Yarnell emphasizes Anabaptists’ Great Commission commitment during Page Lecture Series
Lauren Pratt | October 10, 2018
The Anabaptists’ life-transforming power of the cross of Christ and their intense commitment to the Great Commission characterized the lectures given by this year’s guest speaker, Malcolm B. Yarnell III, during the Page Lecture series at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) Oct. 2-4.
“Evangelism does not exist as a one-time event but as an entirely devoted life,” said Yarnell, research professor of systematic theology, director of the Oxford Study Program and director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In his first lecture, Yarnell discussed how the Anabaptists emphasized the Great Commission in four primary ways: dogmatic, structural, missionary and covenant.
Speaking of the dogmatic emphasis, Yarnell explained that baptism is an act of worship to God, which was emphasized by the early church fathers. This initial act of Christianity, he said, was one of “dogmatic identification” to one God in His Trinitarian nature. In looking at the structural emphasis, Yarnell discusses how Anabaptists took the Great Commission to heart in its sequential form: the disciple is made, then baptized, then taught Jesus’ teachings in full. In adhering firmly to these beliefs, the Anabaptists suffered great persecution. The missionary emphasis focused on the Christian being set apart from the world as holy. In being transformed by Christ, the Anabaptists were steadfast in their sending of missionaries, going wherever people would listen to the gospel and being greatly persecuted in the process. The persecution of these Christians produced massive growth in the Anabaptist movement.
Yarnell closed his first lecture by discussing the covenant emphasis of the Great Commission.
“Discipleship is only possible in the context of the gracious call to enter to covenantal life with Jesus,” said Yarnell. “The only way that you can fulfill the Great Commission is if the Spirit of God brings you the grace to do so.”
In his second lecture, Yarnell lectured on the confession of the Anabaptist in the cross of Christ. A key idea, he said, was “for the Anabaptist, the resurrection is through the cross.” Yarnell specifically focused on the five-fold paradigm of the Anabaptist theology of the cross according to Balthasar Hubmaier, a key Anabaptist leader during the German Reformation. This five-fold paradigm included understanding the law of God through true repentance of sin, realizing the grace of God, entering the covenant, bearing the cross that Christ gives and remembering the cross of Christ.
“Salvation begins in a proper confession but continues into discipleship, which means following Jesus through the cross and into life,” said Yarnell.
A Ph.D. Colloquium was held on Oct. 3 with a panel discussion featuring Yarnell and two SEBTS professors, Stephen Eccher and John Hammett. Bruce Ashford, provost of SEBTS, moderated the panel. In response to Ashford’s question on how Anabaptists have been misunderstood by some, Hammett, senior professor of systematic theology and the John Leadley Dagg Chair of systematic theology, noted that while sometimes Anabaptists are written off as “radicals” or “weirdos,” a lot of them were “serious Christians trying to understand God’s Word.”
Eccher, assistant professor of church history and reformation studies, explained how his view of Anabaptists have developed over time from college to the present. He explained that they were a group of people who went from the majority to the margins as they obeyed Scripture.
“They believed so passionately in the transforming power of the Word of God,” said Eccher, explaining that as they were pushed to the margins, they began reading Scripture through a lens of persecution and suffering.
Following the Ph.D. Colloquium, Yarnell gave a Library Talk on why the church needs people who will pursue academic excellence, explaining that the academy exists for the church.
“I look at our mission as integrally involving theological formation,” said Yarnell. “If you’re going to obey the Great Commission, you had better be a good theologian.”
Yarnell spoke of the “doctrinal formation” of ministers, noting the importance of being a humble learner in academia by always going back and checking one’s own theology as well as living a lifestyle that matches such beliefs.
A time for Q&A followed both the Ph.D. Colloquium panel and the Library Talk.
The Page Lecture Fund, established in 1982, is named for Mr. and Mrs. George A. Page of Plainfield, Indiana.
To view Yarnell’s lectures, the Ph.D. panel discussion or the library talk, visit multimedia.sebts.edu.