Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: January 2012



January 2012



Discerning Childhood Conversion

Written by , Posted in Ministry, Theology

A perennial question for evangelicals is discerning the presence of authentic faith among children who are raised in Christian families. In many cases, such kids are fairly well-behaved. They often know the right answer to every question about God, man, sin, and Christ. They are sometimes at church events all the time. How do you know when your children pass beyond embracing the culture of your family and church to resting in the finished work of Christ? It’s a question I think about frequently as the father of three small children, including a precocious five-year-old daughter who by all appearances “naturally” loves to attend church activities, sing songs about Jesus, and pray, yet has almost no understanding of the gospel itself.

It’s also a question I get asked all the time, both by college and seminary students and by members of my local church. I’ve participated in some lively discussions in both contexts. For those of us who are Baptists, a closely related question concerns the appropriate age to baptize children. I’ve addressed the baptism question before. While I don’t claim special insight, I want to briefly delve into the conversion question before pointing to a helpful resource.

In my own experience, I see two extremes when it comes to childhood conversion (and baptism). On the one hand, I meet some Christian parents who, in my opinion, are too quick to pronounce their child as converted because the kid has a sweet disposition, likes going to Sunday School, and is eager to pray a simple sinner’s prayer. While I concede it is quite possible for very young children to exhibit these traits and actually be converted, I think it’s difficult to discern whether these sorts of inclinations and actions constitute authentic faith or simply “mirrors” the faith of parents and teachers. I realize discerning conversion is an inexact science and even the most careful parents and pastors get it wrong sometimes, but I think we all agree we don’t want to push anyone of any age into a place of false assurance. I’ve seen many very young children, sometimes under age five, who’ve been rushed down the aisle and into the water, only to disappear as soon as they hit puberty, get a driver’s license, enroll in college, etc.

On the other hand, I meet other Christians who, in my opinion, are too hesitant to acknowledge that their child seems to be converted. Sometimes, they expect their kid to be a theologian before he can be considered regenerate. Other times, they expect their child to show remarkable progress in sanctification to prove whether or not she is converted. I think these tendencies tend to collapse discipleship into conversion, expecting more of children than we often ask of adult converts to the faith. I’ve seen many teenagers who were convinced they’d been Christians since they were nine or ten, but whose parents were hesitant to acknowledge this reality and were (in my opinion) artificially prolonging baptism until they discerned the “right” sort of fruit in their child’s life. Some of them aren’t baptized until well after their college years, even though their testimony is that they’ve been a Christian for a decade or more.

These are tricky questions, and even substantially like-minded families and churches debate the best way to handle childhood conversion, baptism, membership, etc. I’m thankful that Brian Croft has weighed in on this issue. Brian is gifted with unusual pastoral wisdom, which he frequently shares through his blog Practical Shepherding. His latest post is “How Do You Discern the Conversion of a Child.” Drawing on the insights of Jonathan Edwards, Brian offers some helpful thoughts on an important topic. I’d urge you to read the post. And while you’re at it, you ought to consider becoming a regular reader of Practical Shepherding.



January 2012



Shake-Up in North Carolina Politics

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Several news outlets are announcing that Gov. Beverly Perdue (D), the first female governor in North Carolina history, won’t be seeking re-election this fall. Gov. Perdue has been fairly unpopular and would have faced a difficult gubernatorial campaign against former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory (R). Though Gov. Perdue defeated McCrory in 2008, most observers agree she was pushed over the edge by straight-ticket voters who were more enthused about Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. Virtually everyone I’ve spoken to in recent months agrees that Gov. Perdue would have had a very difficult time being re-elected, even if Pres. Obama handily wins a second presidential term this fall.

There are already many rumors circulating about which Democratic leader will emerge to challenge McCrory. Both parties are also already spinning Gov. Perdue’s announcement as advantageous to their respective agendas. It will be interesting to see what transpires in the coming weeks. You can read more about Gov. Perdue’s decision at Politico, Carolina Journal, and the Raleigh News and Observer.

It’s also worth noting that Rep. Brad Miller (D) will also not be seeking re-election, apparently due to the new district maps drawn up by the Republican-controlled NC General Assembly. Rep. Miller currently represents the part of Wake County in which we live, but under the new map he’d have to run in the primary against Rep. David Price (D), who represents most of Wake, Orange, and Durham Counties. It’s unknown which Republican will challenge Rep. Price for his seat in the House of Representatives.



January 2012



Calvinist, Arminian, Baptist Perspectives on Soteriology

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


New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary sponsors a research center called The Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry. The Baptist Center was founded by Stan Norman, now provost at Oklahoma Baptist University, and is currently led by NOBTS provost Steve Lemke. The Baptist Center publishes a journal titled The Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry (JBTM), which is available online for free. Over the years, I’ve read almost everything published in JBTM; they’ve engaged many interesting and helpful topics, often representing a variety of Baptist perspectives. I’d encourage you to make a habit of reading JBTM.

The most recent issue of JBTM is dedicated to “Calvinist, Arminian, Baptist Perspectives on Soteriology.” This has been a perennial topic for the journal in recent years, perhaps in part because of Dr. Lemke’s own well-known interest in these matters. The JBTM always includes a range of voices when they address soteriology (or other controversial topics), and that’s again the case with the new issue. Contributors include several NOBTS faculty members, respected Free Will Baptist and Presbyterian scholars, and the pastor of a historic Baptist church in the Deep South. At least one of the contributors is a Calvinist, while a couple of others are self-confessed Arminians. Most of the contributors imply or openly advocate a so-called Baptist approach that is somewhere in between Calvinism and Arminianism as the soteriological “best practice” for Southern Baptists. It would be fair to say that the bulk of the essays are critical of Calvinism, but they are by no means uncharitable to Calvinists.

As a historical theologian, I was especially encouraged by the journal’s forum on Thomas Grantham, the influential General Baptist theologian who is experiencing something of a renaissance among scholars. Contemporary Baptists have been greatly blessed by renewed interest in Andrew Fuller, Charles Spurgeon, James P. Boyce, and John Dagg over the past generation. While Grantham is very different from these brothers, we need to hear from him, Daniel Taylor, and other voices from the more Arminian Baptist theological stream. And while we’re at it, I think it would be worth giving more controversial theologians such as John Gill and E.Y. Mullins a fresh reading as well. All of Baptist theology is our theology–even the parts with which we may disagree. A renewal of Baptist theology will only be advanced by a careful reading and critical appropriation of all of our theological forebears, alongside other theological voices from the wider Christian tradition.

Back to the journal. While no one is likely to resonate with every article in the latest issue of JBTM, each of them is worth considering. Lots of folks are interested in this topic, and anyone who reads Baptist blogs with any regularity knows that this discussion evokes great emotion (and frequently bombast), often generating at least as much heat as it does light. Though the new issue of JBTM makes no claim to be a balanced point-counterpoint forum on these issues (and it doesn’t have to be), it’s certainly a constructive contribution to the ongoing soteriological debates among Southern Baptists. While consensus may not be forthcoming, I’m hopeful that these types of conversations will contribute to greater fraternal appreciation and gospel cooperation among Southern Baptists of different soteriological persuasions.

If you’re interested in the debate over the doctrines of grace, especially as it pertains to the contemporary SBC, I’d encourage you to read the latest issue of The Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry. If you have time, I’d urge you to read it in conjunction with the Spring 2010 issue of the same journal, which included several review essays of Ken Keathley’s Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach and Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, edited by David Allen and Steve Lemke. I’d also encourage you to read the multiperspectival Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialog, edited by Brad Waggoner and Ray Clendenen, as well as Tom Nettles’ By His Grace and For His Glory, an overtly Calvinistic treatise that is part historical survey and part doctrinal exposition. For other reviews, you should check out the Summer 2010 and Fall 2010 issues of Founders Journal, which includes Calvinist critiques of the Keathley and Allen-Lemke books, and Allen’s lengthy non-Calvinist review of the Waggoner-Clendenen book, which was published as a white paper for Southwestern Seminary’s Baptist Theology website. There are also loads of bloggers who’ve engaged this issue (including yours truly), but blogs need to be read discerningly on this issue for the reason mentioned earlier.

(image credit)



January 2012



J.D. Greear Offers a Gospel-Centered Warning to Young Zealous Theologians

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I’m one of those young evangelicals who talks about the gospel all the time. Though the word gospel is a noun, I frequently use it as an adjective. I’d probably use the word as a verb if I could justify the move linguistically. I’m immensely thankful for the renewed emphasis so many Christians are placing on the centrality of the gospel, not only for our conversion, but for the totality of our Christian life. I think it’s a healthy trend.

Unfortunately, every healthy trend sometimes includes unhealthy elements—such is to live in a fallen world. We gospel-centered types need to be reminded of our own shortcomings. In fact, there’s something profoundly gospel-centered about understanding the depths of your own sin so that you can rest anew in the good news of all that God has done through the person and work of King Jesus.

In his excellent book Gospel: Rediscovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary (B&H, 2010), pastor J.D. Greear includes a helpful appendix titled “A Gospel-Centered Warning to Young Zealous Theologians.” Like me, J.D. is a thirty-something Southern Baptist who talks about the gospel all the time. He’s also the pastor of a megachurch whose membership is largely comprised of gospel-centered collegians and young professionals. J.D. also teaches adjunctively at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a school blessed with a student body that, on the whole, very much wants to be gospel-centered. All this to say, his convicting words should be read and heeded by everyone who regularly visits the Gospel Coalition website, follows Tullian Tchividjian on Twitter, reads Jerry Bridges books, and soaks up Tim Keller sermons. You know, people like me and J.D.

J.D. and our friends at B&H Books have kindly granted me permission to make “A Gospel-Centered Warning to Young Zealous Theologians” available online. I’ve reprinted it below. I hope you find this material as helpful as I have. I also hope it encourages you to purchase a copy of Gospel and read the whole book. For those of you who are pastors or other ministry leaders, Gospel would make a great book for a church staff to read and discuss together.

“A Gospel-Centered Warning to Young Zealous Theologians”

By J.D. Greear

I’ve noticed that many of us who grasp this concept of “gospel-centeredness” can have a tendency to be more excited about the “theory” of gospel-centeredness than we are about the gospel itself. At least I’m that way. I have gotten pretty good at identifying non-gospel-centered preaching, and can pretty ably point out the shortcomings of certain ministries. The point of gospel-centeredness, however, is not the shrewd ability to critique others. The point of gospel-centeredness is to adore God and worship His grace.

Many of us who love to talk about gospel-centeredness seem to possess very little of the humility that should go along with it. You can see that in how self-promoting we are and how ungracious we are with others. It always amazes me that we can be proud because we understand the very things that should lead us to humility.

My mind has often burned hotter with the latest theological trend than it has passion for the God who gave Himself for me at the cross. Knowledge that does not lead, ultimately, to love and humility is “worthless,” Paul would say. What really counts, he says, is not knowledge by itself, but the love that our knowledge of the gospel should produce (1 Cor. 12:1–3).

One of my fears in writing this book is that it might contribute to a growing self-righteousness among younger theologians who feel like understanding gospel-centeredness makes them more special in the eyes of God (oh, the irony!) than those who can’t articulate it, and who judge everyone else by whether or not they use the same terms that they do.

Recently, I talked with a little old lady who had been my Sunday school teacher at the very traditional church in which I grew up. She said, “You know, as I lose more and more friends to heaven, I often wonder what it is really like up there and what I should be looking forward to. I know they say there are streets of gold, but that doesn’t seem to excite me very much. The one thing I really want to do is see Jesus.” This lady has never heard of John Piper and has no idea what the Gospel Coalition is, but she has been changed by the gospel. She loves Jesus, and that is the whole point of gospel-centeredness.

There are many little old ladies serving in church nurseries who may not understand how to articulate the theories of gospel-centeredness or have the ingenuity to dazzle our minds with psychological insights, cultural observations, and Christocentric interpretations of obscure Old Testament passages. Their hearts, however, burn with love for Jesus and overflow with gratefulness for His grace.

Their humble, gospel-rich love for God is worth more than all the books you or I can write on this subject.

So don’t be quick to judge them. Be humbled by them. Mastering the theory of gospel-centeredness is not the point. Loving the God of the gospel is.

See J.D. Greear, Gospel: Rediscovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2010), pp. 253–55.

(Note: This post is also published at Between the Times.)



January 2012



Andreas Köstenberger on Scholarly Excellence: A Brief Recommendation

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My Southeastern Seminary colleague Andreas Köstenberger has written an excellent book titled Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Crossway, 2011). Many of you are no doubt familiar with Andreas and his work: he’s arguably one of the half dozen leading New Testament scholars among contemporary evangelicals. Andreas is widely published, especially on the Gospel of John. When I taught through John’s Gospel at First Baptist Church of Durham, I found his commentary and his study of Johannine theology to be indispensable tools.

At a time when many evangelical scholars are writing helpful books about the nature of Christian scholarship, this book makes a unique contribution. Andreas argues that our own pursuit of scholarly excellence flows from the perfections of God. He is the source of all we do and, as our creator and Lord, his standards should be reflected, however imperfectly, in our own work. Following a biographical introduction that recounts the author’s own spiritual and scholarly pilgrimage, the rest of Excellence is organized around God’s character and those virtues that Christian scholars should cultivate as they pursue their vocation for God’s glory.

What follows is the book’s table of contents, which helpfully illustrates exactly what Andreas is arguing (you have to appreciate a book that’s structure makes sense in light of its thesis):


1. The Excellence of God

2. The Pursuit of Excellence

3. Holiness

4. Spirituality


5. Diligence

6. Courage

7. Passion

8. Restraint

9. Creativity

10. Eloquence


11. Integrity

12. Fidelity

13. Wisdom


14. Grace

15. Humility

16. Interdependence

17. Love

I highly recommend Excellence to my colleagues in the Southern Baptist and evangelical academies, though I especially hope current collegians and seminarians who are contemplating research doctoral studies will give this book a close reading. It would also make a great textbook for courses related to the nature of Christian scholarship or the integration of faith and learning.

If you’d like to read a helpful interview with Andreas about Excellence, check out Justin Taylor’s “5 Questions with Andreas Köstenberger on Excellence.” Justin also links to a free online PDF of the book’s table of contents, introduction, and first chapter.