Friday, March 10, 2006

Important Dialogue with Dr. Malcom Yarnell, SWBTS Theology Professor

Recently, I received an e-mail from Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, Assistant Dean for Theological Studies, Director of the Center for Theological Research, and Director of the Oxford Study Program, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, responding to several of the posts I have made on this blog. Dr. Yarnell is apparently one of the "idealogues" behind the new policies passed by the IMB Board of Trustees.

I need to make clear that I do not agree with many of the points Dr. Yarnell is making. However, I believe the correspondence I have received from him, and the response I have sent him, are highly illustrative of the issues I am attempting to bring to light here. I also believe that many of you who have been following the recent developments at the IMB would be interested to "listen in" on this dialogue. On my "Coming Clean" post, I called for Southern Baptists "to 'come clean' related to what is expected of those who serve the Lord while receiving spiritual and financial covering from the Southern Baptist Convention." I believe Dr. Yarnell has done just this. I believe that if you take the time to read carefully through all of this post, and Dr. Yarnell's message "The Heart of a Baptist" , you will see more clearly than ever the issues that are at stake right now in the SBC.

Because of this, I asked Dr. Yarnell for permission to copy the dialogue we have been having here on the blog. I invite you to objectively and prayerfully read through what follows, and come to your own conclusions about how we as Southern Baptists need to deal with the issues at hand.

E-mail letter from Malcolm Yarnell to David Rogers, March 10, 2006

Dear David,

After it was pointed out to me, I glanced through the first few posts on your blog,, and was struck by a few things. First to strike me was your willingness to "come clean," which is laudable and a move of integrity. Second was the fact that you believe non-Baptists are correctly fulfilling the Great Commission. Please read the attached . It may be helpful to you. Indeed, I pray that you will see that the only way to obey the Great Commission is according to the scriptural program of Jesus Christ. It should be evident that the order given by Jesus Christ for the Great Commission is:

1. Hear the Word.
2. Become a Disciple of Jesus Christ.
3. Be baptized.
4. Obey all the Commands of Jesus Christ, which includes regenerate church membership.

In other words, to follow the ordinance of Jesus Christ is to be baptized only after believing. Other Christians and Christian churches who do not practice believers' baptism do not fulfill the Great Commission as given by Jesus Christ. This does not throw their Christianity or ecclesiality into doubt: it does cast into doubt their willingness to obey Christ fully. This is why Southern Baptists want to plant Baptist churches and not other churches: we want to be disciples of Christ, whose will is revealed in His Word, and not disciples of an unbiblical tradition.

I pray you will change your mind and your public statements.

In Christ,

Malcolm Yarnell

E-mail reply from David Rogers to Malcolm Yarnell, March 10, 2006

Dear Malcolm,

Thank you for your e-mail, and for the message you attached. I have carefully read through both of them. I appreciate the thought you have put into these matters, and your personal interest in dialoguing with me about them.

Let me say first of all, in regards to your comment affirming that I believe that "non-Baptists are correctly fulfilling the Great Commission", that, in the spirit of "that depends what the meaning of the word 'is' is": that depends what the meaning of the word "correctly" is. I would doubt that any of us, myself included, are fulfilling the Great Commission 100% correctly. I would agree that the command to "baptize" is indeed a key element. And, in my personal efforts to work towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, I hope and strive to give due importance to biblical baptism.

At the same time, though, I sense there are probably some key points of divergence between our two views. I normally would not consider it proper etiquette to critique someone's message like I am going to do now, but since I understand that you sent this to me in an attempt to convince me to change my views, I hope you will receive what I have to say with the same spirit of indulgement...

First of all, let me affirm my agreement with the vast majority of what you have to say. I am definitely "with you" in your zeal for reminding us that we are a "Great Commission" people, and urging us to be more and more consistent with our missionary calling. Where I would beg to differ is the inference and emphasis throughout the entire message that the "Great Commission" is specifically a "Baptist" thing. As I already stated on my blog-post, I am convinced the Great Commission was "given to the Church, the Body of Christ, made up of born-again believers down through the centuries from every nation, culture, ecclesiological background, and denomination." While I am all in favor of challenging Baptists to be better stewards with the "part of the wall" (using the analogy of Nehemiah 3) that God has delegated to us in the reconstruction of spiritual Zion, I must say that I am a bit "taken back" by language that seems to imply (following the analogy of Nehemiah again) that the entire "building project" has been "contracted out" exclusively to Baptists. In my point of view, if you could talk about the five Greek words you mention, directing your discourse to the Body of Christ at large instead of specifically to Baptists, it would come more in line with the general tenor of the New Testament, especially in the light of 1 Corinthians 1.10-17. You repeat several times the phrase: "Baptism is the beginning Baptist distinctive." I personally do not see a great need to look for "Baptist distinctives". I am content to believe, apply and teach the Bible, as I in "soul competency" before the Lord (with the help of godly teachers and interpreters down through the years) read it.

As you might guess, the part of your message which causes me the greatest concern is the part at the end where you say, "Christians who do not practice baptism are simply not Great Commission Christians. Southern Baptist missionaries should firmly rebuke other missionaries who do not completely fulfill the Great Commission." I personally have not heard this definition of "GCCs" yet at the IMB. Perhaps trying to get the IMB to adopt this definition is a good part of what is behind your message and many of the recent developments related to the IMB Board of Trustees. If that is the case, I am glad to receive a copy of your message. Frankly, I did not realize that the terms were being spelled out this clearly.

Once again, let me reiterate my strong belief in and commitment to biblical baptism, that I share with you. At the same, it seems to me that we probably take a different approach to the doctrine of the Body of Christ, and that of Christian unity. For me, my beliefs regarding these matters are every bit as important, if not more so, than my beliefs regarding baptism. And, I believe I have biblical warrant for making them so. In the coming days, I hope to "blog" a bit more about this specific issue. I will spell out there a little more specifically what I believe about the Body of Christ and Christian unity, and why I believe it.

I don't know if you would be open to making this dialogue we are having now public on my blog. If you prefer not to, I will respect that. But I have an idea many others who are wrestling with the same issues might benefit by the opportunity to share in this conversation as well. I look forward to hearing from you.

In Christ,


E-mail reply from Malcolm Yarnell to David Rogers, March 10, 2006

Dear David,

One of the hallmarks of Baptist identity is the embrace of a vigorous examination of Scripture as well as church life by all believers. You are certainly welcome to publish our discourse. However, before you do so, I encourage you to consult your president as to the potential ramifications of your blogs, especially since you have declared yourself to have a personal theological "discrepancy" with the Baptist Faith &Message, the confession adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board. (* see below)

Thank you for your response to my sermon. I hope I am wrong in my interpretation of your position, but it appears you have adopted an ecumenical ecclesiology. Ecumenical ecclesiology, at least that type with which I am familiar, is unsustainable because it severely undermines the biblical (and thus Baptist) emphasis on the regenerate church (e.g. 2 Cor. 6:11-18).

Another issue you may want to consider is an apparent lack of appreciation for the local church as the focus of the New Testament. The universal church is affirmed in Scripture, but the overwhelming emphasis of the inspired Word, as our Baptist forefathers recognized repeatedly, is upon the local church. This is why Baptists stress the local church, too.

As for the definition of a Great Commission Christian, perhaps Dr Rankin could enlighten us concerning his definition of the term and the biblical basis for that definition.

In Christ,


*Note from David: I have consulted with Dr. Rankin regarding this, and received his blessing to communicate openly.


Joseph Patrick said...


Maybe I am too dense to see it, but where are you "divergent" from the BF&M2K, as was accused?

tl said...

The term Great Commission Christian has been used by the IMB since the beginning of New Directions in 1997.

The terms and working parameters for SB missionaries to connect with GCC partners have been approved by IMB trustees at least twice since 1997.

Dr. Yarnell must be unaware of this, or he is intentionally muddying the waters in order to paint IMB staff in a bad light.

GeneMBridges said...

I find it rather distressing that Dr. Yarnell has lots to say about other groups and their desire to fulfill the Great Commission but little to say about Southern Baptists themselves in this respect.

What would he think of a Southern Baptist church that had the following profile over a 4 year period?

3506 members
203 baptisms
253 other additions
2200 primary worship attendance

3812 members
296 baptisms
190 other additions
2100 primary worship attendance

4011 members
209 baptisms
137 other additions
2031 primary worship attendance

4163 members
237 baptisms
204 other additions
1874 primary worship attendance

Would this church meet anyone’s criteria for "declining?" It went from a counted Sunday morning worship attendance of 2200 in 2001 to 1874 in 2004. If my math is correct, that is a 15% decline.

Granted, they have baptized 945 people during that 4 year period and they have added 784 people by other means. But the church membership only grew by 657. It took 1729 new members for the church to grow by 657 members.

In addition those 1729 new members resulted in 326 fewer worshipers! If the church continues to grow at this rate then by the time it adds around 10,000 new members the preacher will be preaching to an empty auditorium at his "primary worship" service. Why does the pastor of this church get a place of high visibility in the Convention (as its President no less) while Dr. Yarnell warbles on about Bethehem Baptist Church, which, I would add he completely misrepresented by using a dated document from October and not the full documentation from December?

1. Hear the Word.
2. Become a Disciple of Jesus Christ.
3. Be baptized.
4. Obey all the Commands of Jesus Christ, which includes regenerate church membership.

Hmmm, let's play with this shall we?

If we look at the ACP's for many of the larger churches in this Convention, many of which are in the state convention Dr. Yarnell addressed, we find that they aren't doing too well with #4. So, while Dr. Yarnell pretends that Baptists are the only GCC's, the harsh reality is that they are, if we go by the ACP's largely failing #4.

That's the problem with 4 tiered definitions. You have to be in compliance with each one in order to be compliant with the definition.

Compare this to the Presbyterian churches here in my town, where adult members are received after a lengthy interview process, precisely because they differentiate between converted and unconverted in the church membership. Children are not counted in these churches until they are converted. Even if they were, considering the number of unregenerate children the SBC baptizes and perpetually rebaptizes in any given year, how exactly is the SBC any different? They may baptize babies, but they actually have a regenerate church membership that show up to church and does the work of ministry. I would also add that there are plenty of Presbyterian churches that baptize believers upon request. Moreover, I know Presybterian missionaries who baptize new converts on the mission field.

Baptism does not guarantee a regenerate church membership. Dr. Yarnell is making a category error and imputing that which is conceptual to that which is practical. A regenerate church membership isn't maintained by believer's baptism. It is maintained by a refined process for admission in conjunction with believers baptism. I am in a LCBF 1646 church. Needless to say, our confession is not very forgiving in this area. From our perspective, the SBC is in clear violation of the principle of a regenerate church membership precisely because of ease with which its churches accept members, and thus subject to the same criticisms that Dr. Yarnell is lobbing at non-Baptists.

The conceptual and practical are are two separate levels. Perhaps before he complains about the speck in other brothers’ eyes, he and the Convention should consider the log in their own.

KRM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


You are right on with your analysis. I do not see what he is saying unless I look at his statements through political eyes, not theological.

Dr. Yarnell attends the same church pastored by Bob Pearle, IMB trustee. This church has as it members Paige Patterson, Emir Caner, and Keith Eitel. Seems interesting that the people speaking out so much against the current IMB president and their New Directions strategy all attend the same church. Yes they have a right to their opinion, no problem with that. But this also helps us see that his statements might be more political than theological.

IMO, those without a political agenda look at his arguments and see no "ecumenical ecclesiology". This seems like the tatics used by the Democrats. Throw out the accusation even if there is no evidence to support the claim. It may stick with some who choose not to examine the issues. Use certain buzz words to make a person look like a "liberal" ( Even though you are not) thus scaring others away. You carry a lot of influence with people and your ideas are clear. I think you also reflect what most Baptist think.

From the Baptist I have seen from a lay perspective, they can think for themselves and see that there are Christians outside of Baptist life who are truly followers of Jesus and fellow believers. They believe in Jesus and His salvation, are biblically baptized by immersion in the church, are inerrantist, are very conservative, and are our brothers, yet they are not Baptist. We all know this yet some in our seminaries seem to miss this point. Let me make clear, some not all.

Hang in there and watch your back. To me their concerns refelct their political views and they couch it all in theological terms to give it more value.