Cardinal & Cream got a chance to chat with Nathan Finn, the new Dean of the School of Theology and Missions.
How has the transition to your new position as Dean of the School of Theology and Missions been?
I think the transition has gone very well. I’m not totally new to Union. In the spring of 2014, I spent a research sabbatical at Union and officed in the School of Theology and Missions. During that time, I deepened preexisting friendships, got to know many other folks around campus and became familiar with the Jackson community. I think those five or six months helped make this permanent transition go very smoothly for my whole family.
Your position is an influential one. How would you like to influence Union?
Few topics get me as excited as spiritual formation and global missions. Before I moved here, I spent eight years on faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a school that is permeated by a commitment to the Great Commission. In my final year at Southeastern, I was able to launch a new Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality. Union already cares about both of these themes, but I hope in the coming years to use my influence to promote an even greater commitment to spiritual formation and the Great Commission across the disciplines and in every facet of campus life.
You have an extensive background in church history. How does that perspective influence you as a dean?
As a church historian, I tend to take the long view. I’m naturally suspicious of new doctrines, strategies and methods—and by “new,” I mean newer than 1800. But seriously, I do have a deep appreciation for the history of the Church, the history of the Baptist tradition, the history of evangelicalism in America and the way those histories have intersected in so many ways at Union over the past 20 years or so. As dean, I want the School of Theology and Missions to help pass on a robust Christian identity to our students that is simultaneously catholic, reformational and evangelical, but always informed by the best of the Baptist tradition.
What role should theology and missions play at Union University?
At Union, we talk a lot about the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, the gospel, the lordship of Christ and the Christian worldview. If we aren’t careful, these important concepts can become squishy talking points rather than full-throated priorities. A key role of the School of Theology and Missions is to serve the entire university by providing content to these themes that is rooted in the scriptures, informed by the Great Tradition and directed toward the advancement of the kingdom.
Your biography mentions you enjoy spy novels and fantasy novels. What are some authors/books you particularly enjoy?
In terms of spy novels, I appreciate Tom Clancy and John Le Carre, though they are very different from each other. I’m probably a bigger fan of fantasy. It’s hard to go wrong with Tolkien, Lewis and J. K. Rowling. In fact, if you visit our house, you’ll find all kinds of books, posters, movies and verbal references to Middle Earth, Narnia and Hogwarts. It’s not in my bio, but I also love Southern fiction, especially Flannery O’Connor and Robert Penn Warren.
What authors most significantly influence your thought?
That depends upon the topic. When it comes to my own worldview, I’ve been really shaped by Chuck Colson, C. S. Lewis and theologians in the Dutch Reformed tradition. When it comes to my view of the Christian life itself, J. I. Packer, John Stott, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Piper have all shaped me in various ways. The one author who looms over all the rest, however, is Jonathan Edwards. Every Union student should read Edwards’s Charity and Its Fruits before he or she graduates.
Is there anything else you would like to say to the student body?
Students, you are in a special place. I am praying that every class you have will help you to think rightly about God and his world so that you can live rightly before God in his world.