December 20, 2018

“God will call us to judgment”: A Warning to Theological Institutions

What is the source of problems in Southern Baptist theological education?

“The chief cause is to be found in our departure from the way which God has marked out for us, and our failure to make provision for the education of such a Ministry as He designs to send forth and honor.”

According to J.P. Boyce, the pioneer of Southern Baptist seminary education, and the founder of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this was the chief cause in 1856. It is still the chief cause in 2018.

1. According to Boyce, a seminary must be oriented toward preparing ministers to preach the gospel clearly in and through their local churches. The seminary exists first and foremost to assist the churches. The seminary does not exist to please the academic. This truth has not changed.

“Who is the Minister here—the man of the schools, or the man of the Scriptures? Who bears the insignia of an ambassador for Christ? Whom does God own? Whom would the Church hear? In whose power would she put forth her strength?”

These questions still ring out the answer that we in the seminaries exist “for the church.” (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wisely chose this appropriate phrase as their motto, while Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary includes the Latin equivalent, “pro ecclesia,” on our academic seal.)

“The qualification God lays down is the only one He permits us to demand, and the instruction of our Theological schools must be based upon such a plan as shall afford this amount of education to those who actually constitute the mass of our Ministry, and who cannot obtain more.”

Our task in the seminaries is not to create credentialed scholars who will impress the world, though that will occur. Our task in the seminaries is to assist the churches in preparing those who have been called by God and recognized by the churches for preaching Bible doctrine.

Boyce distinguished between things of primary importance and secondary importance. There is a difference between the classical and the theological. One may excel in the classical and butcher the theological. While I myself love both the classical and the theological dimensions of education, only one of them is absolutely necessary—Christ, Bible, gospel.

“[W]e are so far from saying that education is unnecessary, [instead] we proclaim its absolute necessity. We undertake, however, to point out what education it is that is thus essential, and what that which is only valuable; and while we urge upon all useful knowledge as an aid to that work, we point out the knowledge of the word of God as that which is first in importance.”

The unique necessity of the Word of God and of our necessary submission to it and constant immersion in it has always been the case. This is still the case. This will always be the case.

2. Boyce’s second vision for the Southern Baptist seminaries was that they preserve and promote the Baptist witness. There must be an additional course of studies for our best and brightest students so as to prepare them to teach and write for the health of our churches.

Boyce argued that some students must be led beyond basic Biblical studies, theology, and rhetoric, and given expertise in the study of the Biblical Languages, a Biblical exegesis not distorted by Liberalism, and the conduct of the Missionary enterprise, as well as a thorough advocacy of Baptist principles.

The goal for offering advanced studies is to create “a band of scholars” from “every one of whom we might expect valuable contributions to our Theological literature.” The seminaries must develop students who will, in turn, teach personally and write literature for the churches.

3. The third issue that Southern Baptists must take into account is one that Boyce believed endangered not only the schools but, ultimately, the churches. With a prescience based upon historical precedent, Boyce opined that Baptists must be clearly confessional in their theology.

Southern Baptist educational institutions must embrace “the adoption of a declaration of doctrine to be required of those who assume the various professorships.” For his day, Boyce advocated the Charleston Confession, which is an historic, clear, and detailed Baptist standard of theology.

While Southern Baptists have continually developed our theological confessions historically in submission to Scripture and in response to cultural queries, Boyce’s basic point stands. Unless our schools require our professors to declare themselves to be of our faith, we will suffer.

Boyce’s third point requires our attention more than ever. For instance, Baptists have historically understood only one religious institution to be established by our Lord Jesus Christ. The only biblically-founded theological institution is the church of Jesus Christ.

While recognizing the wisdom of creating a seminary or divinity school, we should never define a seminary as a church. The seminary does not ordain elders or pastors, nor may it administer baptism or the Lord’s Supper. While the churches expect their theological institutions to be pastoral and ecclesial in their ethos and actions, our theological institutions must never adopt the enthusiastic position that they are established by God to be churches or that their leaders are pastors by fiat. The Bible doesn’t reveal seminaries. The churches created the seminaries and other theological institutions for their use.

This truth—that the seminaries are creatures and servants of the churches—is helpful to remember. It reminds administrators and professors that while we each remain personally responsible to God, we are, as institutions, dependent upon the churches for our existence. It calls those of us who are theological educators to humility and responsibility.

One final word from the first President of a Southern Baptist seminary, a word of warning:

“A crisis in Baptist doctrine is evidently approaching, and those of us who still cling to the doctrines which formerly distinguished us, have the important duty to perform of earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints. Gentlemen, God will call us to judgment...”

We would do well to heed Boyce's warning.

(If you wish to read James Petigru Boyce's inaugural address regarding theological education in full, in an original transcription, you may consult a pdf published through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here.)

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.

August 30, 2018

What is Real Biblical Manhood?

Evangelicalism is undergoing a crisis of manhood. By turning our attention to the perfect man, Jesus of Nazareth, we can sort through the confusion and recall a compelling biblical anthropology at a time when men—and women for that matter—require a heroic model for life.

“Biblical manhood” is a term often bandied about today in the church as a foil to the inanities of secular liberalism. Secular liberalism lauds the perverse, excuses the obsequious, and demands fealty to the false gods of sexuality, socialism, and status. We correctly point out the problems with the world’s perversity, but is this ever an excuse for bringing in and exalting our own perversity in the guise of being “biblical”? Have too many looked at our representation of Godly manhood as involving gold, guns, and gross historical fallacies, and seen not healthy manhood but hypocritical mysticism?

In his novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn pointed out that the real problem we face as human beings is not in the communities who oppose and oppress us. The real problem we face is in the heart of every man. If you think your real enemy is out there, such that if you could only get that laser pointer on his chest and eliminate the threat, then you fundamentally misunderstand the true war in which we are engaged. The enemy is not on the political left or on the political right of you; your true enemy is right in the middle of yourself. Your true opponent is your own heart. Our real enemies are sin, Satan, and death.

In his famous commencement address before Harvard University in 1978, Solzhenitsyn stunned his audience, not by praising the West, but by pointing out its spiritual weakness and vulgar materialism. “The West should not preen at its victory in the Cold War,” he said, “for it lacks ‘manliness’ and courage.” (Never invite a prophet to give a panegyric!)

So, what is true “manliness”? What is biblical manhood? I think some have lauded biblical manhood but have substituted their own ideals and their own foibles for that which is biblical. Fallen Adam is not the exemplar of true manhood! Don’t take Abraham’s self-preserving lies, Judah’s perverse sexual escapades, or Saul’s proud death-dealing efforts as exemplary male virtue. Rather than looking to the First Adam, look to the Last Adam, Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:45).

Real biblical manhood is not about demanding what you want, dominating over others, or dallying in selfish sensuality. Being a real man is about obeying God, leading others into excellence in Christ through hearing the Word, and being respectful to the leadership of the Spirit in others. A real man is like Jesus. He doesn’t put others to the sword like Mohammed. No, he climbs up with courage onto the cross that God gives him just like the Lord, Jesus Christ!

And when you look to the teaching of Jesus Christ for who he thinks is an exemplary leader in the faith, prepare to be shocked. Jesus does not laud a son of Israel, a choice man among the chosen people. No, he points out their problems—Even John the Baptist, whom he follows and adores, is classified as being among the “least in the kingdom of God” (Luke 7:28). Instead, Jesus praises one of the occupying soldiers, and a high-ranking one at that. It is this Gentile, this Centurion, who Jesus praises as an exemplar: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9).

What does real biblical manhood look like? By the way, human beings were created by God to rule (Gen 1:26-28). Both men and women have been given real yet limited power and authority. And God will hold each one of us responsible for what we do with the gift of authority. So, what does male leadership, courageous manliness, entail?

Luke 7:1-10 gives us what Jesus, the only perfect Man, thought real manhood looked like. In this passage, the Centurion displays seven characteristics of true manhood, biblical manhood, redeemed manhood—the type of manhood of which Christ Jesus approved:

  1. The Centurion is a man characterized by great “faith” (Luke 7:9). Real manhood cannot be grasped except through faith in Jesus.
  2. This real man honors Jesus Christ. He does not see himself as a Messiah, for he sees Jesus as his superior (v. 6). There is no “Messianic complex” at work here.
  3. The Centurion uses power, but not for selfish ends. He does not abuse, misappropriate, or glorify self. He does not see himself as “worthy” even to be in the presence of Jesus (vv. 6-7).
  4. This real man “highly valued” those other human servants whom God gave him to lead and care about (v. 2). He seeks out Jesus to heal his servant (v. 3). He continually serves those who serve him by doing all he can for them.
  5. The Centurion leads a life of unparalleled virtue. He is “worthy,” as even his natural political enemies testified to Jesus (v. 4). (The significant Greek terms translated as “worthy” in this passage, axios and hikanos, indicate “fittingness” and “sufficiency,” respectively.)
  6. This real man, whom Jesus lauded as possessing unparalleled faith, loved those who were different from him. This Gentile loved the Jews (v. 5). This man showed no evidence whatsoever of racism. He had a deep appreciation for other human beings who were different.
  7. The Centurion built houses of worship (v. 5). His legacy was to build up the people of God, all of which was ultimately for the glory of God.
Why did the Centurion not want to be in Jesus’ presence? Because he did not feel “worthy” enough. It is not that this man of dignity, authority, and power possessed an inferiority complex. Far from it! He was not a wimpy wallflower. Rather, he understood where true authority lies. True authority, like true glory, begins and ends with God. The Centurion’s assessment was correct, for Jesus in his manhood is worthier than the Centurion ever could be.
If you want to see what a real man, the perfect man, looks like, don’t look to fallen men. Don’t gaze at the screen or the pulpit or the podium. Instead, look toward the Man of perfection—look to where He is. The real Man is there, on the cross, providing for and protecting others, and preaching and practicing love. Christ Jesus on the cross provides us not only with our salvation but with our definition of real biblical manhood.

(Republished from the Theological Matters blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)

June 14, 2018

On Reaffirming the Full Dignity of Every Human Being

The last three or four weeks have been among the most emotional and intense in my adult life. However, I have also felt an incredible peace and leadership from the Holy Spirit. One of the first actions I prayerfully undertook was to ask Keith Whitfield to help me co-author a resolution asking Southern Baptists to reaffirm their existing theological anthropology. We both believe strongly that a lack of recent emphasis upon this doctrine is where so many of the problems afflicting contemporary evangelicals arise. Keith and I understand very well that passing a resolution on the key doctrine of 2018 is not an end but a beginning. I also want to thank Jason Duesing and the Resolutions Committee for passing it substantially verbatim to the Southern Baptist Convention. Finally, thank you, Southern Baptists, for reaffirming this key theological claim. May God lead us to study Scripture's teaching about Christ, the perfect Image, and about the human beings made in his image more carefully and enact it more perfectly. The text of the approved resolution follows:


WHEREAS, In the beginning, the Triune God chose to create humanity in His image and according to His likeness, such that “God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:26–27); and

WHEREAS, God judged His creation of humanity to be very good indeed (Genesis 1:31), crowned humanity with honor and glory, making them rulers over the works of His hands (Psalm 8:5–6), and put eternity in all human hearts so we might seek after Him (Ecclesiastes 3:11); and

WHEREAS, God’s precious likeness and image was passed down from Adam to his posterity, the human race, through generations (Genesis 5:3); and

WHEREAS, God sent His own perfect image, Jesus Christ, into the world (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3), intending through the sufferings of Christ (Hebrews 2:10) for human beings to become conformed, renewed, and transformed into the same image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:9–10); and

WHEREAS, God intends to bless human beings to “bear the image of the man of heaven,” Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:49; cf. 1 John 3:2), and “wants everyone to be saved” through hearing and believing His gospel (1 Timothy 2:4; cf. Ezekiel 18:23; Matthew 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9); and

WHEREAS, Significant challenges threaten the dignity and worthiness of human beings who do not possess power or advantage, including but not limited to the heinous murder of the unborn child in the womb, the enforced withdrawal of life-sustaining medical care from the ill or infirm, the prejudices and discriminations of racism and ethnocentrism, various abuses of other human persons, the denigration of opposing political groups, and persecutions of religious minorities; and

WHEREAS, Article III of The Baptist Faith and Message clearly affirms that human dignity is an inviolable status, stating, “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 12–13, 2018, reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation whatsoever; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every unborn child and denounce every act of abortion except to save the mother’s physical life; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being, whether or not any political, legal, or medical authority considers a human being possessive of “viable” life regardless of cognitive or physical disability, and denounce every act that would wrongly limit the life of any human at any stage or state of life; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever ethnicity and denounce every form and practice of racism and ethnocentrism; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being, whether male or female, young or old, weak or strong, and denounce any and every form of abuse, whether physical, sexual, verbal, or psychological; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever political or legal status or party and denounce rhetoric that diminishes the humanity of anyone; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever religion or creed and denounce any unjust violation of the first freedom of religious liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that the full dignity of every human being can never be removed, diminished, or modified by any human decision or action whatsoever; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being and commit to model God’s saving love by sharing the eternal hope found in the gospel, to call all people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19–20; 2 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Peter 3:14–17), and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Romans 12:10, 15; Philippians 2:4–7).

Adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 2018

May 21, 2018

Resolving the Uncertainty at the Crossroads: The 2018 Southern Baptist Convention

During the past few months, it has become apparent that while Southern Baptists say we want biblical truth to drive our efforts, we are somewhat conflicted amongst ourselves as to how that looks. Southern Baptists have arrived at a crossroads, and the future for our common work as a Christian people is uncertain.

Some of us pine primarily for a revival in that aspect of our piety characterized by evangelism; others among us argue for a renewal in that aspect of our piety characterized by justice. These two tendencies coalesce for a third and ultimately decisive middle group in a desire for expressing well the Lord’s commands to engage in both gospel witness and gospel practice. (I personally believe our choices are, providentially, not as much in conflict as the political conversation suggests, but more anon.)

Nevertheless, as with civil voting patterns in the United States, the middle group may feel forced to choose between one way or the other, for we have created a unitary power structure that funnels authority through the office of a single leader. The wisdom, or lack thereof, of the American proclivity, through both its civil and religious political democracies, to grant overarching power to one officer demonstrates itself once again in a polarized people. As a result, we sense intense heat even as we hope to see great light moving into our annual gathering.

For several weeks now, I have been encouraged by a number of good people to declare my views publicly on critical matters facing Southern Baptists as we head to Dallas. Yet the Lord has not released me to address matters that reach their cruces in judgments regarding particular persons. Friends would have me address persons, but God has laid on me the necessity of addressing principles.

I have chosen, therefore, not to focus upon persons for the sake of principles, but upon principles for the sake of persons. Perhaps God will allow us to see that these principles can, true in themselves and truly utilized, help us discern and deliver God’s will regarding the persons around us. Today’s relevant theological principles themselves preeminently concern us as human persons.

There are two principles which currently require our attention, at least as far as I can see. The first principle concerns our divine authority; the second, our divine imagery. Perhaps both will garner our people’s hearty affirmation.

Our Divine Authority

Evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, know that God has chosen to reveal himself in his Word. But while we emphasized the Word of God as Scripture in the late twentieth century, we appear to have drifted from that concern in recent decades. At one time, the dependability and trustworthiness of the Bible compelled both our dialectics and our rhetoric. Alas, however, biblical inerrancy may have become less a principle and more a talisman.

Like passersby glibly burnishing the shiny toe of David Hume’s bronze statue on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, have we begun to treat Scripture’s dependability as something of an obligatory if largely meaningless charm? The language of inspiration and infallibility is no longer used as much in our speech, and sadly its deep meaning seems increasingly lost to our cognition. We say we believe in God’s Word, and most of us even refer to it in our sermons. But are we really allowing Scripture its proper formative role in our thought, speech, and practice?

Recognizing the importance of the doctrine that compelled and legitimized the Conservative Resurgence in the first place, Dr. Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary worked with me to craft a resolution for consideration by the Committee on Resolutions. Dr. Strachan, Associate Professor of Christian Theology and Director of the Center for Public Theology at our Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, is a rising young theologian with an impressive record of addressing critical issues in speech and in text. It was a privilege to work with him for a second year in a row. (Last year, we worked together to affirm Penal Substitutionary Atonement.)

My personal hope in submitting our Resolution Affirming the Inerrancy of Holy Scripture is that by returning to our first principle regarding the authority of divine revelation, we might again know the leadership of the Lord in our common effort as a denomination. Psalm 111 reminds us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and "All who follow his instructions have good insight."

I believe we will see the way forward to real unity and proper action only through serious Bible study and passionate Bible proclamation. Without constant referral to the divine basis of our authority, we will perish. We absolutely must restate the importance of biblical inerrancy.

Our Divine Imagery

The second resolution summarizes a doctrine with profound implications for a multitude of practical issues. It undergirds today's most popular news headlines and dominates our social media discussions. What dogma lies at the center of our concerns with the problems of abortion, euthanasia, racism and ethnocentrism, sexual abuse, political demonization, and religious persecution?

The biblical doctrine of humanity orients the nexus of these critical ethical issues. The real sickness we have concerns a misunderstanding of who we are as human beings; our ethical crises are symptoms of a more fundamental problem. Humanity is under sustained demonic assault, and the social traumas originating from that warfare demand a faithful witness from God's people concerning God's highest-placed creature. The created dignity of human beings is a doctrine which Southern Baptists have long affirmed, but we have too often overlooked it during other discussions.

Recognizing the church's responsibility to address the anthropological deficiency of this day and age drove recent discussions between Dr. Keith S. Whitfield and me. Dr. Whitfield, who is Associate Professor of Theology, Dean of Graduate Studies, and Vice President for Academic Administration at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, has a gentle heart and a keen mind. I believe we would do well to wear his winsome words. Dr. Whitfield and I previously collaborated in a book on theological method, but we now try our hand at collaborating in a resolution on anthropology.

My personal hope in submitting our Resolution Reaffirming the Full Dignity of Every Human Being is that by reminding ourselves of God's creative and redemptive gifts of identity to humanity, we might help reverse the horrible denigrations of humanity occurring in so many areas of contemporary life. Especially vulnerable in our culture are those persons who lack sufficient political or economic power to require recognition of themselves as worthy of life and liberty. There are two major theological parts to our resolution:

First, as Christians, we believe it imperative to affirm the sacredness, the full dignity, and the worthiness of love which belong to every human creature as a special gift from the Creator. Our dignity as human beings derives not from other human beings. Too many human institutions arrogate to themselves an authority to pronounce decisions about things regarding which they were never given authority to define. Because our dignity as human beings derives from the Creator of all human life, every human life belongs to God alone. Human powers must submit to this universal anthropological truth or find themselves damned for their despicable actions at the final judgment.

Second, as Christians, we also recognize that being created in the divine image is not the end of the story. After we were created in the divine image, humanity abused his image through sin and suffered debilitating damage. To solve this problem is why the Perfect Image of God became a human being, and through the Spirit's gift of faith, the human being's image can be renewed unto conformity with Christ. Thus, we call people not only to respect the full dignity of all human persons, but also to have their own dignity renewed unto perfection by the perfect Word of God.

True humanity comes as a result of creation and of redemption. Both stages of the human condition must be reaffirmed by those who believe in the truth of God's Word as the basis for our teaching today. On the one hand, without recognition of humanity's universal created dignity, we face the specter of continually repeating the horrors of our world's past denigrations of precious children, women, and men. On the other hand, without recognition of humanity's universal need for a renewal of that dignity, we face the specter of God's righteous final judgment upon us for our sins. The biblical doctrine of the image of God puts evangelism and justice in correlation rather than in conflict.

In Conclusion

My purpose in submitting these two resolutions is to call us back to God's Word as the basis for our approach to reality and to call us to see every human person's proper place of dignity within this reality. May God use my brothers' excellent labors upon these resolutions for his glory.

(We trust the collegial wisdom of the Resolutions Committee to bring forward in the proper form the common messages the Lord would have Southern Baptists speak regarding the critical issues of our day. Thus we will not repeat our proposed resolutions verbatim online. Nor do we presume the committee will see exactly what we see in speaking about these great truths. So we pray.)