Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: February 2011



February 2011



More Thoughts on the Baptism of Children

Written by , Posted in Ministry, SBC, Theology

Earlier this week, Trevin Wax wrote an interesting blog post titled “Should We Baptize Small Children?” A couple of days later, John Starke of The Gospel Coalition responded to Trevin’s article with his own article, titled “Should We Baptize Small Children? Yes.” I would commend them both to you for your careful consideration.

For what it’s worth, my own thoughts on this subject have evolved in the past couple of years. I used to be a strong advocate of artificially delaying baptism until the teenaged years. For example, in 2008 I gave an interview with the late Michael Spencer and argued the following:

Baptizing small children is an innovation in American Baptist life. I think that this is a clear area where we have been influenced by some of the fundamentalists, though it worked in tandem with our home-grown programmatic emphasis on enlistment. The average age of baptism increasingly declined during the 20th century. In 1995, the old Home Mission Board published a study that showed the only age group where baptisms were increasing was the “under 5” category. I have a hard time seeing how this makes us very different than pedobaptists. A perusal of church records and associational minutes will show that our American Baptist forefathers did not regularly baptize pre-teens, though there were occasional exceptions when a child gave extraordinary evidence of both genuine conversion and an understanding of the cost of discipleship as entailed through meaningful church membership.

The practice of baptizing pre-teens has affected church membership in a number of ways. First, it has contributed to the growth of our membership roles—the majority of our baptisms are of elementary aged children and preschoolers. Second, it has contributed to the phenomena of multiple “baptisms” and rededications as teenagers and adults have to assess the validity of childhood spiritual decisions that they can sometimes hardly remember. Third, when coupled with an inadequate view of eternal security, it has led to millions of inactive members who are convinced they are Christians because they walked the aisle as a kindergartener during Vacation Bible School forty years ago. Finally, it has greatly contributed to the decline in redemptive church discipline: what church wants to discipline an eleven year old for having premarital sex, vocal racism, or habitually getting into fistfights with his classmates?

I do want to offer one clarification before moving on. I think it is very possible for small children to be regenerated. There are many people I know who can clearly remember being converted at a relatively young age. But being able to understand the basics of sin, judgment, redemption, and faith and being able to maturely covenant in membership with a local church are two different things, in my opinion. Some will argue that virtually all of the New Testament baptisms happen almost immediately after conversion. This is true. I would respond that almost all New Testament examples are clearly adults who are older than even teenagers. Furthermore, we have absolutely zero examples in the New Testament of when to baptize children who are raised in Christian families. Our pedobaptist friends address this situation by baptizing infants. Most Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists address this by baptizing anyone who can articulate a prayer for salvation. I am an old-fashioned Baptist who believes we should withhold baptism until a child is old enough to publicly identify with a local church through covenant, meaningful membership, though I would be reluctant to arbitrarily set a particular age requirement for baptism.

I stand by my first paragraph, but would articulate each of the latter two paragraphs somewhat differently today. To be clear, I have not become an advocate of rushing every small child who can “repeat-after-me” into the waters. But I’ve come to believe the problem isn’t with baptismal ages per se, but rather with our evangelistic methods; we are often far to incautious when it comes to pressing children to profess faith. Almost any kindergartner who is being raised in a Christian family and/or is involved in church activities is ready to repeat-after-me, whether under the Spirit’s conviction or not. In fact, I’d be worried about a churched kid who wasn’t interested to some degree in spiritual things, even if superficially or simplistically so. 

If we were more careful in how we articulate the gospel and press for a response (and I do believe we should do the latter), I suspect the average age of baptism would go up a bit, for churched kids at least. While the average baptismal age may not rise to pre-20th century levels, I don’t see this as a problem, for two reasons. One, church history isn’t our only trustworthy and sufficient guide for faith and practice. Second, it is just as possible that earlier Baptists artificially postponed baptism as it is contemporary Baptists are too quick to dunk someone; I believe they did just that. 

I believe we should baptize anyone who can articulate a credible profession of faith, regardless of his or her age. This seems to match the New Testament pattern. John Starke pretty much perfectly articulates my own view (which, BTW, I think is essentially Trevin’s view as well). This puts the burden on parents and pastors to shepherd and counsel in such a way that, with the Lord’s help, they can discern with some level of confident hope a credible profession of faith. And when they get it wrong–and sometimes they will–that’s when church discipline comes in. To say it another way, we don’t baptize someone based upon assurance of regeneration, but rather based upon what seems to be a legitimate conversion testimony. This seems to be exactly what they did in the New Testament.

(Cross-posted at Between the Times under the title “Some Thoughts on the Baptism of Children“)



February 2011





February 2011



Malcolm Yarnell on The Church

Written by , Posted in History, SBC, Theology

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary theologian Malcolm Yarnell has written an aricle for SBC Life titled “The Church – A Bride, A Building, A Body.” I commend it to you as a helpful introduction to a basic Baptist understanding of ecclesiology.

Yarnell concludes,

As His bride, we experience intimate communion with Him now, while anticipating the wedding feast to come when the Groom will reveal Himself in all His splendor. As His building, the temple, we experience the glorious reality of God actually dwelling in us and among us. As His body, we operate and cooperate as one whole unit, under the direction of the Head, to grow and function according to His purposes and to accomplish His assignments until His return.

We, the church, are God’s building, Christ’s bride and body, and the Holy Spirit’s temple. We are His because God made Himself ours. These images picture that glorious mystery of God’s love for His people and the opportunity He has given for us to live and function in intimate fellowship with Him and each other, now and forevermore.

I’d encourage you to read the whole article.



February 2011



Ligon Duncan’s Adams Lectures at SEBTS

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One of our endowed lectureships at Southeastern Seminary is the Theodore Adams Lectures in Preaching. The Adams Lectures are an occasion for us to host some of the best preachers in evangelicalism. Historically, some of our guests have delivered lectures, while others have preached. Some do a bit of both.

Earlier this week, we hosted J. Ligon Duncan, Senior Minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS. Lig is one of the very best expositional preachers in America (full disclosure: he is probably my personal favorite). He’s also a prolific author and a gifted leader; Lig is the president, chairman, or on the council of just about every conservative evangelical ministry–seriously.

On Tuesday, Lig delivered what I would call a “preachy lecture” titled “Preaching the Gospel from the Book with the Worst Title in the English Bible“–his texts were Numbers 1:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.

On Wednesday, Danny Akin interviewed Lig on such topics as pastoral ministry, preaching, the relationship between Baptists and Presbyterians, the Conservative Resurgence, and the value of Greek and Hebrew for sermon preparation.

On Thursday, Lig preached a fantastic, Christ-saturated sermon titled “A Gospel Exposition of the Ceremonial Law” — his texts were Numbers 5:1-4, Luke 5:12-14; 8:40-56.

I’d highly encourage each of you to take the time to watch the videos. Thank God for Lig Duncan and his ministry. And thanks to Lig for blessing our seminary family this week.



February 2011



Regulative Principle: Resources Pro and Con

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry, Theology

This week in my Church History II classes, we’ve been discussing the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed understandings of corporate worship. The Reformed view, often called the regulative principle, limits corporate worship activities to those elements prescribed or implied by the New Testament. The Lutheran view, often called the normative principle, argues that any activity not forbidden by the New Testament is acceptable in a corporate worship context.

Please note that some groups that are not Reformed, including many Baptists, affirm the regulative principle. And some groups besides the Lutherans, also including many Baptists, affirm the normative principle. Tying the principles to the Reformed and Lutheran traditions isn’t meant to imply they have a monopoly on those traditions, but rather is simply a way to connect the principles to their historical theological provenance.

As promised in class, this post will direct students (and others) to some online resources related to this debate. There are many more articles about the regulative principle than the normative principle, at least in terms of explicit explanation and defense. I tried to pick a handful of representative resources defending the regulative principle.

Few folks defend the normative principle, and when they do, they often reject that term because they aren’t Lutheran (or Anglican). Nevertheless, most vritics of the regulative principle assume the normative principle (whatever they call it), since it is the more common of the two approaches, and work off of that assumption. The critiques of the regulative principle I link to below are not uniform and none of them embrace the normative principle label.

Defenses of the Regulative Principle

T. David Gordon, “Nine Lines of Argument in Favor of the Regulative Principle of Worship” (Presbyterian)

C. Matthew McMahon, “The Regulative Principle of the Church: How Should We Worship God?” (Presbyterian)

 “A Position Paper Concerning the Regulative Principle of Worship” (Reformed Baptist)

Critiques of the Regulative Principle

Mark Driscoll, “Regulative Principle” (Acts 29; this resource is a sermon)

Grant Gaines, “Some Problems with the Regulative Principle of Worship” (Southern Baptist)

Presbyterian theologian John Frame has written a number of articles and books critiquing the Regulative Principle–you can find his writings on this topic (and other topics) at Frame’s website.