Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: October 2011



October 2011



Baptists and the Reformation

Written by , Posted in History, Theology

Baptists are Protestants. I know there are some Baptists out there who don’t believe we are Protestants, but their rejection of this truth betrays a bapto-centric bias and ignores history. It is one of those beliefs that my colleague Keith Harper calls “history as apologetics”–using (or misusing) history (or alleged history) to make a theological point.

The first Protestants were theological and moral dissenters who ultimately left the Catholic Church and started new movements. Most Protestants continued to embrace some form of church-state union (or at least close partnership) and like Catholics used the state’s power to coerce religious conformity. Lutherans and most Calvinists could be included in this group. A few Protestants, such as the Anabaptists, embraced the believer’s church model and rejected the idea of territorial churches. These “Free Church” Protestants were typically abused by the “Magisterial” Protestants who were fans of state churches.

In England, Protestants were active from at least the 1520s, though it wasn’t until the 1530s that the Church of England withdrew from the Catholic Church and embraced a cautious Protestantism. After a period of religious and political turmoil, England emerged as a Protestant nation from 1559 onwards, combining a moderately Reformed view of salvation with a moderately Catholic view of worship and the church. This compromised Protestantism, more formally known as the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, pleased few of those folks who wanted to see England become Geneva or Zurich with a cockney accent and afternoon tea.

Most of the “hot” Protestants in England wanted to transform the Church of England into a Presbyterian state church–we call them the Puritans, though there were some early Puritans who were cool with bishops. Other staunch Protestants agreed with the Calvinism of the Puritans, but rejected the Presbyterian commitment to state churches. These Separatists, so-called because they left the Church of England and formed independent congregations, were in many ways similar to the Anabaptists in their ecclesiology, though they still held to covenantal infant baptism based upon their Reformed soteriology.

During the first half of the seventeenth century, some of the Separatists came to their senses and embraced credobaptism, which they added to their prior commitments to regenerate church membership, congregational polity, local church autonomy, and religious liberty. We call these folks the Baptists. While there is some debate about what influence, if any, the Continental Anabaptists had on at least some of these Separatists, at the end of the day the first Baptists were in fact Separatists who adopted confessor’s baptism. And by the 1640s, the mode of their baptism reflected the New Testament practice of full immersion.

So Baptists are Protestants. To be specific, we are third generation Protestants who in many ways represent an attempt to reform the Reformation. In the Baptist movement, the very best of the Magisterial understanding of Scripture and salvation was combined with the very best of the Free Church understanding of the church and discipleship. The result was a new movement that represented a further reformation among some of the Reformed churches in England. These Baptists were a diverse lot, they didn’t always play nicely with one another, and some of them chased some admittedly troubling tangents, especially in the eighteenth century. But Protestants they remained, albeit a different Protestant movement than the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists of Continental Europe.

So on this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the Protestant heritage we Baptists enjoy. We stand with Luther and Calvin on justification by grace alone through faith alone. We stand with the Anabaptists on a believer’s church committed to radical discipleship and confessor’s baptism. We stand with all three of these groups in their commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture. And as good Protestants, we ultimately stand where we stand, not because others stand there as well, but because we believe the Spirit still speaks through His Word to guide Christ’s people on the narrow way.

Happy Reformation Day.

(Note: This post was first published in October 2010.)



October 2011



The Reformation and the Gospel

Written by , Posted in History, Links, Theology

Matthew Barrett, editor of Credo Magazine, has written a very helpful article titled “Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel.” The article was also picked up by The Gospel Coalition. Matthew answers recent arguments that the Reformation is past its expiration date, countering that reformational soteriology is worth preserving because it is a faithful articulation of the biblical gospel. I agree with him.

As a historical theologian, I’m all for ressourcement of the best of the Christian tradition, and that includes the Patristic and Medieval eras. But when it comes to the doctrine of salvation, I believe there is much greater clarity offered in the Reformation traditions that previous eras, especially when it comes to the question of the work of Christ and its saving effects. That’s not to say that the church didn’t “get it” before the Reformation (that would be a gross oversimplification). Rather, it’ s a recognition that, in the providence of God, different doctrines are at the forefront of debate and clarification during different eras. The Reformation was about many things, but most importantly, it was about the doctrine of salvation.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Matthew’s article. I also hope you’ll return to the Credo website frequently next week as a whole host of authors will be writing posts related to the Reformation (Monday, of course, is Reformation Day–October 31st). Lord willing, I’ll be serving up a short article on the question of just how many Reformations there actually were, which is a hotly debated question among scholars.



October 2011



The New Testament’s Multi-dimensional Fulfillment of the Old

Written by , Posted in Links, Ministry, Theology

Dane Ortlund has written a great short blog post demonstrating the various ways the New Testament fulfills the hope of the Old Testament. Here’s his intro:

Seems to me that while it need not be the main point of every NT book, nevertheless every NT book in some way fulfills the hope of the OT, though each from its own perspective. One former prof of mine used to say that the NT is a 27-volume commentary on the OT. Truth to that.

I’d recommend you read the examples Dane provides from each NT book.

(HT: The Gospel Coalition)



October 2011



Reading Scripture with the Reformers

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

Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, is the general editor of the new Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS), published by IVP Academic. The RCS introduces readers to how Reformation-era pastors and scholars interpreted the Bible by collating representative comments on the text. It is an attempt to make available some of the best of “pre-critical exegesis” from the formative days of Protestantism. The RCS includes selections from the Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Anabaptist traditions.

This type of commentary may sound familiar to some readers; the RCS follows the same basic approach as the widely acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, also published by IVP Academic. I highly recommend both series. The inaugural volume of the RCS is already available: Gerald Bray has edited the commentary on Galatians and Ephesians. I encourage you to do what I did and sign up to become a member of the RCS and receive each new volume as it is published at a 40% discount (you get the Bray volume for 80% off).

In addition to editing the RCS, George has also written a companion volume titled Reading Scripture with the Reformers (IVP Academic, 2011). If you are a subscriber to First Things, you can go to the periodical’s website and read an essay George adapted from the book that was published in the March 2011 issue of First Things. Also, if you sign up as a member of the RCS, you’ll receive Reading Scripture with the Reformers for free in addition to the discounted volumes of the actual commentaries.

To learn more about the topic of Reformation hermeneutics and the RCS itself, check out John Starke’s interview with George at The Gospel Coalition and IVP’s interview with George at the RCS Facebook page.



October 2011



The Church from Age to Age: A History from Galilee to Global Christianity

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

Concordia Publishing House has recently released a fine new church history textbook titled The Church from Age to Age: A History from Galilee to Global Christianity, under the general editorship of Edward A. Engelbrecht. Simply put, The Church from Age to Age is the best single-volume church history textbook I’ve read. Though written from an explicitly Lutheran perspective, the contributors avoid an unnecessarily party spirit and write for a broader Christian audience.

As a specialist in modern church history, I’m especially thankful the contributors give considerable treatment to post-1914 persons and events, including the expansion and development of Christianity in the non-Western world. The book is user-friendly, combining an easily readable narrative with a generous amount of pictures, charts, time lines, appendices, bibliographies, and primary source selections. I will likely use it in my church history survey classes next year. It will mean updating my reading quizzes (bummer), but it’s worth it to get this book into the hands of my students.

In the space below, I’ve reproduced the endorsement I wrote for the book. Other endorsers include scholars such as Doug Sweeney, Bradley Nassif, Joseph Amar, Garth Rosell, Joel Elowsky, and my fellow Southern Baptist church historians Robert Caldwell (SWBTS) and Chris Chun (GGBTS). I’d encourage you to add The Church from Age to Age to your personal library and your church’s library and/or book stall. You won’t find a better survey of church history written from a confessional Protestant perspective.

There are many fine church history surveys available, but I’m delighted to commend The Church from Age to Age as one of the very best. This one-volume update to the highly acclaimed Church in History series is comprehensive enough for use in graduate courses, but the narrative style makes it a good choice for undergraduates and laypersons as well. The inclusion of primary source readings offer a “microscopic” complement to the generally “telescopic” approach of the book. The attempt to tell the story of church history from a global perspective represents the best of recent scholarship and accurately reflects the dispersion and diversity of the Christian movement. I hope The Church from Age to Age gains a wide reading in seminaries, among clergy, and even in congregational reading circles.

Nathan A. Finn, PhD
Associate Professor of History Theology and Baptist Studies
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary