, in Dialog, 48:4 , 394-6.
Review of Deanna Thompson, Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism and the Cross, in Christus Lux, 1:1 (Winter 2006), 64-8.
Review of Hans Schwarz, Creation, in Theology and Science 4:2 , 203-5.
Review of Harvey Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today in Teaching Theology and Religion 9:1 [January 2006], 63-5.
Review of Robert W. Jenson, On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions, in Dialog 45:1 , 110-12.
Fellow, St Cross College, Oxford University 2012-13. In residence for Trinity Term, 2013.
Lilly Endowment Grant, to fund program on Lutheran traditions in higher education at Thiel. 2011-12.
Rowley Endowment Award, 2011, to fund exploratory trip for planning Germany immersion trip, declined.
Manuscript Reviewer: Fortress Press, Continuum Press, Concordia Publishing, Routledge, Palgrave Macmillan.
Article Reviewer: International Journal of Systematic Theology, Scottish Journal of Theology, Lutheran Quarterly
Elected Member, Editorial Council, Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 2010-present
Scholar of the Year, Thiel College, 2008-9.
Lambda Sigma Honorary Society “Professor of the Year” award, Thiel College, 2006-7.
Distinction (Highest Honors) on Comprehensive Exams (doctoral).
Grant for Advanced Study, Ev. Lutheran Church in America, 2002-2005 (awarded 3 times).
Summer Research Fellowship, Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, 2003.
Newhall Research Fellowship, Graduate Theological Union, 2003.
Presidential Fellow, Graduate Theological Union, 2002-5.
Dwight-Hooker Prize for Theology, Yale University Divinity School, 2002.
Graduate Fellowship, Lambda Chi Alpha Educational Foundation, 2000.
Holmer Scholarship, Yale University Divinity School, 1999-2002
Harrison Essay Prize, Wabash College, 1999.
Mills Prize in Religion, Wabash College, 1999.
Honor Scholar, Wabash College, 1995-1999.
Student Trps Led:
I have taken students on learning trips to Mexico, Germany, Italy, and South Africa, and many destinations in the U.S.
To Wabash College:
Committee on College Life, Board of Trustees
Director of Pastoral Leadership Program, funded by Lilly Endowment
Faculty Advisor to Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity
Steering Committee, Newcomers Club
Lecture and Film Committee
Community Service Committee
To Thiel College:
Co-chair, Enrollment Management Committee.
Chair, Curriculum Revision Task Force.
Member, Thiel 2016 Strategic Plan Committee.
Steering Committee, Imagining Thiel strategic planning process.
Faculty Representative to Board of Trustees, 5/2011 – 7/2012.
Co-coordinator, Community Experiences program of Thiel Community Building Initiative, 2008-11.
Co-Director, Thiel Global Institute, 2007-12. Interdisciplinary programming institute centered on initiatives related to sustainability and globalization.
Search Committee Member, Thiel College presidency search, 2007-2009.
Center for Learning and Advising Advisory Committee member, 2007-2010.
Institutional Planning and Budgeting Committee member, 2008-2010.
Housing Allocation Committee, 2007-11.
Faculty advisor to Men’s Leadership program.
First-year program participant and Orientation leader.
Academic advisor for dozens of Thiel students.
To the Church:
Member, ELCA task force for a Social Statement on Criminal Justice, 2008-2013.
Campus Pastor, Thiel College, 12/2009 – 7/2011.
Interim Pastor, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Greenville, PA, 8/2009-4/2011.
Interim Pastor, Twelve Apostles Lutheran Church, Saegertown, PA, 2008-9.
Vicar, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Greenville, PA, 2007-8.
Ecumenical Relations Committee, NW Pennsylvania Synod, 2007-12.
Committee on Church Vocations: NW Pennsylvania Synod, 2011-12.
Youth Minister, Bethesda Lutheran Church, New Haven, CT, 2000-2.
To the Wider Community:
Member, Shenango River Watchers Mercer County River Clean-up grant team, 2008-2012.
Board Member, Community Medical Ethics Advisory Council, UPMC Horizon Hospital, 2007-2012.
To Other Schools:
Search Committee Member, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary presidency search, 2003-4.
Elected Member, Student Advisory Council, Graduate Theological Union, 2003-2004.
Department Assistant, Systematic and Philosophical Theology program unit, Graduate Theological Union, 2003-2005.
MAJORS & MINORS
- ASIAN STUDIES (MINOR)
- BUSINESS (MINOR)
- COMPUTER SCIENCE (MINOR)
- EDUCATION STUDIES (MINOR)
- ENGINEERING (DUAL-DEGREE)
- FINANCIAL ECONOMICS
- GENDER STUDIES (MINOR)
- HISPANIC STUDIES
- INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (MINOR)
- MODERN LANGUAGES
- MULTICULTURAL AMER. STUDIES (MINOR)
- PRE-MEDICINE (PRE-PROFESSIONAL)
- POLITICAL SCIENCE