Most people know Tommy Nelson as the “sex guy” who goes around the country teaching conferences on the biblical book The Song of Solomon. In the Dallas area, Tommy is known as one of the few preachers actually willing to build a ministry on the verse-by-verse exposition of the scripture.
Last year, Tommy descended into a clinical depression that resulted in his taking a months-long hiatus from his pulpit at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas. He returned to the pulpit in October with renewed vigor and with a story to tell.
On March 27, Tommy came to the chapel at Dallas Theological Seminary, and shared his story with the students and faculty there. The chapel address is available for free, and you can download the MP3 here, or you can visit the webpage and watch the video.
Postscript: In the sermon, Tommy mentions that he read some John Owen during his depression and that reading Owen only made his depression worse. This is a counterpoint to John Piper in his book on depression. On the dedication page of When the Darkness Will Not Lift, Piper writes: “To the memory of JOHN OWEN who has wakened hope for many in the darkness of perfectionistic despair.”
Only the Lord knows how much influence Tommy has had on me personally. I had never heard Bible teaching like that (so clear and direct without a flavor of legalism) until I was given tapes from the DBC tape ministry. He was why I went to DTS; his Romans 9 sermons still resonate in my mind to this day; he is the model of clarity for which I strive…so many things.
Thanks for the links. I look forward to watching the video. Another professor here slips in “Tommy-isms” as often as I do. It’s amazing how the Lord has used Tommy – and the DBC tape ministry – which is the only way that he and I have “known” him.
Thanks for the link. I was sorry to hear he had depression, but I look forward to hearing what he has to say about going through that.
I first heard Tommy in the Song of Solomon series (tapes) that my wife and I did as a study together when we were dating, and heard Tommy at DTS chapel before (podcast). I am very, very thankful for gifted men like Tommy, he has really ministered to me.
I have never seen him speak in person, but have been meaning to do so very soon.
Jada Bown Swanson
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have struggled with this for much of my adult life, yet not until recently have I sought help. Mainly because of the view that I felt the Christian community at large held about depression/anxiety and such.
I can’t tell you how timely this teaching is for me, and from someone for whom I have great respect and admiration. I am so sad that he had to go through this, yet, it makes me feel more ‘normal’ hearing him speak exactly how I have been feeling.
As a DBC member, I assure you that Tom’s personal struggle was a sort of spiritual earthquake that sent ripples throughout our entire church. God used it, and continues to use it, as a firm reminder of the ease with which a congregation can fall into complacency under (and dependency upon) a dynamic communicator like Tommy. He is certainly a gifted expositor who God has used to bless us tremendously! But we, as a church, move forward knowing that we are all accountable for our stewardship as members of the body of Christ. God bless Tommy and how God has used him to teach us — even when away from pulpit!
Thanks so much for the link to that talk. I think every person entering the ministry should watch this because anyone who has not had depression doesn’t quite know how to handle people who do, and people who have had it need to know that someone else who loves God and follows Him whole-heartedly has had it too.
I have known Pastor Tom since 1991 when I started attending DBC as a college student. I named my second boy Thomas after H. Thomas Nelson. I love this man as a father.
His message at the DTS Chapel on Depression while a good retelling of his experience, leaves me with more questions than answers. At several points he indicated that he wasn’t able to read anything much less his Bible, yet scorned John Owens book Mortification of Sin, which he was able to read, as though it lacked any substantive help on the issue of depression. It seemed that his point there was to simply dismiss the premise that depression could have as its root problem ‘sin’.
Well, in that we live in a ‘sin’ cursed world, and are living in ‘sin’ cursed bodies, why would ‘sin’ not be allowed on the table of possibilities for ones state of depression. The reason our bodies fall apart and we die is due to sin. The reason we need is Savior is due to sin. The reason we have idols of the heart and seek not first the kingdom of heaven is due to sin. I’m not satisfied with Tommy’s notion that any Biblical counselor who mentions ‘sin’ as a source should be dismissed as Job’s friends should be dismissed. Or that anyone who mentions ‘sin’ should be scorned as Job’s friends were scorned. I believe a more balance approach is needed. Enough on that issue!
That was the first time I’ve seen Tommy behind a pulpit without his Bible. I was left with the impression by that and by what he said that the Bible has nothing to say and can offer no help for a person facing depression. While it’s true that the Bible can’t replenish your serotonin, if indeed the issue is replenishment, there is something there to help a person who is facing various trials (such as depression) and why and how they can embrace their pain with a joy knowing God works all things together for the good of His children even when we can’t see it or understand why its happening to us. (Note: I’m not saying this is easy to do.) I wish Tommy would have encouraged us on how God’s word can support us even in our greatest pain.
An Important Distinction
Tommy linked his depression to his work schedule. That the years of teaching around 15 times per week, flying around the country teaching Song of Solomon every weekend, writing books, counseling, leading a church, etc., created a stress in his body and that his body simply shut down and said thatâ€™s enough. And that through the pain, the fear, and the worry, over his physical well being he eventually slipped into an emotional darkness that he couldn’t overcome. He said (important distinction) that was not the same as someone simply feeling blue. I wish Tommy would have expanded on that distinction. I think there is a lot of room between those two and the type of help needed could vary greatly. Though I have never been depressed as Tommy describes, I have been depressed (blue) on many occasions and for weeks even months on end, and simply medicated myself on God’s word, discovered idols of my heart that led to wrong expectations, picked myself back up and kept doing the next thing to the glory of God. A discussion on that distinction would have been helpful for someone struggling with the depressive blues.
Thanks for your comment. I would echo your concerns. Certainly there are resources in the Bible for Christians who struggle with depression. Otherwise, what would we say about depressed Christians in the world who do not have access to psycho-somatic medicines? What about depressed Christians who lived before the invention of such medicines? Were they without help?
I would have echoed many of the same concerns as (Ben) in the past. I can remeber a few years back when I saw an antidepressant commercial. I recall saying to myself, “why in the world would people need medication for being ‘depressed’…they need to get up off their lazy butts and stop feeling sorry for themselves.” It wasn’t that I did not have compassion for people suffering, I just assumed that there was something you could “do” to snap out of depression. Due to my lack of personal experience with depression, I had no way of relating to those who were truly depressed. I had confused “blues” with depression…and until my own bout with depression over the past two years, I would never have come to know the enormous difference.
There is truly no way to describe depression…it is a hoplessness that envelops you, and no matter what you may try, all efforts fail to “fix” it (Bible reading, praying, singing songs, etc.). That is true depression. I have come to have much more compassion upon those who claim a true depression, and though my expereince with it is one I would never wish on my worst enemy, I am thankful to have gone through such darkness only because it has caused me to treasure things I may have once overlooked on a mission to seek out more “important” causes. Thanks for the posts!