Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: December 2011



December 2011



Very Hopeful about the SBC’s Future

Written by , Posted in Links, Ministry, SBC

The good folks at Baptist Press have published a column by me titled “Very Hopeful about the SBC’s Future.” The BP essay is a light revision of a post I first published a week ago at this website and Between the Times titled “On the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention: A Graduation Meditation.” I hope you’ll go over to Baptist Press and give the column a quick read.

In other news, this will be my last post before Christmas. I want to wish all of my readers a very blessed Christmas.




December 2011



Searching Out the Sacred in US Political History

Written by , Posted in Books, History, Links

Darren Dochuk has written an insightful article for Perspectives on History titled “Searching Out the Sacred in US Political History.” In his article, he notes that seven years ago Yale historian Jon Butler called upon scholars to make religion central to understanding twentieth-century history. Dochuk, a political historian, recounts several recent works in his field that have highlighted the central role of religion (especially evangelicalism).

This is especially true in my own field of 20th-century U.S. political history. When Butler identified the lack of religion in 20th-century historical scholarship, he singled out politics as one potentially rich area of inquiry still in need of revitalization. In the years since his appraisal, several historians—junior and senior alike—have stepped forward to fill the gap. Aided by the cultural turn in political history, whose enlivening of the field in the 1990s paved the way for broader interpretations, they have produced first-rate studies that do exactly what Butler wants them to do: embed and empower religion in larger historical narratives, and make everyone take notice.

If you’re interested in twentieth-century American Christianity, particularly the intersection between Christianity and politics, then you should read Dochuk’s article. It’s a great introduction to some of the most recent scholarship in the field.

(HT Paul Harvey; image credit)



December 2011



Whatever Happened to Christian History?

Written by , Posted in History, Links

During my last couple of years in college, I became increasingly interested in American religious history. It seemed like a reasonable fit: I was intent on attending seminary and preparing for pastoral ministry, but was also a history major who loved studying the past. The more I read, the more I became particularly interested in a couple of areas: American evangelicalism and Baptist history. These interests ultimately came together in my 2007 dissertation, “The Development of Baptist Fundamentalism in the South, 1940-1980.” I hope to rework the dissertation into a monograph one day.

When I began pondering doctoral studies in church history, I was particularly encouraged by an April 2001 article Tim Stafford wrote for Christianity Today titled “Whatever Happened to Christian History?” Stafford introduced me to some of the leading debates among self-confessed evangelical historians. He also recounted the professional journeys of historians such as Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Harry Stout, scholars whose works I was already beginning to read. The article helped to cement my desire to become a church historian.

I was recently reminded of Stafford’s article when I saw it referenced in the latest issue of Fides et Historia, the journal published by the Conference on Faith and History. I’m truly thankful that a decade after first reading the article I’m serving as a “professional” church historian. I’m also glad I’m writing about the very topics I became interested in almost a dozen years ago (though I don’t write as much as I hope to in the future). I’d encourage you to read Stafford’s thoughtful article.

(Image credit)



December 2011





December 2011



On the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention: A Graduation Meditation

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

This morning, we’ll celebrate our December graduation at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is our smaller of two annual commencements, but we’ll still graduate around 130 students today. The vast majority of them are Southern Baptists who are currently serving in paid vocational ministry, are presently looking for paid church staff positions, or are preparing to be domestic church planters or foreign missionaries. I hope you’ll pray for those who are transitioning to their next ministry assignment in the coming weeks and months.

There is quite a bit of talk these days about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention (or whatever it is we’ll be called by the time we get there). Much of it is negative. Some are worried about the number of SBC congregations that evidence declining membership and baptism statistics. Others are worried about the ongoing viability of the Cooperative Program. Some are uncomfortable with certain individuals in either real or perceived positions of denominational leadership and/or influence. Others are worried that a particular theological or cultural agenda will overwhelm and ultimately destroy the SBC. Some are nervous about younger leaders, while others are dissatisfied with more seasoned leaders. And some just pronounce a pox on all the houses within Southern Baptist suburbia.

I admit that I struggle with negativity from time to time. To be totally candid, it’s hard to study Southern Baptists for a living and not get discouraged on occasion. But I study American Christianity in general enough to know that every denomination has its peculiar strengths and weaknesses. Our denominational neuroses are particularly irksome because, well, they’re ours, but the grass isn’t that much greener in other groups—it’s just a different breed of grass. So rather than despairing over the cranky and delusional among us, I prefer to focus on the good. And there is a lot of good.

Back to graduation. One reason I refuse to despair about the SBC is because, as a seminary professor, I have a unique vantage point on the future of the Convention. Simply put, I’m personally acquainted with hundreds of (mostly) younger Southern Baptist pastors, missionaries, and other younger leaders. Their zeal is contagious. Their orthodoxy is robust. Their burden for evangelism and missions is inspiring. Their commitment to the local church is deep-rooted. They are a constant encouragement to me.

Some are worried because they perceive that these younger ministers lack commitment to the SBC. I confess that I’ve met a few for whom this is the case. But by far most of the seminarians and recent graduates I know are strongly committed to the SBC. They believe what we believe. They appreciate our approach to cooperative ministry and missions. They want to be Southern Baptists. Even those students who are “on the edge” are frequently those who were raised Southern Baptist and deeply love the SBC—so much so that the cranky and delusional voices gnaw at them and push them away. They are tempted to give in to the despair.

You need to know that I’m on a personal mission to do my part to prevent that from happening. We can’t afford to lose the next generation. And make no mistake about it—these aren’t denominational apostates who “went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” No, these are folks who want to remain part of us, but (understandably) bristle at some of the frankly outrageous things that some Southern Baptists say and do—occasionally even those who are, or have been denominational leaders. I try my best to convince students and others that the SBC is bigger than any single personality and better than the conspiracy theorists and frankly mean-spirited among us. Many on the ledge come to agree with me, and I’m thankful for every one.

Graduation is a biannual reminder that God is always at work setting apart a rising generation of pastors and other leaders. Among the people called Southern Baptist, he’s doing some exciting things, no matter what you might have heard from a misinformed denominational servant, a malcontent pastor, or a malevolent blogger. God isn’t finished with us yet, and I remain convinced that the course correction that began in the latter third of the twentieth century will continue to bear good fruit long into the future.

I’m thankful for our graduates and for their peers in our sister institutions. I’m thankful that almost all of them are convictional and committed Southern Baptists. I remain hopeful that most of the few who are convictional, but not committed will change their mind as they see the many good things that God is doing in and through Southern Baptists. And I remain very hopeful that our best days lie ahead, should God continue to desire to work through our Convention of local Baptist churches for his glory.