Friday, February 27, 2009

Thorns on a Rose: An Analysis of Dr. Yarnell’s Sermon

On SBC Tomorrow, Peter Lumpkins wrote a strong rebuke to Tom Ascol’s review of Dr. Malcolm Yarnell’s sermons at SWBTS on October 31, 2008. Peter had sharp criticism for the Founders’ position that the viewpoint presented by Dr. Yarnell was “dangerous to biblical Christianity.”

There is no doubt that this was a strong criticism. To say, “I disagree” is one thing. To challenge a view as “dangerous to biblical Christianity” is a weighty accusation. Tom Ascol thinks that it is a justified rebuke. Peter does not.

As I read the quotes, I was a little bit concerned. The things that Dr. Yarnell said in the quotes bothered me, but I know that a quote pulled from a 41 minute sermon may not represent that sermon accurately at all. So, I decided to listen to the sermon and make sure what Dr. Yarnell actually said.

The title above is a summary of what I think about this sermon. It is an amazing exposition of the Lordship of Christ, one which every Christian would do well to hear and heed. However, there are a couple of quotes, one at the beginning and one near the end that present, to me, some thorny problems.

The Rose

The sermon is 41 minutes long and is an exposition of Matthew 7:21-23. In that passage, people at the judgment claim to have served the Lord but are cast away because, “I never knew you.”

Dr. Yarnell draws three points, essentials of Christianity. It is essential to confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This section is fantastic. He explains the simple statement “Jesus Lord” – the confession of early Christianity. Jesus is the human Lord, the divine Lord, the universal Lord and the unique Lord.

He then goes on to talk about the essential of doing the will of God. Those of the reformed persuasion might not like everything in here, but all will agree with the essentials of what he says. He says that confession must lead to obedience. “Creeds without deeds” he says are empty and pointless. He tends to present the reformers (and those who follow them today) as more interested in confession than obedience, and presents the free, congregational churches as the more obedient. That will, of course, not please the Founders. But, the truth is clear. True faith in Christ will produce a walk of obedience to the will of God revealed in the Word of God.

He then, briefly deals with the third essential. Confessing and doing are not enough. We must be “known” by God. It is a personal relationship, not just doctrine or duty that is required.

I do not think anyone could be anything but blessed by the truths he presents here. Obviously, Calvinists will quarrel with his depiction of the reformers as confessors only and the Baptists as confessors and doers. But the point he made there still stands.

The Thorns

There were two quotes that cause me some difficulty in this powerful sermon. The first took place about 3:38 into the message. I have a minor disagreement with some things he said in that quote. The second was in the conclusion to the sermon, starting at about 34:11. This one contains the statement that Tom Ascol found dangerous. It is deeply troubling to me as well.

I will give each section completely. I listened a couple of times through after I transcribed the quotes and I think they are pretty accurate. I edited nothing out (at least not on purpose). I will present each quote and my concerns about it.

First Quote (3:38)

Dr. Yarnell said,Baptizing, free churches are unique in that their understanding of reformation chooses as the ideal as the form, not something out of post-biblical history, but the New Testament itself. As a New Testament Christian, I reject all but the ideal form of the church commanded by Jesus Christ in the NT revelation. Why? Because the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the essential basis of Christianity. Some of these other reformations bring us to perhaps penultimate forms of Christianity, but only the New Testament, the very Word of God brings us to the ultimate form of Christianity. In comparison to the goal of the baptizing free churches the other reformations are inevitably bound for failure for they have adopted the wrong form of the church

In the introduction, he makes the point that Reformers have tended to use the church of the 16th Century, or the Synod of Dort, or the Puritans as the gold standard for the church. He distinguishes the “baptizing free churches” as the only ones who appeal to the New Testament as the standard for the church. He later makes this statement, “New Testament congregationalism (which) is the only biblical form of Church governance.

I am Baptist by conviction, but I guess I have not come to the place of being quite as convinced that we are the only representation of the New Testament church or that congregationalism is the only acceptable form of church government as he has.

His confidence may reflect that he understands the Bible and theology better than I do (something on which there is probably little doubt) or that he is (in my opinion) making a universal pronouncement on an issue in which the biblical evidence does not support such dogmatism.

But, this section forms the basis of the second, more controversial statement that he will make. He is so utterly convinced that “free, baptizing congregationalism” is the only biblical form of government, and that baptism by immersion is essential to Christian living that anyone who disagrees with these is not walking in obedience to Christ. Since his sermon is about Christ’s Lordship, such disobedience cannot be overlooked. How can one walk in obedience to Christ and reject this crystal clear vision of the church?

Second Quote (34:11)

This is the one that has fanned the flames.

Christ commanded believers to be baptized after they become disciples. Those who change the Lord’s order disobey him. They work against his will. The one who knowingly works against his will will be judged by him. In other words, baptism, true Christian baptism, not the invention of baby baptism, baptism is for believers to obey. That’s why he included it in the Great Commission. You can’t separate the making of a disciple from proper baptism. If confessing Jesus as Lord, is essential, if knowing Jesus is Lord is essential, if doing the will of the Lord is essential, then NT obedience to Jesus Christ as he reveals himself here – that’s essential too.

You cannot perform theological triage on the Lordship of Jesus Christ without severing his will into pieces and picking and choosing what you want to do. You will find out what he says and you will do it all because you know your life is totally dependent on him. NT Christianity has no secondary doctrines when it comes to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s why I say baptism is not secondary nor is it tertiary, it is essential.

Now, does that mean that baptism saves you? NO. But if you are saved, you will obey and you will be baptized according to Christian baptism, not according to something of your own invention.”

The key statement is question here is in the last paragraph. “But if you are saved, you will obey and you will be baptized according to Christian baptism (Baptist).” Dr. Ascol read this as a statement questioning the salvation of those who have not received Baptist baptism, and called the statement dangerous on that basis.

My opinion will probably please no one. I cannot imagine that Dr. Yarnell really questions the salvation of those who have not received Baptist baptism. However, his statement certainly does lead one to believe that.

We can all, in a sermon, say something that will be misread and misinterpreted. I hope that is what is happening here. Does he really believe what is seems this statement implies? I hope not.

He anticipates one question: does baptism save? He answers that forcefully. But he does not answer the more pressing question. “Are you saying that there is something fundamentally flawed in the salvation of someone who does not receive Baptist baptism?” (By the way, I am using Baptist baptism to refer to baptism of believers by immersion, not to mean baptism in a certain denominational church – just to clarify.)

He says, “If you are saved, you will…” Not should, or ought to, but will! This clearly implies that if you do not do what is expected – Baptist baptism – then you have not been saved.

I think that is a fair interpretation of Yarnell’s statement. Is it what he intended? I have to believe it is not. Is it a logical inference from his words? I think it is.

So, to the Founders’ criticism of Dr. Yarnell, I would say two things. First, they are right. The concept that is presented by Dr. Yarnell’s words would be dangerous to biblical Christianity. However, I think that it is also clear that he did not intend to say that those who are not biblically baptized are not saved.

I could only hope that Dr. Yarnell would clarify his meaning. Then, we could know whether Ascol’s criticism is valid.


The ultimate point of the Founders’ article is beyond assail, though, in my opinion. There can be little doubt that Dr. Yarnell’s approach is vastly different than Dr. Mohler’s theological triage idea. There are, in fact, two visions competing for the attention of Southern Baptists.

Dr. Mohler classifies doctrine germaine to salvation as primary, that which is essential to the denomination as secondary, and other doctrines as tertiary. Dr. Yarnell rejects this and claims that all doctrine related to ecclesiology and polity is a manifestation of the Lordship of Christ, therefore primary.

I have picked my side in this conflict long ago. But, while I disagree with Dr. Yarnell’s vision, I do not think he meant to say that unbaptized people are not really believers. I could wish that he would clarify the statement, but I do not know if that will happen.

I encourage everyone to listen to the sermon. Overall, it is a beautiful rose, though I would warn you of a couple of thorns on the stem.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Baptist Blogging Conflagration

Let's face it folks, we have reached a new Baptist blogging low in the last week. First, Wade posted information (without any sources or proof) which reflects badly on Dr. Patterson (are you shocked? I am!)

Then, thing really heated up. Liar! Wild-Eyed Liberal! Fundamentalist! The name-calling got pretty intense.

But that was just the start. First, Wade was accused of altering his comments (which he did, by his own admission). Originally, his post referrred to conversations that had taken place "yesterday" (Monday), and that word was removed. He also, as I understand it, changed the word "said" to "implied" when speaking of Dr. Patterson's comments.

Thats when something really hit the fan. SBC Today is accused of altering time stamps on its comments to deceive the blog world. I, to be honest, don't really understand the thing much. An anonymous blogger named John 3:16 asked them to shut off comments. Wes Kenney agreed less than a minute later. Then, the time stamps of these comments were evidently changed to reflect a 10 hour or so time differential.

Wade has responded and explained his editing, which has satisfied his supporters, but not his critics (again, duh!). To my knowledge, SBC Today has not made any attempt to explain their altered time stamps. That may be forthcoming.

I have ever seen the kind of name calling that is taking place now. One blogger has taken to calling Wade, "Slick." Nice, huh? On Wade's site, commenters are engaging in a barrage of comment questioning the integrity of SBC Today.

Here's my take. Folks, we can do better!

We can disagree without name-calling or character assassination.

We can operate in the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, kindness, patience, self-control) and still speak the plain truth.

We can "love our enemies" and "bless those who persecute us."

(On a wholly inappropriate note, if I see one more person end a comment filled with bitter criticism of another with a smug and condescending "brother, I'm praying for you" I might throw up.)

Instead of smug condescension, we can honor one another and demonstrate grace as we pursue truth.

I am not sure I am going to glad of all my words when we stand before God and every idle word we speak is judged by the Savior.

I keep looking for a hero in this. It seems we have all accepted the motto, "If your brother disagrees with you about SBC issues, consign him to perdition."

Brothers (and sistern) WE CAN DO BETTER!!!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Yellow Journalism and the SBC

NOTE: in the following post, I am and will be very critical of recent posts by Wade Burleson. However, I want to disassociate myself from some of the name-calling (liar, liberal) that is going around. I think the name-calling and character assassination is just as bad as Wade's post. )

First, since I have advocated regularly against the use of pejorative and derogation, let me define the specific use of this term here. Yellow journalism describes a very specific kind of writing. defines yellow journalism as “biased opinion masquerading as objective fact. Moreover, the practice of yellow journalism involved sensationalism, distorted stories, and misleading images for the sole purpose of boosting newspaper sales and exciting public opinion.” This definition seems to be pretty much in line with the general understanding of the term.

At its core, yellow journalism is biased reporting for sensationalistic purposes. I am afraid that yellow journalism is alive and well in the SBC. Today, Wade Burleson has posted a story that is a primer in yellow journalism.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me tell you my general view of Wade Burleson. I am not a part of the “blame-Wade for everything” branch of blogging. I have argued forcefully that his ouster at the IMB was unjust. In the old days, Wade quoted me on his site in a positive way.

I am not, however, a fan of Wade’s blogging today. I think he has “jumped the shark” and has lost credibility by engaging in a constant barrage of attacks against the leaders of the SBC, especially Dr. Patterson. Again, I have said publicly that I wish that Paige Patterson would ride off into the sunset. I appreciate his work in the CR, but not much he has done since. But the attacks on him have gotten increasingly personal, hysterical and shrill to this man’s ears. And, in my view, Wade has abandoned sound hermeneutics as he has embarked on his recent crusade advocating for women in ministry.

My point is honest disclosure – I was a “supporter” of Wade’s in the beginning, but I think he has gone off the rails in the last couple of years. When I have confronted him recently, he has accused me of “questioning motives.” He has taken to deleting my comments, because he thinks I am “mean-spirited” toward him and his motives. Perspectives, I guess...

I consider myself neither a “Burleson Boy” nor a “Wade-hater.” I appreciated and supported him in the early days and have lost respect for him since.

But the post today was pretty close to yellow journalism, by the definition above. We all know that Wade has a problem with Paige Patterson. He has been relentless in his criticism of the man and his ministry. Today, he reports that Paige is going to fire all the Calvinist professors at SWBTS in a cost-cutting move, and claims this was all revealed at a meeting with professors. A SWBTS professor, who is known as a 5-point Calvinist wrote and said that Wade was totally wrong – no meeting had taken place and no firing of Calvinists was anticipated.

Wade responded that he had been right before and that maybe his sources knew more than Dr. Welty did. He also said conveniently that if this did not take place, it might be because Wade had brought it into the light and embarrassed the administration, preventing the action from taking place.

I would make the following observations:

1) Yellow Journalism is sensationalistic. This post hits a couple of the hot-button issues in the SBC – Paige Patterson and Calvinism.

2) Yellow Journalism is opinion masquerading as fact. This post never says, “I’ve heard a rumor,” or “I was told.” It states this as established fact. But there are no sources, no foot-notes, no references. Just Wade’s opinion presented as established fact. In fact, when his facts were challenged, he indicated that he might know more than the professor who was there.

3) Yellow Journalism is biased. I will let the reader decide if Wade might have a biased opinion and a tendency to believe the worst about Dr. Patterson.

4) Yellow Journalism is based on the attempt to up readership and sell newspapers. This is one which I really don't know. Why would Wade publish unsubstantiated rumor as fact? If he has a reason, other than distaste for Paige Patterson, I don't know it.

Here is what I think. Wade would not publish something he knew to be a lie. However, because of his dislike for Paige Patterson, he might easily be susceptible to believe anything someone tells him about Paige, whether true or not. He might well have been fed some unsubstantiated gossip which he then reported, in his zeal to expose Dr. Patterson, as established fact.

However, I agree with several commenters. The time in which any of us believe what Wade says about SBC issues just because he says it is long past. He should prove the post or retract it, delete it and repent of it.

Dr. Welty asked him to repent of his lies. Others have done the same. Wade either needs to prove that he is not lying or do what they have asked.