Monday, 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.

A few words, before I provide you the link to that essay. B.R. White should be honored for his critical historical work, wherein he demonstrated that Baptists derived from the English Separatist movement that arose during the late sixteenth century. However, he should be honored for two more reasons. The second reason that White should be honored is that he demonstrated how a good historian should conduct himself or herself with regard to primary subjects and secondary claims about them. The essay spends a good bit of time describing White's historiographical method, a method worthy of emulation.

The final reason I want to honor Barrie White is because his personal character continues to shape not only my scholarship but also my 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.

Friday, 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.

Monday, October 08, 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.

Thursday, 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, men were created by God to rule. We who are men 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)

Thursday, 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:


ON REAFFIRMING THE FULL DIGNITY OF EVERY HUMAN BEING

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