Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Spirituality Archive



March 2014



Why One Baptist Chooses to Observe Lent

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I’m a Southern Baptist, which, among other things, means I’m a low church, free church evangelical. Furthermore, I’m a convictionally reformational Baptist, meaning I resonate with what I believe to be the best of the magisterial reformers in terms of Scripture and salvation and the best of the radical reformers in terms of ecclesiology and mission. Folks like me are supposed to be suspicious of Lent. Yet, beginning tomorrow, I will be observing the Lenten season for the next forty days, as I have done virtually every year for the past dozen years. Why?

Before discussing why I observe Lent, it might be helpful to discuss what Lent is. After all, many of this blog’s readers are low church, free church evangelicals like me, and I bet more than a few aren’t sure what Lent is and where it comes from. Lent is a key season of the Christian Calendar that is observed by many different Christian traditions. Specifically, for Christians in the West, Lent is a period of dedicated prayer, repentance, giving and self-denial that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Maundy Thursday; the latter is the day before Good Friday, which commemorates the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can read more about the history of Lent in this article by Ted Olsen.

Different traditions practice Lent in different ways. Some groups combine prescribed fasts (especially from meat) and mediating on the Stations of the Cross. Others take a less stringent approach, instead focusing upon voluntarily giving up some luxury (or, perhaps in the short-term, a necessity) during the Lenten season as a way to focus upon spiritual matters. For some traditions, Lent is an “ought” that should be observed by all Christians. For others, Lent is a “can” that Christians are welcome, but not required, to observe.

As a Baptist, I do not believe we should bind people’s consciences by prescribing extra-biblical traditions. And like many good Christian practices, even among the most scripturally punctilious of evangelicals, Lent is most certainly an extra-biblical tradition. For that reason, I would never insist that someone observe Lent. But I do believe it is appropriate to recommend Lent, which is what I’m doing in this post. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, especially of the low church, free church type, then I would encourage you to consider celebrating Lent over the next forty days.

For my part, I choose to observe Lent because it affords me an opportunity to disengage a bit from the culture of what Tim Suttle calls satiation—“the absolute satisfaction of every human need to the point of excess.” As a relatively affluent American evangelical, at least compared to most believers in the world, I’m particularly prone to satiation. And the more I’m satiated, the easier it is for my affections to become dulled to the most important priorities—the kingdom priorities—that ought to animate my life. So, if you want to think about this way, I’m making an Edwardsean argument for my own Lenten observance. (Recognizing, of course, that Edwards himself would not have been a fan of Lent.) I want to unplug for awhile (metaphorically speaking) in order to redirect my affections towards the One whose infinite beauty and worth surpasses all the good, but fleeting pleasures of this life.

If you’re interested in giving Lent a whirl, consider practicing some of the following spiritual disciplines during this season:

  1. If your health will allow, set aside a day each week to fast through breakfast and lunch, spending some extra time in prayer and Scripture meditation
  2. Voluntarily give up some good thing for the sake of some extra meditation on the best thing, the good news of the gospel (if you’re having trouble thinking of a good thing to give up, consider some sort of partial media fast like giving up television or internet)
  3. Memorize one of the passion accounts from the four Gospels or a different passage related to the cross and resurrection
  4. Spend some extra time reading through a devotional book such as John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die or Nancy Guthrie’s Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter

If you’re reading this post and you are uncomfortable with Lent, no worries. You absolutely don’t have to observe Lent. The Lenten season is a “can,” not an “ought,” so follow your conscience in this matter. Furthermore, choosing to observe Lent doesn’t make you more spiritual or mean that you love Jesus more than those who don’t dig Lent. But if you’re interested in embracing an intentional season of self-denial, repentance, and biblical intake in the hope of personal spiritual renewal, then I’d encourage you to at least consider observing Lent this year.

For a helpful discussion on why three Christians in different traditions choose to celebrate Lent, check out the roundtable discussion titled “Lent—Why Bother?” which was originally published in Christianity Today in February 2010. The contributors include Steve Harmon (a fellow Baptist), Frederica Mathewes-Green (Eastern Orthodox) and Michael Horton (Presbyterian/Reformed). For another Baptist recommendation of Lent, see this thoughtful blog post by Alan Rudnick.

(Note: An earlier version of this post was published at Between the Times in February 2013 under the title “Why I Observe Lent.” This updated version has also been published today at Between the Times.)



February 2014



Recommended Reading: Three New Posts

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I have been blessed to have blog posts published at three different websites in the past couple of days. Yesterday, I posted my weekly contribution for Between the Times. The post, titled “Sanctification is a Community Project,” is a substantially revised version of a post I originally published on my personal blog. I discuss the role that the church has played in my own spiritual growth and touch upon the corporate nature of sanctification.

I periodically contribute to Historia Ecclesiastica, the blog of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. I serve as a fellow for the Fuller Center. For the past few months, I’ve been fairly negligent in my blog contributions. However, yesterday I published a post titled “Answering My Great Question about ‘The Great Question Answered.'” If you are interested in the nature of historical research–all sixteen of you–then you ought to check it out. I share my story of sleuthing the origins of a famous gospel tract written by Andrew Fuller in 1803.

Finally, I am delighted to announce that I am now contributing to Facts and Trends, a quarterly journal and companion website for Christian leaders that has been published by LifeWay Christian Resources for nearly sixty years. I will mostly be writing for their website on lessons that contemporary Christians can learn from church history. My first contribution was published today: “Prayer and Revival: Yesterday and Today.” In the post, I discuss the role that prayer played in the Teschen Revival of 1708 and the Businessman’s Revival of 1857.



February 2014



Philip Doddridge’s Prayer for The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul

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Philip DoddridgePhilip Doddridge (1702–1751) was one of the most famous Nonconformist ministers in England during the first half of the eighteenth century. In 1719, he became a pastor of the Independent (Congregationalist) chapel in Northampton. Doddridge was also a famous hymn writer and author. He is best known for his book The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (1745), which became an almost instant classic in evangelical spirituality and is still widely read today. It was through reading The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul that William Wilberforce was converted in 1784.

At the close of his first chapter, Doddridge offers the following prayer for the success of his book. The prayer gives us a glimpse into Doddridge’s own piety. It also provides a model prayer for those of us who write for the church.

O thou great eternal Original, and Author of all created being and happiness! I adore thee, who hast made man a creature capable of religion, and hast bestowed this dignity and felicity upon our nature, that it may be taught to say, Where is God our maker? (Job 35:10) I lament that degeneracy spread over the whole human race, which has “turned our glory into shame,” (Hos. 4:7) and has rendered the forgetfulness of God, unnatural as it is, so common and so universal a disease. Holy Father, We know it is thy presence, and thy teaching alone, that can reclaim thy wandering children, can impress a sense of Divine things on the heart, and render that sense listing and effectual. From thee proceed all good purposes and desires; and this desire, above all, of diffusing wisdom, piety, and happiness in this world, which (though sunk in such deep apostasy) thine infinite mercy has not utterly forsaken.

Thou “knowest, O Lord, the hearts of the children of men;” (2 Chron. 6:30) and an upright soul, in the midst of all the censures and suspicions it may meet with, rejoices in thine intimate knowledge of its most secret sentiments and principles of action. Thou knowest the sincerity and fervency with which thine unworthy servant desires to spread the knowledge of thy name, and the savour of thy Gospel, among all to whom this work may reach. Thou knowest that hadst thou given him an abundance of this world, it would have been, in his esteem, the noblest pleasure that abundance could have afforded to have been thine almoner in distributing thy bounties to the indigent and necessitous, and so causing the sorrowful heart to rejoice in thy goodness, dispensed through his hands. Thou knowest, that, hadst thou given him, either by ordinary or extraordinary methods, the gift of healing, it would have been his daily delight to relieve the pains, the maladies, and the infirmities of men’s bodies; to have seen the languishing countenance brightened by returning health and cheerfulness; and much more to have beheld the roving, distracted mind reduced to calmness and serenity in the exercise of its rational faculties. Yet happier, Yet happier, far happier wilt he think himself, in those humble circumstances in which thy providence hath placed him, if thou vouchsafe to honour these his feeble endeavours as the means of a relieving and enriching men’s minds; of recovering them from the madness of a sinful state, and bringing back thy reasonable creatures to the knowledge, the service, and the enjoyment of their God; or of improving those who are already reduced.

O may it have that blessed influence on the person, whosoever he be, that is now reading these lines, and all who may read or hear them! Let not my Lord be angry if I presume to ask, that, however weak and contemptible this work may seem in the eyes of the children of this world, and however imperfect it really be, as well as the author of it unworthy, it may nevertheless live before thee; and, through a divine power, be mighty to produce the rise and progress of religion in the minds of multitudes in distant places, and in generations yet to come! Impute it not, O God, as a culpable ambition, if I desire that, whatever becomes of my name, about which I would not lose one thought before thee, this work, to which I am now applying myself in thy strength, may be completed and propagated far abroad: that it may reach to those that are yet unborn, and teach them thy name and thy praise, when the author has long dwelt in the dust; that so, when he shall appear before thee in the great day of final account, his joy may be increased, and his crown brightened, by numbers before unknown to each other, and to him! But if this petition be too great to be granted to one who pretends no claim but thy sovereign grace to hope for being favoured with the least, give him to be, in thine Almighty hand, the blessed instrument of converting and saving one soul; and if it be but one, and that the weakest and meanest of those who are capable or receiving this address, it shall be most thankfully accepted as a rich recompense for all the thought and labour it may cost; and though it should be amidst a thousand disappointments with respect to others, yet it shall be the subject of immortal songs of praise to thee, O blessed God, for and by every soul whom, through the blood of Jesus and the grace of thy Spirit, thou hast saved; and everlasting honours shall be ascribed to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, by the innumerable company of angels, and by the general assembly and church of the first-born in heaven. Amen.

From Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (New York: Derby, 1861), pp. 25-28.

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February 2014



Coming to Christ is a Lifelong Pursuit

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A Puritan TheologyFrom the chapter “The Puritans on Living in Christ,” in A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones:

Coming to Christ is not a once-in-a-lifetime decision. Nor is it a momentary act of the will that has no implications for the present and future. Rather, as Thomas Boston (1676-1732) reminded us, coming to Christ is our first and last step toward Christ. Boston wrote that by our union and communion with Christ, the believer “launches forth in an ocean of happiness, is led into a paradise of pleasures, and has a saving interest in the treasure hidden in the field of the Gospel, the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Therefore, the saints must strive constantly to draw “fresh supplies of grace from the fountain” of Christ by faith.  We must come to the Christ, not just once, for justification from the guilt of sin, but every day of our lives, for ongoing sanctification. Christ is not just the door; He is also the way to heaven; indeed, He is the glory of heaven itself.

Many people put trust in their initial coming to Christ, saying, “I came to Christ when I was a child. Why do I need to come again?” Jesus is not concerned whether your initial coming to Him was twenty years ago or last week. He is concerned whether you are still coming to Him now. We are to come to Him daily by faith to grow in Christlikeness, to cultivate holiness, and to live in and with Him. Every moment we are to seek Christ’s glory. Coming to Christ is a lifelong pursuit.

From Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Reformation Heritage, 2012), p. 525. The quotes from Thomas Boston in the first paragraph are taken from his work Human Nature in its Fourfold State (1720).



February 2014



What History Can Teach Us about Spirituality

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Great words from Gerald Sittser, a theologian at Whitworth University and a leading scholar of Christian spirituality:

Water from a Deep WellHistory can be a valuable resource for us, especially in the spiritual life, for it provides examples of how believers who lived in other times and places understood what is means to seek, know and experience God, which captures the essential meaning of “spirituality.” As different as they are from us, these believers can teach us truths about the Christian faith that we have not yet learned or do not consider important. It could be that returning to the old ways will enable us to live a new way for God, a way characterized by deeper knowledge, richer experience and greater faithfulness to the gospel. It could be that discovering old truths will enable us to live as new people, a people devoted to serving God’s kingdom. It could be that by looking back we will be able to look ahead and set a new course for our lives. History will show us that there is more to the Christian faith than what we think and have experienced. It will teach us truths that our contemporary religious blind spots prevent us from seeing, challenge us to read Scripture with new eyes, beckon us to practice spiritual disciplines we never tried before, and enable us to view our own time and place from a fresh perspective. The Holy Spirit will use the knowledge of history to send us on a journey that could lead us into the depths of God.

See Gerald L. Sittser, Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries (IVP Academic, 2007), pp. 18–19.