Friday, February 27, 2009

Thorns on a Rose: An Analysis of Dr. Yarnell’s Sermon

On SBC Tomorrow, Peter Lumpkins wrote a strong rebuke to Tom Ascol’s review of Dr. Malcolm Yarnell’s sermons at SWBTS on October 31, 2008. Peter had sharp criticism for the Founders’ position that the viewpoint presented by Dr. Yarnell was “dangerous to biblical Christianity.”

There is no doubt that this was a strong criticism. To say, “I disagree” is one thing. To challenge a view as “dangerous to biblical Christianity” is a weighty accusation. Tom Ascol thinks that it is a justified rebuke. Peter does not.

As I read the quotes, I was a little bit concerned. The things that Dr. Yarnell said in the quotes bothered me, but I know that a quote pulled from a 41 minute sermon may not represent that sermon accurately at all. So, I decided to listen to the sermon and make sure what Dr. Yarnell actually said.

The title above is a summary of what I think about this sermon. It is an amazing exposition of the Lordship of Christ, one which every Christian would do well to hear and heed. However, there are a couple of quotes, one at the beginning and one near the end that present, to me, some thorny problems.

The Rose

The sermon is 41 minutes long and is an exposition of Matthew 7:21-23. In that passage, people at the judgment claim to have served the Lord but are cast away because, “I never knew you.”

Dr. Yarnell draws three points, essentials of Christianity. It is essential to confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This section is fantastic. He explains the simple statement “Jesus Lord” – the confession of early Christianity. Jesus is the human Lord, the divine Lord, the universal Lord and the unique Lord.

He then goes on to talk about the essential of doing the will of God. Those of the reformed persuasion might not like everything in here, but all will agree with the essentials of what he says. He says that confession must lead to obedience. “Creeds without deeds” he says are empty and pointless. He tends to present the reformers (and those who follow them today) as more interested in confession than obedience, and presents the free, congregational churches as the more obedient. That will, of course, not please the Founders. But, the truth is clear. True faith in Christ will produce a walk of obedience to the will of God revealed in the Word of God.

He then, briefly deals with the third essential. Confessing and doing are not enough. We must be “known” by God. It is a personal relationship, not just doctrine or duty that is required.

I do not think anyone could be anything but blessed by the truths he presents here. Obviously, Calvinists will quarrel with his depiction of the reformers as confessors only and the Baptists as confessors and doers. But the point he made there still stands.

The Thorns

There were two quotes that cause me some difficulty in this powerful sermon. The first took place about 3:38 into the message. I have a minor disagreement with some things he said in that quote. The second was in the conclusion to the sermon, starting at about 34:11. This one contains the statement that Tom Ascol found dangerous. It is deeply troubling to me as well.

I will give each section completely. I listened a couple of times through after I transcribed the quotes and I think they are pretty accurate. I edited nothing out (at least not on purpose). I will present each quote and my concerns about it.

First Quote (3:38)

Dr. Yarnell said,Baptizing, free churches are unique in that their understanding of reformation chooses as the ideal as the form, not something out of post-biblical history, but the New Testament itself. As a New Testament Christian, I reject all but the ideal form of the church commanded by Jesus Christ in the NT revelation. Why? Because the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the essential basis of Christianity. Some of these other reformations bring us to perhaps penultimate forms of Christianity, but only the New Testament, the very Word of God brings us to the ultimate form of Christianity. In comparison to the goal of the baptizing free churches the other reformations are inevitably bound for failure for they have adopted the wrong form of the church

In the introduction, he makes the point that Reformers have tended to use the church of the 16th Century, or the Synod of Dort, or the Puritans as the gold standard for the church. He distinguishes the “baptizing free churches” as the only ones who appeal to the New Testament as the standard for the church. He later makes this statement, “New Testament congregationalism (which) is the only biblical form of Church governance.

I am Baptist by conviction, but I guess I have not come to the place of being quite as convinced that we are the only representation of the New Testament church or that congregationalism is the only acceptable form of church government as he has.

His confidence may reflect that he understands the Bible and theology better than I do (something on which there is probably little doubt) or that he is (in my opinion) making a universal pronouncement on an issue in which the biblical evidence does not support such dogmatism.

But, this section forms the basis of the second, more controversial statement that he will make. He is so utterly convinced that “free, baptizing congregationalism” is the only biblical form of government, and that baptism by immersion is essential to Christian living that anyone who disagrees with these is not walking in obedience to Christ. Since his sermon is about Christ’s Lordship, such disobedience cannot be overlooked. How can one walk in obedience to Christ and reject this crystal clear vision of the church?

Second Quote (34:11)

This is the one that has fanned the flames.

Christ commanded believers to be baptized after they become disciples. Those who change the Lord’s order disobey him. They work against his will. The one who knowingly works against his will will be judged by him. In other words, baptism, true Christian baptism, not the invention of baby baptism, baptism is for believers to obey. That’s why he included it in the Great Commission. You can’t separate the making of a disciple from proper baptism. If confessing Jesus as Lord, is essential, if knowing Jesus is Lord is essential, if doing the will of the Lord is essential, then NT obedience to Jesus Christ as he reveals himself here – that’s essential too.

You cannot perform theological triage on the Lordship of Jesus Christ without severing his will into pieces and picking and choosing what you want to do. You will find out what he says and you will do it all because you know your life is totally dependent on him. NT Christianity has no secondary doctrines when it comes to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s why I say baptism is not secondary nor is it tertiary, it is essential.

Now, does that mean that baptism saves you? NO. But if you are saved, you will obey and you will be baptized according to Christian baptism, not according to something of your own invention.”

The key statement is question here is in the last paragraph. “But if you are saved, you will obey and you will be baptized according to Christian baptism (Baptist).” Dr. Ascol read this as a statement questioning the salvation of those who have not received Baptist baptism, and called the statement dangerous on that basis.

My opinion will probably please no one. I cannot imagine that Dr. Yarnell really questions the salvation of those who have not received Baptist baptism. However, his statement certainly does lead one to believe that.

We can all, in a sermon, say something that will be misread and misinterpreted. I hope that is what is happening here. Does he really believe what is seems this statement implies? I hope not.

He anticipates one question: does baptism save? He answers that forcefully. But he does not answer the more pressing question. “Are you saying that there is something fundamentally flawed in the salvation of someone who does not receive Baptist baptism?” (By the way, I am using Baptist baptism to refer to baptism of believers by immersion, not to mean baptism in a certain denominational church – just to clarify.)

He says, “If you are saved, you will…” Not should, or ought to, but will! This clearly implies that if you do not do what is expected – Baptist baptism – then you have not been saved.

I think that is a fair interpretation of Yarnell’s statement. Is it what he intended? I have to believe it is not. Is it a logical inference from his words? I think it is.

So, to the Founders’ criticism of Dr. Yarnell, I would say two things. First, they are right. The concept that is presented by Dr. Yarnell’s words would be dangerous to biblical Christianity. However, I think that it is also clear that he did not intend to say that those who are not biblically baptized are not saved.

I could only hope that Dr. Yarnell would clarify his meaning. Then, we could know whether Ascol’s criticism is valid.


The ultimate point of the Founders’ article is beyond assail, though, in my opinion. There can be little doubt that Dr. Yarnell’s approach is vastly different than Dr. Mohler’s theological triage idea. There are, in fact, two visions competing for the attention of Southern Baptists.

Dr. Mohler classifies doctrine germaine to salvation as primary, that which is essential to the denomination as secondary, and other doctrines as tertiary. Dr. Yarnell rejects this and claims that all doctrine related to ecclesiology and polity is a manifestation of the Lordship of Christ, therefore primary.

I have picked my side in this conflict long ago. But, while I disagree with Dr. Yarnell’s vision, I do not think he meant to say that unbaptized people are not really believers. I could wish that he would clarify the statement, but I do not know if that will happen.

I encourage everyone to listen to the sermon. Overall, it is a beautiful rose, though I would warn you of a couple of thorns on the stem.


Dave Miller said...


If anyone comments, I will be out of touch for awhile, but will respond this evening some time.

Andy Miller said...

Uncle Dave

I'm trying to remember the model you taught us at camp a few years ago about distinctions and boundaries within Christianity. In your mind, what level do gospel-proclaiming Presbyterians fit into? And do you think Dr. Yarnell is building brick walls where there should be picket fences?

CB Scott said...

"There is a significant difference between "Between the Times" or Al Mohler's blog and SBC Today. The first two are blogs by preeminent scholars and leaders of this convention. I would love to interact with them, but what they say has a power, an insight, a depth that most other blogs don't have. They are worth reading without the process of commenting.

I do not think that SBC Today has the same quality of writing. I have had some interaction with Wes and found him gracious and kind. I don't know any of the other guys.

Simply put, and this is not really meant as an insult (though it is also not really a compliment) I don't find the same level of insight, scholarship or depth at SBC Today. The reason I went to that site at times was for the interaction, the exchange of ideas."


You made this comment in the Wild Geese thread. I am going to call you on this one.

Dave, SBC TODAY has changed the way they are going to do what they do. The statement you made relating to scholarship is too premature to make at the present time.

Frankly, teaching in a seminary does not necessarily make one a better scholar or mean one is actually all that bright in comparison to some who do not work in seminaries.

I know some who teach in seminaries who are way below par in scholarship. Some teach in seminaries because they just can't preach or pastor a church. Some are there due to political appointment.

I challenged the TODAY boys about cutting out comments. But your assault on them is. at this moment, without foundation.

Now, let me also say some great scholars teach in seminaries. Most are scholars. But we must be fair. Time will tell.

Also, you made that comment on one of the most shallow blogs in Blogtown when it comes to theology.

BTW, Today has been trashed for cutting off comments over on the Farm. Let me ask you this:

Recently Wade stopped taking anonymous comments. Now he is allowing them again. Why? Could it be that he was not getting the traffic on his post which he was before and his need for attention demanded him to reestablish anonymous comments?

I noticed you did not say a word about that.

Think about it Dave. Fairness demands you do so.


CB Scott said...

BTW, Dave,

Did you notice the picture Wade used for this post?

Is he comparing the BI guys to terrorists? :-)


Dave Miller said...


That is exactly what I would say. He is building a brick wall of separation where a friendly picket fence would do.

Are you behaving? Seen bigfoot anywhere?

Dave Miller said...


First of all, I expressed my opinion. I would read anything Nathan Finn wrote. Actually, all the SEBTS guys are impressing me a lot right now. I like that it is specifically trying to find the balance between the SWBTS mindset and the Southern mindset.

I have only had personal contact (and limited at that) with Wes of the SBC Today crew. I guess that Bart is now part of that, but I haven't seen any contributions by him.

To me, those guys (they are nice guys, this really isn't meant as an insult) just don't have the same level of insight and depth of content that SEBTS/Mohler, etc have.

In other words, while I would like to be able to comment on all blogs, there are a few I will read regardless of the ability to comment.

SBC Today is probably not one of them. The reason I went to that site was for the discussion.

Since they are not allowing discussion, I am not likely to go there much.

Dave Miller said...

I'm not sure that I understand the whole "Wild Geese" metaphor. Maybe you can explain it.

I do not generally comment at Wade's site. I do not generally make commets to Wade. He ignores me. I think I offended him or something, I don't know. I guess I just don't rate a response.

I generally disagree with what he writes (especially his recent crusade for women preachers).

I only responded to what Tim Guthrie said.

So, I make no attempt to balance much with Wade. I do not really consider him a player in Southern Baptist circles, since, from my conversations with people, he has pretty much turned EVERYONE off and does not have much support outside a few fawning folks.

To me, he is irrelevant to the Southern Baptist Convention. As we have discussed, I supported his cause at first, and still do. But he has moved so far to the left, I no longer can support what he advocates.

I'm sure he is sitting up at nights and worrying about the fact that I no longer support his cause.

CB Scott said...


My point was that the statement you made is yet premature. Time will tell as to the quality of their work.

Dave we have much in common. I think you are a stand-up guy. I agree with you often.

So you like SEBTS. Good. I worked there for a while myself.

I am also wondering what you think of Wade's return to anonymous comments. You did not comment on that.

I am just looking for fair Dave. That's all.


Dave Miller said...

As for the anonymous comment thing, I agree. It is funny, when someone criticized Wade anonymously, he challenges their courage.

When someone supports him anonymously, he sings their praises.

I was surprised to see he had reversed his position on anonymous comments.

I have actually been flamed a couple of times by anons at Wade's site - really insulting, degrading stuff.

I recently started allowing anonymous comments here, but no one much has made them.

No one much comments on this site anyway.

CB Scott said...


Sorry. I did not see the comment about Wade's anonys who make up so many of his Wild Geese flock.


Dave Miller said...

One more thing, CB.

If Bart Barber writes at SBC Today, I will read his stuff even without comments. Again, I disagree with much of what Bart says about the issues we debate, but he speaks with an insight that I want to read even if I do not agree.

It is the same with Malcolm Yarnell. I read what he writes, though I find much of it extreme and even scary. But what he writes is well worth reading.

CB Scott said...

Well, Dave. I will just have to wait and see.

Also, I don't think they will ever let me write because they are afraid of what I might say.:-)
But be assured, if I did write it would not be theological dribble like I see in other places and Farms.:-)


Dave Miller said...

Lo and behold, CB, after what I said above, I checked Wade's site and he actually responded to what I said.

Life is funny that way.

CB Scott said...

Dave, I went over and read the statement:

"I believe one of the reasons the Baptist Identity crowd is furious with me is because I have been successful in opening the eyes of many Southern Baptists to the fact that they these ideologists, though brothers in Christ, are not the mainstream in Southern Baptist life - nor should they go unchallenged when they pretend they are."

Dave, I fear Wade actually believes this stuff. His Narcissism which fuels his antagonist nature sometimes makes him have visions of grandeur and lapses of reality as to his importance in the big picture of the SBC.


Dave Miller said...

I will grant you that, CB.

I will make a bigger point. I am wondering how significant the entire blogging world is. There is a group of about 25 or 30 common readers and commenters. Do we really affect the general Baptist world? Are any of us as significant as we like to think?

I do think that Wade believes he has a big following. I do not believe that is so.

I guess time will tell. I never thought America would choose Obama over McCain either.

CB Scott said...


I think that if we all fell into Blogtown Pond and drowned the SBC would never miss a beat and life would go on.:-)


Dave Miller said...

On the other hand, the Wild Geese will not drown, they will just fly away.

Someday, you have to explain that one to me. I'm in a special blogging class. We ride the short bus.

If anyone else reads this, I apologize.

Andy Miller said...

I have not seen Bigfoot. I heard he migrated to Iowa.

Do you think Southern and Southeastern are really that much different, as compared to Southwestern? I admit my bias and that I don't know everyone coming out of Southern, but I think most of the guys I know being trained here would agree with the conclusions being posted on Between the Times. It is certainly more difficult to come out of Southern without being a Calvinist, but I think commitment to Gospel unity seems to be very much the same between SEBTS and SBTS.

But I'm saying that from the inside looking out. I'm sure it's a much different perspective being in SBC churches outside of Louisville, Wake Forest and Fort Worth.

Rev. said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this issue. I felt a bit reassured as I read your post that it wasn't "just me" who was analyzing Dr. Yarnell's comments (these and others) in a similar manner.

Dave Miller said...


I think that Southeastern is closer to Southern than it is to Southwestern. Southwestern has become a lone island.

But look at the "Between the Times" blog. You have a calvinist and a non-calvinist debating and trying to form a basis for partnership and fellowship.

Southern, because of its Abstract, can only really hire Calvinists (not that there's anything wrong with that). So you get top-level Calvinist theology.

Southwestern is going in a completely opposite direction, of course - articulating a very narrow, traditionalist, Landmarkish vision of the SBC.

Southeastern, from what I have read, is more representative of the whole convention, different perspectives on Calvinism, on eschattology, etc. That's what I like.

Josh plans to go to Southeastern (I think mostly because of geography). If he had gone to Southern, I would not be upset at all. If he went to my alma mater, SWBTS, I would be a little concerned. I would be happy if he went to Midwestern because we could see him more!

When do you graduate?

Dave Miller said...


Dr. Yarnell's words are pretty clear - despite what his supporters are saying.

I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, that he does not actually believe that the salvation of an unbaptized person is called into question, but his words say that.

What bothers me is that he is usually so precise and says what he means. But I have to keep hoping that he only misspoke, that he does not really believe what he said.

Ben Stratton said...


You wrote:
"but I guess I have not come to the place of being quite as convinced that we are the only representation of the New Testament church or that congregationalism is the only acceptable form of church government as he has."

Two simple questions:

1. Do you believe that Presbyterianism and Episcopalianism are biblical forms of church goverment?

2. Do you believe that baptismal regeneration and infant baptism are representative of the churches of the New Testament?

Andy Miller said...

Yeah, I agree with what you're saying. I'll be done in May. I'm glad that Josh is going to Southeastern.

Dave Miller said...


I am not sure any of our current denominational structures present a perfect biblical structure.

The idea that Baptist "congregationalism" is the only biblical form of governance is really a stretch, to me.

I think first and foremost, the bible stresses the godly character of those who lead the church rather than a specific structure. We put too much emphasis on structure, not enough on character.

For instance, the common Baptist idea that the Pastor and the elder role are identical is hard to support biblically. It seems pretty clear that NT churches had multiple elders, not a single pastor.

I don't see that the NT reveals a single biblical church structure. Regard Christ as the head, choose leaders according to their character - these are the key issues.

Dave Miller said...

Andy, what's next?
Dr Miller?

Luke said...

I believe the comment that Dr. Yarnell made, in the context of his sermon passage, was as forceful as it needed to be. That passage is extremely heavy and calls each of us to examine ourselves in a serious light. Now I have not read or listened to much of Dr. Yarnell's stuff. It would be a HUGE leap to say that I am a Yarnell supporter. But I believe, again, that within the context of the passage, his statement is a valid statement.

I think the whole message was pretty powerful and challenges a lot of weak christian living of today. Maybe that is why we find the statement to be so outstanding, on different levels of course, but outstanding.

Dave Miller said...


The title, "Thorns on a Rose" describes my feelings. I thought that the sermon was very powerful and biblical, as I said.

But I have a serious problem with the statements I quoted. Either he misstated or is guilty of a seriously disturbing belief. I certainly hope it is the former.

Luke said...

What about the context though? Doesn't that say as much as anything? Even Jesus told us to pluck out our eyes if they offend us. Certainly we need not back off the truth simply because it is a hard one to wrap our minds around, right?

I guess at this point, I am just not willing to attribute some hidden BI meaning to what he said.

Dave Miller said...

Luke, I agree with you. Some of what Dr. Yarnell teaches disturbs me, but I am not willing to believe that he thinks that you have to be Baptized to be saved. I am quite sure he does not.

Here's my point. Tim and Peter have excoriated Tom Ascol for his perspective. I think they have been unfair.

Dr. Ascol, it seems clear to me, properly interpreted what was said - on a grammatical level.

If he was guilty of anything, it was not giving a brother the benefit of the doubt.

Nonetheless, what is clear to me is that it is what Dr. Yarnell said that started the problem.

Again, this whole thing could be solved if Dr. Yarnell would just clarify his words.

Luke said...

And THAT is where I think Tom went askew. He interpreted spoken grammar the same way that he would a written technical paper. I just don't think that is valid way to conduct a critique. Context has everything to do with the sermon. Now had Dr. Yarnell written this and even elaborated on it towards the direction that Tom was saying it was meant, there would be a much better point to be made. But I definitely think that to take the grammar of a spoken sermon and treating it like a formal paper is an improper technique.

Thanks for being discussion minded.

Dave Miller said...

I think that is a very fair point, Luke

Luke said...

The sad thing is it took me a day to figure out that that is what I have been trying to say all along.

Wally said...


This is about 2 years old and it also shows where Dr Yarnell stands on other brothers and sisters in Christ.

he Definition of a Great Commission Christian

First and most germane to our ongoing conversation, please consider the definition of Great Commission Christians. It seems that the hasty move to recognize other evangelicals as Great Commission Christians has introduced thoughts and practices that undermine the biblical mandate. Rather than rehearsing the historical basis of this destructive error in Southern Baptist life, David, let me propose that we seek to answer the following question: Does a Great Commission Christian have to obey the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in its entirety and in its God-given order, or may we summarily dispense with some aspects of it, or practice it contrary to the God-given order, or emphasize something else?

The problem in postmodern missionary practice in the Southern Baptist Convention is largely due to the unwillingness to maintain the beliefs that our biblicist forefathers held in this matter. In other words, David, let us be clear that on the basis of the long-standing Baptist interpretation of the Great Commission, the following groups specifically do not qualify to be called Great Commission Christians: Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians (and other Reformed Churches), Non-Baptist Congregationalists, Quakers, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Assemblies of God. I will not provide an exhaustive list, for that would require a dictionary, but suffice it to say that any other Christian group that believes or practices what these Christian denominations distinctively believe and practice may not be legitimately classified as Great Commission Christians, even if some of them may be classified as "evangelicals."

The reasons that these Christian churches do not deserve to be classified as Great Commission Christians are that they violate Christ’s will in one or more of these three ways: 1) They do not obey the entirety of the Great Commission. 2) They do not follow the order of the Great Commission. Specifically, many of them place baptism prior to the making of disciples. 3) They do not emphasize the faith delivered by our Lord, but add other requirements. For instance, some of them elevate or transform the gifts of speaking in tongues or of healing, and then seek to sway other Christians to their unbiblical positions.

"Unrepentant Sinners" and "The Baptist Renaissance"

In Christ,


Ben Stratton said...


You wrote: "The idea that Baptist "congregationalism" is the only biblical form of governance is really a stretch, to me."

Most systematic theologies present three systems of church goverment: 1) congregational, 2) presbyterian, and 3) episcopal.

In the first the local congregation makes the decisions, in the second a board of elders makes the decisions and in the third a bishop makes the decisions.

While there may be some variety in #1, I strongly affirm congregationism as the biblical form of goverment. Even those Southern Baptists who believe in multiple elders, believe the local church ultimately makes the decisions.

I agree that Christ is to be the head of the church and leaders must be godly men.

However I think the issue is whether Baptist ecclesiology is just one of many options or it biblical ecclesiology.

Dave Miller said...

Ben, I am probably speaking before I have thought it through well enough, a common ailment with me - but I would say that I view Baptist congregationalism as a biblically acceptable ecclesiology, but not necessarily a mandated governance.

"A" biblical ecclesiology, but not "the" biblical ecclesiology.

I'll probably regret those words sometime.

CB Scott said...

Yes, Dave, you will regret those words.

That is, if they ever open the comments at SBC TODAY again.:-)


Dave Miller said...

I'm so well-behaved that if my mouth didn't get me in trouble, I'd never get in trouble!

Wayne Smith said...


You sure said correctly when you said: I'm so well-behaved that if my mouth didn't get me in trouble, I'd never get in trouble!

The only thing I would change is WELL-BEHAVED would be WELL-BALANCED in all your Posts and Comments. that is why you are in a special league of Bloggers.

CB you also are in that league, EXCEPT I don't know about the WELL-BEHAVED???


Andy Miller said...

I just saw your question in the comments list there. I don't think I'll be Dr. Miller any time soon. I'm actually being considered for an associate role by a church in Texas. For now, I'm just seeing how that goes.