“Ministry By His Grace and For His Glory” by Nathan Finn

You’ve been waiting for the most recent publication from the pen of the talented and prolific Nathan Finn, and I’m happy to announce that the wait is over. Dr. Finn, who is Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies here at Southeastern, and co-editor Tom Ascol have provided a collection of essays honoring Dr. Tom Nettles for his years of service in his writing and teaching ministry. SEBTS President Danny Akin also contributed a chapter entitled “The Preacher on Preaching.” In light of this achievement, we asked Dr. Finn a few questions about the book:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry.

I’m a native South Georgian who is currently living in exile in North Carolina, though I suppose there are far worse places to which one could be exiled (Wisconsin comes to mind). I’ve been married to Leah for almost eleven years. We have three children: Georgia (age 5), Baxter (age 3), and Eleanor (11 months). I’ve been teaching courses in church history, historical theology, and Baptist Studies at SEBTS since 2006. My primary research interests are Baptist historical theology, 20th century fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and the history of revival. We’re also members of First Baptist Church of Durham, where I serve as a deacon and teach a theology and church history class. I’m a pretty obnoxious Georgia Bulldogs fan, but it’s OK because I’m pretty sure God is as well-without the obnoxious part, of course.

2. What was the impetus for editing this book?

Ministry By His Grace and For His Glory is a festschrift, or a collection of essays honoring a senior scholar, in this case Tom Nettles. When I first decided I was interested in church history and historical theology, I was very positively influenced by Dr. Nettles and his ministry. He has taught in these disciplines for many years at schools such as Southwestern Seminary, Mid-America Baptist Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and, since 1997, Southern Seminary. His books Baptists and the Bible (co-authored with the late Russ Bush) and By His Grace and For His Glory are both important (and controversial) books in the field of Baptist Studies. His more popular writings about Baptist catechisms and denominational renewal are very helpful. His biography of James P. Boyce is a wonderful example of a well-researched, edifying biography. His three volume-Baptist history textbook is an excellent resource, especially for those interested in Baptist biography and historical theology in particular. Dr. Nettles is also the consummate “gentleman theologian,” a role model for how to bring together the pulpit and the academic lectern in a way that blesses the body of Christ.

My co-editor Tom Ascol and I were convinced that Dr. Nettles needed to be recognized with a collection of essays that touched upon the emphases of his own ministry. Our contributors include historians, theologians, denominational leaders, and pastors. The portrait of Dr. Nettles on the front cover was painted by his son Robert, who is a gifted artist. We’re very pleased with how the book turned out.

3. In addition to co-editing the book, did you contribute an essay to the volume?

I wrote a chapter titled “Baptists and the Bible: The History of a History Book.” The publication of this book is often spoken of as a key moment in the Conservative Resurgence, but it actually dropped with a thud in 1980. Very few Southern Baptists of any stripe wrote reviews of the book and only two or three Baptist-related scholarly journals published reviews. Even the conservative protest periodicals inexplicably ignored the book. But as the SBC has become more conservative over the past generation, Baptists and the Bible has become much more important. The book’s influence has become easier to document as time has marched on, particularly with the publication of an updated edition in 1999, the death of Russ Bush in 2008, and the volume’s thirtieth anniversary in 2010.

In addition to my chapter, Matt Emerson and I also compiled a bibliography of Dr. Nettles published writings. Matt was a doctoral student at SEBTS at the time we worked on the bibliography. He has since graduated and now teaches New Testament at California Baptist University.

4. What, above all, do you wish for readers to know and/or do because of the book?

Well, I hope that readers will become interested in many of the same doctrinal and ministry priorities that interest Dr. Nettles. For example, I hope folks will learn a thing or two about Baptist history, biblical authority, expositional preaching, the doctrines of grace, justification by faith alone, missions, the importance of catechisms and confessions, believer’s baptism, etc. Though most of the essays are written by either professors or pastors with earned research doctorates, all of the chapters are accessible to most pastors and interested church members. This isn’t intended to be an academic tome, but rather a collection of essays that we hope will educate and encourage ordinary believers. Having said that, the historical essays in particular should be of interest to scholars of Baptist Studies.

Rob Bell, meet Clark Pinnock

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins. In short, Bell makes the case for a post-mortem opportunity for those who didn’t receive the Gospel during their earthly lives. His gift at turning a phrase helps to hide the weaknesses of his arguments. Take for example his handling of our Lord’s denunciation of the cities of Capernaum in Matt 10 (“It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you”). Bell interprets Jesus to be teaching that there still is hope for Sodom and Gomorrah. Oh come on. It’s hard to take this stuff seriously.

I found myself thinking, “Clark Pinnock did a much better job arguing for all this.”

Pinnock, who passed away last August after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 73, was by far the most articulate and forceful recent evangelical voice for embracing inclusivism, annihilationism, and the possibility of salvation after death. In his A Wideness in God’s Mercy, Pinnock takes basically the same position as Bell, but with arguments more cogent and well thought out. When one considers where he was theologically at the end of his life, it’s difficult to believe that Pinnock started his theological career as an arch-conservative, inerrancy-affirming, 5-point Calvinist. Pinnock’s theological journey was one of the more convoluted odysseys in evangelicalism.

Years ago, when I was a theology student in the doctoral program at Southeastern studying under Paige Patterson, I was digging through Dr Patterson’s personal files which were located (at that time) in SEBTS’s archives. I stumbled across the class notes he had taken while he was a student at New Orleans Seminary (circa1969). He took Clark Pinnock’s classes often. As Dr Patterson explained to me, the conservative, early Pinnock played a formative role in his theological development; and in ways I am not at liberty to elaborate on a blog, Clark Pinnock rescued Paige Patterson from some very unfair treatment at New Orleans Seminary.

In those days, the liberal element of the New Orleans faculty viewed Paige Patterson as a “fundamentalist troublemaker,” but he and other conservative firebrands knew they had an ally on the faculty in Clark Pinnock. Pinnock had studied under F. F. Bruce at the University of Manchester, and was recognized by both friend and foe as a brilliant scholar. He presented a clear, logical framework for adhering to the Bible’s infallibility and defended the doctrine of the inerrancy in an environment where such views were ridiculed. Bible believing students loved Pinnock while many of the other professors considered him a loose cannon.

Perhaps he was a loose cannon; he certainly careened across the theological landscape. I wish that Dr Pinnock had continued to hold to a consistent doctrine of biblical inerrancy through the remainder of his academic career. Alas, he did not. His early works, A Defense of Biblical Infallibility (1967) and Biblical Revelation (1971) are classic presentations of the historic doctrines of biblical authority, infallibility, and inerrancy. However, though the 1970’s and 80’s Pinnock’s view of Scripture shifted, and he argued instead for what might be called an inerrancy of purpose.

Other changes followed. He moved from Reformed theology to classic Arminianism and eventually to Open Theism. Pinnock advocated neo-Pentecostalism and third wave theology. And as I said before, he embraced inclusivism, annihilationism, and post-mortem evangelism. For conservatives within the SBC that he had helped in the early days of the controversy and who had counted him as an ally, Pinnock’s theological wanderings were difficult to watch.

I would encourage anyone tempted to take Bell’s position to consider the sad twists and turns of Clark Pinnock.

Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism

In October 2009, Union University hosted a conference titled Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism. The conference was held in conjunction with the four hundredth anniversary of the Baptists. It also revisited an oft-asked question: what is the relationship between Southern Baptists and American evangelicals? You can listen to the conference audio at Union’s website.

For those who are interested, the proceedings of that conference are also now in print. Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism (B&H Academic, 2011) is a collection of essays edited by David Dockery, Ray Van Neste, and Jerry Tidwell. Between the Times contributors Danny Akin, Ed Stetzer, and yours truly spoke at the conference and contributed essays. You can see the full list of chapters and contributors below.

  1. So Many Denominations: The Rise, Decline, and Future of Denominationalism – David S. Dockery
  2. Denominationalism: Is There a Future? – Ed Stetzer
  3. Denominationalism and the Changing Religious Landscape – D. Michael Lindsay
  4. The Faith, My Faith, and the Church’s Faith – Timothy George
  5. The Future of Evangelicalism (and Southern Baptists) – Duane Litfin
  6. The Care for Souls: Reconsidering Pastoral Ministry in Southern Baptist and Evangelical Contexts – Ray Van Neste
  7. Awakenings and Their Impact on Baptists and Evangelicals: Sorting Out the Myths in the History of Missions and Evangelism – Jerry Tidwell
  8. Recovering the Gospel for the Twenty-first Century – Harry L. Poe
  9. Emergent or Emerging? Questions for Southern Baptists and American Evangelicals – Mark DeVine
  10. Reflections on 400 Years of the Baptist Movement: Who We Are, What We Believe – James A. Patterson
  11. Southern Baptists and Evangelicals: Passing on the Faith to the Next Generation – Nathan A. Finn
  12. The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention – Daniel Akin
  13. Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism – R. Albert Mohler Jr.

If you are interested in the storied history and future prospects of Southern Baptists, American evangelicalism, and/or denominationalism in general, I’d highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this important new book.