October 31, 2018

The Harmony of the Southern Baptist Seminaries

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!
The 133rd psalm expresses so well what I experienced recently with my colleagues at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. Indeed, that same sense of blessing, though for different reasons, has arisen during interaction with colleagues at all six of our Southern Baptist seminaries. The benefits from each seminary include influences both subtle and significant, of which more below.

Dr. Jason Duesing has twice invited me to co-teach a PhD seminar in Ecclesiology at Midwestern Seminary. This time 24 students were led by three professors: Dr. John Mark Yeats, Dr. Duesing, and me. The PhD students at Midwestern impressively demonstrated, on the one hand, a rootedness in the life and needs of the local churches and, on the other hand, a desire and a capability to pursue intellectual excellence for the purpose of assisting their churches. But let us here focus on the Southern Baptist professors and administrators.

I am a professor called to, and happily ensconced in, my beloved Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. But Southwestern has never been, is not now, and hopefully never will be the extent of my moral and intellectual milieu. The melody of my own seminary is both real and beneficial, but the harmony between the seminaries is also real and beneficial. The blessings of inter-seminary harmony for Southern Baptists and for the other Christians who choose to attend one of our denomination's six institutions are important. (Interactions with universities and other seminaries are also very important, but those are different essays.)

Please allow me a moment to reflect on specific harmonious influences between the Southern Baptist seminaries. These harmonies come about through direct intellectual exchange and through indirect personal exchange. What I have noticed with regard to my colleagues at these other institutions is that they profoundly shape my soul as well as my mind by what they say as well as by who they are.

Midwestern Seminary

Some recent intellectual and moral influences from Midwestern Seminary are greatly appreciated: The Provost there, Jason Duesing, encourages others to pursue excellence in their professional work and in their personal interactions. He has an academic appreciation for all things Baptist, and for all things evangelical and universal. Dr. Duesing is unusual--he is simultaneously a great teacher, an organizational genius, and a humble man. He is an asset in the Southern Baptist academy.

Also an administrator at Midwestern, John Mark Yeats has long been one to keep the life of the churches before the academy. He reminds his colleagues of the needs of people as people, especially the needs of minorities and of the younger generation. He also knows how to help his hapless elders. (For instance, he once patiently explained to me what "LOL" meant. Don't laugh. It was necessary.) John Mark is a champion for authentic Christianity.

There were other Midwestern professors who blessed me during this recent sojourn. Dr. Rustin Umstattd, formerly a Southwestern PhD supervisee, exemplifies how one may be concurrently a teaching theologian and a great pastor. Dr. Thorvald Madsen, a long-time friend and a sharp apologist and philosopher, regaled with me over my foibles from decades ago. Drs. Matthew Barrett and Owen Strachan are two rising writers within the evangelical academy whom Midwestern in particular and Southern Baptists in general are blessed to count among them. There are other Midwesterners worthy of mention, but these were the professors with whom I interacted during this last week.

Before moving on, a personal reflection regarding the President of Midwestern Seminary: Dr. Jason Allen has built a highly successful institution through his unrelenting focus upon the seminary existing "for the church." As seen above, he has excelled at gathering and retaining a quality faculty. Moreover, his studied attention to detail is evident in the attractive architecture and pristine fabric of Midwestern. Most importantly, years ago on a flight from Kansas City, I was moved to tears through prayer that Midwestern would reach toward the future with tremendous growth and expanding influence for God's glory. Providentially, Dr. Allen is actually fulfilling a vision I merely glimpsed. Southern Baptists should appreciate the lush theological garden Jason Allen has been tending in Kansas City.

The Other Southern Baptist Seminaries

We would be remiss not to mention the other four seminaries, each of whom played a supportive role this last week. For instance, while Southwestern Seminary has long emphasized the doctrine of the church, the students benefitted from the ecclesiological contributions of Gregg Allison and Thomas Schreiner at the first of our SBC seminaries, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Allison kindly agreed to join us through video for an hour of discussion regarding his extensive treatment of a most neglected topic, the nature of the church. And Dr. Schreiner's three co-edited works on baptismthe Lord's Supper, and church leadership continue to prove their ecclesiological value.

In order to prepare for that important hour with Dr. Allison, we summarily reviewed two lectures I previously delivered elsewhere. The first lecture, published last year by the journal of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, demonstrates how Baptists sadly exchanged a healthy Christological cornerstone for the church in favor of an anemic anthropological anchor. The second lecture, delivered earlier this year at a conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana, argues for a creative rediscovery of the theological foundation of the church as a congregation.

To round off the involvement of all six Southern Baptist seminaries, it should be noted that it was the innovative work of Dr. Rodrick Durst at Gateway Seminary in San Francisco, California that first encouraged me to think of piping Dr. Allison into the Midwestern conference room by video. Dr. Durst similarly invited me to address and interact with his own doctoral students a few years ago. Gateway's exemplary model of pedagogical cooperation is spreading.

The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have both quality and diversity in the theological institutions that we sponsor. While we properly recognize the leadership of such gifted and committed ministers as R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and Daniel L. Akin, they are but the tip of the iceberg of talent in the SBC. For example, recognizing the importance of her professors, Southwestern Seminary recently began highlighting the faculty in its magazine.

Melodies and Harmony

The SBC seminaries should not be appreciated only for their individual faculties. The seminaries should be appreciated for the synergies created through the interaction of their diversities. To put it in terms taught by our music faculties, we should recognize the powerful diverse melodies being sung from our seminaries. We have Calvinists and we have Non-Calvinists; we have Preachers and we have Teachers; Evangelists and Writers; Academic Theologians and Practical Theologians; and we have some of us who want to know and teach everything.

But the beauty of theological education should not only be heard in the strength of its melodies, but in the richness of its harmony. I have recently learned from colleagues at Midwestern Seminary, just as I previously learned from colleagues when invited to address audiences at Southern Seminary, Southeastern Seminary, New Orleans Seminary, and Gateway Seminary. I have learned from their minds, and I have learned from their spirits. These other seminaries encourage me to be a better academic, and they encourage me to be a better Christian.

Southern Baptists really should be thankful for what is going on at each of our sponsored seminaries and for what is going on between them. Let us be thankful to God the Father for our six seminaries. Let us honor the seminaries for their individual melodies and let us honor them for their common harmony, a harmony rooted in a spiritual communion enabled by the Holy Spirit's gift of faith in Jesus Christ.

October 22, 2018

Honor to Whom Honor Is Due: A World Premier Scholar

The Apostle Paul reminded the Roman Christians, "Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor" (Romans 13:7, Christian Standard Bible). While Paul focused upon how Christians must respect government in particular, there is little doubt we must also give respect and honor to all who hold positions of authority. Some retain authority by reason of their office, while others possess authority due to their intrinsic character and their extrinsic work.

In 2016, Michael A.G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality and Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, approached me about presenting a paper to honor a significant Baptist historian as part of the Baptist Studies Group of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in November 2017. While he first mentioned a prominent deceased Anabaptist Historian, Dr. Haykin shifted a few months later to ask me to focus upon a recently deceased and very prominent Baptist Historian.

It was an honor to present an essay on Barrington Raymond White. White exercised an unparalleled influence among Baptist historians after his The English Separatist Tradition was published by Oxford University Press in 1971. Indeed, at the Evangelical Theological Society, I made the bold claim that White should be deemed "the world’s premier scholar during the late twentieth century in the field of English Separatist and Early Baptist history."

Many scholars approached me afterwards to affirm this judgment. They agreed that he was due this honor from his students and colleagues. Now, you can read that essay, since it was recently published in the 2018 volume of The Journal of Baptist Studies. JBS is sponsored by the California Baptist University and edited by Anthony Chute and Matthew Y. Emerson.

Allow me a few words before I provide you the link to that essay. B.R. White should be honored for his critical historical work, because he demonstrated that Baptists derived from the English Separatist movement that arose during the late sixteenth century. For once and for all, in my opinion, White put to rest the claim that the Baptists can be demonstrated to have descended from the Anabaptists.

However, White should also be honored for two further reasons. The second reason that White should be memorialized is that he demonstrated how a good historian should conduct himself or herself with regard to primary subjects and secondary claims about the primary subjects. The essay spends a good bit of time describing White's historiographical method, a method worthy of emulation.

The third and final reason to honor Barrie White is because his personal character continues to shape not only scholarship but also soul. As I stated in the essay, "His sharpness of mind in historical thought, his wry humor, and his gentle demeanor will always stick in my mind and heart as part of what it takes to be a good scholar." White, formerly Principal of Regent's Park College at Oxford University, took time with me when I was a young student in Oxford and reveled in the early English Baptists with me. This venerable man did so, not because he had an agenda to use them for some other reason, but because he appreciated these precious human beings for who they actually were.

Professor White deserves honor because he was an honorable man. His work was received well because it proceeded from his virtuous soul. His legacy is secure because his character as a Christian shaped the way he conducted the tenor of his life. Barrie White is honored because, in the end, honor is due him. Personally, I pray God will grant me at least a modicum of his character. (I hope to honor other scholars and leaders in similar ways in the future, if the Lord so wills it.) 

You may read more about Barrie White in the essay, "The Reformation and Baptist Origins: The Unrefuted Conclusion of B.R. White," which is in volume 9 of The Journal of Baptist Studies. Along with a number of other good articles, also take a moment to read the piece on Walter Rauschenbusch by a recent co-author of mine, William H. Brackney. In this journal, both Brackney and I discuss the Anabaptists and the Baptists in relation to one another, always an interesting subject, as White, his predecessors, and his successors understood.

October 12, 2018

New Book: Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application

"As a Trinitarian scholar, where do you stand on this doctrine of Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission?"
In various forms, this is a question I have repeatedly faced in hallways, conference rooms, and classrooms in diverse venues. The question typically comes from academic theologians, students, and church leaders. Usually, I have to pause the conversation and first explain the way one should go about trying to provide an answer to such a question. This is why I contributed two essays to a recent publication that functions as a "three-views" book.

Our new book considers why and how one should approach the doctrine of the Trinity, particularly in relation to the doctrine of humanity. Since Scripture maintains in its very first chapter that human beings are created in the image of God, a connection is firmly established for Christian theologians. The debated issue today is how exactly should one perceive the connection between God and humanity, especially with regard to gender relations. It was a privilege to work with Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps, as well as Bruce Ware, as well as with our editor, Keith Whitfield, who conceived the idea for this book. Each of the contributors are both Trinitarian and complementarian, but there is still great diversity between us.

The title of the text is Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application. Immediately below is my concluding paragraph. However, if you want to know how this claim was argued, and you really should want to know that, then you will need to read both of my essays first. These two chapters may be helpful to theologians in other ways, too, since they focus on theological method, divine attributes, and theological anthropology. From an historical perspective, the two pieces interact with the Ecumenical Creeds as well as with more recent theologians, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stanley Grenz, and Scott Swain, among others.

Of course, you will definitely want to read the contributions from the other writers to this volume so that you might see things in different ways. Finally, review again the biblical passages under consideration, pray for the Spirit to guide you in your interpretation, and come to your own conclusion. But, since you asked a definitive question, here is my definitive answer:
Based on the above scriptural exposition of divine perfection, buttressed by these creeds, I can only conclude that there is no “eternal relation of authority and submission” between the Father and the Son if that claim requires us to diminish in any way the fully and eternally perfect possession of authority and power by the perfect Son and the perfect Spirit as well as the perfect Father. While my theology of perfection and the creeds’ theology of power may not convince, because admittedly all creaturely theologies lack perfection, the One God the Lord remains nevertheless simply, eternally, and immutably perfect.
The book is currently available for electronic purchase through Amazon Kindle and Wordsearch Bible. The publisher, B&H Academic, will have print copies available in the new year, for which the other authors and I are grateful.

While we are speaking of Trinity, gender, and theological method, please check out the excellent new book by one of my brilliant PhD supervisees and a revered colleague at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Hongyi Yang. Her work is A Development, Not a Departure: The Lacunae in the Debate of the Doctrine of the Trinity and Gender Roles and has been widely and properly lauded as a major contribution to the debate. I find it particularly delightful that it was a Chinese woman, converted from atheism to faith in Christ, whom God used to bring together a gaggle of male Christian theologians in order to demonstrate kindly yet soundly where the holes in their arguments reside.

October 8, 2018

The Anabaptists and the Truth

Between late 2017 and early 2018, Bruce Ashford worked to invite me to deliver the Page Lectures at the Binkley Chapel in Wake Forest, North Carolina, which invitation was fulfilled this last week. Dr. Ashford is Provost, Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of Theology and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The subject Dr. Ashford asked me to address concerned the Anabaptists. I was a bit surprised these sixteenth-century radical reformers were to be headlined, having concluded the Anabaptists would sadly be consigned a minor place in evangelical thought, primarily due to misinterpretations concerning their theology and their relationship to us today. However, Dr. Ashford was well aware of these difficulties yet felt the evangelical academy would be served by highlighting them anew. We eventually settled on two lecture titles. Let me first describe the lectures, then offer a personal word about Southeastern Seminary.

The Page Lectures of 2018

The Page lectures were established in 1982 to bring a theologian each fall to Southeastern Seminary to address "a subject of concern to the Christian Community." Recent lecturers have included Timothy George, Russell Moore, Craig Bartholomew, and Walter Kaiser, among others. It is quite an honor for this boy from the swamps of Louisiana to join such an august list of theologians. But it is a greater honor to address some typically misunderstood and often unsung heroes of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation.

The first of two mottos held by Balthasar Hubmaier was, in the German, "Die Warheit ist untödtlich." The final adjective of this sentence conveys diverse meanings, and translators have not agreed upon the proper rendering. More dynamically, untödtlich means, "immortal," while literally, it means, "unkillable." According to one translator, the phrase should be taken in the highest Christian sense: "The truth is unkillable." You may slaughter the Truth, and those who speak His truth, but He and His people will rise again. The truth will prevail, even through the cross of death.

Hubmaier's first motto appropriately brings together the two lectures I delivered at Southeastern Seminary in chapel on October 2 and 4. Before his death and resurrection, Jesus called his followers to follow Him by taking up their crosses according to his leadership (Mark 8). After his death and resurrection, Jesus called his followers to carry out his great missionary mandate (Matthew 28). For the Evangelical Anabaptists of the sixteenth century, both the Great Commission and the Cross were very important and were integrally intertwined in theology and in practice. 

The Anabaptists believed that Jesus called all his followers to be witnesses. They also believed that preaching the gospel inevitably put one at risk of suffering and death for the sake of Christ's name. The correlation between cross and commission is profound. Thousands of Anabaptists found this correlation proven an existential reality as they were tortured, drowned, and burned at the stake for the heresy of believing what many evangelicals and Baptists take for granted as established truth.

You can watch or listen to the lectures online due to the courtesy of Southeastern Seminary. You may also see a helpful panel discussion on the Anabaptists and an interview with a Southeastern librarian about pursuing excellence as a Christian scholar. The links are below. The two lecture essays, "The Anabaptists and the Great Commission" and "The Anabaptists and the Cross," will be published either in a collection of essays on missions or with a journal. (There have been different requests to publish them in two venues.)

A Personal Word about Southeastern Seminary

Finally, a personal word: While it is always an honor to be invited to deliver an endowed lecture series at a major seminary or university, this invitation conveyed a special privilege. My wife, Karen Searcy Yarnell, graduated with her Master of Divinity from Southeastern Seminary immediately before we moved to England. Always supportive of her husband's ministry yet perceiving her own call to ministry, Karen convened her seminary studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, continued her coursework at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and concluded them with Southeastern Seminary. Among Karen's professors was Dr. Daniel Akin, who taught her systematic theology at Southeastern. Dr. Akin subsequently served as the Dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, with Dr. R. Albert Mohler, then returned in 2003 to take up the presidency of Southeastern Seminary. 

It was thus a blessing to visit my wife's Alma Mater and again gaze upon the lush greens of North Carolina, where I once served a local Southern Baptist church as their pastor. It was also good to renew fellowship with colleagues at a sister institution. I have been blessed to deliver formal lectures at five of our Southern Baptist seminaries, and the best part has always been the fellowship with my brothers and sisters at these great schools. Alongside personal time with Dr. Ashford and with Dr. Kenneth Keathley, Director of the Bush Center for Faith and Culture and a long-time friend, as well as Vice President Keith Whitfield, who has generously invited me to work with him on several projects, there were special interactions with Vice President Walter Strickland and with Professors Stephen Eccher, John Hammett, and Ronjour Locke. These are quality men who I believe can lead us into the future. It was also a blessing to communicate personally with a number of PhD and Masters students as well as superb staff. 

Southern Baptists should be very happy with the school they are supporting in Wake Forest. This is an institution with deep commitments to orthodox theology, to worldwide missions, and to cultural engagement. In many ways, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is leading the Southern Baptist Convention toward an ever brighter future. The campus atmosphere is personally welcoming, ethnically vibrant, and missionally dynamic. Okay, we will stop there, since I really would like students to come to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth! Suffice it to say that I am so happy we are able to partner with such a faculty and such a student body. President Akin and Provost Ashford have together built a fantastic seminary community.