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Academics - Religion Faculty & Staff

Academics - Religion Faculty & Staff

Derek Nelson

Professor of Religion, Stephen S. Bowen Professor of the Liberal Arts, Dept Chair


Center Hall 203
Curriculum vitae

Picture of Nelson, Derek

Derek Nelson is a theologian who teaches in the areas of ethics and the history of Christian thought. Recent courses he has offered include seminars on embodiment and incarnation, religion and film (where every student becomes a director!) Bonhoeffer and the German church struggle, and intensive courses on Augustine and Aquinas (with special sections in Latin for the eager and able). More importantly, he generally will teach courses on 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 regularly teach a course on Christianity in Ancient Rome, which includes an immersion trip to Rome. Over the last five years, eleven students have interned with Nelson in the Religion department, and he invites more in the future.

Nelson is the author or editor of a dozen books, including The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Martin Luther. This multi-volume work is the state-of-the-field resource, the product of a cooperative effort from 122 scholars across the world.  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 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

Current research projects: in systematic theology, an interpretation of the contemporary experience of and estrangement from materiality, especially as it relates to consumption and the making of a “home”; in practical theology, a book about what we are learning about pastoral leadership in a post-Christendom world; and in history, an examination based on primary sources of how the Ottoman Empire understood the Protestant Reformation as a social and intellectual event in the culture of their enemy and a look at what happened to the vow of poverty during and after the Reformation. 

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 a visiting scholar at Oxford University in 2013.

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 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. He also holds the Stephen S. Bowen professorship in the liberal arts, named in honor of the long-time chairman of the board of 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. He loves to play golf and catch fish. He is presently building and furnishing a traditional timber-frame structure as an experiment in sustainable home construction and domestic life. 

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 Madeleine and Maya, ages 9 and 2.


Degrees Earned:

2006   Ph.D., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, Systematic and Philosophical Theology 

Readers: Ted Peters (adviser), David Kelsey, Rosemary Ruether and Richard Schenk, OP.

2002   M.Div., Yale University, New Haven, CT. 

1999   A.B., Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN.  Religion, summa cum laude.

Additional Study:

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
  • Theological Ethics
  • Religion and the Arts: Film
  • Enduring Questions
  • Introduction to Theology
  • Augustine and Aquinas
  • Religion and Literature
  • Contemporary Theology
  • Freshman Tutorial
  • God and Ethics
  • Women Mystics of the Middle Ages
  • Ecotheology



Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Martin Luther, co-edited with Paul R. Hinlicky, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 3 vols.; 2245 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, 2016). 225 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.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.

ReviewsJoshua 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 [2010], 76-96.

“Charles Finney and John Nevin on Selfhood and Sin: Reformed Anthropologies in 19th Century American Religion,” in Calvin Theological Journal, 46:1 [2010], 301-27.

“Ritschl and Schleiermacher on Social and Individual Sin,” in Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte 16:2 [2009], 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 [2007], 362-70.

“The Vulnerable and Transcendent God: The Postliberal Theology of William Placher,” Dialog 44:3 [2005], 273-84.

“The Indicative of Grace, the Imperative of Freedom: An Invitation to the Theology of Eberhard Jüngel,” Dialog 44:2 [2005], 164-80.