This is an interesting article by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, the Assistant Dean of Theology at Southwestern Seminary. Dr. Yarnell asserts that studies in Baptist “identity” have fallen victim to the forces of post-modernism, that Baptist identity is equal to being “most Biblical”, and that a renewal of Southwestern’s emphasis on Baptist identity in its course structure is neccessary in light of post-modernism’s influence being demonstrated in Baptist churches by a de-emphasizing of denominational identity.
There is an indirect, but not completely veiled hint that the current “movements” in the SBC are responsible for Southwestern’s renewed determination to teach Baptist Biblical superiority, namely SBC Calvinists, neo-Charismatics (the private prayer language advocates) and those who are moving toward acceptance of “alien immersion.”
“Yet Baptist identity has fallen on hard times. Southern Baptists have been shocked by detractors within their own ranks. Some have considered dismissing believers-only baptism as a requirement for church membership. Others have apparently begun breaking down the biblical walls between Baptists and Presbyterians. Some question the need to inculcate only Biblical (and thus Baptist) principles in the churches missionaries are sent to establish. Some have adopted postmodern ways of thought, talking about being “baptistic” rather than “Baptist.” It has become common to hear people refer to “the church,” not in its primary biblical sense of a local body, but in the secondary and eschatological sense of a universal body.”
Dr. Yarnell draws a close 16th century connection between Anabaptists and their strict “biblicist” positions and those of Baptists. Yet the doctrinal and practical differences between these two groups, which were well pronounced even in the 16th century, would lead to the observation that one or the other has strayed from their strict biblical adherence, or that the human element involved in interpreting and applying the principles of scripture means that it is impossible to determine which, if any, group of Christians is “closer” to the truth than the other.
What Dr. Yarnell, and others in the same vein, refer to as “Baptist distinctives” are based on their own particular interpretation of scripture. Calvin based his doctrine and his institutes as squarely on the scripture as any variant of Baptist theology, though he drew some obviously different conclusions, but Calvinism is no less “Biblical” than Yarnell’s perception of “Baptist” theology. The proponents of a private prayer language have demonstrated that the scripture clearly defines this element of the gift of tongues, and nowhere does it confirm its cessation.
Christians that take a more figurative, contextual or historical path to interpreting and applying scripture, as opposed to the fundamentalist literalist perspective of Yarnell and Patterson, are no less “biblical” in their view, and no less effective in their approach to a relevant Christian faith. If Dr. Caner’s assertion, “If you give a Christian an open Bible you will get a Baptist every time!” were true, it would stand to reason that there would be a lot more Baptists in the world today than there are. And if Baptists were as “biblically centered” as we claim to be, we would not have seminary professors writing articles to point out our “Biblical superiority” over other believers.