JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 13, 2009 – Union University professor James Patterson traced the history of Baptists over the past 400 years, while Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Nathan Finn challenged Southern Baptists and evangelicals to pass their faith on to a new generation of believers.
Patterson, university professor of Christian studies, spoke Oct. 6 and Finn, associate professor of church history and Baptist studies at Southeastern, spoke Oct. 9 as part of “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism” conference at Union, which marked the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement.
“History is messy,” Patterson said. “And in particular, Baptist history is messy.”
Patterson focused his lecture on the people and groups who made it possible for the Southern Baptist Convention to exist today -- people like Thomas Helwys, whom Patterson referenced as an important part to the beginning of the “General Baptist tradition,” and Andrew Fuller, whom Patterson described as “an evangelical Calvinist.”
Patterson also said that Baptists have never been a completely unified group. Some of the earliest Baptists split into two factions because of disagreements over Calvinism, along with many other commonly debated issues, including music and associations.
Another significant Baptist preacher Patterson mentioned was Martin Luther King Jr. Patterson said it’s important not to separate King’s Baptist background from his civil rights activism because the two are connected.
Billy Graham is another modern Baptist that both Patterson and Finn referenced in their lectures. Finn noted that this year “marks the 60th anniversary of the 1949 Los Angeles crusade that catapulted a young Southern Baptist evangelist named Billy Graham into evangelical super stardom and made him the most well known Protestant on earth.”
In his concluding comments, Patterson said that “even though our past is messy, Baptists have maintained a clear distinct denominational identity for 400 years. One of my concerns with the current generation … is forgetting some of these things.”
Patterson quoted from 2 Corinthians 4:7 and said, “We are no better than pots of earthen ware that contain this treasure – the gospel,” Patterson said. “In light of our messy past this suggests … a need for humility in celebrating our heritage.”
Finn’s address focused on the relationship between Southern Baptists and evangelicals and “what it means to pass on the Southern Baptist and/or evangelical faith to the next generation.” He drew a distinction between evangelicals, who have a high view of Scripture, and evangelicalism, which is a religious movement.
Finn said Southern Baptists should embrace some of the ideas inside evangelicalism, such as the authority of Scripture, and should partner with other evangelicals in working toward the common goals of Christianity.
Finn also spoke about the global change in Christianity from a Western mindset to a more ethnic idea of Christianity. He mentioned a study by Philip Jenkins that said “the numeric center of Christian gravity has shifted from North America and Europe to Asia, Africa and South America.”
He added that Baptists must bring social justice alongside gospel teaching.
“I believe Jesus would have us weep for the lost and the hungry, to share the gospel and clothe the poor,” Finn said.
He concluded by saying that “part of passing on the Southern Baptist faith will be convincing the next generation that the Southern Baptist faith is one worth receiving.”
Audio from both addresses is available at www.uu.edu/audio/event.cfm?ID=2515.
By Nick McFerron (’10)