Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: May 2013



May 2013



Baptists, Creeds, and Corporate Worship

Written by , Posted in History, Theology

I was recently speaking with a faculty colleague and fellow church member about the so-called worship wars between advocates of “traditional” and “contemporary” music. I confessed to him that I’m relatively ambivalent about the music debate. I love to sing a great hymn of the faith accompanied by a pipe organ and I love to sing newer worship song accompanied by guitars and drums. As long as the lyrics are sound, the tune is singable, and the instruments don’t overwhelm the voices of the congregation, I’m good to go.

While most Baptists (and many other Christians) want to discuss music styles, I told him that I’m far more interested in matters of liturgy. Though I’m not “liturgical” in the way my Episcopal friends are, I’m an advocate of Baptists reciting the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds as part of our corporate worship gatherings. I wouldn’t want to bind anyone’s conscience on this issue, since I think its adiaphora, but I’m in favor of churches at least periodically confessing the faith verbally through recitation of the ancient creeds.

Steve Harmon has written on this topic in many places, most notably in his provocative book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision (Paternoster, 2006). More recently, Steve has written on this topic on his blog, Ecclesial Theology, in a post titled “Do Real Baptists Recite Creeds?” The post is condensed from a 2004 article by the same titled published in Baptists Today (see p. 27). He writes,

Baptists are right to resist … coercive use of either creeds or confessions, but we would be wrong to let this legitimate concern keep us from experiencing the benefits of the proper uses of the creeds. The Apostles’ Creed and “Nicene” Creed are properly used as expressions of worship. They are not lists of doctrinal propositions to which assent is compelled; they are summaries of the biblical story of the Triune God, drawn from the language of the Bible itself. The creeds function as the Christian “pledge of allegiance.” They declare the story to which we committed ourselves in baptism. Reciting the creeds thus regularly renews our baptismal pledges.

Reciting the creeds invites us afresh to locate our individual stories within the larger divine story that is made present to us in worship. Reciting the creeds impresses upon us again and again the overarching meaning of the Bible and so shapes our capacity for hearing and heeding what specific passages of Scripture have to say. Reciting the creeds invites us into solidarity with the saints gone before us who for two millennia have confessed this story with these same words. Reciting the creeds declares our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Christ in other denominations who today embrace the story of the Triune God.

While I am not a card-carrying member of the “Bapto-Catholic” movement like Steve, I share with him and my other Bapto-Catholic friends the conviction that reciting creeds is an appropriate practice for Baptists in their corporate worship gatherings. Not necessary, but appropriate. From discussions in my classes at Southeastern Seminary, I get the impression that at least some of my students feel the same way.

I would be interested in hearing what readers think about the use of creeds in worship by Baptists and other low church, free church evangelicals.

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May 2013



Studying E. Y. Mullins: With Special Emphasis on Baptist Identity

Written by , Posted in History, SBC, Theology

I was asked on Twitter recently for some recommended sources on E. Y. Mullins (1860–1928). If you aren’t familiar with him, Mullins was the longtime president of Southern Seminary (1899–1928). He also served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1921–1924) and, for a few months before his death, the Baptist World Alliance (1928). One of Mullins’s most important contributions to SBC life was chairing the committee that drafted the first Baptist Faith and Message in 1925.

In addition to being a Baptist statesman, Mullins was almost certainly the leading Baptist theologian of the twentieth century. Trevin Wax argues, correctly, in my estimation, that Mullins has shaped modern Southern Baptists more than any other single theologian. Mullins’s most famous writings are The Axioms of Religion (1908), which offered a constructive interpretation of Baptist identity, and The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression (1917), which was a widely used systematic theology textbook. Mullins influenced other Baptist theologians, most notably his student and successor Harold Tribble, later president of Andover-Newton Seminary and Wake Forest University, Southwestern Seminary professor W. T. Conner, a significant Baptist thinker in his own right, and Herschel Hobbs, the most influential Southern Baptist pastor-theologian in the postwar decades.

Mullins’s theological legacy is contested by contemporary scholars. Some argue that Mullins was a proto-moderate who helped usher in a subtle but definite leftward shift in Southern Baptist theology, especially among seminary and college professors. Others contend that he was a solid conservative, noting that he contributed an essay to The Fundamentals (1910–1915). Many observe that Mullins’s theological writings significantly modified the earlier Princetonian Calvinism of his predecessor James P. Boyce. Most agree that his understanding of Baptist identity, especially his concept of “soul competency,” helped foster a staunch commitment to individualism among many Baptists. His views on evolution were nuanced enough that both creationists and theistic evolutionists wanted to claim him.

If you want to learn more about Mullins, the best place to start is with the primary sources. I would recommend closely reading Axioms of Religion and thickly skimming The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression and Christianity at the Crossroads (1924). The latter volume was Mullins’s critique of modernism, written during the height of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s. For those of you with access to a theological library, Mullins also wrote regularly for Review & Expositor, which at the time was Southern Seminary’s faculty journal.

The best secondary sources for introducing yourself to Mullins’s biography and theology are probably William E. Ellis’s biography A Man of Books and a Man of the People: E Y Mullins and the Crisis of Moderate Southern Baptist Leadership (Mercer University Press, 1985; reprint, 2003) and Fisher Humphreys’s chapter on Mullins in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (B&H Academic, 2001), edited by Timothy George and David Dockery. For Mullins’s influence as president of Southern Seminary, see Greg Wills’s sesquicentennial history of the school.

I’m particularly interested in Mullins’s view of Baptist identity, so I would point you to some resources on that topic. In my estimation, the key three interpreters are Doug Weaver, Al Mohler, and Curtis Freeman, each of which represent a different school of thought towards Mullins. Weaver is a church historian at Baylor University. Mohler is a theologian and the president of Southern Seminary. Freeman, also a theologian, is director of the Baptist Studies program at Duke Divinity School.

In 2010, Mercer University Press published a new edition of Axioms of Religion. The introductory essay, authored by Weaver, takes a mostly positive view of Mullins’s individualism and its legacy. Mullins’s individualism, especially his commitment to soul competency, was simply the historic Baptist view of liberty of conscience contextualized for twentieth-century Baptists. Most mainstream moderates interpret Mullins similar to Weaver. For representative essays, see the articles by Glenn Hinson and Timothy Maddux in the Winter 1999 issue of Review & Expositor, all of the articles in the Winter 2008 issue of Baptist History & Heritage, which was dedicated to the centennial of Axioms of Religion, and the numerous essays on Mullins written by Russell Dilday in the past quarter century.

Mohler is generally appreciative of Mullins, though he takes a mostly negative approach to Mullins’s individualism. Mohler’s views can be found in his introduction to the 1997 edition of Axioms of Religion, published in B&H’s Library of Baptist Classics series, and his essay “Baptist Theology at the Crossroads: the Legacy of E. Y. Mullins,” published in the Winter 1999 issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. That entire issue of the journal was dedicated to Mullins and is available online, including essays by Tom Nettles, Sean Lucas, Russ Moore, and Greg Thornbury. Of note is the historiographical essay by Moore and Thornbury, that surveys the state of research into Mullins up to that point, and the essay by Tom Nettles, which describes Mullins as a “reluctant evangelical.” Mullins is also a prominent foil in Stan Norman’s book More than Just a Name: Preserving Our Baptist Identity (B&H Academic, 2001).

Freeman, a leader in the “Bapto-Catholic” movement among moderate Baptists, offers a more pointed critique of Mullins’s legacy. His essay “E Y Mullins and the Siren Songs of Modernity” was published in the Winter 1999 issue of Review & Expositor and has been republished as a chapter in Keith Harper’s edited volume Through a Glass Darkly: Contested Notions of Baptist Identity (University of Alabama Press, 2012). Freeman is also one of the co-authors of the controversial document “Re-Envisioning Baptist Identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America.” Freeman and other Bapto-Catholics who identify with the so-called Baptist Manifesto believe that Mullins introduced a hyper-individualism into Baptist life that they are seeking to correct. In addition to Freeman’s programmatic essay, see the essays related to Baptist identity written by other Bapto-Catholics such as Steve Harmon, Beth Newman, Mark Medley, Mike Broadway, and Philip Thompson.

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May 2013





May 2013



Happy Memorial Day

Written by , Posted in History

Happy Memorial Day. Here are two recommended readings for Memorial Day:

1. This essay from Winston Elliott at The Imaginative Conservative is a thoughtful post on Memorial Day

2. This website discusses the history of Memorial Day

Thanks to the many thousands of veterans of the US Armed Forces who have sacrificed their lives in defending our freedoms.

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May 2013



Recommended Books on Baptist Historical Theology

Written by , Posted in SBC, Theology

James Leo Garrett, Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study (Mercer University Press, 2009). This volume, written by the dean of Southern Baptist theologians, is the most exhaustive survey of Baptist theology. As a general rule, Garrett sticks with description rather than prescription, providing a useful summary of major figures, movements, themes, and controversies. One particularly helpful contribution is Garrett’s discussion of Baptist biblical theologians alongside historical theologians.

William H. Brackney, A Genetic History of Baptist Thought (Mercer University Press, 2004). Brackney is arguably the most influential Baptist historian in North America. His volume is more interpretive than Garrett’s and is more overtly colored by a more moderate perspective. Brackney is particularly interested in mapping out the evolution of Baptist identity, using the image of genetics as an interpretive grid. Brackney was for many years an American Baptist, so his discussion of theological trends among Baptists in the North is especially helpful.

Timothy George and David S.Dockery, eds., Baptist Theologians(Broadman, 1990). This volume is a collection of essays introducing some of the key theologians in the Baptist tradition. The subjects and contributors represent a wide variety of theological perspectives. A shorter (and more uniformly conservative) version of this book, which includes some new essays, was published as Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (B&H Academic, 2001).

Fisher Humphreys, The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology Has Changed and What It Means To Us All, 2nd ed. (Smyth & Helwys, 2002). Paul Basden, ed., Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought Since 1845 (B&H, 1994). These two volumes survey the history of Southern Baptist theology from a mostly moderate perspective. Humphrey’s volume does a fairly good job of identifying different theological “camps” among Southern Baptists, while Basden’s collection of essays focuses upon specific doctrinal topics.

L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible, 2nd ed. (B&H Academic, 2000). This influential volume looks at the history of Baptist perspectives on the inspiration, authority, and truthfulness of the Bible. The authors demonstrate that Baptists have normally held to a high view of Scripture and defended its inerrancy and infallibility.

Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, 20th Anniversary ed. (Founders Press, 2006). Nettles’s volume focuses upon the history of Calvinism in the Baptist tradition. His overall thesis is sound, though historians might quibble with him over specific details and individuals. This revised edition includes controversies in the SBC over Calvinism through 2005.

Anthony R. Cross, Baptism and the Baptists: Theology and Practice in Twentieth-Century Britain (Paternoster, 2000). Stanley K. Fowler,More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism (Wipf and Stock, 2007). These two volumes discuss the history of the debate among British Baptists over the nature of baptism, specifically whether or not there is a sacramental element to baptism. Though relatively few North American Baptists have been participants in this debate, this issue has dominated British Baptist discussions much like biblical inerrancy and gender roles have dominated Southern Baptist discussions.

(Note: This post is cross-published at Historica Ecclesiastica, the blog of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies)