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Mohler On Apologetics in the Postmodern age

Dr. Mohler is running a three part series on Apologetics at his website. The series initially appeared in October of 2005, however; this is of special interest to me as I prepare to teach Apologetics to juniors in High School this upcoming school year. The first part of the series really drives home Dr. Mohler's thought that apologetics are as important now as they have ever been. I think that Dr. Mohler reminds us very clearly that we must “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us”, and he points out that this need is at an all-time high as truth comes under attack. I know this will be helpful for me and I hope that it will be helpful for all believers in this postmodern age. Part 2 of the series has been released and is entitled “The Beginning of the Apologetic Task.” The final installment has been added entitled "You Are Bringing Strange Things to Our Ears: Christian Apologetics for a Postmodern Age, part 3".

Nathan Akin

W. W. Finlator (1913-2006): The Passing of a Southern Baptist Progressive

Last week witnessed the death of W. W. Finlator, one of the most prominent Southern Baptist liberals during the 20th century. Rev. Finlator was a native of the Raleigh, North Carolina area who spent most of his ministry in that city. From 1956 to 1982, Finlator served as the pastor of the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. Pullen, long one of the most progressive churches in the SBC, had been an openly liberal congregation for decades; Finlator's predecessor, Edwin McNeal Poteat, was perhaps the best known SBC liberal of his generation. Pullen Memorial is probably most famous for being one of two churches disfellowshiped from the SBC in 1992 for the congregation's endorsement of homosexual practice.

During the SBC Controversy, it was commonplace for conservatives to label denominational progressives as "liberals." In reality, the liberals (or "moderates," as they preferred to be called) were a coalition of Baptists comprised of loyalists to the denominational status quo, champions of a leftist social agenda, proponents of Neo-Orthodox theology and a handful of what might be called "classical" theological liberals. Finlator was certainly no denominational loyalist, and much of his theology was to the left of Neo-Orthodoxy. But doctrinal formulations are not what Finlator is most known for. Rather, he is known for his advocacy of liberal politics and his relentless call for Southern Baptists to embrace a public theology akin to the Social Gospel of the early 20th century.

Finlator's understanding of Baptist identity was rooted in a view of freedom strongly influenced by enlightenment individualism. As such, he believed that every Christian was free to interpret the Scriptures according to the dictates of his own conscience. Sometimes this meant an individual's interpretation contradicted or redefined some of the teachings of Bible. Often this meant that the Bible was better understood as a "prophetic" indictment of cultural ills than a message of God's redemption of individual sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

While serving as the pastor of the Pullen Memorial Church, Finlator became well known for his commitment to a liberal socio-theological agenda. He was a leading Southern Baptist proponent of the Civil Rights movement. He was also a committed pacifist, opposing the Vietnam War in particular and military force in general. Finlator was an outspoken defender of women's rights, inviting the National Organization of Women to meet at Pullen Memorial. As a progressive Baptist, he was also a fierce advocate of church-state separation of the ACLU type; in fact, the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU was formed at Pullen Memorial. Finlator also spoke out against poverty, defended workers' rights, advocated the homosexual agenda and was a fierce opponent of the death penalty.

Finlator's views were not without controversy, even within his own progressive congregation; in 1982, Finlator was encouraged to retire by members of his church who felt like he was spending too much time championing political causes. In retirement, the Finlators became members of the Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, also an openly progressive congregation (and the other church to be disfellowshiped in 1992 for its pro-homosexual posture). In retirement, Finlator frequently contributed articles to the Raleigh News and Observer, often championing the liberal causes so dear to him.

Despite a firm belief in a leftist view of Baptist distinctives, Finlator was a leading proponent of downplaying many crucial tenets of Baptist identity. Pullen Memorial became one of the most prominent Southern Baptist churches to practice open communion, and by the early 1970's the congregation had embraced a view of open membership that did not require baptism by immersion of potential church members. This progressive view of the ordinances is directly tied to Finlator's criticism of what he believed to be Baptist sectarianism. A champion of the Ecumenical Movement, Finlator tirelessly (and unsuccessfully) encouraged SBC involvement in the National Council of Churches.

As an outspoken progressive, Finlator was a critic of the Conservative Resurgence, especially when it was brought to bear in his own city. He was especially opposed to the conservative redirection of Southeastern Seminary that occurred in the late 1980's, writing several columns critical of the seminary in the News and Observer. Finlator eventually gravitated away from the SBC orbit; both Pullen Memorial, where he pastored, and Binkley Memorial, where he worshiped in his later years, are affiliated with the liberal "shadow-denomination" the Alliance of Baptists, an organization that embraces many of Finlator's social causes, including openness to homosexuality.

W. W. Finlator was an outspoken liberal in an overwhelmingly conservative denomination. As a pastor, he challenged traditional Baptist polity. As a public theologian, he challenged traditional southern culture–sometimes rightly so, as in the case with racial issues. As a political activist, he challenged traditional American values. Finlator was a Baptist gadfly without parallel, one who was always honest about his progressive beliefs and always willing to buck the status quo. Many of his convictions prefigured the leftward drift of a later generation of "moderate Baptists" who continue to champion some of the same leftist causes that Finlator publicly defended for the better part of sixty years.