My Reflections on the 2014 SBC Annual Meeting

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 By Nathan Finn

Last week, approximately 5300 registered Southern Baptist messengers (plus other attendees) met for our annual meeting in Baltimore, MD. We consumed thousands of pounds of crabmeat. Hundreds of Baptists watched one or more Baltimore Orioles games at Camden Yards (I caught two games). On the whole, we had a great time. In this post, I want to offer my personal reflections on the annual meeting. As is always the case with this blog, my views are my own and do not reflect any official position of Southeastern Seminary.

First, this year’s annual meeting was marked by a greater sense of unity and fraternity than I’ve seen among Southern Baptists in many years. There were no distracting debates or even public snarky comments about the state conventions vs. the SBC, or Calvinism vs. non-Calvinism, or the Cooperative Program vs. Great Commission Giving, or small churches vs. large churches. We came together, conducted our business, worshiped and fellowshipped, and did so in almost uniformly friendly ways. I think Fred Luter’s convention presidency, as well as Frank Page’s tenure as president of the Executive Committee, have had a healing affect on many Southern Baptists. I pray we continue to be this unified moving forward.

Second, I am encouraged by Ronnie Floyd’s election as SBC president. He is a well-known pastor with a track record of solid denominational leadership. His message of prayer and spiritual awakening is a needed word for these days. I was also encouraged that Dennis Kim ran for president; I would have been equally encouraged had he won. I mean that. I have heard many wonderful things about his church and his leadership among Maryland Baptists. In fact, let me say I am thrilled to see the return over the past decade to contested presidential elections. There are many godly leaders among us. In a mostly democratic convention of churches, it’s a blessing to have to choose between multiple worthy candidates.

Third, I am pleased with the final version of the proposed amendment to the SBC Constitution. I have long advocated a greater financial commitment on the part of cooperating churches. As for theological expectations, the final version is better than the original draft, which potentially opened the door for excluding churches that differ from the Baptist Faith and Message on non-central issues where the confession does not necessarily reflect the views of a majority of churches. This amendment must pass next year as well before it goes into effect. I hope it does so.

Fourth, I am grateful that Southern Baptists continue to speak with clarity into the moral confusion of our day, primarily through our resolutions. I know some folks bristle at resolutions because they are advisory. I know others think we project a negative image that turns off spiritual seekers. Honestly, there have been individual resolutions over the years that I regretted personally, but even then, I believe resolutions are a needed, healthy way to take a clear stand on important issues facing Christians. This year, as Baptist Press notes, we passed resolutions that addressed matters ranging from “transgender identity to payday lending, church revitalization, global hunger relief, the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and casinos and lotteries.” You can access a complete list of this year’s resolutions, and every resolution Southern Baptists have ever passed, at the SBC website. On a related note, let’s commit to pray for Russell Moore and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as they take the lead in helping Southern Baptists think about the great moral questions of our day from the perspective of the Christian worldview.

Fifth, I am very, very grateful for the part Southeastern Seminary’s students played at this year’s convention. On Monday, around forty-five of our students attended the SBC Executive Committee Meeting. After that meeting, Dr. Page and his executive team met with our students and students from Midwestern and New Orleans seminaries to discuss SBC polity, the Cooperative Program, and the future of the convention. Numerous people, including several ExComm members, told me how excited they were to see so many SEBTS students at the SBC. Most of our students also worked for the Committee on Order of Business, serving as microphone monitors and pages. Others served on the Tellers Committee and the Credentials Committee. For nearly all of these students, this was their first convention. I trust it will not be the last one for many of them. More broadly, I am pleased to see so many younger Southern Baptists attending the convention. The trend is noteworthy and stands in stark contrast to the trend just five years ago. We have a long way to go, but I am encouraged that a growing number of younger Gen-X and millennial Southern Baptists are attending the convention every year.

Finally, I want to thank my faculty and especially staff colleagues at Southeastern for planning a great experience for our team. I have been out-of-pocket for six months on sabbatical, so it was great to re-engage in Baltimore and see things go so well. Our booth looked great and the students who were working it were winsome and informed. Our “I am going” video was primo and the pictures (which you can see on Twitter and Facebook) were very cool. Our Friends and Alumni Luncheon at Camden Yards was hands-down the best one I’ve attended, even though Ed Stetzer mocked me for wearing bowties (he is a sad, jealous man—pray for him). Our staff dinner on Tuesday night was a great time of fellowship. I want to especially thank Ryan Hutchinson, Art Rainer, Amy Whitfield, Larry Lyon, Jonathan Six, and Elizabeth Graham for all of your hard work. You and your respective staffs are top-shelf.

I don’t think I have ever been more excited to be a Southern Baptist. If this year’s annual meeting is any indication, the Lord is not through with us yet. Let’s pray for revival and renewal among our churches and our entities. Let’s urgently share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone who will lend us an ear. Let’s give sacrificially to the Cooperative Program and other kingdom causes as we use our resources to advance the gospel. Let’s commit to continuing to stand firm for religious liberty and biblical morality, regardless of what happens in the wider culture. Let’s continue to plant new churches and revitalize existing churches in every city, town, and country crossroads in North America. Let’s continue to send missionaries to the unreached peoples of the world and the harvest fields where the Lord is doing a mighty work. Join me in praying for ongoing biblical faithfulness and kingdom fruitfulness among the people of God called Southern Baptists.

Should You Pursue a Ph.D.?

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[Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on December 4, 2013.]

I knew from the time I was a senior in college that I wanted to earn a Ph.D. in either church history or theology. I felt like this was the right course for me whether I ended up as a professor, a vocational pastor, or both. I have never regretted that decision. However, I do not believe that my decision should be everyone’s decision. There is often significant cost and always significant time involved in earning a Ph.D. It can also be a taxing season on a family–especially a young family. Anyone considering applying into research doctoral programs should pray long and hard before they pull the trigger on that decision, especially if they do not feel strongly led by the Lord to work in higher education.

If you are considering research doctoral studies, I want to point you to some resources to help you think through this important decision. These resources represent the pros, cons and “perhapses” of whether or not it is a good idea to pursue a Ph.D.

  • I have previously written a post titled “On the Merits of a Ph.D. in Church History or Historical Theology.” I focus on my own discipline, but I think most of the principles apply more broadly. I am a strong advocate of pastors earning research doctorates if they are willing and able.
  • John Stackhouse of Regent College has an excellent, thoughtful essay titled “Thinking about a Ph.D.?” This is an especially helpful article for those who desire to teach in a college, university or seminary context.
  • Blake White, a pastor in Texas, has written a helpful piece titled “Why I Did Not Do a PhD.” White planned to earn a Ph.D., then changed his mind. Perhaps his reasons will resonate with some of you.
  • Gerald Hiestand of the Center for Pastor Theologians has written two excellent essays (here and here) on the need for pastor theologians who are able to write theology from and for the church. Those who are called to this vocation often, though not always, pursue advanced doctoral studies.

(Note: This post is cross-published at Christian Thought & Tradition)

Jonathan Edwards and Religious Affections

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[Editor's Note: This post first appeared on February 27, 2013.]

I recently came across a wonderful, brief introduction to the life and literary legacy of Jonathan Edwards by Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson. The essay, which is available online, is reprinted from Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage, 2007), which Beeke and Peterson co-authored. In the essay, the authors provide a basic summary of Edwards’s biography and theological convictions. They also provide an annotated bibliography to reprinted editions (scholarly and popular) of Edwards’s written corpus.

My chief interest in Edwards concerns two interrelated topics: his spirituality and his theology of revival. For this reason, my favorite of Edwards’s works is A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). I have frequently required Religious Affections in my Church History II class. More than one student has told me that being required to read Religious Affections for my class changed his or her spiritual life. Read what Beeke and Peterson have to say about Religious Affections in the aforementioned essay:

This work is often regarded as the leading classic in American history on spiritual life. Edwards here presents a more mature reflection of revival than in his Faithful Narrative, reflecting upon the strengths and weaknesses of the Great Awakening after it crested. Fundamentally, Edwards grapples with the questions: What makes a person a Christian? What is it about a person that would move others to recognize him as a Christian? What is the difference between true and false Christian experience? Edwards first considers the nature of affections and their importance in religion, answering the charges of Charles Chauncy. He views affections as the desires of the heart based upon intellectual reflections, and argues that true religion consists in the affections.

In the second part of his work, Edwards describes twelve signs of gracious affections that may not necessarily indicate saving faith. These include intense feelings; experiences that produce physical effects; fluency in spiritual matters; not causing one’s own affections; having verses of Scripture impressed upon the mind; the appearance of being loving; experiencing a variety of affections; being moved by affections to spend much time in religious matters; affections that move one to praise God; affections that lead to a strong sense of assurance of salvation; affections that lead one to act in ways that are accepted by the godly. Edwards goes on to argue that external signs motivated by religious affections neither deny nor confirm genuine religious experience. He takes a middle position between those who claimed the phenomena that took place in Northampton proved the revival true and those who said the phenomena showed it to be false.

In the final section, Edwards explains the true marks of genuine conversion, noting that they all arise from the illumination of God’s Spirit. He describes twelve true signs of gracious affections:

• A new birth, or regeneration
• A new transcendental perspective in daily life that focuses on God’s glory
• A love for the loveliness of divine things
• A “new taste” that combines “heat with light”; understanding is essential but insufficient by itself
• A deep conviction of an immediate sense of divinity and total control of self by the truths of the gospel
• An evangelical rather than legal humiliation
• A radical change of nature that results in conversion
• A genuine love for and meekness toward others
• A Christian tenderness toward others
• A kind of symmetry or proportion of all the foregoing affections
• A desire for a growing relationship with God
• A gracious love that manifests itself in behavior

If you haven’t read Religious Affections before, I would encourage you to do so. A paperback of the Yale University Press critical edition, which includes a scholarly introductory essay by John Smith, has recently been published at a very affordable price (pictured above). You can also read the critical edition for free online at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. There are also many popular reprints of Religious Affections available on the market. The one I read while in seminary (my first introduction to Religious Affections) was the edition published by Banner of Truth. It’s also fairly easy to find free PDF versions of Religious Affections on the internet.

If the idea of reading Edwards scares you a bit, check out Sam Storms’s Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Crossway, 2007), which is a wonderful modernization of the original work (pictured left). Another helpful modern updating of Religious Affections, this one written by Gerald McDermott, is titled Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment (Regent College Publishing, 2000). Craig Biehl has also written a study guide to the book titled Reading “Religious Affections”: A Study Guide to Jonathan Edwards’ Classic on the Nature of True Christianity (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2012).

(Note: This post was first published at Christian Thought & Tradition on February 25, 2013.)