Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nathan Finn on what ails the SBC

Nathan Finn is an adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. More importantly, he is a devoted to Christ and His church and is a clear thinker who has been thinking lately on important issues within the denomination he serves. He has posted 16 articles about what he sees wrong in the SBC and offers some very insightful solutions. I highly commend this series and especially the last ones on "possible solutions."

Timmy Brister has compiled all of Nathan's articles and adds his own insights as well in a recent post. It is very helpful.

Nathan concludes that what is ultimately wrong in the SBC is that in many ways and many places we have lost the Gospel. If he is right, then all of the other things that we get exercised about really don't matter. If he is right, then our problem is far more grave than most of our leaders are willing to acknowledge. If he is right, then shouldn't every denominational plan and program be subjugated to a life-and-death recovery effort on the part of everyone who sees the problem? I think so. And I think Nathan is right.


Seth McBee said...

growing up in the SBC really has me discouraged at this point. Seeing people like Rick Warren attach his name and little said about it. It is so big and has such a wide variety of beliefs that saying you are a Southern Baptist gives no clarity in where you stand. Sad to see where it has gone.

Darel said...


Whatever happened to the Spurgeons? Whatever happened to the attitude of Paul about the Gospel?

It should be so that you cannot pass by a reference to Christ without adding that it is through his sacrifice and work on the cross that all of our sin and rebellion is wiped away and we are brought into the kingdom of God. That we can't help to expound upon the ministry of reconciliation. We so often, instead, restrain ourselves in preaching, rather than letting the Gospel come rushing out at every turn.

Gordan said...

Just adding my own commendation of this series of articles from Nathan Finn. Very clear-headed, transparent, and quite convicting at more than one point, even for those of us who tend to agree with him.

Bill Formella said...

It's not only the term Southern Baptist that has lost it's meaning. You can lump words like evangelical, biblical, conservative Christian and the like into the file titled "Words with unlimited meaning".

kingofbleh said...

I fear that "purpose driven" has now become it's own hermeneutic and is probably the most pervasive hermeneutic among SBC churches. Case in point: I was in a conversation recently with a lay leader in my own church about PDL. I mentioned when the book discusses salvation it completely overlooks repentence. I got a number of confused looks from around the table peppered with several dirty looks. The lay leader (whom I respect enormously) chided me for questioning a book that "has been such a blessing to so many."

What kind of denomination are we when we start declaring that some people are beyond reproach and correction?

Ed Hurst said...

Thanks for that link, Tom. I read the whole thing in one sitting. I'm in the midst of a prayer campaign to break free the church I serve from the grip of the Market-Driven model. As a nobody at that church, I am aware it will have to come as a miracle of God. How glad I am it doesn't depend on me! That collection of readings served to inspire me in this effort.

scripturesearcher said...

In the SBC, if not LOST or MISPLACED, the scriptural doctrine of salvation is too often SUBORDINATED to lesser subjects - things considered more important by
denominational leaders and others.

Benji Ramsaur said...

Nathan's a good guy.

Plus, he wears a bow tie.

My inclination:

Doctrinally speaking, Nathan is right.

Practically speaking, Wade is right.

Greg B said...

The Purpose Driven hermenuetic. That is very profound. You folks that follow better than I. Do you see a disconnect between the associations and the seminaries and the associations and reality (both seen and spiritual unseen)? In VA, we have seen many churches using the Purpose Driven model fail. NoVa is full of the carcasses of dead church plants. In Central, plants are really having a hard time living up to the goals and methodology. Topical preaching is being stressed to grow churches, but it ain't happening. Those that grow are doing it only marketing wise, the growing members see more is needed, run into a brick wall with their church growth savvy pastors and leave when they repeatedly get blown off.
I know SEBTS, SBTS and SWBTS are firmly into preaching expositionally through books or atleast large sections of scripture (I once was asked to pulpit supply on Right to Life Sunday and nearly went crazy, because I don't know how to preach topically-had to search Piper's site to get an idea of an applicable Biblical text to exegete), yet I hear all of these young guys planting churches or revitalizing churches going to topical to get a quick crowd. I hope I am not hijacking anything, but my pastor and I have run into this in several cases locally and around the convention, and it seems to be working to a head.

kingofbleh said...

Ed - you and I are in basically the same boat, man. The church I attend is one of the largest SBC churches in central NC. They have done all the PDC programs and most members have read part or all of PDL. The last pastor implemented market-survey evangelism where discussion about salvation is basically replaced with questions about how the church can "better serve the community" (although the handful of us who are active in visitation never follow the script).

I joined less than a year ago. God placed me in this church for a reason - to teach and to evangelize according to the Biblical methods. I was very up front with the staff about my reformed soteriology and they have been very gracious I think in part because of my staunch committment to expositional teaching and gospel-driven evangelism. I have told them I have no other agenda than this. The member are starving for the word and they are floundering in their evanglism. Many have told me this first hand. We are going through some major changes right now. I am praying God will use this time of transition to transform our members and turn their focus back to God's word and sharing the gospel.

kingofbleh said...

Greg -

I feel your pain, bro. I took over a SS class recently from a teacher who was 100% topical, occassionally teaching without even referring to the scriptures. He built up a large group. Then I come along (along with my co-teacher) and we teach verse-by-verse and attendance drops off 30-50% in the first 6 months. Now I think even my co-teacher is having some misgivings about teaching expositorily due to the attendance drop.

Greg B said...

This is a joke with a few quills, "but we shouldn't criticize PDL just like we shouldn't have criticized the the Mussolini goverment. Afterall the trains ran on time!"
So many of our brothers will work out of nearly pure pragamatism and societal acceptance. We have work to do. I hate the thought that the evancelical church may have to have a crash like many of us fear to return to a God/Gospel centered outlook.

stilldesiringGod said...

Greg B, but wouldn’t you rather have a pure Church? Do you see it happening any other way? Tom Ascol and Jim Elliff speak often about regenerate Church membership; how else to accomplish what you are looking for? Reform? Unregenerate church members cannot reform. Good idea for the rest of us, though! Any suggestions around God’s hand coming down hard on the SBC?

kingofbleh said...

Greg -

I think we are seeing much of that "crash" right now. As you indicated church plants are fizzling out right and left because these young pastors go topical in their preaching and spend more time thinking about census reports and Barna surveys than getting out their and pounding the bricks with the gospel of Christ. Established churches are seeing net membership losses and what few members they do gain are only transfers, and as Bro. Finn states so pointiently, they are growing "whiter and whiter" while the neighborhoods around them grow more diverse.

For all their mishaps around Calvinism, the Caner Brothers have been staunch opponents of the PDC and seeker-friendly movements. Additionally, I know of no better voice for expositional preaching than David Allen at SWBTS. I also heard things on the Joshua Convergence video that tell me there is a generation of young SBC pastors that are yearning to get back preaching the Word expositionally and with passion.

Mark said...

Take heart Greg b and others. I attended a mega PDL church. For 1 year I suffered through horrible SS. But God was preparing me. I moved into a class taught by a reformed brother. He and I argued until scripture proved my former non reformed beliefs to be wrong. His SS class grew to 70. The church staff grew concerned with the growth of calvinist or reformed members. Quietly, 1 by 1 most of the SS members left and went to other churches and started teaching. Out of that class are 6 pastors, of which I am one, that are fully reformed. We pastor or associate pastor in churches in two states. Other members have ministries to numerous groups/classes of people (nursing homes, street witnessing, retirement centers, hospitals). One is now on radio and another has a t.v. show. One has a ministry to pastors and leaders to help them.

Week before last, at that former church, on a wednesday night they had a motivational speaker. He was a christian, he said, but never mentioned Christ. Just the ambigous "god". I, along with 5 other former members, now pastors attended. When the staff saw us, I thought they were going to throw us out. The senior pastor was so angry he was red faced. All we had to do was just show up. We have never said anything unkind or spoken out of turn about our former church. Never mentioned the pastor by name or the name of the church. We have just attacked the PDL movement for all the obvious reasons.

It is sad to watch the SBC embrace Warrenism, Oslsteenism and Haggardism while rejecting reformed faith, aka calvinism. But the bubble is fragile and will break. Sadly it will not be a pleasant cleaning when Christ cleans the temple....again.


C.T. Lillies said...

I read through some of that and ended up feeling queasy. I know the guy is right on a lot of those things. I appreciate his courage and candor for posting them online--especially considering the stand some of his colleagues have taken. But I have no idea how to fix it. That really bothers me.

"...the word of God is not bound."
--2 Timothy 2:9

Grosey's Messages said...

Ed, I have visited your church three times over many 16 years for extensive visits each time. I wouldn't really say it is market driven.
It is different from the market driven churches I have seen. I have grown to love and respect your former pastor as one of the best simple clear and powerful preachers I have ever heard. I have also grown to know and love the people associated to that church. It is probably better termed an evangelistic church.
If you can have John Macarthur as a regular preacher there for a week each year, hold public evangelistic rallies each year with Mr. chic a flick or the power team, I'd say that it is intent on Bible, but broad in method on reaching the broad spectrum of people. Don't forget, when you were unsaved, you needed someone to spark your interest so you could hear the gospel. My interest was girls when I was a teenager (isn't that the interest of most young blokes?). I went to church to meet the girls, and three weeks later met the Lord.

Greg B said...

Still Desiring:
Yes, but I would rather see us be able to win over the overwhelming majority. I think we may well see the meltdown-it may happen with many not even noticing. But if I had my druthers, it wouldn't happen.
Mark: What you describe is what I am seeing more and more of. Those who grow in Christ in a PD or WC model church want more. Want to serve more, but are blunted. This maybe the the difference between a successful and unsuccessful Seeker church. Can you really disciple and apply good theology to your methods. I know of some who have....or are trying. But, I hear much more about those who are as we have commented on. When I was in SC (nearly 3 years ago now) we had a saying about such things. A large segment of our visitors that weren't drawn because we were unashameably reformed were described as "they have passed through ---wood Community." Meaning they "sought" heard something good, but didn't think they would get it there. The church I am a member of now like the mentioned SS class, has lost many to a local PD church, but now we are starting to see some of the former lay leaders of that church visit us because the meat that sent the others packing is what they want. Personally it makes me feel good, but it is ...when I stop and think, troubling and sad. I know not many will listen to Dever or Mohler, but hopefully they will atleast listen to Patterson about the church and preaching. You and I will probably be combatting more, but God will be more glorified in what his church is doing in his name (we will atleast be trying to teach scripture and not psyco-social life skills with a veneer of scripture. I don't get it as when I graduated from SEBTS in 00, I couldn't count on one hand those who didn't appear to be sold out to expository preaching. I can only think as observed before is that they get worn down by the church growth folks in the state and local associations. Any observations on that?
As I said we have work to do. And I need to work on having tighter posts.

kingofbleh said...

Mark -

I remain faithful that God is performing His work and His will among our group. I truly believe the people who have left and have not responded to invitations to return are the "crowd" that the previous teachers built. The ones that remain are the "class" that God has given us to lead. A big part of our mandate now is to lead this group in the biblical doctrines of the gospel and evangelism so that God can use these people to share the Gospel with others. THIS is God's formula for growing our class, not parties or socials or avoiding doctrine or self-help speeches.

kingofbleh said...

Greg -

You are correct. SBTS, SEBTS and SWBTS have been cranking out large numbers of expository preachers for several years or more. Many of these are reformed and many like my brother are going straight into church plants. Christ is definitely beginning to clean out his temple. My prayer is that God will restore many of the mid and mega-sized churches back to gospel-focused expository preaching. For those He does not return, that He will protect those small churches and plants in their areas from PDC flight.

Of course I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I encourage my class to read books like PDL with discernment (and I teach them what discernment is). I also encourage them to read many other books by authors with a rock-solid biblical hermeneutic. If nothing else, teaching them to read PDL with discernment will train them in their discernment so they will be ready for the next Warren or Osteen or WC.

Greg B said...


Ed Hurst said...

Thanks, Steve. I feel I need to respond, but I don't want to take this off-topic. I agree with your long-term assessment, but my concern is with very recent events. Into the power vacuum, left by our previous pastor's departure, have moved some rather differently-minded men. I cover the details of a recent fiasco on my personal blog ( My point here is things can go wrong very quickly when a really fine church is subverted by a secretive group.

sparrowhawk said...

Kingofbleh: Great comments throughout, but it was at Dr Allen's own church in Irving where they did a 40 Days of Purpose campaign. Yes, he could have been transitioning out of his pastor role into his current role, granted, but unless publicly stated otherwise, he assented to the 40 Days campaign.

And therein lay the challenge, brothers. How do we bring reform and change to so many things that Nathan Finn accurately addresses without even convincing the mind of an SBC Theology School dean that anything PDC/PDL is shallow and hurtful long term to the Body?

Stated months ago, these are the exact reasons I'm leading my family away from an 80-year SBC tradition to a nearby Bible church in several weeks.

kingofbleh said...

sparrowhawk - I feel pretty sure that Dr. Allen probably acquiesced to a 40 day campaign to preserve unity through the transition. One could argue that is a pretty weak reason, but having heard him lately, he is staunchly in the expositional camp now. His sermon at last year's Pastor's Conference at First Baptist Jacksonville convinced me so.

My sentiments exactly on your situation. If you can't contribute to keeping a church from heading away from it's biblically-mandated gospel focus, then you have to be willing to seek the Lord's calling to move on.

Question for you: Is there another SBC church in your area where the Lord could use you with greater impact?

Greg B said...

I spent 6 years angry at the SBC and 5 as a member in a non-SBC church. I don't regret my time in "a bible church", but now the time is to work in a little traditional church needing help to change. Sparrowhawk, do what you must. I am not an SBC at any cost person, but the churches need folks who know better and will work to share it. Maybe like me this will prove to be a strengthening time for the difficult fight (easier for me, I am an empty nester). Look forward to hearing about your change and the future.

Bill Formella said...

Steve (Grosey), you say something has to peak someone's interest to hear the gospel, and then mentioned that you were attracted to the girls. Are you suggesting we should turn this into a method?

It's funny you brought this up, because just yesterday I was asking someone why certain churches in our area didn't just go out and hire strippers to draw men into the church. After all, we could give them the gospel then couldn't we?

The churches I'm talking about are hosting "battle of the bands". They bring in secular bands that compete against each other and use that to draw their "groupies" into the church. I know some of these bands because someone very dear to my heart is in one. He hasn't been to church in years, lives with his girlfriend and is slowly ruining his life. Yet he's being used to "draw" the lost?

Steve, this is what the sufficiency of scripture is all about. Jesus said it's our love and unity that would draw the world, our good works that would cause them to glorify our Father, and our willingness to suffer wrongly for Christ that would give them an example of His great sacrifice. Where are we told to appeal to worldly lusts to fill the church?

Grosey's Messages said...

That is very true Bill,
I firmly assert Romans 1:16 that the gospel itself is the power of God to salvation. I was using a bit of self-depreciating facetious humour (characteristic of Australian humour, but rarely understood by americans) to say that occassionally we find in God's sovereignty God can "strike a mighty straight blow with a mighty crooked stick" (to quote CHS.)
Which is not to say that we should be the crooked stick!
I do not advocate using ungodly means for godly purposes.
I am saying that sometimes we need to accept that inspite of ourselves we ourselves may use some questionable methods.
Do you ever press a person to become a christian?
Where is the line to discern whether we are exerting undue pressure, or we are "command(ing) all people everywhere to repent"?
I am saying that sometimes we ourselves may be "market driven" and perhaps not so noticeably discern it.
I don't think I would ever use the Power team... (I don't have enough deoderent) as in my culture that would be closer to lasciviousness than in yours.
Have you ever had someone give a testimony at church because their testimony was gospel oriented, godly AND interesting? Have you ever chosen someone to give a testimony or speak at a youth group because you thought their testimony might be a little bit interesting to that group? Then you too have fallen into being "market driven" at some time or other.
Or do we have to be boring to be godly? I understand CHS was reproved for being too humourous! Should we eschew all humour and all illustrations in order to be more useful to the Lord?
But to make my statement clearer
I was simply making the point that the particular church being discussed (when I knew it) was not as PDC oriented as I now (after reading ed's blog) understand it is today. It was pastored then by a godly man whom I admire and respect immensely. And yes, sometimes he used methods that I may from my cultural perspective deem questionable, yet from his perspective (and yours) may be entirely respectable.
And no Bill, since most of my congregation are over 60 having a stripper from my congegation to attract new members is an idea that entirely repulses me.
(that was facetious humour again, sorry Bill).

Every Blessing,

One Salient Oversight said...


Good to see you here. I come here quite a lot to see how the Baptisn' Calvinists are going.

Grosey's Messages said...

G'day Salient,
Wow you snuck up behind me and scared the pants off me.
I don't think we've met, but I guess you're happy we got the ashes back!
Say G'day to the boss: John the ex baptist for me ;)

Drew said...

I know I'm late to the party, but I just wanted to further commend Nathan's writing. He taught my Baptist History class this semester, and his knowledge and wisdom is invaluable as it is tempered by humility and honesty.