Jerry Bridges entered into the joy of his Master on Sunday evening, March 6, 2016, at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, the day after he suffered cardiac arrest. He was 86 years old.
Gerald Dean Bridges was born on December 4, 1929, in a cotton-farming home in Tyler, Texas, to fundamentalist parents, six weeks after the Black Tuesday stock market crash that led to the Great Depression.
Jerry was born with several disabilities: he was cross-eyed, he was deaf in his right ear (which was not fully developed), and he had spine and breastbone deformities. But given his family’s poverty, they were unable to afford medical care for these challenges.
The separatist church in East Texas where the Bridges were members had an altar call after every service. Jerry walked the aisle three times, at the ages of 9, 11, and 13. But he later realized that he had not been born again.
His mother Lillian passed away in 1944 when he was 14.
In August of 1948, as an 18-year-old college student right before his sophomore year began, Jerry was home alone one night in bed. He acknowledged to the Lord that he was not truly a Christian, despite growing up in a Christian home and professing faith. He prayed, ”God whatever it takes, I want Christ to be my Savior.”
The next week in his dorm room at the University of Oklahoma he was working on a school assignment and reached for a textbook, when he noticed the little Bible his parents had given him in high school. He figured that since he was now a Christian, he ought to start reading it daily, which he did (and never stopped doing for the rest of his days).
After graduating with an engineering degree on a Navy ROTC scholarship, he went on active duty with the Navy, serving as an officer during the Korean conflict (1951-1953). A fellow officer invited him to go to a Navigator Bible study. Jerry went and he was hooked. He had never experienced anything like this before.
When stationed on ship in Japan, he got to know several staff members of the Navigators quite well. One day, after Jerry had been in Japan for six months, a Navy worker asked him why he didn’t just throw in his lot with the Navigators and come to work for them. The very next day, December 26, 1952, Jerry failed a physical exam due to the hearing loss in his right ear, and he was given a medical discharge in July 1953, after being in the Navy for only two years. Jerry was not overly disappointed, surmising that perhaps this was the Lord’s way of steering him to the Navigators.
When he returned to the U.S., he began working for Convair, an airplane manufacturing company in southern California, writing technical papers for shop and flight line personnel. It was there that he learned to write simply and clearly—skills the Lord would later use to instruct and edify thousands of people from his pen.
Jerry was single at the time, living in the home of Navigator Glen Solum, a common practice in the early days of The Navigators. In 1955 Jim invited Jerry to go with him to a staff conference at the headquarters of The Navigators in Glen Eyrie at Colorado Springs. It was there that Jerry sensed a call from the Lord to be involved with vocational ministry. He was resistant to the idea of going on staff, but felt conviction and prayed to the Lord, “Whatever you want.” The following day he met Dawson Trotman, the 49-year-old founder of The Navigators, who wanted to interview Jerry for a position, which he received and accepted. Jerry was put in charge of the correspondence department—answering letters, handling receipts, and mainly the NavLog newsletter to supporters.
When Trotman died in June of 1956 (saving a girl who was drowning), Jim Downing took a position equivalent to a chief operations operator. A Navy man, Jim Downing knew that Jerry had also served in the Navy and tapped him to be his assistant.
Jerry struggled at times in his role, unsure if this was his calling since his position was so different from the typical campus reps. After ten years on staff he told the Lord, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life. If you want me out of The Navigators you’ll have to let me know.”
Beginning in 1960, Jerry served for three years in Europe as administrative assistant to the Navigators’ Europe Director. In January of 1960, he read a booklet entitled The Doctrine of Election, which he first considered heresy but then embraced the following day.
In October of 1963, at the age of 34, he married his first wife, Eleanor Miller of The Navigators following a long-distance relationship. Two children followed: Kathy in 1966, and Dan in 1967. From 1965 to 1969 Jerry served as office manager for The Navigators’ headquarters office at Glen Eyrie.
From 1969 to 1979 Jerry served as the Secretary-Treasurer for The Navigators. It was during this time that NavPress was founded in 1975. Their first publications began by transcribing and editing audio material from their tape archives and turning them into booklets. They produced one by Jerry on Willpower. Leroy Eims—who started the Collegiate ministry—encouraged Jerry to try his hand at writing new material. Jerry had been teaching at conferences on holiness, so he suggested a book along those lines.
In 1978, NavPress published The Pursuit of Holiness, which has now sold over 1.5 million copies. Jerry assumed it would be his only book. A couple of years later, after reading about putting off the old self and putting on the new self from Ephesians 4, he decided to write The Practice of Godliness—on developing a Christlike character. That book went on to sell over half a million copies, and his 1988 book on Trusting God has sold nearly a million copies.
Jerry served as The Navigators’ Vice President for Corporate Affairs from 1979 to 1994. It was in this season of ministry that Eleanor developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She went to be with the Lord on November 9, 1988, just three weeks after their 25th wedding anniversary. On November 24, 1989, Jerry married Jane Mallot, who had known the Bridges family since the early ’70s.
Jerry’s final position with The Navigator’s was in the area of staff development with the Collegiate Mission. He saw this ministry as developing people, rather than teaching people how to do ministry. In addition to his work with The Navigators, he also maintained an active writing and teaching ministry, traveling the world to instruct and equip pastors and missionaries and other workers through conferences, seminars, and retreats.
In 2014, Jerry published a memoir of his life, tracing the providential hand of God through his own story: God Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence (NavPress, 2014). He closes the work with seven spiritual lessons he learned in his six decades of the Christian life:
The Bible is meant to be applied to specific life situations.
All who trust in Christ as Savior are united to Him in a loving way just as the branches are united to the vine.
The pursuit of holiness and godly character is neither by self-effort nor simply letting Christ “live His life through you.”
The sudden understanding of the doctrine of election was a watershed event for me that significantly affected my entire Christian life.
The representative union of Christ and the believer means that all that Christ did in both His perfect obedience and His death for our sins is credited to us.
The gospel is not just for unbelievers in their coming to Christ.
We are dependent on the Holy Spirit to apply the life of Christ to our lives.
His last book, The Blessing of Humility: Walk within Your Calling, will be published this summer by NavPress.
One of the great legacies of Jerry Bridges is that he combined—to borrow some titles from his books—the pursuit of holiness and godliness with an emphasis on transforming grace. He believed that trusting God not only involved believing what he had done for us in the past, but that the gospel empowers daily faith and is transformative for all of life.
In 2009 he explained to interviewer Becky Grosenbach the need for this emphasis within the culture of the ministry he had given his life to:
When I came on staff almost all the leaders had come out of the military and we had pretty much a military culture. We were pretty hard core. We were duty driven. The WWII generation. We believed in hard work. We were motivated by saying “this is what you ought to do.” That’s okay, but it doesn’t serve you over the long haul. And so 30 years ago there was the beginning of a change to emphasize transforming grace, a grace-motivated discipleship.
In the days ahead, many will write tributes of this dear saint (see, e.g., this one from his friend, prayer partner, and sometimes co-author Bob Bevington). I would not be able to improve upon the reflections and remembrances of those who knew him better than I did. But I do know that he received from the Lord the ultimate acclamation as he entered into the joy of his Master and received the words we all long to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” There was nothing flashy about Jerry Bridges. He was a humble and unassuming man—strong in spirit, if not in voice or frame. And now we can rejoice with him in his full and final healing as he beholds his beloved Savior face to face. Thank you, God, for this man who helped us see and know you more.