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.

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