Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: December 2013

Monday

30

December 2013

2

COMMENTS

An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness

Written by , Posted in Books, Spirituality, Theology

An Infinite JourneyI have the honor of serving as one of the elders of the First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina. In the eight years that my wife Leah and I have been members of the congregation, I have been blessed to become close friends with our church’s senior pastor, Andy Davis. For as long as I have known Andy, he has been writing a book on the topic of spiritual maturity. By God’s grace, that book has now been published. Lord willing, it will be the first of several books Andy will write (he is currently working on a commentary on Isaiah for B&H’s Christ-Centered Expositional Commentary series).

An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness (Ambassador International, 2014) is currently for sale at FBC Durham, was available to attendees of last week’s Cross Conference, and can be pre-ordered at Amazon, where it will be available January 10, 2014. In the book, Andy summarizes the Christian life as two infinite journeys: the internal journal of personal sanctification and the external journey of gospel proclamation. We emphasize the “two journey’s” theme repeatedly at FBC Durham. I’m grateful that this theme will reach a wider audience through An Infinite Journey.

I had the privilege of writing the foreword to An Infinite Journey, which I have included below. I hope you will buy the book and read it. If you do, I believe you will find it to be a helpful resource in your own spiritual journey.

During my teenage years, I became steeped in evangelical revivalism. I often got the impression from pastors and evangelists that salvation more or less equaled justification. From time to time, we learned about sanctification and glorification, but these truths were often assumed more than they were expounded. The real action was in getting saved, which meant being justified by faith in Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior.

I spent several years trying to nail down the exact moment I had been justified, since I was taught that my assurance of salvation is based almost entirely upon my decision to believe in Jesus for salvation. I often worried that I had not been sincere enough in my faith because I still struggled with indwelling sin. I prayed some version or other of the “sinner’s prayer” dozens of time in an effort to be sure I was really saved. As far as I knew, the Christian life was about getting justified, knowing you were justified, and helping other people get justified.

I was in college when it first dawned upon me that salvation is not a single moment in time, but rather is a spiritual journey. Justification is not an end unto itself—it is the beginning of a spiritual pilgrimage that begins in this life and ultimately ends in the next life. I had been saved by grace through faith (justification), I was being saved as the Holy Spirit conformed me more to the image of my Savior (sanctification), and I would be saved at the last day when I am finally and forever freed from sin, sickness, sorrow, and suffering (glorification). It was liberating to finally understand that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, ESV).

Providentially, my wife and I became a part of the First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina in 2005. We had learned of Andy Davis and his ministry at the church from some mutual friends. We wanted a church that emphasizes expositional preaching, God’s sovereignty in salvation, meaningful church membership, and the importance of evangelism and missions; we found it at FBC Durham. Once we joined the church, we discovered that Andy often speaks of the Christian life as two infinite, interrelated journeys. In the past eight years, my own spirituality has been shaped by the awareness that I am on an inward journey toward sanctification and ultimately glorification and an outward journey to proclaim the lordship of Jesus Christ here, there, and everywhere.

An Infinite Journey is the fruit of many years of preaching and teaching on the nature of the Christian life, primarily in the context of a local church. I have watched Andy Davis faithfully model the two infinite journeys for the people he shepherds. I have seen this vision of the Christian life shape the spirituality of public school teachers, medical doctors, lawyers, businessmen, stay-at-home mothers, retirees, converted convicts, international graduate students, seminary students and professors, and foreign missionaries. I have become convinced that speaking of two infinite journeys is simply a helpful and memorable way to describe authentic, biblical Christianity.

I am glad you have decided to read this book; I do not believe you have done so by accident. My prayer is that An Infinite Journey will be a means of sanctifying grace in your own spiritual walk as you continue on the two infinite journeys of the Christian life.

 

Saturday

28

December 2013

2

COMMENTS

Andy Crouch on Christianity and the Pursuit of Justice

Written by , Posted in Culture, Ministry, Theology

Playing GodAndy Crouch has the best discussion of the relationship between evangelism and social action that I have ever read. You can find it in an excursion at the end of chapter four in his new book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (IVP, 2013). I have copied two of my favorite paragraphs below.

As for the question of why we should work for justice in a world that is passing away—well, the world is passing away. Our work for justice should no more be based on the idea that humanity will somehow progress on its own merits to utopia than proclaiming the good news about eternal life should be based on the idea that someone who accepts Jesus into their heat will never die. The Christian hope is not for a gradually improving world any more than it is for a fountain of youth. But Christian hope overcomes the forces of despair and decay in the midst of this world, and provides foretastes of the coming kingdom where anyone who will receive the Lamb’s sacrifice will be raised to life, and where the glory and honor of the nations will be presented as offerings to the King of kings. Hope for a life beyond this life, and a world of shalom beyond this world of injustice, is the greatest resource for the work of justice here and now. Christian hope for a world made new is not an alternative to doing justice—it is the most essential resource for it.

Christians who truly want to seek justice cannot afford to let “justice” be reduced to the lowest common denominator we may be able to agree on with our neighbors. To do that would be to surrender to gods that are not real gods—to assent to the serpent’s promise that apart from relationship with God we can be like God, knowing good and evil. We can work for common goals for uncommon reasons. Because we believe every one of our neighbors is an image bearer, however broken their relationship with the One whose image they bear, we will find much common ground for working for justice and freedom. The things our neighbors seek are good; they are just not ultimate goods. We can work alongside them for the good while worshiping the One who alone is good.

I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of Playing God. For a fine classic treatment on this topic, check out John Stott’s 1975 book Christian Mission in the Modern World, which was reprinted with a new introduction by Ajith Fernando in 2008. The latter was written in the wake of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974.

Friday

20

December 2013

2

COMMENTS

Mary’s Song and the Good News of Jesus Christ

Written by , Posted in Music, Spirituality, Theology

One of my all-time favorite Advent meditations was published by Scot McKnight in the November 2006 issue of Christianity Today. The article, titled “The Mary We Never Knew,” shows how Mary interpreted the coming of Christ as evidenced in her famous song, the Magnificat:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors (Luke 1:50-55, NIV84).

Mary understood that Jesus was a threat to the Roman empire and the false gospel of the Pax Romana. Through his perfect life, atoning death and victorious resurrection Jesus would usher in a kingdom of true peace and true justice. It was Jesus versus Caesar–and Jesus would win. This was good news, especially for the poor and oppressed. It still is.

McKnight notes that Mary’s knowledge of her son’s identity and mission made her far more interesting than the iconic Blessed Virgin of Catholicism or the simplistically pious, obedient teenager of much of Protestantism:

Mary was a subversive and she was dangerous, first, because she knew the identity of her son and, second, because she began to tell his story. Remember, Gabriel told Mary her son would be “Jesus” (Savior) and “Son of the Most High God” and that he would sit as a Davidic king on the eternal throne. At the bottom of the entire history of Christology are the titles and categories given to Mary to pass on to others. God first tells her the true identity of Jesus. Thus, we first learn to see who Jesus was and is through her witness. Mary was the only person in the world who could have told the stories that now appear in our Gospels. She alone heard the potent words of Gabriel; she alone was with Elizabeth; perhaps she is the one who told Luke about Zechariah’s song; only she and Joseph knew about the shepherds and the magi.

Mary was, first and foremost, an evangelist. And the message she was announcing through song was embodied–literally–in the messiah she was carrying in her womb. The role-reversing, kingdom-smashing, sin-crushing shalom Jesus was bringing would be infinitely superior to the earthly pax of any oppressive human empire. You should read McKnight’s entire article.

I think Mary would have appreciated the modern Christmas hymn “O Holy Night,” especially the third verse. You may not be familiar with the third verse because we hardly ever sing it, but I think it is a fitting complement to the Magnificat:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

This Advent season, let us proclaim his power and glory ever more. The King has come and is coming. In his name all oppression shall cease, whether the spiritual oppression of personal sin or the structural oppression of corporate sin. This is the best news in a world of bad news. Mary understood this in ways that we sometimes overlook. Let’s remember her gospel message as we sing our own Advent songs over the next few days.

Thursday

19

December 2013

10

COMMENTS

New Ph.D. in Historical Theology at Southeastern Seminary

Written by , Posted in History, Theology

For many months, I have been working with a team of faculty members to develop a new Ph.D. in Historical Theology at Southeastern Seminary. The program begins fall 2014. You can apply now.

Students will have the opportunity to take seminars on topics such as Patristic Theology, Reformation Theology, Modern Theology, Baptist Theology, History and Theology of Spiritual Awakenings and Theology of the Radical Reformers, among other offerings. As of right now, incoming students have the opportunity to work with myself, Stephen Eccher (Reformation) and Steve McKinion (Patristics). We hope to announce some additional professors with whom you can work over the next year.

One of the reasons I am excited about this program is that it is offered in a modified residency format for students who are unable to relocate to Wake Forest. Let me say that again: you can earn a fully accredited Ph.D. in Historical Theology without relocating. SEBTS has also launched modified residency Ph.D. programs in Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Philosophy of Religion, Theology and Worship and Christian Leadership; these programs also begin fall 2014.

You should check out the Doctor of Philosophy website at SEBTS to learn more about these programs. Feel free to contact me if you have questions specifically related to Historical Theology.

Wednesday

11

December 2013

1

COMMENTS