Southern Baptists should pass on robust evangelical and Baptist faith, historian tells conference attendees

Communications Staff — October 13, 2009

JACKSON, Tenn.-Southern Baptists desperately need to pass on their evangelical faith to future generations through catechism and teaching the overarching redemptive storyline of Scripture, Nathan Finn told attendees of the Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism conference Friday at Union University.

There has been much intra-denominational controversy over the years over whether or not Southern Baptists are evangelicals, but Finn argued that Southern Baptists are evangelicals because they have much in common with evangelicals in doctrine and understanding the Christian life. Finn serves as assistant professor of church history and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Southern Baptists are essentially evangelicals with a distinctive ecclesiology, Finn said.  He encouraged Southern Baptists to pass on their evangelical and denominational faith to future generations as well as to those of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The use of catechisms – biblical truths taught in question-and-answer format – and articulating the redemptive storyline of the Bible must be central to passing on this faith, he said, whether it is to children or within the context of evangelism to the nations.

“David Dockery catalogs a number of theological truths that must be expounded if the Gospel is to be rightly proclaimed,” Finn said, “including God’s creation of humanity in His image and His sovereign rule over all things, humanity’s rejection of God’s rule and fall into sin, God’s provision for humanity’s sin in the perfect life, penal substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s actual salvation of men and women when they repent of their sins and trust in the person and work of Christ, and God’s ultimate redemption of the entire created order.”

Finn called for Southern Baptists and evangelicals to transmit a “Gospel instinct” to the next generation to help ensure that aberrant doctrines such as inclusivism, universalism, annihilationism and hyper-Calvinism are exposed as theologically fraudulent.

“Developing such a Gospel instinct will also help us avoid the truncated view of conversion that is rampant among many Southern Baptists and other evangelicals,” he said. “There is a tendency among some to equate personal conversion with a mere decision. This is particularly the case among some of those inclined toward revivalism or the church growth movement. Were we to bring Bonhoeffer back from the grave, he would surely say that ‘cheap grace’ has too often become the order of the day among many conservative, evangelistic, Bible-believing Protestants.

“Authentic conversion must include repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ and must never be collapsed into repeat-after-me’s, walking an aisle, raising a hand, attending a class, or yes, even being baptized. Salvation by sincerity is not the same thing as salvation by grace through faith, and jumping through hoops will never justify anyone. I’m encouraged by the serious and I think biblical way that theologians such as Michael Horton have challenged American evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, to recover a view of conversion that is more than simply praying a canned “sinner’s prayer” or affirming a handful of propositions about Jesus. We must also pass on a balanced commitment to activism, including cultural engagement, evangelism and missions.”

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