October 9, 2023

A Trinity Prayer for Revelation

“I pray that the God 
   *of our Lord Jesus Christ,
   *the glorious Father, 
   *would give you the Spirit 
of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know:
   *what is the hope of his calling,
   *what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and
   *what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, 
according to the mighty working of his strength.”

Ephesians 1:17-19

July 5, 2023

Are Only Pastors to Preach? The Biblical View and a Baptist Viewpoint

Is the function of preaching the same as the office of the overseer? Absolutely not. 

Some now argue “the function is the office,” apparently confining all the acts of the office of the pastor exclusively within the office itself. But according to Scripture and the first major Baptist documents, the office and some of its acts must be distinguished.

The Biblical View

Scripture teaches us that the office of the pastor does not dominate all the acts that a pastor does:

  1. Yes, pastors pray and teach and preach. Pastors also voice the dogmatic and disciplinary conclusions of the congregation with the congregation’s authority. But only the last act of the pastoral office—authoritative dogmatic proclamation—is confined to that office (Acts 15:13-21; 1 Timothy 2:12).
  2. According to Scripture, those qualified to be overseers or elders have several functions which are required of non-ordained Christians, that is all other Christians. These include, inter alia, being above reproach, a man being the husband of one wife, being self-controlled, etc. Surely, those theologians who now confine the functioning of an elder to the office of the elder would not dare to say the non-ordained Christian is released from being self-controlled or sensible or respectable (1 Timothy 3:1-4). It is similarly inappropriate to confine all acts of Christian proclamation to the elder.
  3. All may pray and preach in an orderly manner for the upbuilding of the church, as Paul reminds us was the custom of the early church in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. Moreover, all Christian disciples were given the Great Commission of making disciples, which occurs only through forms of proclamation. Christ did not anywhere in Scripture confine his commission merely to the apostles nor to the church’s overseers. He gave it to all of his disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The Word of God has its own self-authenticating authority. To claim otherwise is to begin a theological march back to Rome, perhaps through Wittenberg, Geneva, or Canterbury, but not necessarily ending in one of those lesser forms of extra-biblical ecclesiology.

A Baptist Viewpoint

As for Baptist theology, we note one tradition, though we could name many others who have been careful up to this point to refuse to return to the stifling morass of clericalism. Article 44 of the First London Confession discusses the office of overseer; article 45, the activity of preachers. Against the new clericalism, note these truths from foundational Baptist theology:

  1. Early Baptists rejected both Romanist and Magisterial Protestant forms of clericalism, distinguishing preaching from oversight.
  2. They also placed eldership within the congregation, refusing to countenance any type of elitism of one member over another. Mediation belongs exclusively to Jesus Christ, never to a mere man (1 Timothy 2:4). 
  3. Finally, the earliest Baptists followed the Reformers in defining “prophecy” as preaching, according to its simple description in 1 Corinthians 14:3. This preaching is, of course, focused on and empowered by the Word of God. They did not reduce prophecy to oblivion through innovations like cessationism or enthusiasm, as with some modernist commentators.

The 1644/1646 Confession states:

XLIV. Christ for the keeping of this church in holy and orderly communion, placeth some special men over the church; who by their office, are to govern, oversee, visit, watch; so likewise for the better keeping thereof, in all places by the members, He hath given authority, and laid duty upon all to watch over one another.

XLV. Also such to whom God hath given gifts in the church, may and ought to prophecy according to the proportion of faith, and to teach publicly the word of God, for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the church.


June 22, 2023

A Southwesterner's Appreciation for Russell Dilday

The President of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1978 to 1994, Russell Hooper Dilday, died today, June 21, at the age of 92. Under his leadership, Southwestern reached heights of enrollment and impact seen neither before nor after by a Southern Baptist seminary. Dilday was preceded in death by his wife, Betty, and by his son, Robert. Please allow me to tell you a little about Russell Dilday from the perspective of one student, professor, and pastor.

In 1991, after I spent almost four years of preparing intellectually and spiritually for full-time vocational Christian ministry, Russell Dilday acknowledged my completion of the Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages. During my student years at Southwestern Seminary, I had arrived at a different political position than Dr. Dilday regarding the controversy disrupting the Southern Baptist Convention. However, that difference in outlook never kept the President who handed me the degree from displaying his exemplary civility in Christian conduct.

In 1994, I watched from afar as Dr. Dilday was locked out of his own office and shown the exit to his beloved seminary. Like other Southern Baptists, I was shocked by this rough treatment yet impressed by his graceful dignity. Over the next decade, while researching the experiential theology of Edgar Young Mullins, I also discovered his thorough research into the theology of that previous denominational statesman. Dr. Dilday not only wrote about the apologetic legacy of Mullins; he continued his legacy as a statesman. While I remain less individualistic than either Dilday or Mullins, I have come to appreciate the deep wisdom in their conservative religious personalism and their fervent advocacy of Baptist identity.

In 2005, I received a telephone call from the front desk of the Baptist college at Oxford University. It was Russell Dilday asking if I would mind being a host for him and several Texas Baptist dignitaries attending the centennial celebration of the Baptist World Alliance. Feeling quite honored, I rearranged my day then gave Dr. Dilday's group an overview of Baptist history in Great Britain. During our long conversation, I showed them several portraits of Baptist dignitaries and the death couch of William Carey, the founder of the Modern Missions Movement. It was unusually hot in England that summer, and we Texans were suffering slightly from the British lack of air conditioning, yet these true Baptists were elated to learn more about their own heritage.

The group sought to present me an honorarium. I refused, noting my pleasure at deepening my fellowship with Dr. Dilday and coming to know each of them. However, the former President of Southwestern gently forced the honorarium into my hand, winked at me, and said, "Malcolm, you forget that I know how little you faculty earn. Receive this as a gift from the Lord and from me as a token of our appreciation for your continuing service to all Southern Baptists." He then smiled, gripped my hand firmly, and walked away before I could raise an objection. Again, I was struck by his exemplary graciousness. 

Through the following years, I came to realize the import of his parting words for me as one of the few theologians who continued the Southwestern tradition of theology at Southwestern Seminary. While we might have differed by degrees over anthropology and bibliology, we both swam in the same great tradition of Baptist life in Texas, in the Southern Baptist Convention, and in the Baptist World Alliance. Moreover, I came to lament with him certain "low points in the SBC odyssey." Dilday summarized these low points as "forced uniformity, political coercion, and egotistic self-interest."

In 2020, at the funeral service of James Leo Garrett Jr., I reflected publicly on my theological mentor's legacy with both former teachers and current colleagues. Before the proceedings, the visibly declining Dr. Dilday again addressed me personally, shook my hand, and thanked me for my faculty service. For those who are not quite aware of how significant that is, please understand that he engaged me graciously before and after momentous events in his life, in our seminary's life, and in our denomination's life. Through each encounter, he showed Christian civility: during a controversy, after he was summarily dismissed, and after many years of watching me actively advocate my own theology. Russell Dilday affirmed the calling of Baptist students, professors, and pastors, no matter which side of the aisle they occupied.

As a lifelong advocate of biblical inerrancy, as a current pastor in a Texas Baptist church, and as a current faculty member of his former seminary, I am convinced that the way forward for all Southern Baptists must be to heed Dr. Dilday's final challenge. In Higher Ground: A Call for Christian Civility, the sixth president of Southwestern Seminary wrote, "So the best way forward from this quarter century of strife is to let the past convict us and work to restore a gentler, kinder tone in our discourse and deliberations—in short—a return to Christian civility. That’s the road to higher ground." 

Russell Dilday was in his personal character what he advocated in his public proclamations. Rest In Peace, dear brother in Christ and father in Christian ministry. You have reminded Southern Baptists and Baptists in Texas what it means to be like Jesus. May our Lord speak to you even now the words you longed to hear throughout your meaningful life of often painful service: "Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!"

May 26, 2023

The Word of God Has Power

Why should we be concerned about doctrine? After all, some have noticed that doctrines divide Christians, while others have opined that an emphasis on the mission of the church could unite Christians. But is it true that “doctrine divides, but missions unite”? Well, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”

On the one hand, yes! 

Doctrines may and often do divide professed Christians. “Doctrine” derives from the Latin doctrina, which means “teaching” or “learning” or “instruction.” In spite of its ability to divide us, what we teach really does matter. Doctrine matters because our salvation depends upon the truth, in particular upon the preaching of the good news of the free offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The problem with doctrine arises not because of the existence of doctrine, for doctrine is necessary to our salvation. The problem with doctrine arises because of the existence of false doctrine as opposed to true doctrine. We shall return to this issue.

On the other hand, no! 

A mission may unite us, but it may not necessarily unite us for good. If the churches are not engaging in the right mission with the right message, an appeal to unity is meaningless, even dangerous. Churches who proclaim the true doctrine, the gospel of Jesus Christ, will be used to bring people to salvation. People who proclaim false doctrine, which comes from human wisdom or philosophy, are not bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2). Apart from his saving gospel, there is no salvation possible (John 14:1-7; Acts 4:12; Galatians 1:6-9). So, those who do not define their mission as teaching the gospel have the wrong mission. Again, doctrine is necessary.

But why is doctrine so necessary? Because God ordained that through the preaching and teaching of true doctrine, people may be saved. Concern for orthodox doctrine, as many biblical theologians have commented, motivated the two most prolific apostolic authors, Paul and John, to write many of their letters. Paul and John stressed the coming of God in Jesus, his death for our sins, and his resurrection for our justification—this is the gospel. However, Peter, the leading apostle in the early church, was also very concerned with proclaiming true doctrine and opposing false doctrine.

Peter’s Second Letter

Positively, we know that Peter was granted the saving confession upon which Jesus Christ would build His church. Peter, inspired by the Father, proclaimed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20). His God-given teaching is the true doctrine. Negatively, Peter warned about the coming of “false teachers,” who will “introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.” Many will sadly “follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned” (2 Peter 2:1-2). Their teaching is the false doctrine. According to Peter in his second letter, true doctrine must be proclaimed, and false doctrine must be opposed.

Peter’s First Letter

In his first epistle, Peter explained why this is the case. Here, he describes how true faith—real life-changing Christianity—comes into existence. To do so, he employs a metaphor, equating the “word” with a “seed” (1 Peter 1:23-25). The way in which Peter identified God’s “word” as “seed” has profound implications for what Christian preachers, teachers, and evangelists are required to teach. This metaphor indicates that a person who teaches anything other than the God-given, Christ-revealing, and Spirit-inspired Holy Bible teaches without divine power. Let us explore the biblical correlation of “word” with “seed.”

Note that Peter was not the first to combine “word” and “seed.” His Lord, Jesus Christ, earlier used the identification between “word of God” and “seed” as the basis of one of his most extensive and well-known parables (Luke 8:4-15; parallels in Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20). The metaphor was so fruitful in Jesus’ mind that it earned starring roles in at least three more parables: the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29); the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30); and the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30- 32).

Moreover, Jesus was himself drawing upon two deep and highly significant Old Testament traditions with His use of “word” and “seed.” After Jesus, the apostles invested both terms with theological importance in their construction of the New Testament. A cursory review of each term must suffice for this short essay.


The Lord God himself introduced the idea of a “seed” (Hebrew zerah) through the promise that he would accomplish his saving will. In the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, the seed, or “descendant,” of Eve would crush the head of the serpent even, although the serpent would strike his heel. In Genesis 12:7 (and in 15:3, 5, 13, 18; 17:7-10, 12, 19; and 22:17-18), Abraham was granted a covenant promise that his seed, or “offspring,” would rule the land and bring God’s blessing to the nations. Paul drew upon the Abrahamic concept of “seed” (Greek sperma or spora) in order to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the covenantal plan of God for saving both Israel and the nations (Romans 4:13, 16, 18; 9:7-8, 29; Galatians 3:16, 19, 29).


As for the “word” of God, we see from Genesis 1:3 onward that the speaking (Hebrew dabar) of God has power to implement God’s creative will (Genesis 1:6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; cf. Psalm 33:6, 9; Romans 4:17). According to Isaiah, the Word of God is eternal, while human words fail (Isaiah 40:7-8). The Word of God is sent to accomplish, and will perfectly perform, God’s will (Isaiah 55:10-11). But the power of the Word of God is not limited to creating life.

In the New Testament, God’s Word (Greek logos or rhema) is powerful enough even to re-create life. According to John, not only is the Word God Himself, who has come in the flesh (John 1:1, 14), but the Spirit works through the Word to bring life to us (John 6:63). Anyone who believes these words of Jesus will be given life (John 5:24). In Hebrews, God’s Word is a living, active, judging agent (Hebrews 4:12). According to Jesus, His words come from eternity and “will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). And in Paul, the Word of God brings us surety of perseverance in the faith (Philippians 2:16).

Word of God

Thus, Peter is continuing and contributing to a well-known canonical concept when he brings together, like Jesus, the “word” with the “seed.” For Peter, the Word of God functions in such a way as to regenerate life. Because it comes from divine eternity, the Word of God is “living and enduring” (1 Peter 1:23). Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6b-8 in order to prove its eternality (1 Peter 1:24-25a; cf. James 1:10-11). The Word of God, moreover, is “the gospel,” which has been “proclaimed to you” (1 Peter 1:25). The Word of God brings people to be born again.

Words of Men

The Word of God, from a soteriological perspective, is entirely different from the words of men. While humanity is “like grass,” which “withers” and “fails,” the Word of God can bring one to be “born again” (1 Peter 1:23). Humanity’s “seed” is “perishable,” indicating that human words and deeds ultimately end in death, no matter how beautiful they may sound or what they promise to convey or even why man intends to utter them. But the “seed” of the Word of God, to the contrary, is “imperishable.” There is an insurmountable difference between human words, flawed by temporal imperfections, and the divine Word, fruitful with God’s eternal perfection.

In Summary

We conclude that the Word of God has power in itself to bring the new birth which fallen human beings require. There is no other way people may be saved other than through the Word of God. This is why I tell my students that our well-thought words to advance apologetics and our well-meaning works to improve society will ultimately fail—if that is all we give people. We should engage in both apologetics and social improvement, for Scripture commands such good work. However, the only way people will truly encounter God and receive new life occurs when we give them the Word of God, which we know is inextricably bound for us today with the Holy Bible.

If we do not teach the entirely sufficient doctrine of Scripture, our listeners have no hope at all. This is why doctrine, biblical doctrine, is singularly necessary, and every other human teaching pales into insignificance. This is why we must emphasize the knowledge of Scripture, in its historical and linguistic context and in its Trinitarian, Christological, and canonical shape, as the sine qua non of theological education. This is why we believe that evangelizing with true biblical doctrine is the mission of God, because it is the only way we can bring the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, which so desperately needs to hear this life-giving Word.