“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.