Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: April 2011



April 2011



Some Brief Thoughts on Pastor-Theologians

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

Owen Strachan of Boyce College has written a helpful article for The Gospel Coalition titled “The (Welcome) Rise of the Pastor-Theologian: A Friendly Response to Donald Miller.” His article is a response to a recent blog post by Donald Miller titled “Should the Church be Led by Teachers and Scholars?” Owen has a passion for this topic; he is currently working on a dissertation that focuses on Harold John Ockenga’s ministry as a leading evangelical pastor-theologian during the mid-twentieth century.

This is an important conversation, not only in broader evangelical circles, but within the Southern Baptist family as well. Though we Baptists have been blessed with some outstanding university and seminary scholars during our four centuries of history, many of our signal theologians were pastors. Thomas Grantham, author of the first systematic theology from a Baptist perspective, was a General Baptist pastor and later “messenger” (at-large evangelist/church-planter). John Gill, the first Particular Baptist systematician, was a longtime London pastor. John Bunyan, Benjamin Keach, Andrew Fuller, Charles Spurgeon, Robert Hall Jr., and John Clifford are other examples of British pastors who were also creative theologians.

In America, we find much the same case, whether with Isaac Backus and Morgan Edwards in the North or R. B. C. Howell, Patrick Hues Mell, and J. M. Pendleton in the South (among numerous others). In twentieth-century Southern Baptist circles, Herschel Hobbs and W. A. Criswell were notable pastor-theologians. Contemporary examples of Baptist pastor-theologians include John Piper, Tom Ascol, Andy Davis, and Mark Dever, while a number of younger Baptist pastors such as David Platt, Matt Chandler, J. D. Greear, Bart Barber, Byron McWilliams, and Paul Brewster are also promising pastor-theologians. I know there are many others I could have named, and no doubt many more will be added to this list in the coming years as more and more pastors write helpful theological books and articles.

Even many of our most significant “vocational” theologians had considerable local church experience as a pastor or frequent interim pastor, including Francis Wayland, John L. Dagg, James P. Boyce, A. H. Strong, E. Y. Mullins, and Millard Erickson. This is also true of contemporary Baptist theologians, many of whom have been pastors, are currently pastors, or frequently serve in interim pastoral ministries. (I’d include a list of names, but it would literally include virtually every vocational theologian who teaches in one of our six seminaries or other schools such as Mid-America and Luther Rice.)

I’m currently editing a collection of essays tentatively titled Gospel-Driven Ministry: Good News for the Local Church, which I hope will be published in 2012. All of the contributors (except for me) are younger pastors and church planters who serve Southern Baptist congregations. My concluding chapter is titled “A Call for Pastor-Theologians and Theologians Who Are Pastors”–it is my desire to flesh out some of the ideas in this post to a much greater degree in that chapter.



April 2011



On Baptist Relations with Other Protestants

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

During the roughly fifty-year heyday of the ecumenical movement between World War I and the Vietnam War, several new denominations were birthed as a result of denominational mergers. Numerous other groups contemplated mergers and in many cases established new partnerships during the middle decades of the twentieth century. With a handful of exceptions like the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches in the USA), most Baptist groups resisted formal involvement in ecumenical organizations. This includes the Southern Baptist Convention.

There were always some Southern Baptists who wanted to dive right into the ecumenical movement, especially many seminary professors and “county seat” or urban pastors, many of whom had earned multiple degrees and maintained close ties to the seminaries. But on the whole, the SBC rejected the “church union” movement because of a number of reasons, including:

  1. Perceived theological liberalism in ecumenical groups like the National Council of Churches
  2. An unswerving commitment to Baptist distinctives like regenerate church membership, confessor baptism by immersion, congregational freedom, and liberty of conscience
  3. Fears of communist infiltration of the ecumenical movement
  4. A desire to emphasize evangelism and missions to a greater degree than many other Protestant denominations
  5. The lingering influence of Landmarkism, especially in parts of the Midwest and Southwest
  6. More than a touch of denominational insularity and/or superiority

In 1928, Canadian Baptist F. W. Patterson gave an address before the Baptist World Alliance titled “Our Relation to Other Protestants.” In his address, Patterson argued

Two sentences contain the pith of all that I might say. First: Baptists generally are not antagonistic toward other Protestants, nor in their major aims in competition with them. Second: In the present state of Protestantism, Baptists are justified in maintaining a separate existence.

Instead of looking for ways to separate from others, Patterson’s instinct was to emphasize those beliefs Baptists had in common with other Protestants.

The things that Baptists have in common with other Protestants are much more important than the things in which they differ from them. If we think of other Protestants in terms of origins, Baptists spring from the same general stock; if we think of them in terms of truth, Baptists confess joyfully that they hold great areas of truth in common; they are nourished by the same Scriptures; they believe in the same God and in His grace; they worship in the same spirit; they recognize equally the fact of sin, the necessity of redemption, the initiative of God in the work of redemption, and the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as the way of God. If we think of them in terms of objectives, our general aim and major emphasis are the same. We know that Baptists have no monopoly of Christianity and that it is more important that mean be Christian than that they be Baptist.

But despite his desire to cooperate and his genuine sympathy for other groups, Patterson agreed that Baptists needed to continue as a unique group and avoid organic union with other Protestants.

This, then, is our position. We have malice toward none; we have charity toward all; we hold equally with others the vision of a united church. We are suspicious only of any movement which thinks more of organized union that of the unity of the spirit. We regard the progress of the Kingdom of God as of greater moment than the progress of any church, even though it be our own. We welcome every advance of every group that means the advance of the Kingdom; with every such movement we gladly cooperate. We do feel, however, that we know our own business and the scale of the stage on which we must play our part, better than others who know little or nothing of the Baptist world outside their local communities. For the present, at least, we believe that we can best serve Him whose we are not by merging in a larger union, but by being better Baptists than we have ever been before.

Patterson was a convictional, unashamed Baptist–he didn’t want to be anything else because he believed an open mind and open Bible always makes a man a Baptist. But he possessed what an older generation called a “catholic spirit”–he was no Bapto-centric sectarian and he wanted to look for ways Baptists could cooperate with other Protestants without compromising our tradition’s unique convictions and emphases. I resonate with his approach.

Baptists, including Southern Baptists, are always threatened by one of two extremes–to either disengage from cooperating with others (for whatever reasons) or to so emphasize cooperation that we downplay or ignore our distincitves. I’m not sure how many people deliberately pursue one of these unhelpful courses, but I’ve observed many Southern Baptists who meander down one or the other of these paths, even if inadvertently.

I delved into this topic a little over a year ago in a post at Between the Times titled “With Whom Can My Church Cooperate?” That article is written from the perspective of local churches and includes more than just Baptist relations with other Protestants. Nevertheless, I hope you find it helpful.

If you’d like to read the entirety of Patterson’s address, you can find it in Walter B. Shurden, ed., The Life of Baptists in the Life of the World: 80 Years of the Baptist World Alliance (Nashville: Broadman, 1985), pp. 85-90.



April 2011



Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism

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

In October 2009, Union University hosted a conference titled Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism. The conference was held in conjunction with the four hundredth anniversary of the Baptists. It also revisited an oft-asked question: what is the relationship between Southern Baptists and American evangelicals? You can listen to the conference audio at Union’s website.

For those who are interested, the proceedings of that conference are also now in print. Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism (B&H Academic, 2011) is a collection of essays edited by David Dockery, Ray Van Neste, and Jerry Tidwell. Between the Times contributors Danny Akin, Ed Stetzer, and yours truly spoke at the conference and contributed essays. You can see the full list of chapters and contributors below.

  1. So Many Denominations: The Rise, Decline, and Future of Denominationalism – David S. Dockery
  2. Denominationalism: Is There a Future? – Ed Stetzer
  3. Denominationalism and the Changing Religious Landscape – D. Michael Lindsay
  4. The Faith, My Faith, and the Church’s Faith – Timothy George
  5. The Future of Evangelicalism (and Southern Baptists) – Duane Litfin
  6. The Care for Souls: Reconsidering Pastoral Ministry in Southern Baptist and Evangelical Contexts – Ray Van Neste
  7. Awakenings and Their Impact on Baptists and Evangelicals: Sorting Out the Myths in the History of Missions and Evangelism – Jerry Tidwell
  8. Recovering the Gospel for the Twenty-first Century – Harry L. Poe
  9. Emergent or Emerging? Questions for Southern Baptists and American Evangelicals – Mark DeVine
  10. Reflections on 400 Years of the Baptist Movement: Who We Are, What We Believe – James A. Patterson
  11. Southern Baptists and Evangelicals: Passing on the Faith to the Next Generation – Nathan A. Finn
  12. The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention – Daniel Akin
  13. Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism – R. Albert Mohler Jr.

If you are interested in the storied history and future prospects of Southern Baptists, American evangelicalism, and/or denominationalism in general, I’d highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this important new book.

[This post was cross-published at Between the Times]



April 2011



Real Presence: Christ with His Church as Testified through Communion

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

In the Baptist tradition … the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper has been the majority position. The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 deems the Lord’s Supper to be “only a memorial,” although some Baptists have, of course, dissented from this point of view. But if the Lord’s Supper is “simply commemorative” as the nineteenth century Baptist stalwart J. L. Reynolds so forthrightly put it, then the emphasis moves away from Communion itself and focuses instead on the gospel that is preached and the holiness of the Christian community assembled in that place. To be certain, the latter depends upon the former. Indeed, the entire concept of a regenerate church membership is established upon the reality of hearing and responding to the faithful exposition of Scripture. When the gathered church celebrates Communion, they are not simply confessing something about themselves. They are proclaiming certain truths about Christ. They are taking themselves in hand and preaching to themselves that Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross was efficacious, objective, and finished. Further, the church is committing herself to the proposition that the promises of the Old Testament are true, and that the history of redemption has reached its fulfillment in the work of Christ. Indeed, Jesus announced the arrival of the new covenant when he instituted the Supper, and in so doing confirmed that His Father was indeed the God of Promise and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Jeremiah 31; Matt. 22:30). Further, in Mark’s Gospel Communion forces us to look beyond this world and anticiapte in the final triumph of Christ and the full consummation of His Kingdom (Mark 14:25). If the Supper’s role is primarily to stand as an immovable marker of that gospel, then God’s power rests in the quality of discipleship and the preaching the Word.

That is a difficult thing to accept because discipleship is hard. And despite all caricatures to the contrary, hearing the gospel, believing in it and responding to it are also hard. With this said, then, Communion exhibits power only insofar as it points to the new humanity begun by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There is no magic in the elements served or the words spoken. It is just you in the room with God’s people at the mercy and behest of the Holy Spirit to transform you…. [B]elievers struggle to understand how the practice of communion should influence their lives with respect to their daily relationship with God and their ongoing life together with other believers. We are still haunted by what might be lost if there is no miracle taking place in the sacrament. Younger evangelicals hunger for liturgy, and see example after example of evangelical leaders who leave the Reformation tradition to return to Rome with its fully developed sacramental theology. And while a new generation of Baptists may not ever convert to Catholicism, some will wonder if they want to serve in churches that will remain in the low-church tradition for the foreseeable future when higher liturgical traditions possess a powerful attraction for them.

The defining question related to the Lord’s Supper comes down to this. Do we have the courage to believe that the only miracle happening during the act of Communion is that the Supper bears witness to the saving grace found at Calvary and reflected in the lives of those around us? We must ask ourselves if we can be content with celebrating the reality of that good news alongside those who have believed on Jesus’ name and trusted in Him to save them from their sins. Are we willing to admit that we have nothing else to offer the world except a little gathering of like-minded believers who confess one Lord, one faith, one Baptism? This may be a hard truth for a new generation of Baptists to embrace, but one I am convinced we must accept without hesitation or fear.

From Gregory Alan Thornbury, “The Lord’s Supper and Works of Love,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, NAC Studies in Bible and Theology, eds. Thomas Schreiner and Matthew Crawford (B&H Academic, 2010), pp. 359-61.



April 2011



Recommended Worship Album

Written by , Posted in Ministry, Theology

My friend Eric Campbell serves as assistant pastor at First Baptist Church of Durham, where he coordinates our worship ministries. Last summer, our church gave Eric a sabbatical, during which time he recorded an album of worship music. The album, titled “Arise My Soul,” can be ordered from Eric’s website. The list of songs is included below.

  1. O, My Soul (Arise and Bless Your Maker)
  2. For the Beauty of the Earth
  3. Immanuel
  4. Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)
  5. By Grace Alone
  6. Arise, My Soul
  7. The Look
  8. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us
  9. They Came Alone
  10. The New Jerusalem

If you resonate with the sound of Christian musicians such as Michael Card and Fernando Ortega, I’d encourage you to buy Eric’s album.