Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: August 2010



August 2010



Dear Hollywood: An Open Letter to our Friends in Showbiz, Bless Their Hearts

Written by , Posted in Culture

Leah is a faithful subscriber to Southern Living, the periodical that has almost single-handedly defined what it means to be a middle class Sunbelt southerner. Generally speaking, I only care about the recipes Leah is able to procure from said magazine. But from time to time, she will read something out loud to me. Such is the case in this instance, resulting in the first time I’ve ever blogged about a magazine read almost exclusively by women.

Amy Bickers has written a fantastic opinion piece for this month’s Southern Living titled “Dear Hollywood: An Open Letter to our Friends in Showbiz, Bless Their Hearts.” I was laughing out loud while Leah was reading it to me. After searching all over the internet for an online version I could link to, I finally found one at Southern Living’s Facebook page. The best line in the whole article:

And one last thing: We have air conditioning. You know, that thing that makes it feel cooler inside than it is outside? We do have it. And that is why we do not sweat indoors. We do not glisten and fan ourselves while sitting in our courthouses or hospitals or grocery stores. In fact, because of the South’s obsession with AC, our public buildings are often so cold in the summer that we have to keep a sweater handy in July. Stop showing us sweating, please.

You need to read the whole thing, especially if you are a native southerner. I’m just thankful that those of us down here in God’s Country don’t stereotype Yankees . . .



August 2010





August 2010



Toward a Confessional Basis for Cooperation in the SBC: Some Preliminary Thoughts

Written by , Posted in Ministry, Missions, SBC, Theology

Southern Baptists are not as confessional as we claim we are, but we ought to be. This is my thesis. For some Southern Baptists, this will seem like common sense. For others, it will be provocative and perhaps even anathema. But the time has come to begin having this discussion. My prayer is that it will soon become a discussion before the Convention itself.

The following paragraphs are cited from my essay “Priorities for a Post-Resurgence Convention,” in Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future, ed. David S. Dockery (Crossway, 2009), pp. 273-74. This post should be understood as a “trial balloon” because it represents as second public mention of a topic that I hope to flesh out in greater detail in the coming years (the first mention was obviously in the essay itself).

A new paradigm for cooperation is necessary because Southern Baptists remain quite diverse, albeit not as diverse as we were prior to 1979. David Dockery argues that SBC conservatives are a loose-knit coalition of at least seven broad groups: fundamentalists, revivalists, traditionalists, orthodox evangelicals, Calvinists, contemporary church practitioners, and culture warriors.[1] I would add Landmarkers, Cooperative Program apologists, and miraculous gifts advocates to Dockery’s list. Tensions exist between some of these groups which can hinder our corporate ability to cooperate with each other. The question before post-Resurgence Southern Baptists is how to determine acceptable diversity within the SBC.

According to the Convention’s constitution and bylaws, any local church is free to cooperate with the SBC, provided that it financially supports the denomination and does not endorse the homosexual lifestyle. Cooperation at this level is defined as the right to send up to ten messengers to the denomination’s annual meeting, depending upon a church’s contributions and/or membership.[2]  This minimalist approach means that a church can believe virtually anything, including pedobaptism, and at least in theory cooperate with the SBC! At this time, there is no confessional basis for denominational cooperation, which is probably a bit too close to the pragmatic cooperation of the pre-Resurgence era.

Post-Resurgence Southern Baptists need to embrace a confessional basis for cooperation, but it would probably not be a good idea to mandate complete adherence to the Baptist Faith and Message by all cooperating churches. To do such would demand a degree of doctrinal uniformity that would exclude too many conservative Southern Baptists who are uncomfortable with aspects of the Baptist Faith and Message. David Dockery helpfully suggests that Southern Baptists should not seek such uniformity, but should commit to the best of the Baptist confessional tradition.[3] Perhaps Jim Richards offers a helpful proposal to this end:

The future for the Southern Baptist Convention is to become a confessional fellowship. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 may be too restrictive. A minimal set of doctrinal statements is necessary for the expansion of the SBC. We cooperate not because of common geography, heritage, or goals. We cooperate because we believe the same essentials (Amos 3:3). At some point someone needs to move the SBC to adopt doctrinal affiliation requirements. Cooperation will be based on agreement regarding the nature of the Word of God and certain doctrines that define who we are. Preaching and teaching doctrine is the only way Baptists will retain their identity.[4]

This seems like a wise suggestion. I would propose that post-Resurgence Southern Baptists adopt a brief abstract of the Baptist Faith and Message that affirms a high view of Scripture, an orthodox statement of the Trinity and Christology, an evangelical understanding of salvation, and a basic Baptist understanding of ecclesiology. This would form an adequate confessional basis for churches cooperating with the SBC.


[1] David S. Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Proposal(Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008), 11.

[2] The Convention’s constitution and bylaws are available online at

[3] Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, 215.

[4] James W. [Jim] Richards, “Cooperation among Southern Baptist Churches as Set Forth in Article 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message,” in The Mission of Today’s Church: Baptist Leaders Look at Modern Faith Issues, ed. R. Stanton Norman (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 151.




August 2010



Some Thoughts on Altar Calls

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry, SBC, Theology

This past Saturday, I found myself pondering the relative merits of the altar call. Just in case you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, the altar call consists of publicly inviting penitent sinners (and sometimes others) to the front of the room at the conclusion of a corporate worship service. It is a very common practice among Southern Baptist churches, though anecdotal evidence seems to indicate a decline in the practice in recent years. More on that below.

Altar calls were on my mind for a couple of reasons. First, I was reading a forum on the topic at, a message board I sometimes peruse. Second, I started following an interesting exchange on altar calls via Twitter between fellow Southern Baptists (and former Midwestern Seminary colleagues) Malcolm Yarnell and Jim Elliff. The discussion was prompted by a recent article Jim wrote titled “Closing with Christ,” which criticizes altar calls.

Altar calls have been popular among some Southern Baptists since our inception. Some Separate Baptist churches in the South like the Grassy Creek Church were calling folks down front at the turn of the 19th century, if not before. Altar calls became very popular among Southern Baptists and many other revivalistic evangelicals after the Second Great Awakening, along with practices like public testimonies in corporate worship and protracted (“revival”) meetings. Many Southern Baptist churches still embrace all three of these practices, as well as the gospel music that was popularized in the two generations after the Second Great Awakening.

Though Southern Baptist churches almost universally extended altar calls by the early 20th century, in recent years the practice has been called into question on at least three fronts. Some moderate churches, especially in urban settings, have downplayed or rejected the practice, perhaps because of its identification with a revivalism with which many (though not all) moderates are uncomfortable. Some seeker-driven churches have rejected altar calls as an outdated strategy that is less effective in a culture where many non-Christians lack the Judeo-Christian worldview categories of earlier generations of Americans. Some Calvinist churches have downplayed or rejected altar calls because of perceived revivalism, concerns that the practice is incompatible with the regulative principle, or both.

I think it is evident that some Southern Baptists are very disturbed by what other Southern Baptists practice concerning altar calls. While I’ve met few Southern Baptists who would say altar calls are biblically mandated, I’ve met plenty who imply that a refusal to extend altar calls is evidence that a pastor and/or church is not committed to evangelism. On the other side, I’ve met few Southern Baptists who would argue altar calls are inherently sinful, but I’ve met plenty who imply that giving an altar call is a sure sign that a pastor and/or church is watering down the gospel in favor of “decisionism” or “decisional regeneration.”

I’m regularly asked what I think about altar calls, primarily by students but also occasionally at conferences where I’m speaking. I’m a centrist on this question. I see altar calls as neither necessary nor nefarious. On the one hand, I disagree with those who argue that the altar call can be found in Scripture. But on the other hand, I disagree with those who assume that the absence of a biblical altar call would mean that the practice itself is wrong. I see altar calls as a particular strategy, based upon biblical principles, which is one possible way to encourage sinners (and others) to respond to what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. Altar calls should be neither sacralized nor demonized.

It would be fair to say that I’m concerned about some types of altar calls—those that are manipulative, shallow, or seem to be based on a wrongheaded understanding of conversion. But I’m also concerned that some churches that do not practice altar calls have overreacted to less-healthy versions of altar calls by showing a lack of urgency in calling upon sinners to turn to Christ. Whether a church embraces altar calls or not is adiaphora—what matters is that we earnestly plead with sinners to repent and believe, and that we articulate the gospel clearly as we do so.

As a mostly itinerant preacher, I adapt my own practices to the tradition of the church to whom I’m preaching. When I’m preaching to a church that practices altar calls, I extend an altar call. When I’m preaching to a church that doesn’t practice altar calls, then I don’t extend an altar call. Whether I extend an altar call or not (I do about 75% of the time), I always attempt to make the gospel clear and urge all people, without discrimination, to turn from their sins and cast themselves upon the mercies of Christ.



August 2010



Famous Baptists and American Religious History

Written by , Posted in History, SBC

Over at the First Thoughts blog, Joe Carter has compiled a list of the 50 most influential religious figures in American history. Like any such list, it should provoke some interesting debate about who should or should not have made the cut. There are already comments questioning inclusions and inquiring about omissions. Keep you eye on the comment stream over the next few days.

A number of Baptists made the list, including Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry, Martin Luther King Jr., Jerry Falwell, Roger Williams, Walter Rauschenbusch, and William Miller. What’s interesting to me is that none of these individuals is known primarily for their “Baptistness,” but rather for some other contribution to American religious history. Let me explain.

Graham is no doubt the quintessential entreprenurial evangelist, but most folks don’t know he’s a Southern Baptist. The same goes for Henry, who was Graham’s frequent collaborator in the emerging neo-evangelical movement and an entreprenurial theologian. King is of course primarily identified with the Civil Rights Movement, though he was a Baptist pastor in Montgomery and Atlanta. The same goes for Jerry Falwell, who is much better known for the Moral Majority than for pastoring Thomas Road Baptist Church or even founding Liberty University. Roger Williams established the first Baptist church in America, but he is known in wider circles for his advocacy of church-state separation and his founding of Rhode Island. Rauschenbusch was a lifelong Baptist pastor and professor, but his contributions to the Social Gospel transcended his ecclesiastical affiliation. And poor William Miller began his career as a Baptist minister, but nobody knows that since he left the Baptist fold to found an Adventist sect.

So here’s my question: Can you think of a Baptist who is widely known at least in part for their “Baptistness” and who would be in the running for a list such as this (or even a list of 100)? My suspicion is that few people would come to mind–Graham, King, and Falwell are perhaps the closest thing since there are a lot of folks who at least know they are/were Baptists. A Rick Warren or Millard Fuller might make a longer list, but Purpose Driven and Habitat for Humanity are way better known than either man’s Baptist affiliation. Most everyone knows Jimmy Carter is a Baptist, but I’m not sure his contributions to religion itself would merit his inclusion in this type of list.

I’m not sure there is anybody who is both primarily known as a Baptist and has made some crucial contribution to American religious history in general. For the record, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing–it’s just an observation that came to mind as I was reading Carter’s list and thinking about similar lists I’ve seen in the past. Baptists have (rightly, in my mind) always been a people who have concentrated more on the gospel ministry of the local church than “making a mark” in the wider culture. One could argue that insofar as the latter has happened, it has most often been the fruit of a commitment to the former.

What do you think?