Teaching preaching

The late John Carlton was arguably the most popular professor on the Southeastern Seminary campus back in the glory days. A dapper and eloquent man, Dr. Carlton was both inspiring to hear and more generous with his grading than most profs on the old Wake Forest campus.

So it was should not have surprised me as a new student in the late ’70s to discover during registration that his classes filled quickly. But there were plenty of spots available for the other preaching professor’s classes.

“Why are students not signing up for Dr. Trotter’s preaching classes?” I asked a more experienced seminarian.

He replied quickly: “Because he would have given Jesus a B- for the Sermon on the Mount.”

Well, the warning didn’t stop me from signing up for the class — and I’m glad I did.

This week I read in the Biblical Recorder that Dr. J. Carroll Trotter Jr. died March 12 in Concord, N.C., at age 91.

A word of thanks is in order to the man who helped Southeastern students from 1955-1983 — indeed the seminary’s glory years — to develop the very important ministry tools for preaching.

Sure, Dr. Trotter could be direct and demanding. But his critiques were needed and helpful.

He would not tolerate a preacher pointing a finger toward the congregation — as if they and not the preacher were the only ones in need of the message. Also, he insisted on clarity of speech — reiterating that no message has power unless it can be understood.

I was always grateful to have sat under the good tutelage of both preaching/worship professors.

Among many other good things, Dr. Trotter taught me to never put myself above the congregation. And Dr. Carlton told us: “If you can’t say it in 20 minutes, say it next Sunday.”

The good timing of passing through the magnolia-filled Wake Forest campus during the seminary’s glory years is a gift to be treasured as well.


  1. My Dad’s favorite from the student days of Lolley and Bill Self was Stewart A. Newman; about whom Duke’s Curtis Freeman wrote a great online piece recently.
    I had the great honor of having delightful conversation with Newman and my Dad in Gaffney, SC in 77.
    Different world and tradition then, but had it’s stout glory as you allude.
    I hope it’s okay to tell this joke Newman told me on the phone in the late 80’s; I’m sure you’ve heard a version of it.
    Was talking on the phone with Newman in late 80’s and he said Stephen before you get going, got to tell you this one.
    Our SBC President Dr. Stanley went out to walk his duck the other day and cut his head all cut up by an outboard motor.
    He had a great line about Bill Self as well, a preacher he held in considerable more esteem to say the least; his A Boys as he called Self and Lolley.

  2. Revision and correction:
    “Got his head all cut up….”

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