Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Evangelicalism Archive



August 2013



Southern Baptists, Evangelicalism, and . . . Andrew Fuller?

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My latest post for The Andrew Fuller Center blog is titled “Southern Baptists, Evangelicalism, and Andrew Fuller.” You can read my closing paragraph below.

I would suggest that contemporary Southern Baptists who are convictionally baptistic but also committed to a broader evangelicalism might learn something about our own identity from the Fullerites who wed similar emphases in their own context. To be a theologically orthodox Southern Baptist is to be an evangelical, albeit a particular type of evangelical.

If you want to read the whole thing, you can click here.



May 2013



Carl Henry and Baptist Identity

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These days, it seems as if everyone is talking about the late evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry (1913–2003). Greg Thornbury has authored a widely acclaimed new book titled Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F.H. Henry (Crossway, 2013). Thornbury, Collin Hansen, and John Starke recorded a conversation for The Gospel Coalition about a famous encounter between Henry and Karl Barth. A few months ago, Jason Duesing wrote an online essay honoring Henry in 100th year of his birth. The Carl Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is hosting a major academic conference later this year, among other Henry-related scholarly activities.

If you’re not familiar with Henry, he was a founding faculty member of Fuller Theological Seminary, the first editor of Christianity Today, and one of the architects of postwar neo-evangelicalism. His book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) offered a broadside against the fundamentalist tendency to divorce evangelism and social engagement, while his six-volume God, Revelation, and Authority (1976–1983) was one of the most important works of evangelical theology written in the second half of the 20th century. Though he is known primarily as an evangelical theologian, Henry was a Baptist. In fact, for much of his adult life he was a Southern Baptist.

In 2004, Russell Moore wrote an article for The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology titled “God, Revelation, and Community: Ecclesiology and Baptist Identity in the Thought of Carl F. H. Henry.” Moore concludes that Henry was a convictional Baptist, but his ecclesiology was underdeveloped in his writings, in part because of his historical context. Simply put, few neo-evangelical theologians wrote on ecclesiology other than in the broadest strokes, in part because of the parachurch nature of postwar evangelicalism. I would say it like this: Henry was a conservative evangelical who held to Baptist ecclesiological convictions; the accent, however, was on the former aspect of his identity. By contrast, I consider myself an orthodox Baptist, which also makes me, by definition, a type of evangelical.

I would encourage you to read Moore’s excellent essay to learn more about Henry’s Baptist identity. Henry himself discusses this topic in his essay “Twenty Years a Baptist,” which has most recently been reprinted in Why I Am a Baptist (B&H Academic, 2001), edited by Tom Nettles and Russell Moore. For an excellent short introduction to Henry’s thought, including his identity as an evangelical and Baptist theologian, see Al Mohler’s chapter on Henry in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, edited by Timothy George and David Dockery (B&H Academic, 2001).

(Image credit: This post has been cross-published at Between the Times)



December 2011





December 2011



The Sword of the Lord: A Brief Review

Written by , Posted in Book Review, Books, History

One of the books I’ve most anticipated reading this fall has been The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family (Chiara Press, 2011). The author, Andrew Himes, is a grandson of the famous fundamentalist evangelist and publisher John R. Rice. I recently had a chance to finally read the book, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Sword of the Lord is part personal memoir, part family history, and part cultural history. It’s a truly interesting book.

My own interest in American fundamentalism dates back about a decade, to my latter years of college. As I began reading widely in the field of American religious history, I found that my favorite topic was twentieth-century fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Fast forward to 2004–2005, when I had the opportunity to index the John R. Rice Papers while serving as an archival assistant in the library at Southeastern Seminary. My longstanding interest in fundamentalism, along with unfettered access to the Rice Papers and many other valuable archival collections related to fundamentalism, ultimately gave rise to a doctoral dissertation titled “The Development of Baptist Fundamentalism in the South, 1940–1980” (SEBTS, 2007). Rice is one of the key figures in that dissertation.

All that to say, while I’m not a self-confessed fundamentalist, I have a critical appreciation of fundamentalism in general and John R. Rice in particular. That’s why I was delighted to learn that Himes had written this book. I just wish it would have been available five or six years ago!

To make a long story short, Andrew Himes was the black sheep of the Rice family—a would-be preacher boy turned atheist and radical social activist. Himes rejected the Christianity of his grandfather (and the rest of his extended family), though over time he has apparently softened somewhat to the religion of his childhood. Though he appears to be more of a mainline Protestant or progressive evangelical at this point (he keeps his cards close to the chest on this one), Himes has a great appreciation for his grandfather, though he’s less sanguine about fundamentalism itself.

Historians of American Christianity will find few new insights about fundamentalism itself. Himes draws upon the insights of the standard authors in the field (especially George Marsden), adding his own mostly impressionistic interpretations to the mix. At times, Himes seems to virtually equate fundamentalism with orthodox Protestantism, an interpretation far more common among self-confessed fundamentalists and left-wing journalists than mainstream historians. He also seems to at least suggest a close connection between fundamentalism and the early Religious Right, which is far too simplistic an interpretation. While many “moderate” fundamentalists such as Rice and Jerry Falwell were identified with the agenda of the so-called New Religious Right, this was hardly the case with the more “hard-line” fundamentalists associated with Bob Jones University and similar institutions.

Having noted the tendency toward oversimplification, The Sword of the Lord is a riveting read and helpful contribution to the literature related to John R. Rice. As one who has combed through Rice’s personal correspondence, read countless  editorials and books the evangelist authored, digested several dissertations and theses, and forced myself through a couple of hagiographical biographies of the famed fundamentalist, I can attest that there are anecdotes about Rice and his family in this book that aren’t available in other sources.  For readers interested in Rice in particular, this book is a helpful complement to the uncritical biographies of Robert Sumner and Viola Walden and the helpful dissertations by Farley Butler, Herman Moore, and Keith Bates.

(I appreciate Chiara Press providing me a review copy of The Sword of the Lord.)



May 2011



Harold John Ockenga and Pastor-Theologians: An Interview with Owen Strachan, Part 2

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

This is the second half of an interview with Boyce College professor Owen Strachan. We’re discussing the twentieth-century pastor-theologian and evangelical statesman Harold John Ockenga. We’re also discussing the ongoing importance of pastor-theologians. You can read the first part of the interview here.

Nathan Finn: We are both involved in various ways with The Gospel Coalition. Do you think TGC is one attempt to recapture the spirit of Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham for the twenty-first century?

Owen Strachan: Absolutely. Tim Keller has talked about TGC attempting to revive and inhabit what he calls “classic evangelicalism,” which was developed by the three evangelical horsemen you just mentioned, with Ockenga as the statesman, Henry as the theologian, and Graham as the evangelist and public face of the movement. I personally see early neo-evangelicalism as a positive initiative, and so I am glad to see others picking up the mantle. There really is something powerful in evangelical unity and cobelligerence, in coming together around a doctrinal core for the purposes of advancing the gospel and strengthening the church. There are other aims that can be accomplished as well in such unity. My own dissertation focuses on how Ockenga and others stimulated a new interest in the life of the mind and the production of a potent theological and cultural apologetic that would provide an answer to skepticism and teach Christians how to take intellectual dominion of the world. I stand behind such a program and appreciate what the neo-evangelicals did along these lines. Of course, I think it is essential that groups uniting across denominational lines adhere closely to a theological core and vision. It also seems good for those cooperating based on common soteriology and missiology to make clear that such cooperation in no way minimizes the importance of the scriptural ordinances. TGC in my limited estimation is aware of these pitfalls and has thus far sidestepped them, in part because leaders like Don Carson knew Carl Henry very well and no doubt learned from him. I see a bright future for such ventures where they avoid the soft doctrinal core of neo-evangelicalism and the big-box evangelical tendency to downplay baptism and the Lord’s supper, which Christ has given his church for its identity, its witness, and its accountability to God. We need strong local churches anchored in confessional traditions; we also stand to thrive when like-minded believers unite for strategic purposes, as witnessed in early neo-evangelicalism in the form of Fuller Theological Seminary, Christianity Today, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

NAF: We are both Southern Baptists. In recent years, I’ve sensed a renewed emphasis in the SBC on the importance of pastor-theologians. Do you sense this as well, or am I just confused?

OS: You are not confused. Let not your mind be troubled. I see exactly what you see, and it thrills me. There is a growing and widespread interest in this historic model of the pastorate, exemplified by the ministries of such historic figures as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, Criswell, Lloyd-Jones, Dever, and Piper. The younger generation of SBC students and pastors (and young evangelicals more broadly) has learned at the literary feet of many of these figures. They see a direct connection between the growth they have experienced through such ministry and the work these figures put into learning well in order to know the Scriptures and teach them with excellence. The important thing is always that the Word is preached. But when the word is handled skillfully and with excellence, Christians stand to thrive and flourish and brim with health. The younger generation has seen this, they’ve benefited from exceptional theological ministry in their own lives from a wide range of pastor-theologians, and they themselves hunger not simply to preach moral homilies and inspiring stories but to feed the people meat and not milk in order that they would take Christocentric dominion of all the earth and “remanate” glory to the author of life, as Edwards put it (there’s your mandatory Jonathan Edwards reference, Nathan!). The vision, if I may put it rather colloquially, sells itself. The proof is in the pudding. Provided pastors do not grow enamored with degrees or see themselves as undertaking theological training in order to host exclusivistic book clubs devoted to obscure passages of Hegel or Barth, this cycle will only continue–pastor-theologians who have devoted themselves to intensive study feeding people rich meals, who are in turn stirred to do the same. Theology is not airy; theology is practical. As Ligon Duncan said at Together for the Gospel some years back, “doctrine is for life.” Many today understand this and hunger to know more theology in order to know God more.

This whole movement is a massive sign of health in the SBC and the modern church. May it only continue, and may the students pouring into the schools at which you and I teach, sister schools, only spread the vision further.

NAF: Besides your forthcoming dissertation, what are some good resources you’d recommend for those who want to know more about Ockenga?

OS: Resources are scarce. Thankfully, Garth Rosell of Gordon-Conwell has written an engaging and informative text on Ockenga entitled The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism. That is the first and best place to go. John Marion Adams wrote a dissertation on Ockenga entitled “The Making of a Neo-Evangelical Statesman: The Case of Harold John Ockenga” that is quite good. Carpenter’s Revive Us Again has helpful material. George Marsden’s novel-like Reforming Fundamentalism includes a good deal of material on the pastor-theologian. These resources are a place to start.

NAF: Besides the Piper-Carson book, what about resources for those who are committed to being pastor-theologians (or theologians who are also pastors)?

OS: There aren’t a ton of resources here, either. I would go to Douglas Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word for starters. He has several words at the close of the book about the need for pastor-theologians. Doug has really helped to shape my vision for this topic. Bruce Gordon’s Calvin will shed light on the topic. Brooks Holifield’s God’s Ambassadors and Gentlemen Theologians have some rich material on this subject. There is a great need for further writing and thinking on this topic.

Thank you for the chance to respond to these questions, Nathan. Really appreciate it—and your ministry at Southeastern.