Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: September 2010



September 2010



The State(s) of our Convention

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

My friend Doug Baker and I have co-authored an editorial for the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger. Many of you know that Doug is the executive editor of that paper. Our editorial, titled “The State(s) of our Convention,” is an attempt to briefly sketch out a vision for the future of state Baptist conventions. We are unashamed fans of state conventions, and to be candid, we are troubled by the anti-state convention rhetoric we sense in some quarters of the SBC family. At the same time, we are not uncritical admirers of state conventions or any other ministry in the Southern Baptist family. We believe state conventions, associations, and every national mission board, agency, and seminary needs to ask some hard questions about the way forward and be willing to think outside the box if we are to reach North America and the nations with the gospel and plant gospel-centered Baptist churches in every corner of the globe. 

We know there are tensions right now among Southern Baptists, and these tensions are becoming increasingly divisive. But we do not believe any of our problems are insurmountable. We need each other. As we say in our editorial, “It is our sincere hope that our tensions will give way to a new consensus, one built upon the orthodoxy reaffirmed in the Conservative Resurgence and expressed in the orthopraxy embodied in a Great Commission Resurgence.” We hope many others will join us in this hope as we labor together as individuals, churches, associations, state conventions, and national agencies to reach our Jerusalem, our Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.



September 2010



Theology for the Church

Written by , Posted in Ministry, Theology

Theology is not simply a list of dogmas to be believed; it encompasses a framework for thinking about the world and a vision for living in it. It seeks to capture the minds and hearts of believers so that they might think Christianly and act Christianly. Theology is the most noble and impassioned of disciplines, and if confined to the classroom, it will shrivel and die.

Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Eerdmans, 1993), p. 81.



September 2010



Andrew Fuller on Prayer and Revival

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

‘Tis true we have reason to bewail our own and others’ declension, yet we are not, upon the whole, discouraged. It affords us no little satisfaction to hear in what manner the monthly prayer meetings which were proposed in our letter of last year have been carried on, and how God has been evidently present in those meetings, stirring up the hearts of his people to wrestle hard with him for the revivial of his blessed cause. Though as to the number of members there is no increase this year, but something of the contrary; yet a spirit of prayer in some measure being poured out more than balances in our account for this defect. We cannot but hope, wherever we see a spirit of earnest prayer generally and perseveringly prevail, that God has some good in reserve, which in his own time he will graciously bestow.

From the 1785 circular letter “Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival,” in Complete Works of Andrew Fuller (Sprinkle, 1988), vol. III, pp. 318-24. Emphasis in original.



September 2010



Andrew Fuller’s Pastoral Priorities

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

There are not enough good pastoral role models. It’s true. Oh, there are some good ones out there, and many of them have quite a following among the collegians, seminarians, and young pastors who find them. But it’s unfortunate there are not more good pastoral role models, or perhaps better, more role models who have the ability (or platform) to influence younger ministers. Many of the godly role models out there are laboring in small churches in sometimes obscure locales. Because these brothers do not write books, speak at all the prominent conferences, and preach in seminary chapel services, aspiring and less experienced pastors are unable to benefit from their wisdom and influence.

Because of this vaccuum, many younger (and seasoned) ministers turn to the examples of faithful pastors from bygone days. This is possible because of the faithful ministry of publishers committed to reprinting works of historical import (e.g. Banner of Truth, Particular Baptist Press) and the growing number of resources available on the internet.

I believe contemporary pastors can learn much from the life of Andrew Fuller. My friend Paul Brewster has a forthcoming book titled Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian (B&H Academic)–I’ve already read a pre-publication copy, and it is great. There is also a planned multi-volume critical edition of Fuller’s works, in addition to the other helpful versions of Fuller’s writings available through Sprinkle Publications and Banner of Truth.

This is what one notable biographer says about Fuller’s pastoral priorities:

Thus he prosecuted his pastoral and ministerial work, most grateful and joyous when he had experienced “a good time” in preaching or in prayer, and most deeply dejected when he had felt no “tenderness of heart” in conducting the public services. He was a constant visitor, especially at the houses of the poorer members of his church, and acknowledged that he gained much good from the practice. The griefs and sorrows of his people became his own, and he entered into their joys with all his heart. Knowing that the success of his work depended in no small measure upon his own spirituality, he hungered and thirsted after righteousness. Every hour of the day the care of the church was upon him. He thought but little of popularity, but earnestly desired to accomplish great things for the glory of God.

[Andrew Gunton Fuller, Men Worth Remembering: Andrew Fuller (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882), pp.57-58, available online here.] 

What a contrast to what we too often see in today’s pulpits. In a day of CEO pastors, underprayed ministries, never-ending church growth seminars, and the proliferation of what some have called our “therapeutic culture,” Fuller’s model of simple, Christ-centered faithfulness resonates with those longing to find a better–and more biblical–approach to pastoral ministry. May we all benefit from his example and the example of other historical role models.



September 2010



William Carey’s View of History

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

One of the complaints I sometimes hear from students is that their church history and Baptist history classes are not “practical” enough. Instead of asking, with Tertullian, “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem,” many of them want to know what any of it has to do with ministry in our contemporary context. Many of these same students complain similarly about their theology, ethics, biblical languages, and philosophy classes. My response is always to try and convince my more pragmatically minded students that history actually has a unique role to play in their theological education and can lend practical help to any number of contemporary concerns.

As Timothy George likes to say, there is a whole lot that happened in church history between Jesus and your grandma. Because we have two thousand years of Christian history behind us (as well as 400 years of uniquely Baptist history), we do not have to repeat the same mistakes that have already been made. We do not have to commit the same theological errors. We do not have to get trapped in some of the same practical quandaries. Our 21st century ministries can be informed by our forefathers from previous centuries. We can learn from their mistakes, and we can benefit from their successes. Your ministry should not occur in an historical vacuum.

William Carey understood this well. The second section of Carey’s famous An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens was devoted to historical precursors in foreign missions. Carey discussed New Testament missions, medieval Catholic missions, Reformation missions, New England missions, and especially Moravian missions. Though he is often known as the “father of the modern missions movement,” Carey was keenly aware that he stood in continuity with a long tradition of Christian cross-cultural evangelism. And he applied his knowledge of history to both his personal piety and his ministry.

History influenced the missiology of Carey and his associates. Scholars argue that the Moravians, David Brainerd, and John Eliot were all taken into consideration when Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward drew up their famous Serampore Form of Agreement. In other words, Carey and friends understood that there was nothing new under the sun and they wanted to learn from the successes and failures of missionaries who had gone before them. History was used in the service of cross-cultural evangelism and church-planting.

In at least one case, history also served as an aid to Carey in his personal piety. Carey tells us in his journal and correspondence that he read regularly from David Brainerd’s famed diary. Like thousands of missionaries who have come after him, Carey found Brainerd a source of spiritual strength and missional inspiration. History was used in the service of personal piety.

My own desire is that we would use history in the same ways as Carey. As with Carey, ministry examples from the past have much to offer 21st century Baptists. We have much to learn from the preaching of John Chrysostom, Ulrich Zwingli, and B. H. Carroll. We have much to learn from the evangelistic zeal of Francis of Assisi, Pilgram Marpeck, and Daniel Taylor. We have much to learn from the pastoral theology of Martin Luther, Richard Baxter, and Andrew Fuller. And we have much to learn from the missionary exploits of St. Patrick, Adoniram Judson, and Samuel Zwemer.

Past saints also have much to contribute to our present pursuit of godliness. We need the devotional theology of Athansius, John Owen, and John Dagg. We need the fire of Savonarola, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon. We need the gospel-driven piety of John Bunyan, David Brainerd, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne. We need the same God-centered commitment to Christian scholarship as Jonathan Edwards, John Gill, and J. Gresham Machen.

William Carey resolutely believed that the sovereign Lord of all creation was moving history toward a glorious denouement when He will make all things new. Those who preceded Carey in the faith were a part of that history, even as he himself was a participant in all that God was doing to make His name great among the nations. You and I are also a part of that history, and it is my prayer that each of us will own Carey’s God-centered view of history as we seek to live rightly before God in our own time.