The Life of P.C. Nelson

The Early Years

With the difficulties he endured as a child, no one could have predicted that Peter Christopher (“P.C.”) Nelson (1868–1942) would grow up to become one of the most influential theologians of his generation and beyond.

Born in Denmark, he immigrated to the U.S. at the age of four with his parents after his father suffered religious persecution. He grew up in poverty – living in a cave at one point – and the family struggled to survive.

At 11 years old, after his father’s untimely death, he surrendered his heart to God. He struggled through his teens but answered the call to preach at the age of 20, although he received no encouragement from his friends. He agreed that his first preaching efforts were unsuccessful, but he later realized that this was the very thing that forced him to seek further study and paved the way for his future work in ministry.

Education and Ministry

He attended Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago but dropped out to pastor a church in Iowa after marrying his wife, Myrtle, in 1893. Feeling the need to continue his education, he and his wife and three children later moved to New York so that he could attend Rochester Theological Seminary. Here, he would begin studying languages, 25 in which he would eventually become proficient. He was a true scholar, mastering Greek and Hebrew so that he could easily read the original Bible texts.

After graduating from seminary, he became a well-known Baptist evangelist. He formed the Nelson Evangelistic Party, traveling nationwide and holding revival services. These were highly successful campaigns reaching many souls for Christ. World War I brought a new opportunity that allowed him to serve as a YMCA camp pastor on an army base in Battle Creek, Michigan. After the War ended, he briefly returned to the evangelistic field before accepting another pastorate in Detroit.

A Miracle and A New Calling

Nelson’s time in Detroit would prove to be life-changing. He had a conversation with an old friend, who was also a Baptist minister, who told Nelson he had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. He was introduced to another couple who had this experience, and Nelson was intrigued. Although he knew what the Bible says on the subject, he had always believed it was no longer in operation. His heart was stirred to learn more about this as well as other miraculous phenomena such as divine healing.

In October of 1920, Nelson was struck by an automobile and nearly died. He saw the Scriptures in a new light and repented of his former lack of faith, crying out to God for healing. encountering the Lord in prayer, he was able to rise up from his sick bed and walk. Overjoyed, he made a vow to God that he would no longer preach a partial gospel. It was a year before he would receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but this, as well as the healing miracle he experienced, profoundly affected his life and ministry.

Although he was immensely grateful for the biblical foundation he received from his Baptist brethren, he realized his message was more in line with the Assemblies of God (AG). In 1925, he was ordained as an Assemblies of God minister.

Southwestern Bible School

Two years later, Nelson opened Southwestern Bible School in Enid, Oklahoma, feeling strongly that the Lord was leading him to establish a school with solid, biblical training for ministerial work. However, he expressed a vision that went beyond the walls of the church:

The purpose of the school is to give men and women a better knowledge of the Word of God, and to bring them into closer fellowship with Christ, and into harmony with His will for themselves, whether that be to serve Him in their own homes, on the farm, in shop or store or office, to minister in the pulpit as pastors or evangelists, or to carry the glad tidings across the seas.

In the face of intense financial struggles, Nelson and his team relied on the Lord to provide for the new school. Everyone sacrificed and did their part to support the effort, including Nelson, whose positive outlook and peaceful demeanor inspired faith in others.

The school would undergo several mergers and take on the name of Southwestern Bible Institute, moving to Fort Worth, Texas in 1941. The following year, realizing the need for more space, Nelson and other officials visited the campus of Trinity University in Waxahachie, Texas, as a possible location for SBI. Unfortunately, Nelson would pass away in the fall of 1942 before the move happened in 1943. This would become the school’s permanent home, which would later be named Southwestern Assemblies of God College in 1963, Southwestern Assemblies of God University in 1994, and most recently, Nelson University in 2024.


The impact of P.C. Nelson cannot be fully measured. Without a doubt, thousands of people found salvation through Christ and were healed in his evangelistic crusades. This does not take into account the many students he inspired as an educator who would go on to work in missions and other areas of ministry touching countless people throughout the world.

In addition to preaching and teaching, Nelson was a prolific writer. His influence continues today through works such as Bible Doctrines (1934), which, as a theological textbook covering the AG Statement of Fundamental Truths, has remained in print longer than any title in Gospel Publishing House history.

Today, the newly named Nelson University exists as the enduring legacy of a man who was unwavering in his faith and in his passion for leading others to Christ through his commitment to proclaiming “the whole gospel for the whole world.”

If I have been able to reclaim erring ones and help them turn from their wandering and follow the footsteps of Jesus, and to inspire God’s children who are sorely tried and discouraged with the hopes of reaching the glorious goal, I have not labored in vain.

      Rev. P.C. Nelson

Burke, Bob and Viola Holder, The Whole Gospel for the Whole World: The Life of P.C. Nelson, Oklahoma City, OK: Commonwealth Press, 2008