Jerry Bridges, beloved evangelical statesman and Navigator author, passed away Sunday, March 6, 2016, from heart failure. He was 86. Jerry was perhaps best known as the author of the bestselling NavPress book The Pursuit of Holiness. But to those who knew him best, he was a kind, gentle soul who desired nothing more than to walk humbly with his God.
U.S President of The Navigators Doug Nuenke said, “While a great multitude of people know Jerry Bridges because of books and teaching, my most significant memory will be Jerry’s humility and service to the Lord for more than 60 years. I’m inspired by his sacrificial service to support the work of The Navigators at our headquarters for 40 years. After becoming a well-known author, his humility and God-focus was always evident. I want to follow his example, as he followed Christ.”
In his autobiography, God Took Me by the Hand, Jerry said, “When I was seventeen years old, it seemed as if God took me by the hand and said, ‘Come with Me.’ And for more than sixty-five years, God has, as it were, continued to hold my hand and lead me in the path He has marked out for me.”
He went on to say, “My personal story is not important except to illustrate the providence of God. My life’s story is meant to be only a backdrop and series of illustrations of specific acts of the invisible hand of God.”
Jerry was born on December 4, 1929, and grew up in a four-room house in Tyler, Texas, with his parents and older brother, Jack. Jerry’s mother died on February 7, 1944, shortly after Jerry’s 14th birthday. “You have to be amazed at what God has done for a cross-eyed, partially deaf boy growing up in poverty alongside the railroad tracks,” he wrote.
He was always a good student and hard worker. In junior high he had a paper route and worked Saturdays at the local Safeway. He was paid three dollars for 12 hours of work.
Jerry was raised in a Baptist church and “went forward” a few times when an altar call was given. But no one ever explained to him what it meant to be genuinely born again.
With little hope of affording college, Jerry applied to a new education program offered by the U.S. Navy. Jerry was accepted despite his poor hearing in one ear. In what Jerry described as “an amazing act of God’s providence,” he passed the Navy hearing test with flying colors. He selected the University of Oklahoma in Norman from a list of possible schools and arrived with all his earthly possessions packed in two bags.
On a visit home, Jerry’s brother, Jack, by that time an assistant pastor at the local church, invited Jerry to join him on a house visit. Jack talked to the man they visited about having assurance of salvation. That night, Jerry lay awake in bed, finally admitting to himself that he really wasn’t a Christian. He prayed, “Whatever it takes, I want Jesus to be my Savior.” And immediately he had an assurance that he had never experienced before. It was a confidence that never left him.
He returned to school and started reading the Bible his father had given him in high school, a practice he continued the rest of his life.
June 4, 1951, Jerry graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in general engineering, having received the award for outstanding academic midshipman four years in a row. On the same day he graduated, he was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy.
Shortly thereafter, Jerry met a fellow naval officer who invited him to a Navigator Bible study. “From the first night I was hooked,” Jerry recalled in a 2005 interview for The Navigators newsletter, One-to-One.
When more sophisticated testing equipment revealed a hearing loss in one ear, Jerry received a medical discharge after only two years of service. He accepted that as God’s direction.
Soon after, he settled in southern California and started working with Convair, an airplane manufacturing company. He was assigned the task of writing technical instructions for shop and flight line personnel. “God put me there to teach me how to clearly explain complicated information,” he said.
During those years he lived with a Navigator couple, a common practice in the 1950s. His mentor, Glen Solum, brought Jerry to a Navigator conference in Colorado Springs in 1955. There Jerry met The Navigators founder Dawson Trotman, who asked him to come to work at headquarters.
Jerry came to Colorado Springs for work and training and fully expected to be sent overseas for ministry. Instead, he received a home office assignment.
Jerry spent the next four decades in various administrative posts, including headquarters’ office manager, treasurer, and vice president for corporate affairs—work he found both challenging and fulfilling. He said that of all the things he accomplished during those years he gained the most satisfaction from starting The Navigators retirement plan and the decision to participate in Social Security. He was also a founding member of the board of directors for the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Jerry White, international president emeritus of The Navigators, said, “Jerry Bridges lived as he taught—simply, godly, and with deep commitment to Jesus and Scripture. He always did what needed to be done from being treasurer to being one of our most respected speakers and writers. I will miss his quiet humor and his godly insights. His influence was global in the Body of Christ, and in these last years he gave himself to our student ministry, impacting leaders for the future.”
From 1960 to 1963, Jerry worked with The Navigators in Holland as the administrative assistant to the Europe director. Upon his return, he had a layover in New York City and invited a young woman on associate Nav staff to join him for dinner: Eleanor Miller. Their relationship blossomed—mostly through the mail—and in October they were married.
Their daughter, Kathy, was born in 1966, and son, Dan, the following year.
Through the years he worked at headquarters, Jerry also spoke on spiritual life topics at the Glen Eyrie Conference Center, another ministry of The Navigators. In the mid-1970s, the newly formed NavPress released a series of booklets based on transcriptions of conference sessions taught by various Navigators, including Jerry. When Navigator leader LeRoy Eims read Jerry’s booklet Willpower, he said, “You ought to try your hand at writing.” So Jerry gave it a try, writing about holiness, a topic he’d spoken on for years. Since its 1978 release, The Pursuit of Holiness has sold more than one million copies.
“I expected that would be the only book I’d ever write,” Jerry said. But he went on to pen nearly 20 books, with combined sales of more than 2.5 million.
In June 1987, Eleanor was diagnosed with cancer. She died November 9, 1988, just three weeks after their 25th wedding anniversary.
Jerry received a sympathy card from a family friend, Jane Mollet. In it, she had written out Jeremiah 29:11, the same verse God had impressed upon Jerry as Eleanor’s condition diminished: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (NIV). Jane’s note caught Jerry’s attention, and, as Jerry wrote, “To make a long story short, we were married November 24, 1989.”
Jerry retired from his administrative duties in 1995. By that time his writing and speaking career was in full swing, sometimes fulfilling more than 100 engagements in one year. In 1997, he was invited to join The Navigators Collegiate staff to be a Bible teacher and father figure to students.
Jerry’s influence spread around the world, as revealed in a statement from The Navigators International President Mutua Mahiaini: “Jerry truly ministered from the overflow of a profound walk with God. He made the great truths of the Bible come alive with a simplicity that was unusual and winsome. To the very last days of his life here on earth, Jerry has generously poured out his life with a passion to help people know, love, and become like Jesus Christ. His authenticity caused people on the other continents where he ministered to respond warmly to his teaching ministry, and he graciously made the message understandable in many different cultures. His writing ministry is one of the best gifts that the Lord has given to The Navigators and to the wider Body of Christ.”
Jerry’s final book, The Blessing of Humility, will be released in June. Pastor and author Max Lucado spoke of Jerry’s legacy in his endorsement of the new book: “When I read my first Jerry Bridges book twenty years ago, I had the sense that every paragraph had been pondered, prayed over, and carefully prepared. Each ensuing book has led to the same conclusion. The writings of Jerry Bridges are a gift to the church. In this new book, he addresses a relevant topic with the wisdom of a scholar and the heart of a servant.”
Jerry received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary (Glenside, Pennsylvania) in 2005, and he received a Lifetime Influence Award from The Navigators in 2011. But in his autobiography he said that the recognition that meant the most was the thousands of readers telling him how his books had changed their lives. He wrote, “When we go to be with God it is not the awards or recognition we have received, but the lives impacted for Christ that will count when each of us hope to hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’” (Matthew 25:21).
NavPress Publisher Don Pape said, “Jerry Bridges has most certainly impacted millions worldwide. His Gospel-infused message challenged each of us. What an honor to not only call him author but, truly, a friend.”
Jerry is survived by his wife, Jane, his two children, Kathy Rodman, and her husband, Jeff, son Dan and his wife, Lisa, and seven grandchildren.