Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: April 2012



April 2012



On Chastened Confessionalism

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

I’ve been reading along and along through The Gospel as Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Practice (Crossway 2012), edited by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller. Many of you may know that this volume brings together the excellent Gospel Coalition Booklets into a single volume. Anyway, I was recently reading Richard Phillips’ fine chapter “Can We Know the Truth?” Phillips makes many good points about modernism, postmodernism, the doctrine of Scripture, and the nature of Christian teaching and preaching. One particularly helpful section highlights how a right understanding of these matters leads to a view of proclamation that balances humility and confidence.

The best way for Christians to hold forth truth is with a Bible in our hands since, as David rejoiced, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7). Yet in proclaiming our biblical message, we Christians should never set ourselves forward as the arbiters of truth. Even as we set forth Jesus Christ as the final and truest revelation of God, we do so only as servants of our hearers (see 2 Cor. 4:5). Listening to the critiques of our postmodern neighbors and admitting that the arrogance of modernity has sometimes influenced our own heritage, Christians should speak with a chastened repentance that is less triumphalistic than may previously have been the case. We are finite and fallen, so the message we proclaim should be compared constantly to the Bible.

Yet for all our humility in holding forth truth and our charity in critiquing the claims of others, Christians must still insist that what we proclaim from God’s Word is truth. We reject the notion that our doctrine consists of nothing more than the subjective experience of our own faith community, since the Bible we proclaim presents truth revealed from God. Thus guarded, we remain committed to the authority, power, and unique revelation of the Holy Scriptures through which God speaks to people today (The Gospel as Center, pp. 36–37).

I think this is a good word. In fact, I’d like to despoil my Presbyterian brother and apply his keen insights more broadly to the topic of confessionalism. When we confess our convictions, our confidence is never in our interpretations and traditions in and of themselves, but in God and his written revelation, the Bible. Confessions are valuable, to be sure, but they aren’t sacrosanct; the Bible is the measure of a given confession’s worth.

This is in part why most Baptists embrace a less stringent confessionalism than some of our sister traditions. There is no uniform Baptist confession that has been embraced by most Baptists in most places. Even our more noteworthy confessions, such as the Second London and New Hampshire confessions, have often been revised, summarized, amended, or abstracted when adopted by particular churches, groups of churches, and schools. It’s not that most Baptists oppose confessions or creeds, regardless of the arguments of progressive revisionists. Rather, we simply think our confessions should always be open to modification as our knowledge of the Scriptures is refined and/or new cultural contexts call for new issues to be elevated to the level of confessional priorities.

Southern Baptists have revised the Baptist Faith and Message three times, amended it another time, and will likely tinker with it again in the future, assuming the Lord tarries his return. This isn’t a bad thing. No confessional approach is wholly without weaknesses, but it seems to me that a “chastened confessionalism” is better than either elevating a particular confession to near-canonical status (at least in practice) or rejecting confessions as incompatible with liberty of conscience. It’s a healthy practice to periodically revisit and, when necessary, revise a confession, so long as it’s done with an open Bible, a humble spirit, and sensitivity to both history and contemporary context.



April 2012



On Scholarships and Church Membership: A Recommendation

Written by , Posted in Missions, SBC

I recently had a conversation with a young Southeastern Seminary student who was babysitting for us. I asked her what church she was a member of, and she mentioned that she attends Imago Dei Church, a new church plant pastored by my friends Tony Merida and Nate Akin. But then she confessed her membership is at her home church in Virginia because she receives a scholarship from that congregation. If she moves her membership to Imago Dei Church, she’ll lose the scholarship. So she remains a member of a congregation she attends maybe six times a year.

I can’t begin to estimate how often I’ve heard some variation of this story. Home churches or associations want to provide a college or seminary scholarship, but on the condition that the recipient remains a member of his home church while he is a student in another city or even another state. I even know of one state convention that provides scholarships to seminarians, but only if they remain members of a church in their home state. That state doesn’t have a Southern Baptist seminary within its borders.

I’m very grateful for churches, associations, and state conventions that provide scholarships to students. I was blessed to be the recipient of an associational scholarship that funded about half the cost of my M.Div. studies. Many students wouldn’t be able to afford school without these scholarships. So thank you to every local church, association, or state convention that ministers to students in this way. It’s an important ministry and it’s very appreciated.

Nevertheless, I’d urge these groups to lift the ban on joining a church near the college or seminary in which the scholarship recipient enrolls. This policy, which again, is extremely common, inadvertently cheapens the importance of church membership. Students need to covenant with a local body of believers while they are away at school. They need to be shepherded by faithful pastors, they need to contribute financially to the church they attend, they need to have a voice in the affairs of the congregation, and they need to be subject to the church’s discipline. They need to be members, not mere attenders.

I’ve seen this sort of policy contribute to an unfortunate and unintended consequence: students who bounce from church to church because they know they can’t actually join a new congregation. This cultivates a bad habit that is endemic among American evangelicals, including many Southern Baptists. Many students are making personal church involvement decisions for the first time in college or seminary. They need to have the freedom to join a local church, not float from place to place. In fact, they need to be strongly urged to join a local church.

To be clear, I know that some students enroll in schools that are within a reasonable commute to where their home church gathers. Others may live a bit further away, but they return home regularly on the weekends. These students may choose not to join a church in their college or seminary town, and I think that is entirely reasonable. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if a student is away from her home church more than half the Sundays in a given year, then she needs to join another church closer to the school. And even if she does return home, say, two-thirds of the time, she needs to regularly attend the same church in her college town the rest of the time. Continuity of involvement is the key.

I would recommend that every scholarship-granting church and other ministry that requires home church membership revisit this policy. Instead of asking scholarship recipients to remain members of their home church, require them to either remain a member of the home church if they still live close by or join a sister Southern Baptist congregation within a semester of relocating. Bless the student and encourage him to take local church membership seriously. This seems like a win-win proposal.

Again, thanks to every church, association, or state convention that provides scholarships to collegians and seminarians. Please encourage your students to be faithful churchmen even as you provide them with the means to be good students.



April 2012



Between the Times Interview: On Being Baptist

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

RuralI’m a founding contributor to Between the Times, the Southeastern Seminary faculty blog. The Between the Times website recently received a long-overdue update. You should check it out.

In addition to the sharp new look, we’ve also added some new features, one of which is a series we’re calling “For the Record.” This will be an ongoing series where we’ll interview a SEBTS faculty member or other individual about an important topic. The first installment of For the Record is an interview with me on the topic of Baptist identity and the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. For the interview, my friend Bruce Ashford asked me the following questions:

1. Baptist identity seems to be a hot-button issue in some SBC circles. How do you understand Baptist identity?

2. Do you think there is such a thing as a uniquely Baptist understanding of doctrines such as Scripture, salvation, last things, etc.?

3. We hear a lot about Baptist distinctives. What are the Baptist distinctives?

4. Which Baptist distinctive do you believe is most threatened in our contemporary context?

5. One of the recurring debates among Baptists is the origin of our tradition. What do you think about Baptist origins?

6. The SBC is being asked to consider adopting Great Commission Baptists as an optional second name for our network of churches. Do you think this is a good idea? Do you like the name that has been proposed?

7. It seems likely that Fred Luter will be elected the next president of the SBC. What would his election mean for Southern Baptists?

8. What do you think is the biggest challenge Southern Baptists will face over the next decade?

I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on these questions. I hope you’ll head over to Between the Times and read the full interview. The links are included below.

For the Record: Nathan Finn on Being Baptist (Part 1)

For the Record: Nathan Finn on Being Baptist (Part 2) 

(Image credit)



April 2012



Pray for South Durham Church

Written by , Posted in Ministry, Missions

This coming Easter Sunday, South Durham Church is officially launching in the Southpoint neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina. South Durham Church is a church plant being sent out from First Baptist Church of Durham. This plant has been in the works for some time, and this weekend, a core team of around thirty will begin gathering together every week under the leadership of lead pastor Adam Darnell. Adam is a recent graduate of Southeastern Seminary. In addition to being a great preacher/teacher and gifted musician, Adam also knows a thing or two about church history and historical theology, which is always an added bonus for a church planter.

Please pray for South Durham Church. Pray for Adam and his wife Heather. Pray for Christian Jernigan, another SEBTS grad and a former IMB missionary who is also part of the leadership team. Pray for the new church’s soon-to-be charter members. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would work through the members of South Durham Church to draw many people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Pray that South Durham Church would become a gospel-driven local church that would in the near future be able to help plant other like-minded churches here, there, and everywhere.

Check out the South Durham Church website to learn about the church’s mission and values, doctrinal beliefs, and affiliations. You can also learn when and where they gather for corporate worship and community groups. If you live near the Southpoint area and are looking for a church home, consider covenanting with South Durham Church and partnering with them to proclaim Christ in South Durham and beyond.



April 2012



Review of Godly Ambition

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

One of the most interesting books I’ve read in recent months is Alister Chapman’s Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (Oxford University Press, 2011). Godly Ambition is the first scholarly biography dedicated to Stott, who was arguably one of the two or three key leaders within global evangelicalism during the second half of the previous century. I wrote a review of Godly Ambition for the latest issue of Themelios, which was published earlier this week. Today, the review has also been published at the The Gospel Coalition’s website.

Here’s the concluding paragraph to my review:

Chapman’s biography is a model for critical, but sympathetic engagement with a leading religious figure. He paints a picture of Stott that does not gloss over shortcomings, including struggles with pride, theological oddities, pastoral frustrations, and interpersonal conflict with other evangelical leaders. Yet Chapman argues that Stott was sincerely motivated by an earnest desire to see the gospel proclaimed, the hurting cared for, Western culture revived, and Christian leaders adequately trained. Stott was a devoted evangelical who was shaped by many factors, including his background, his conversion to fundamentalism, his ecumenical interests, and his ministry successes and failures. For pastors and other Christian leaders, Chapman’s book provides a glimpse into the real world of ministry, where mixed motives and unrealized dreams can still be used in the evangelical cause. For scholars, Chapman’s book is the starting place for any future studies of Stott (there will be many) and a template for how to write a good biography that balances appreciation for the subject without resorting to hagiography.

I hope you’ll read the review and, more importantly, read Godly Ambition.