Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: January 2011

Monday

31

January 2011

1

COMMENTS

C. S. Lewis on the Importance of Historical Knowledge

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American culture in general is enamored with the new, the trendy, the glitzy, the pragmatic. This is too often also true of Baptist and other evangelical churches in America. C. S. Lewis offers a good prescription for those believers who are so fixated on the present that they have baptized it’s tendencies and assume that what is has always been.

Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great catacract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

As a Baptist, my one caveat is that what Lewis claims of “scholars” shouldn’t be limited to professional academics, but should be true of all Christians who take the time to learn a bit about church history and historical theology. May our motto ever be, “Every Christian an informed Christian!” And may this be more than a mere motto, but may it translate into churches that are rooted in the timeless, even as we attempt to proclaim the good news in particular cultural contexts.

C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, ed. Walter Hooper (Macmillan, 1980), pp. 28-29. (The link is to a more recent edition.)

Friday

28

January 2011

4

COMMENTS

The Case for a Comprehensive Conservatism

Written by , Posted in Culture

As of right now, there are as many as a dozen Republican men and women who are rumored to be considering a run for the presidency in 2012. Some will likely drop out long before then, while others will almost certainly take their place. As of right now, no candidate appears to stand out, though some generate more publicity (and controversy) than others.

Of course the big issue since the fall of 2008 has been the flagging economy, which coupled with conservative backlash against the Democrat’s health care plan, has energized grassroots conservatives and even many political independents. The recent midterm elections are a testimony to this momentum, though recent days indicate that President Obama himself is beginning to recover politically from last November’s “shellacking.”

Many pundits on both the right and left are claiming that the key to Republican victory in 2012 is to continue to capitalize on the angst people feel toward the economy and Obamacare and to downplay conservative opposition to so-called social issues like abortion and homosexual marriage. Make no mistake about it—this strategy is a recipe for electoral and cultural disaster.

From an electoral standpoint, it is a fact that most Republicans and other conservatives care about a range of issues including the economy, health care, education, national defense, and yes, social issues. Furthermore, for many religious conservatives, the latter is ultimately more important than the former. If forced to choose between a pro-choice deficit hawk and a pro-life economic moderate, most religious conservatives would prefer the former. Of course their first choice would be a candidate who doesn’t embrace a false dichotomy when it comes to, say, the economy and abortion, but if push comes to shove, most conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics care more about the sanctity of human life and the importance of traditional marriage than they do their pocketbooks. Their understanding of the Bible and the historic Christian tradition necessitates such prioritization.

A Republican presidential candidate who is left or even center on social issues will likely be praised by the mainstream media and even some conservative commentators, but he or she will lose handily in a national election because too many religious conservatives will either stay home or vote for third party candidates. It is likely that this very scenario contributed at least in part to John McCain’s defeat in 2008; many religious conservatives simply weren’t convinced of his social conservative bona fides.

From a cultural standpoint, if the next Republican presidential candidate is soft on social issues, it will mark a massive setback for the social conservative movement. Who else will champion these matters in the political sphere?

The Democrat Party is now almost devoid of a prolife witness. Even those who claim to be against abortion periodically vote for bills that devalue the sanctity of human life. A number of moderate Democrats, many of them social conservatives, were voted out of office in last fall’s midterms. Those who remain are now mostly either chafing under peer pressure or have minimal influence within their party, as evidenced in the recent congressional vote to repeal Obamacare and Heath Shuler’s ill-fated run for Democratic House majority leader.

Third parties are an appealing option to some socially conservative voters, including some of my friends, but it is unlikely this is a viable way forward if the goal is to actually affect public policy. From the standpoint of conscience, third party voters can leave the voting booth proud that they voted without compromising their convictions; to be sure, this is no small matter. But since a third party candidate has little chance of winning national or even statewide office at this point in American history, third party strategies actually backfire by conceding the decision-making power to those politicians and ultimately judges who are most stridently opposed to socially conservative positions. A vote for a socially conservative third party presidential candidate is for all practical purposes a vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

For these reasons and perhaps others, it’s imperative for religious conservatives to work hard in between now and November 2012 to choose a consistently conservative candidate who is intelligent, winsome, and articulate. There is no reason for Republicans to jettison or even mute the agenda of social conservatives in an effort to magnify understandable concerns about an economic recession or a problematic health care bill. The way forward for Republicans is not to abandon social issues for the sake of a narrow emphasis on smaller government or lower taxes (or other conservative causes), but to champion a comprehensive conservatism and develop commonsense, workable strategies for bringing such conservatism to bear on every sphere of life influenced by the political process.

Wednesday

26

January 2011

2

COMMENTS

The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life

Written by , Posted in Book Review, Books, Culture, History, Theology

In his modern classic The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 1994), historian Mark Noll provocatively argues that twentieth-century American evangelicals for the most part ignored serious intellectual reflection in favor of pop theologies and atheological pragmatism. Since that time, scores of books and articles have addressed the relationship between Christian (and especially evangelical) faith and scholarship, sometimes dittoing Noll’s jeremiad and sometimes countering his pessimism.  

In just the past year or so, evangelical authors such as James K. A. Smith, John Piper, Alister McGrath, and Bradley Green have weighed in on the intersection between faith and the life of the mind. Noll himself is also writing a volume devoted this topic. Green’s The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Crossway, 2010) is the subject of this particular review.

Bradley Green is a Southern Baptist theologian who serves as the Associate Professor of Christian Thought and Tradition at Union University. He is also a founder of Augustine School, a classical school in Jackson, TN. Green’s other books include the excellent Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy: Engaging with Early and Medieval Theologians (IVP Academic, 2010) and the forthcoming Colin Gunton and the Failure of Augustine (Wipf and Stock). He has also written numerous journal articles and book chapters.

The Gospel and the Mind represents Green’s effort to answer the question, “What is the link between the Christian gospel and intellectual deliberation, between the Christian faith and learning” (p. 12)? As Green pondered this question, he claims,

I realized that the seeds of a radically evangelical approach to the intellectual life were present. If in his death Christ redeemed all of who we are, that must include our intellectual life. Christ did not die to redeem part of us, but he died to redeem all of who we are—including our minds (pp.12 –13, emphasis in original).

The fruit of Green’s reflection is articulated in his book’s two interconnected theses:

As I have read and written and rewritten, two main interlocking theses have emerged, and these two theses function as the heart and soul of this book: (1) the Christian vision of God, man, and the world provides the necessary precondition of the recovery of any meaningful intellectual life; (2) the Christian vision of God, man, and the world offers a particular, unique understanding of what the intellectual life might look like (pp.13–14).

The Gospel and the Mind is divided into six chapters, plus a lengthy introduction and brief epilogue. Chapter one focuses on the foundational significance of the Christian views of creation and history to a rightly ordered intellectual life. The second chapter builds upon these themes by highlighting the teleological or uniquely eschatological vision of the world proposed by Christianity. Chapter three focuses on the ramifications of Christ’s atonement for human intellectual pursuits, the effects of the gospel upon the mind. Chapters four and five swim in deeper waters, articulating a succinct Christian philosophy of language and words; these comprise the most constructive of Green’s chapters. The final chapter discusses the moral nature of knowledge, the relationship between right thinking and right action.

Green does a fine job of balancing biblical exegesis, theological reflection, philosophical engagement, and cultural critique. His emphasis on redemptive history, including the eschatological nature of our world as it marches forward from creation to new creation, is helpful; the grand biblical narrative surely must be at the center of all genuinely Christian thinking. His discussion of words and language, though not light reading, is a helpful contribution, especially for those with little expertise in philosophy of language. I especially resonate with Green’s emphasis on the interconnectedness of sound thinking and holy living. In my classes, I define theology as “thinking rightly about God so that we can live rightly before God.” I think this understanding of theology is in keeping with the best of the Christian intellectual tradition, epitomized by thinkers such as Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and Calvin. Green seems to be tracking in a similar direction.

In addition to the Scriptures, Green engages a number of conversation partners, including significant modern thinkers (Richard Weaver, Roger Scruton, Allan Bloom, David Lyle Jeffrey, and Wendell Berry) and central figures from the Christian intellectual tradition (Aquinas, Calvin, Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, and especially Augustine). In fact, it would be fair to say that much of Green’s musings are filtered through the lens of Augustine and Weaver. As a traditionalist conservative and Baptist historical theologian, I confess that if I were choosing a handful of key dialog partners for a book like this, Augustine and Weaver would make my short list as well (along with Athanasius, Calvin, Lewis, and perhaps Russell Kirk).

The Gospel and the Mind is probably not the best book on this topic to put in the hands of interested laypeople or college freshmen—Piper’s Think, which is less dense and more exegetical, is perhaps a bit better suited for introductory contexts. But thoughtful pastors, professors, and students in advanced electives would greatly benefit from Green’s stimulating foray into the relationship between faith and intellect. Green is a constructive, yet thoroughly orthodox theologian teaching in an influential Baptist-related university. Other Baptist and Christian scholars would do well to follow Green’s example in drawing upon resources from the wider Christian intellectual tradition as we attempt to articulate a thoughtful and faithful way forward for the life of the evangelical mind.

Monday

24

January 2011

2

COMMENTS

The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes

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

I’ve recently started reading The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes (B&H Academic, 2010), a collection of essays edited by Tom Schreiner and Matt Crawford.  This volume marks the tenth contribution to B&H’s excellent NAC Studies in Bible and Theology series, edited by Ray Clendenen. It complements an earlier volume titled Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (B&H Academic, 2007), edited by Schreiner and Shawn Wright, which is the best recent introduction to the Baptist understanding of baptism. I’m reading a chapter of The Lord’s Supper every day or two and have thoroughly enjoyed it thus far.

To whet your appetite, I will share some quotes from David Dockery’s foreword and Schreiner and Crawford’s epilogue. In speaking of the centrality of communion, Dockery argues,

The highest form of corporate Christian worship is the Lord’s Supper. The celebration of the Supper directs our attention backward to the work of Christ on the cross and also encourages a forward look to the second coming of Christ. In addition, it provides a time for believers to examine their own personal relationship with God as well as their relationship with other believers while experiencing communion with the exalted Christ. The observance is one that is so simply that a child can partake with a sense of understanding, yet it contains so many theological ramifications that even the msot mature believer will not fully comprehend its meaning (pp. xv-xvi).

In response to protests that frequent observance of communion diminishes the meaning of the ordinance, Dockery counters, “If meaning is lost, the problem may well be with our hearts rather than with the ordinance itself.” He then cites Charles Spurgeon’s arguments in favor of weekly celebration of the eucharist (pp. xvii-xviii).

Schreiner and Crawford conclude with some helpful thoughts about a Baptist recovery of the Lord’s Supper:

By our very name, Baptists are distinguished from other branches of the Christian church for our particular view of the water-rite associated with salvation. Indeed, many imply that the Baptist view of baptism is the most central element of our identity and theology, or ast least the first one that springs to mind when attempting to explain who we are to outsiders. Such an identity is not wrong per se, and indeed fits nicely with the Baptist emphasis on conversion. Yet, if the emphasis upon baptism leads to a denigration or dismissal of the other great rite of the Christian church–the Lord’s Supper–surely something is amiss. Believer’s baptism by immersion is central to Baptist identity, but let us not forget that partaking of the Supper in obedience to our Lord is central to our identity as Christians. Baptists are known for their view of baptism, but if we wish to be biblical, we must make the Supper as integral to our theology and praxis as the immersion of those who have believed in Christ (p. 391).

What follows is the book’s Table of Contents. I’m delighted that my Southeastern Seminary colleagues Andreas Köstenberger and David Hogg are counted among this excellent volume’s contributors.

Foreword – David S. Dockery

Introduction – Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford

1. Was the Last Supper a Passover Meal? – Andreas J. Köstenberger

2. The Lord’s Last Supper in the Fourfold Witness of the Gospels – Jonathan T. Pennington

3. The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity-Forming Proclamation of the Gospel – James M. Hamilton Jr.

4. “A Glorious Inebriation”” Eucharistic Thought and Piety in the Patristic Era – Michael A. G. Haykin

5. Carolingian Conflict: Two Monks on the Mass – David S. Hogg

6. The Theology of the Eucharist according to the Catholic Church- Gregg R. Allison

7. On Faith, Signs, and Fruits: Martin Luther’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper – Matthew R. Crawford

8. The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) – Bruce A. Ware

9. The Reformed View of the Lord’s Supper- Shawn D. Wright

10. Sounds from Baptist History- Gregory A. Wills

11. Celebrating the Past and Future in the Present – Brian J. Vickers

12. The Lord’s Supper and Works of Love – Gregory Alan Thornbury

13. The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church – Ray Van Neste

Epilogue – Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford

Monday

17

January 2011

0

COMMENTS