Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: March 2012



March 2012



Those Who Must Give an Account

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

For pastors and other church leaders, one of the most important matters to be clear on is the nature and expectations of church membership. We live in a culture where membership requirements and expectations have been relaxed significantly over the past couple of generations. A growing number of believers are questioning the very concept of church membership, noting that the word membership is never used in Scripture (ahem, Trinity anyone?). It’s critical that evangelicals be clear about the centrality of church membership to the Christian life. Baptist Christians are uniquely poised to help in this regard because of our tradition’s emphasis on covenanted gospel membership.

My Southeastern Seminary colleagues John Hammett and Ben Merkle have edited a new collection of essays titled Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (B&H Academic, 2012). John and Ben are both experts in this field: the former wrote an influential Baptist eccesiology while the latter has written prolifically on the topic of church leadership and polity. In this new book, John and Ben are joined by several other Southern Baptist pastors and scholars in an effort to discuss church membership and discipline from exegetical, theological, historical, and practical perspectives. I contributed a chapter titled “A Historical Analysis of Church Membership,” which provides a historical introduction to the topic that is written from a Baptist perspective.

I’ve included the book’s table of contents below:

1. Church Membership, Church Discipline, and the Nature of the Church – John Hammett

2. The Biblical Basis for Church Membership – Ben Merkle

3. A Historical Analysis of Church Membership – Nathan Finn

4. The Practical Issues of Church Membership – Mark Dever

5. The Biblical Basis for Church Discipline – Tom Schreiner

6. A Historical Analysis of Church Discipline – Greg Wills

7. The Practical Issues of Church Discipline – Andy Davis

8. The Missional Implications of Church Membership and Church Discipline – Bruce Ashford and Danny Akin

9. Those Who Must Give an Account: A Pastoral Reflection – Andy Davis

I’m really excited about this book and I was honored to be asked to contribute to it. I hope you’ll consider purchasing a copy of Those Who Must Give an Account and giving it a close read. I believe it would be an excellent book for classroom use or for a pastoral team to read through together.



March 2012



How To Stay Christian in Seminary

Written by , Posted in Ministry

How to Stay Christian in Seminary

In June 2002, my wife and I packed our U-Haul and relocated from South Georgia to Louisville, Kentucky. After ten years, two seminaries, and two degrees, I’ve now spent nearly a third of my life as a seminary student, staff member, or professor. I can honestly say that I love God and his church more now than I did this time a decade ago. The Lord has used seminary as a means of sanctifying grace in my life. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.

Unfortunately, I know not everyone shares my experience. For those whom seminary is a spiritual hindrance rather than a means of spiritual maturity, I want to offer my thoughts on how to stay Christian in seminary. This advice is based in part on my own experiences and in part on the experiences of others whom I know share a seminary testimony similar to mine. For the sake of continuity and perhaps as a helpful mnemonic device, I’m couching all of my advice negatively, as a list of things not to do.

1. Don’t make seminary a substitute for your personal devotional life. If you’re a student at a good seminary, you’re going to read loads of edifying books. Of course, in most of your classes you’ll also spend much of your time studying the Scriptures. It’s tempting for the overwhelmed seminarian to allow school assignments to take the place of a vibrant devotional life. Don’t give in to this temptation.

Every student needs to spend regular time in personal Bible study and prayer, not for the sake of a class, but for the sake of the soul. I’d urge every seminarian to read through the Bible every year and to read at least one edifying book each semester in addition to readings related to school work. (For what it’s worth, I’d highly recommend you read everything Jerry Bridges has written.) The importance of maintaining consistency in your devotional habits can’t be exaggerated—this is the single most important means God uses to keep us Christian in seminary.

2. Don’t make seminary a substitute for local church involvement. This is a very close second to devotional consistency; they’re virtually running neck-and-neck. Any seminary worth it’s salt has regular chapel services and a variety of small group ministries through which they minister to the spiritual needs of students. Many professors also do what they can to be mentors and provide pastoral counsel to students. I’m 100% for these ministries, but seminary is no substitute for a local body of believers who’ve covenanted to walk together for the sake of the gospel.

As you look for a local church, I’d highly recommend that students seek out a congregation that takes sound doctrine seriously, is characterized by an expositional pulpit ministry, is committed to life-on-life discipleship through small groups, and prioritizes intentional evangelism and church planting both locally and abroad. When you find such a church, become a real member—someone who is vitally involved, transparent with other members, and ready to serve in any way, including the mundane tasks that are miles away from the limelight of teaching and leading. While I had a great experience at the seminaries I attended, I was shaped even more by two local churches, Ninth and O Baptist Church in Louisville and First Baptist Church of Durham. I’m still a member and one of the pastors of the latter congregation.

3. Don’t make seminary your second spouse. Many seminarians are married; far more on average than other types of graduate students. While it isn’t unusual for both spouses to be students, in most cases one is taking more classes while the other is working more hours to provide for the family’s financial needs. Seminary is hard work, and it’s tempting to get sucked into the vortex of papers and exams and put your spouse on the shelf for three or four years. Tragically, many marriages have been destroyed during seminary studies—this is never necessary and can always be avoided.

Spend a little bit of time every evening just talking and hanging out with your spouse (and any children), preferably around a meal. Talk about things besides all the cool stuff you learned in your seminary classes. Reserve a date night every week, even if you normally have to stick to inexpensive dates. When I was a seminarian, we went through seasons where we couldn’t afford to eat out very much or go to many movies. But even in our poorest of days, we could always come up with four or five dollars to go to a bookstore, buy a couple of cups of coffee, and spend two or three hours hanging out together.

4. Don’t make seminary the bad guy when it comes to all your material hopes and dreams. Seminary students tend to be a bit older than most graduate students. In my experience, the average seminarian is pushing thirty, and some are much older. Many students have at least a couple of years of post-college work experience; some have enjoyed very successful pre-seminary careers. Now they find themselves living in a small apartment, working two part-time jobs, driving a hand-me-down car, with little money to spend on the finer things in life. Oh, and paying for school. Far too many grow bitter.

I’m convinced that the Lord often uses seminary to wean future pastors and other Christian leaders off of the crass materialism that is endemic to American culture. Many families could stand to downsize a bit, live more simply, and trust the Lord to provide for their material needs. Frankly, seminary can help you to learn how to become a better role model in these matters for the sheep you’ll eventually be set apart to shepherd. Don’t get grouchy because seminary has cost you so much—embrace the “poverty” and pray that the Lord will use it to conform you more to the image of Christ.

5. Don’t make seminary about earning a degree or getting credentialed. Many seminary students aren’t concerned with learning so much as they are jumping through some educational hoops so that they can have “better” churches or other ministry opportunities. Others are less crass about this, but they complain about virtually every class. The theological classes aren’t practical enough, and the practical classes aren’t theological enough. They don’t want to prepare sermons or share the gospel for class assignments (how unspiritual), nor do they want to write critical book reviews or research papers (pastors don’t need to think and write clearly). For many folks, seminary is more a stage of life than a place to study.

Seminary isn’t primarily about school and degrees, but education and equipping. It’s about learning certain doctrines, cultivating certain priorities, and developing certain skills that will help you serve in any variety of ministries. It’s also about the atmosphere, including the chapels, the good books, the godly friends, and the professors (they rock). And seminary is about networking—making like-minded friends who you’ll walk with for the remainder of your life. I’m far more thankful for what I learned than the degrees on my wall (though they’re cool too). I’m even more thankful for the friends I made, since with a couple of exceptions my closest friends in the world are folks I met because I was a seminary student (or professor). So slow down a bit and soak it up. You’ll probably stay Christian if you do.



March 2012



Two New Articles on Adoniram Judson

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

Last week, eleven Southeastern Seminary students and I participated in a mission trip to South Asia. We worked among Muslims and Hindus, sharing the gospel with many folks who had never previously heard the name of Jesus. It’s the second time I’ve been to this particular place in the past year; you can read about the previous trip at Baptist Press. I’m grateful to be a part of a Great Commission seminary that allows church history professors the chance to lead mission trips to majority world nations.

In taking the gospel to South Asia, my students and I were following in the footsteps of the famous missions pioneer Adoniram Judson. This year, Baptists and other missions-minded believers are celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Judson’s departure from New England to South Asia in 1812. Judson and his three remarkable wives spent forty years preaching the gospel in Burma, now called Myanmar. (Don’t worry–Adoniram wasn’t married to all three of those ladies at the same time.) He became a role model for countless missionaries who followed him to the ends of the earth.

In the coming months, many schools, churches, and other groups are hosting events commemorating the Judson Bicentennial. This fall, B&H Academic is publishing a collection of essays edited by my friend Jason Duesing titled Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary. I contributed a biographical chapter covering Judson’s missionary career. Other contributors include Paige Patterson, Danny Akin, Robert Caldwell, Michael Haykin, Keith Eitel, Greg Wills, and Candy Finch.

If you are hankering for a foretaste of the forthcoming book, I have good news for you. The folks at Credo Magazine asked Jason and I to contribute articles to their latest issue, which is on the theme “Make Disciples of All Nations.” Our respective articles are condensed versions of our chapters in the B&H Academic volume. I hope you’ll go over to the Credo Magazine website and check out Jason’s “Ambition Overthrown: The Conversion, Consecration, and Commission of Adoniram Judson, 1788-1812” and my own “Adoniram Judson: Pioneer Missionary to Burma.” And when the book comes out around October, I hope you’ll pick up a copy and read the essays about Judson’s life, theology, family, missiology, and enduring legacy.