"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Two Views of One's Interpretation of Scripture

Though I do not personally know Malcolm Yarnell, I am told by several of my friends he is a fine man, and it is evident to me that he is one highly intelligent individual. He has a doctorate from Oxford, and we are blessed to have him in the Southern Baptist Convention as an employee of Southwestern Theological Seminary.

That which I appreciate most about Dr. Yarnell is that he has not been afraid to mix it up a little on the blogs. He has given some very articulate responses to various posts, and though I find myself disagreeing with his views in a few areas, I truly believe we are blessed as a people to be able to dialogue with him. His contributions have been beneficial to us all, and his courage surpasses many of his collegues who choose to remain silent in the face of opposition.

The other day on Marty Duren's blog, Dr. Yarnell took to task those who criticized his paper entitled The Baptist Renaissance at Southwestern. Dr. Yarnell said, "Since I am the author of the piece under critique, perhaps I should be the one to determine what the article means and doesn’t mean. Otherwise, you have indeed bought into a postmodern method of reading, where the reader himself determines the meaning. Perhaps a few comments may help you see, Marty, where you and some of your correspondents have misread what I said."

Dr. Yarnell gives a very interesting description of the way some people interpret his writing. Though he does not specifically speak of the interpretation of Scripture, the phrase he uses ('postmodern' interpretation) is usually associated with one's view of the Bible and Christianity, not the writings of a seminary professor. His description is the first of two views people have when interpreting the Bible:

(1). The view where the reader determines the meaning of a written text rather than the author.

Malcolm calls this method 'postmodern.' I come nowhere close to identifying myself with postmodern Christianity. In fact, those who know me recognize I cherish the old, fundamentals of the faith, including substitionary atonement, justification by grace, salvation by faith, the bodily resurrection of Christ, etc . . .

But I also realize that when it comes to my interpretation of the sacred text I must simply give to people my opinion. There are some things that seem very, very clear to me from the word of God. They are clear through a simple reading of the text, and the unanimity of various evangelicals throughout history gives evidence to the clear meaning of the text.

But there are other passages in God's Word that are not as clear. In fact, I would say that there are many places in Scipture where doctrine can be interpreted in several different ways. Again, this is not true regarding the fundamentals of the faith, but these secondary and tertiary doctrines over which evangelicals disagree are not essential to salvation, or even Baptist identity. Historically, evangelicals and Baptists have disagreed in their various interpretations of these tertiary issues. It is in these areas of doctrinal disagreements that Dr. Yarnell's definition of 'postmodern interpretation' is not necessarily a bad thing. Why?

The alternative to a Christian coming humbly to a passage of Scripture and saying, 'This is just my opinion, I could be wrong is the second view of interpretation for which I will give the definition and then ask you to give it a name.

(2) The view of interpreting the Bible where the person doing the interpreting speaks as if he is the actual author of it.

What do we call this method?

In His Grace,


P.S. Go over and welcome Missouri Pastor Tom Willoughby to the blog world.


Bob Cleveland said...


I'll quote Joseph Garlington again.

"The bible is the oldest book in the world, whose Author is still alive".

I have read some books with complicated plots, by folks like Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum. There were times I wanted to call the author and ask what in tarnation something was, meant, represented, etc. We can do that with the Bible.

If it's true that God speaks individually to us, through His word, then there's a grain of truth in #1. Except the phrase "rather than the Author" simply is not true.

A name for #2? How about "Make-Believe"? Or maybe "Make-Belief" would be more accurate.

Pastor Brad said...

Your assertion that Dr. Yarnell is guilty of interpreting the Bible as if he were the author of it, again points to a postmodern thinking of understanding. It assumes that one cannot determine with certainty what another person means through written communication. It is the same flawed logic that has led our legal system away from original intent.
If God is incapable of communicating clearly through the written word, then we are indeed in trouble. Rather, I believe God has communicated clearly; that we can and should be certain of His intended meaning. That is not personal boasting, but confidence in God and His Word. And in the areas where God has not spoken (PPL for instance) we should not do the Word harm to make it fit, so as not to offend the personal experiences of others.

jthomas899 said...

Wade, that has nothing to do with Dr. Yarnell's post. He is commenting on his paper, and he does know what meaning he intended.

Decontrusting the orginial intent of the author is a POMO attitude.

How can you take a right turn, when Dr. Yarnell didn't even have the siginal on---why chase that rabbit?

Wade Burleson said...


I acknowledged he was not speaking of the Bible.

I am. It's my question, not his.

That's the beauty of having your own blog.


Feel free to answer the question at your convenience.

Grace to you,


Wade Burleson said...

Pastor Brad,

My assertion is not near as strong as you believe, and if I communicated it so, I apologize. I simply wish people would present their views on tertiary issues with a modicum of "This is how I see it, but let's dialogue so I can see your view. I may not change my mind, but I want to hear from you." That's all.

Wade Burleson said...


You and Joseph always come up with great quotes!


irreverend fox said...


I'm not sure I understand your understanding of what "postmodern Christianity" is...you said this:

"I come nowhere close to identifying myself with postmodern Christianity. In fact, those who know me recognize I cherish the old, fundamentals of the faith, including substitionary atonement, justification by grace, salvation by faith, the bodily resurrection of Christ,"

Wade, I'm much more comfortable with postmodernism than I am with modernism...although I believe Christianity is neither...or has the strengths of both (is that a postmodern statement? hmmm)

But I believe there are many "postmodern Christians" who wholeheartedly believe those things you mention. To me (how postmodern) being "postmodern" could be as harmless as being humble enough to say "I don't think it is possible to be able to prove EVERYTHING...and not EVERYTHING is as certain as modernist assert".

For example...I believe SOME ethical issues are relative...just not all. For example…is it wrong to lie? I would say, “that depends”…look at Rehab…or was it wrong for pastors and other lay ministers to lie about hiding run away slaves…or would it have been wrong to lie to the Nazis about hiding escaped Jews in the cellar?

It seems that it is just as absurd to say all ethical questions have clean, clear and objective answers as to say all ethical questions have relative answers.

I’m not sure where I am going with this…lol…is modern Christianity superior or does it have a higher fidelity to Christ than post modern Christianity?

Bryan Riley said...

How about idolatry?

As I explore the writing of people outside my normal sphere, I have found many Christians whom some might think are what you have defined as postmodern (i really have no clue what it means or what it means to anyone who frequents here), yet they too cherish the fundamentals of the faith as you wrote of them: "substitionary atonement, justification by grace, salvation by faith, the bodily resurrection of Christ, etc . . ." I think it is a mistake to consider all things that appear to be postmodern, whatever that is, or all Christians who don't cling to an existing denomination, as believing in something different that the above. I know you did not say that, but I think some readers might interpret your writing in that way.

I find it interesting that when someone presents a new or a different point of view those who cling to the old view find the need to categorize and build up a whole set of stereotypes about these strange thinkers. Case in point, comment #2 above.

Wade Burleson said...


Good point. It's all in the definitions.

Some of my conservative friends use 'postmodern' as a perjorative and I was seeking to show them I am not what they 'think' --- according to their definition.

However, I have some friends who don't hesitate to identify themselves as postmodern, and I could fellowship with them easily because they accept the fundamentals of the faith -- as do you. :)

jthomas899 said...

Rex, that sounds good, but the reality is that inorder to communicate in this world, we all have labels. We need labels, because they improve dialogue. If someone holds to a POMO worldview, why not accept that label.

Can labels be misused? Yes, but so can alot of other things. Such drinking to much wine, but do we outlaw wine.

God Blessings Today

Bryan Riley said...

Wade, it was interesting in church where I was today. The pastor talked about those who try to be spiritual blacksmiths. He said "often people try to beat others into their own spiritual likeness and force their experience of the Holy Spirit as normative for everyone." He was preaching from 1 Corinthians 12. He went further and said that this is an attempt to strip the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Spirit and make it our own to give as we see fit, rather than allowing the Spirit to work as He sees fit. As he preached, I thought... did he read the blogs this week? :)

Stephen Pruett said...

Great question, Wade. A point raised by Pastor Brad seems particularly relevant in considering this issue. He essentially equates our certainty in interpretation of the Bible with God's intention to clearly communicate with us. I believe the Bible is all true and without error, but I find no indication in the Bible itself that we are expected to perfectly understand all of it. In fact, Paul's "through a glass darkly" and Peter's reference to some of Paul's writings as "hard to understand" suggests to me that God intended to communicate and that He communicated the essentials with absolute clarity. However, the empirical evidence indicates that on other matters, multiple interpretations are possible. In fact, on just one issue, the evidence for this is absolutely definitive. Christians have been arguing for centuries about Calvinism vs. Arminiansm and all the variations of both positions. Some of the most brilliant Christian thinkers through the last several centuries have studied the Bible, thought, and certainly prayed about these issues. Yet, there are still brilliant Christian thinkers today who show the fruits of the Spirit (so as far as we can know, the Holy Spirit is working in them) who disagree on the interpretation of the Bible on these matters. If all wise, all knowing God was trying to communicate with complete clarity, would this be the result????? Either someone must always be wrong or decieved or devil-influenced and someone must be right, or God intended for us to struggle with some interpretations. Perphas he did this to confirm Paul's "through a glass darkly" and to keep us humble. In any case, the New Testament makes it clear that we are not to let differences on such things create animosity and division among us. I don't want to put words in Wade's mouth, but I think that has been the focus of his blogging all along.

The opposite of postmodernism is NOT certainty on every point. Fighting postmodern relativism does not require me to claim to be right and know the truth on every matter of scripture. It is sufficient to claim that truth exists, the Bible contains nothing but truth, I understand the essentials it describes for salvation and a number of other things, but I am uncertain on the meaning of some passages. That attitude is just as opposed to postmodern thought and a good deal more consistent with biblical humility than the attitude that I must be certain on everything or I cannot be certain on anything.

As to what we call folks who act like the the Author of the Bible who can state the precise meaning of every jot in tittle with absolute authority (and I am not thinking of any particular person here), I would suggest the name "Ones who have thrown off their dark glasses through the power of their own intellect and now see everything clearly" . I know, I know, it's too long--but it is descriptive.

Wade Burleson said...

As usual Stephen Bryan, very articulate and thought provoking, not to mention, dead on!

martyduren said...

Pastor Brad-
Are you stating that you are certain of what God means in every verse of Scripture? Do you believe that there is a person alive who can infallibly understand each and every verse of the sacred text? If so, please tell me his or her name.

The truth is simple: Dr. Yarnell writes what he writes and when he is misunderstood (or accurately understood but unhappy with the understanding) he cries foul and blames the reader. When multiple readers come to the same conclusion, which, apparently, does not line up with his original intent, he calls his readers "postmodern" rather than re-evaluting his own clarity.

I've written hundreds of blog posts, the total of which would make a rather long book. I can count on one hand the number of times that my writing has been confusing to my readers. Some have agreed, some have disagreen, but few have been confused. It just isn't that hard. Some people, contra your assertion, are not able to communicate well through written communication, but it isn't the fault of the hearer or of the medium, but of the writer.

martyduren said...

Third paragraph: *disagreed* not disagreen.

So much for written clarity...

Debbie said...

Bryan said: "He was preaching from 1 Corinthians 12. He went further and said that this is an attempt to strip the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Spirit and make it our own to give as we see fit, rather than allowing the Spirit to work as He sees fit."

I say: This caught my eye and I used to be one of those people. I'm ashamed to admit it, but for past self-description, I think this minister pretty well hit it on the head.

Debbie said...

Marty: Even with the misspelling, I still understood clearly what you said. :)

Ken Colson said...

Thanks for making your Dad's sermons available for those of us in the cold hinterland. I downloaded the recorded version and listened with great delight to the voice we heard so many times at Southcliff. Thanks again and please do not delete it yet...I still have several sermons to download.
Ken Colson

Pastor Brad said...

Wade said,

“But I also realize that when it comes to my interpretation of the sacred text I must simply give to people my opinion. There are some things that seem very, very clear to me from the word of God…But there are other passages in God's Word that are not as clear.”

My point was to challenge Wade’s notion that we can only give our opinion of what God has said. I agree that there are places that are not as clear – the most obvious example is predestination versus free will. How does it all work? I don’t know…and I think anyone who claims to is kidding themselves. But, did God communicate clearly? Yes. Both are true somehow, but I am too finite to understand. This is not unclear communication. However, I do agree with Dr. Yarnell that an open Bible and an open mind will lead someone to Baptist theology. If I didn’t believe this I wouldn’t be a Baptist.
My job and many of your jobs is not to give our opinion of what the Word says, but to say, “this is what God clearly says, though we may not fully be able to comprehend it all.” This is how we now see “through a glass dimly” – not the clarity of communication, but the fullness of understanding. I don’t think this is mere semantics.
If we can only say something seems clear, we are allowing the possibility that it is not. That opens the door to many theological ideas. Perhaps, Wade only intended tertiary ideas (of course we all draw that line in a different place), but I believe this thinking opens a dangerous door to the Word never being more reliable than the clarity of my own perception.

An honest question: Do none of you see the danger of saying, “this is only my opinion?”

Pastor Brad said...

I'm not arguing whether Dr. Yarnell is understood or misunderstood. Nor you. I don't take issue with that.

Paul/Mary Burleson said...


Two or three things. One is, someone in another comment section attempted to define your "second view" of interpretation as "the Vatican view." [Selahv I think.] Quite accurate I'd say.

Another thing is, no one can possible come to a firm "I have complete understanding of every verse" on every biblical issue as long as we "see through a glass darkly." That is why we must approach, with somewhat of an humble spirit, the truths that are not salvific in nature. A guide to me personally is, "when good people are found on both sides of any issue, 'good' meaning people who love Jesus and His Word, dogmatism should not characterize my approach.

Finally, When one writes that you, or anyone else, has said something "so as not to offend the personal experience of others," you have one who must be confident in knowing the MOTIVE of another. I don't think that is possible. It may be a different motive than than the one assigned. We would have to ask the speaker or writer I would think.

Dogmatism is not a pretty part of the christian's life, mine or anyone, as it is tinted with the colors of pride, haughtiness, and arrogance. May we all avoid it like a plague.

Chuck Bryce said...


In one of your comments you talk about us having a dialogue so we can see the opposing view. Do you think the Jackson, TN meeting (can't remember the name right now) will be a genuine opportunity for dialogue?

The reason I think dialogue is great is twofold. First, I think some of the things we say in preaching, in print and on personal blogs we say from emotion or we just shoot off without thinking things through. (Pat on the back. You and Marty and a few others don't do this very often.) The negative outcome of this is we fall into pride and think we have to keep defending our position no matter what the other person might say. Dialogue helps us really get to the heart of what we believe.
Second, when we really dialogue I think we find ways to separate the primary issues from the second and third level beleifs we chase after.

After we seriously dialogue we can make the decision, based on their primary beliefs, is this a person with whom I can work in the mission God has called us to fulfill?

Pastor Brad said...

It was not my intention to assert that I or anyone else can fully understand every scripture, but I do assert that I and anyone else, through the enlightenment of the one Holy Spirit, can understand fully, and with certainty, anything God intended me to understand from scripture; anything that I need to know for salvation, for the growth of my faith, and for my obedient service to him.

Bryan Riley said...

Debbie, that is why I call it idolatry. When we demand that everyone see things as we do, we are in effect taking on the role of the Spirit. And, given the deceptiveness of our hearts, the frailty of our humanity, the vapor that is our lives, and the awesomeness of our God, I think we should all be slow to demand legalistic following of what we believe to be true. That is more burden than we need to bear or can bear, which is likely another reason God reserves that burden for God.

Glen Woods said...

For one of the more helpful explanations of postmodernism, I recommend Stanley J. Grenz's "A Primer on Postmodernism." You might not agree with all of his conclusions, but I think he does a nice job of articulating what postmodernism is, where it came from, and how we might respond to it in the days ahead.


Glen Woods

Bryan Riley said...

Brad, I like what you just wrote in response to Marty, and it demonstrates that the Holy Spirit working in your life is often mostly about your life, not everyone else's. Often it is about personal application. What becomes problematic is when one's personal application becomes a mandated norm for all other believers.

Wade Burleson said...


I am hopeful that the Baptist Identity Conference in Jackson, Tennessee next month will be one of true dialogue.

Pastor Brad said...

Paul, Wade, Bryan, Marty, or anyone else,

What may we be dogmatic about, without it being pride? How and where do you draw the line? May we be dogmatic about the trinitarian view of God? May we be dogmatic about the closed canon of scripture? May we be dogmatic about the 7-day creation? May we be dogmatic that Christ died for the sins of all? May we be dogmatic that the scriptures contain no errors historically, scientifically or otherwise? May we be dogmatic that slain in the spirit is not a valid sign of the Holy Spirit? And on and on...
I say yes, we may, not because I have pride in myself, but faith in the Word of God. What say ye?

Wade Burleson said...

Pastor Brad,

You ask:

An honest question: Do none of you see the danger of saying, “this is only my opinion?

My honest answer: :)

Allow me to show the danger of NOT saying the above. I'll use your position own illustration of free will/predestination.

Predestination means God has determined your 'destination,' either heaven or hell, prior to (pre) your existence. Some Baptists believe emphatically in it, others (and I presume you) do not.

Let me be one who takes the predestinarian viewpoint in this illustration. The following is what I would say if I DID NOT acknowledge my interpretation is only my opinion and I could be wrong.


"Brad, the fact that you do not believe in pedestination is a very serious problem. God is clear in His Word. There is no mistaking it. The fact that you believe in free will and deny the unmistakable teaching of predestination as taught the Word of God reveals more about your character than it does anything else. You bow you back the Lord. You refuse to accept the inerrant, sufficient Word as trustworthy, and I wonder if you are truly are an inerrantist. Further, your denial of predestination is a denial of the corresponding of eternal security and you are dangerously close to denying our Baptist traditions and the BFM 2000. You eligibily for service in the SBC is questioned and I am going to do all I an to make sure that every trustee, employee and SBC leader accepts predestination as a fundamental truth since there are no tertiary truths in the Christian life."


Brad, I prefer to simply say this is my interpretation. You are free to have yours. Let's dialogue, let's discuss, but let's not divide in fellowship and cooperation simply because we can't agree on issues like predestination.

Wade Burleson said...

As to you last question:

Unity in the essentials (and yes they ought to be defined), diversity in the non-essentials, and charity in all things.

Pastor Brad said...

I couldn't agree more about predestination. And, by the way, I do believe in both predestination and free will, which was my point - they are both clearly taught by scripture.
I'm glad to hear that in your opinion there are some essentials that are elevated above mere interpretation, that we may be dogmatic about.

davidinflorida said...

Pastor Wade,

I think that you would call this the "Perfect Knowledge Method" also known as PKM.

Its not an interpretation, its fact.

Pastor Brad said...

Please indulge me further, for I am but a junior pastor as well :): One what basis do we determine the essentials, from the non-essentials and how may we be sure of them?

Alan Cross said...

Sigh. Marty's analysis of Dr. Yarnell is right on. Attempting to "deconstruct" the intent of a writer based on his own words is not postmodernism. It is called "reading comprehension" and the human race has been doing it since we first developed the alphabet and tried to communicate through the written word.

Wade, as far as us coming to conviction on tertiary doctrines, I have no problem with that. We should have strong convictions. The problem comes in when we try and force our convictions on everyone else, even when they have strong biblical arguments. Fuzzy theology is not necessary when we all carry ourselves with a bit of humility and awe before a magnificent God. Unfortunately, that seems to be lacking in the SBC of recent years.

I've made the point all along that the fundamentalists (I actually considered myself one until all of this started - funny, eh?) are actually the ones engaging in a form of relativism that can make your head spin if you try and follow their logic. It's astounding, actually.

One Salient Oversight said...

What Dr. Yarnell describes as "Postmodern" is Death of the Author, a postmodern literary analysis invented by Roland Barthe.

As someone who has studied both History and English Literature at University, I believe that Barthe's style of interpretation can only be legitimate when the author has actually written a text intended to be understood in that way.

When it comes to the Bible, however, we need to be historians. We need to read the text in its historical and grammatical context.

I know an Evangelist who thoroughly enjoyed Bultmann's commentary on John even though Bultmann was a liberal scholar and an unbeliever. Why did he enjoy it? It was because Bultmann actually took the time to interpret the text correctly and write about it - even though he didn't believe it.

Todd said...


A solid reformed fellow, James K.A. Smith wrote, Whose Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Fouccoult to Church. I think it was "foxofbama" who noted on another blog no Southern Baptist should consider any grasp of postmodernism if they are not conversant with James Woods', Broken Estate. There are a number of other balanced works that do not look for the "bogey" man and find "postmodernism" an excellent whipping post.

The reality for me is anytime we walk in lockstep with a given cultural expression of our faith, be it from the 16th Century or the 21st, we run the risk of accommodation, the very thing which others accuse anyone who engages culture. And yet, we cannot escape our cultural location. We need to hear the prophetic call that challenges the way things are with a view to pointing to the way things God intends them.

I attempted to post a comment re: yarnell on an earlier post you made. Get a copy of the recent edition of Southwestern News. When a person makes the statement that anyone who reads the bible for themselves will become a baptist is the height of denominational arrogance. Include the fact we are pressing Landmarksim deeply into young students we face an uphill battle asking for a measured humility that leads to cooperative conversation.

Hope the lights and heat are on in Enid.

Wade Burleson said...

Pastor Brad,

You ask

"Please indulge me further . . . on what basis do we determine the essentials from the non-essentials, and how may we be sure of them?"

A few years ago I would have said the Baptist Faith and Message. But when we started placing non-essentials in the confession, we opened ourselves up to strife, division and conflict, particular when some attempt to use it as a 'tool of accountability.'

The SBC should never place tertiary or secondary issues over which Southern Baptists disagree within a general confession. Keep the main thing the main thing.

Some examples of non-essentials that should not be in a general confession are below.

(1). Closed communion
(2). Identifying baptism as an 'initiation rite' into the local church rather than the broad identification with Christ.
(3). A prohibition of the gifts or an over emphasis on the continuation of the gifts.
(4). Predestination or double pre-destination
(5). Statements promoting or prohibiting women deacons
(6). Dispensational eschatology
(7). And about a thousand more things over which Southern Baptists disagree. . . :)

But keep all the fundamental doctrines of the faith there! See my post entitled A Southern Baptist Statement of Cooperation for a more detailed explanation.

Wade Burleson said...

Alan, Salient Oversight, Glenn, David and Todd,

All thought provoking comments. Thanks.

Debbie said...

That is so well said Bryan.

Paul B said: "Dogmatism is not a pretty part of the christian's life, mine or anyone, as it is tinted with the colors of pride, haughtiness, and arrogance. May we all avoid it like a plague."

Amen. And by we that means me as well. It is my personal prayer because it is so easy to get caught up in.

Wade's illustration was very good. That is the end result and it's not pleasant looking when in print where one can concentrate on every word of that accurate illustration.

jthomas899 said...

What non-essentials have So. Baptists placed in the B.F. and Message

Bryan Riley said...

If one's definition of dogmatic is this: "characterized by arrogant assertion of unproved or unprovable principles," as Christians we cannot be dogmatic about anything. The arrogant part messes it up. I like the fact that it is an assertion of unproved or unprovable principles, because it is perfectly correct, as a Christian, to believe and stand firm on faith. I would say that one can stand firm on the plain language of promises and commands of scripture.

Allow me to give you some examples:

1. Love.
2. Pray without ceasing.
3. Forgive.
4. Bear with one another.
5. Avoid foolish arguments.
6. Accept the one who is weak.
7. Owe no one anything but love.
8. Present your body as a living sacrifice.
9. Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
10. Don't lean on your own understanding.
11. Don't forsake assembling together.
12. Rejoice in the Lord always.
13. Whatever you do, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.
14. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.
15. Be filled with the Spirit.
16. Don't forbid to speak with tongues.
17. Make no provision for the flesh.
18. Don't walk in lewdness.
19. If you are sick, call for the elders of the church and let them pray and anoint you with oil.
20. Make disciples.

And the list can go on forever. Now, many of these are vague in their application and will have a multitude of personal applications. If your personal application is your dogma, then I think you have gotten off base. If your focus is equipping and encouraging others to follow Jesus, then by all means, be strong and stand firm!

Anonymous said...

Another good thing to remember as you balance how to contend for the faith...

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect"

I note it doesn't ask us to be Lord. It also appears to presume people will ask you about your hope (and not your dogma or convictions), yet i wonder how often we are asked about our hope. Finally, it talks about gentleness and respect and not arrogance or defensiveness.

Bryan Riley

Pastor Brad said...

I know you don't mean that we can't determine what is primary from what is tertiary except through a good confession. What about scripture? What is sufficiently clear as to be above our own opinion? I certainly don't mean for you to give me an exhaustive list, but what is the criteria of clarity? I appreciate your insight. Really.

volfan007 said...


i agree about the nonessentials not dividing christians, but are there not secondary tiers that would still divide and cause a person not to be considered baptist? are there not secondary tier issues and beliefs that would cause us to say, we love you...God bless you...but, you are not a sb?

and, who decides what are the secondary tiers that should be important enough to divide over?


Bryan Riley said...

What makes us want to tell someone they aren't a Southern Baptist? If we are so convinced that earnest faith will lead to baptist theology (a point I am not convinced of although I am a member of a SB church), why are we so concerned about making sure everyone agrees on every issue? Or even every "secondary" issue, whatever that means.

Brad, you may not want a list of scripture, but it is hard to know what is truly God's will apart from it. That is why I listed scripture in my response. I should have included 1 Thessalonians 5:17...it's a clear statement of God's will.

In thanks to a gracious and loving Father,

bryan riley

Pastor Brad said...

I'm not sure I follow. Why would I disagree with you that scripture is the key, when that is the point I am making. I'm sorry, I must have misunderstood.

Lee said...

I would guess, given the nature of what being "Baptist" has been, historically and traditionally, that you would not have to go very far off the Ft. Worth campus to find Baptists who would disagree with Dr. Yarnell's position.

There are far more Christians in the realm of worldwide Christianity, who lay claim to being strict Biblicists, than there are Baptists. The differences between those groups, coupled with a tenacity of their claim on holding to Biblical truth more correctly than others that is at least equal with Dr. Yarnell's claim, would prove his primary assumption to be incorrect. Wouldn't it?

Benji Ramsaur said...


Dogmatism I don't mind.

Mere dogmatism is another story.

I'm not to test the Bible since its Author is the Creator and I am the creation.

However, the interpeter of the Bible should allow me to test his interpretation(s) of the Bible since he is not my Creator.

If he is right and can't answer all my questions, then my questions might sharpen his defense of his position.

If he is right and can answer all of my questions, then I might be strengthened in my faith and/or shown to be in error in my thinking.

If he is wrong, then my questions might cause him to rethink or abandon his position.

If taken on the surface, then your statement that "Dogmatism is not a pretty part of the christian's life, mine or anyone, as it is tinted with the colors of pride, haughtiness, and arrogance" is problematic since the statement itself is dogmatic.

Maybe what you meant by this was a criticism of Christians being OVERLY dogmatic.

Anyway, I LOVED your sermon on the New Covenant.

martyduren said...

Pastor Brad-
Thanks for the explanation(s). I appreciate the time and trust that my response is as gracious as yours.

On your comment, #29, you ask: "May we be dogmatic about the trinitarian view of God? May we be dogmatic about the closed canon of scripture? May we be dogmatic about the 7-day creation? May we be dogmatic that Christ died for the sins of all? May we be dogmatic that the scriptures contain no errors historically, scientifically or otherwise? May we be dogmatic that slain in the spirit is not a valid sign of the Holy Spirit?"

With the exception of a single question (7-day creation), not one of theses points has been questioned by those seeking reform in the SBC. [There are some inerrantists who are not 7-day creationists.] No one has said that we are not to be dogmatic on some things; we've simply said that we can't be dogmatic on everything.

You've asserted in this thread that you can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, rightly understand all that is necessary for faith and practice. While I assume and believe in the infallibility of the Spirit of God, I'm very aware of my own fallibility and can too clearly remember things of which I used to be convinced that now appear foolish.

I'm not denying the clear, plain teaching of the scripture, but to imply that our own biases, loves, preferences, misunderstandings and hundreds of years of Western Christendom tinged by both modernism and post-modernism do not affect our reading of other Scripture is to turn our backs on reality. And, attempts to elevate non-essential doctrines about which there are multiple orthodox interpretations to the place of blood atonement and Trinitarian truth is unwise.

Paul said...

A few observations:

1. Since Dr. Yarnell is speaking in philosophical terms, your #2 would be called positivism.

2. There are other options than full-blown postmodernism and full-blown positivism. Your very wise and intelligent father is on to one of them - dogmatic pronouncements a la the Roman Catholic church. They may or may not be true, but they definitely carry authority in their own context. Another has been posited by N.T. Wright - a chastened realism (see New Testament and the People of God. He avoids what I believe are two opposing extremes which both have some terrible weaknesses and he takes seriously the postmodern critique.

3. I have a great appreciation for something that Dr. Yarnell consistently emphasizes in his writings: a dependence upon the Holy Spirit in interpreting the Scriptures. We could stand to emphasize that a whole lot more, imo.

4. I'm intrigued by his (Dr. Yarnell's) emphasis on the necessity to interpret within the believing community. He may very well be on to something, but for one who appears often to lean on traditional Baptist understandings this particular view does not seem to be historically Baptist, for the most part. It does have much in common with the Roman Catholic approach to Scripture.

ColinM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wade Burleson said...


Closed communion is a tertiary doctrine and it is in the BFM 2000. Though I am opposed to women elders or pastors, it should not be in a general confession --- that is a local autonomous church decision. The 63 BFM contained specific "Lord's Day' prohibitions removed in the 2000 BFM. Those are just a few illustrations.

Wade Burleson said...


Your questions are answered in any statement of faith that has a well written section on the Word of God --- which would include the 2000 BFM :)

Wade Burleson said...

Marty "How Are You" Duren,

Great comment.

Wade Burleson said...

Ditto to the above regarding Paul

Pastor Brad said...

I enjoy every opportunity I have to converse with you. I hope to shake your hand if I can make it to San Antonio.
My point wasn't to equate, for instance, ppl with the trinitarian view of God. Though we disagree on the validity of the former, I am certain we would agree on the latter. My goal, perhaps clumsily executed, was to challenge the idea that we can only be certain enough of our understanding of scripture to call it our opinion. Certainly, there are some areas where we must say, "to the best of my ability to understand this text, I believe it to be saying..." However, these areas are very few and none are vital to our faith or practice, as I humbly see it.
In my string of questions regarding what we are able to be certain or dogmatic about, I was trying to point out that there are many things we can be dogmatic about without being personally arrogant, as I understood Paul to be saying.

martyduren said...

Pastor Brad-
Agreed on each point. Look forward to meeting you in San Antone.

Wade Burleson said...

Pastor Brad,

Couldn't have said it better.

Well done.


ColinM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Les Puryear said...

Gee, guys, is this all you have to do on a Sunday? I just got finished for my day. Maybe I need a pastorate like you have...or maybe I don't. :)


Paul/Mary Burleson said...


Good thoughts. Had I added the words "in my opinion" to the final statement about "dogmatism" I would have been more nearly correct in my assessement about it and illustrative of it's point.

I do believe, however, there has to be a better word to convey the spirit of believers than the word "dogmatism." Perhaps "confidence" be it in Scriptures or thoughts or doctrines or whatever, or even perhaps "conviction."

While "dogmatism" is, perhaps, a legitimate word, especially in the theological arena, [or at least it's cousin "Dogma, Tenants or code of beliefs"] it carries a lot of baggage in our culture with the average person and, even in the religious realm, the Pharisees come to mind when it is heard. The Spirit of Christ seems associated with something better.

But...that's just my opinion. :)

Debbie said...

Les, I cordially invite you to our church for all services morning and evening. I think you would be genuinely surprised at the type of people and messages there. Preached by Wade. They were and are a tool used by God to change lives, I know mine was one. No reruns either. :)

jthomas899 said...

Wade, I just read the section on the Lord's Supper and I don't see it.

As far as women I don't recall reading that---could you point me to the specific section.


Pastor Brad said...

I can't speak for everyone else, but a nice thick coating of ice gave me an unexpected day with no responsibilities. Based on the forecast I saw, I'm guessing I'm not alone.

Todd said...

Leave it to Les to jump to conclusions.

Chuck Andrews said...


Humorously, IMO the point of your post is made in the interpretations, corrections, and clarifications in the comments made here.

Language is imprecise to communicate exactly and entirely what an author is trying to communicate. “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (JN 21:25) We haven’t even began filling the world with books (think of how many books can be placed on a computer chip!). Yet, language is God’s chosen method to reveal Himself (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, German, Spanish, English, etc.). Thus, we use language to interpret, correct, and clarify our understanding of God and because it is imprecise we must continue to learn and use more language which successively grows our understanding of God.

Keep the language coming.

Another question—what is the purpose of writing if the reader is not to try to determine the meaning? (Would I have written this if I thought no one would read it?)

Just my thoughts (and opinion). :)


Bill Scott said...

Communication is and always has been a two way exchange. Effective communication involves the pursuit of clarity on the part of the communicator and active listening (or reading) on the part of the audience. It is the recipient of the communication that is reponsible for seeking clarification from the communicator when ever possible. It is the obligation of the communicator to give that clarification when ever possible.

Of course with scripture, the best way to clarify is with other scripture (IMO).

Bryan Riley said...

Even more people have the opportunity to review Dr. Yarnell's scholarly work over at http://www.jesuscreed.org now. Perhaps we can determine whether more "misread" it.

jthomas899 said...

Bryan, Do you not believe what Dr. Yarnell has said. He has stated what he meant clearly, but you seem to implied that Dr. Yarnell has other motives.

I have been thinking about all this about the writer and the reader.

I am working on a sermon for Sunday. I have a goal in mind in writing the sermon---I want to communicate a meaning to the hearer. When I preach it the hearer can't say I want to tell the pastor what he meant to say (actually that does happen doesn't :)

Dr. Yarnell had a goal in mind in writing---you can't rewrite his goal for him.

I think God for men like Dr. Yarnell, and for Wade they inspire me to be a better Baptist. I believe they will inspire a generation of young baptists.

I just haven't to disagree with Wade on this issue, and you too.

God Blessings to All (esp those who subscribe to Thomas Baptist Confession currently in its 356 revision now running 7869 pages long.) :)

Bryan Riley said...

JThomas, I simply am using his word and description of what a lot of people have done with regard to his article. I do not know his motive or his intent and didn't write what I thought it was or question what he said about it. I simply am curious to know how others read the paper. If it is truth and God-glorifying then we should be excited to get it into wider circulation. We should also be excited to get it into wider circulation to put it in a position to be tested and refined.

I also am not concerned with any goal except God's. I don't mean that piously. I mean it in the sense that all my or anyone else's plans, wisdom or counsel won't succeed against the Lord. Proverbs 21:30. I mean it in the sense that says all my wisdom and writing is really pretty useless in light of the almighty purpose of an incredible God.

Roger D. Lee said...

To all concerned:

I am very new to this blogging thing. So please forgive me if I do not understand the concept of blogging.

It has been my perception that as pastors and preachers college and seminary were places to prepare us to preach and teach the Scripture and with some sort of clarity and depth.

I thought the reason I spent so much time in the study was to understand the intent of the author. I also understood that I spent so much time in the study to understand how the original hearers heard it or read it. I also thought I spent so much time in the study understand how to communicate it to this generation in a way that they hear it as the original hearers heard it. (Obviously all this with the guidance of te Spirit). And in some way I am to make appilication (many applications). While doing this I trust the Spirit to convict and teach.

I do not believe for one minute the people I pastor expect me to be inerrant or infallible. However, I have difficulty in expressing "In my opinion."

The congregation does not need my opinion, they need the "Thus says the Lord." In text's that are not clear, I give them my interpretation based upon the historical grammatical analysis and the congregation is always welcome ask questions and critique. The one without the benefit of resources and time in the study may give their opinion, but we who have given our lives to the Task better be better prepared.

I enjoy this blog most mornings. May God bless.

martyduren said...

Your "In text's that are not clear, I give them my interpretation based upon the historical grammatical analysis and the congregation is always welcome ask questions and critique" is Wade's "in my opinion."

He's not referring to lack of study, but when thorough study provides more than one biblical option. Also, even though our people need to hear "thus saith the Lord," we'd do well to remember that the Lord is still speaking through donkeys and the donkeys best not forget who is who.

Wade Burleson said...

Roger Lee,

Great comment. Thanks for the spirit in which you comment as well.

I would agree for the most part. The illustrations below do not pertain to you personally, but to everyone who reads this. I think after reading the illustrations you may understand my point.

When you teach Christ came to save sinners you and I both shout, "Thus says the Lord!"

When you teach Christ died, rose again, and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, you and I both shout, "Thus says the Lord!"

When you proclaim to men that there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved, but the name of Christ, you and I both shout, "Thus says the Lord!"

Those are some of the fundamentals of the faith.

But when you teach your view of end times (whether it be dispensational, amillenial, historic premillenial, or something else), do you say, "Thus sayeth the Lord!"?

When you say the gifts have ceased and anyone who claims to have the gift of tongues is deceived do you say, "Thus sayeth the Lord!"?

When you teach that women should not have any authority over man in the secular business world do you say, "Thus says the Lord!"

When you preach that no church should ever open communion to anyone other than local church members do you say, "Thus says the Lord!"

When you proclaim that unless you are baptized in a Southern Baptist Church or one that teaches eternal security you have not been legitimately baptized, do you shout, "Thus says the Lord!"

I think many people need to realize that the Lord hasn't spoken in some areas, and to say he as is at best a misunderstanding and at worst a lie.



Paul/Mary Burleson said...


"In text's that are not clear, I give them my interpretation based upon the historical grammatical analysis and the congregation is always welcome ask questions and critique."

That IS my personal definition of "in my opinion." Especially if you add "and come to their own conclusion" to it.

martyduren said...

Quit copying my comments ;^)

Paul/Mary Burleson said...

Oops...sorry Marty. :)

Alycelee said...

I've really enjoyed reading all these comments.
As usual many of you have provoked me to think about some important things.
One thing that I don't believe has been touched on is this-In many ways, I'm a product (unlearning now) of people/pastors/teachers who spoke "Thus sayeth the Lord" on issues where either the Bible was silent or unclear. My husband and I have actually been UNLEARNING-and now as teachers ourselves, we make certain we never teach in any area "our opinions".
Bryan and Paul- I agree completely with your defination of dogmatic and think many outside the walls of SBC life see us that way. Our confidence needs to be in Jesus, in what he will complete in us-not in what we know. (IMHO)

Roger D. Lee said...

Brother Wade,

That is exactly my point. Let us not say that the Word says things that it doesn't say. Too often we have used the "Thus says the Lord" as a battering ram to win over a convert. Shame on us to presume where God has not led.

Brother Paul, There is a difference. Please allow me to illustrate. For many years I served in the financial industry. I heard from many "informed investors" that the stock market is a gamble. My reaction to that was "no it is not." Investing in the stock market wisely is doing research, checking the facts as earnings, past growth, debt, price to earnings ratio, etc, understanding that over time some stocks fall out of favor while other stocks come into favor. There are infromed decisions. Yes, I know there is card counting, handicapping in gambling. My point investing is different than chance or "luck."

Just like church. Just because someone carries a Bible and attends a Sunday School class it does not mean they have an informed opinion. Anyone can have an opinion. But is that opion equally weighted? Whether layman or clergy before anyone attempts to speak for God that individual really has need to know the Word, understand the Word and live the Word. So I believe there is a distiction between opinion and interpretation.

I hope this helps.

Paul/Mary Burleson said...


I know very well that there is a difference between an uninformed opinion and an informed one. In teaching the Scriptures as a pastor, I'm always to be careful to give the informed [with study/reasearch, prayer, and a dependency upon the Holy Spirit who is the real Teacher of Divine Truth] kind of opinion. But I'm to lead the people I pastor to do the same.

When I speak, the authority for what is said is never to be my study or research, much less my person or position, but from the One who aids all believers in their study and research. Our confidence for the Source of Truth is the Text and the Spirit, never the Church or Her spokesmen. That lends itself to institutionalism rather than an Organism. The Scriptures do NOT mean what they say, they mean what they mean.

Being certain of sharing informed /studied opinions on unclear passages or doctrines without giving them as absolutes neither violates the Truth of Scripture nor the power of the Spirit, it simply gives some place in the scheme of things, to the knowlege of our fallen nature and human weaknesses. It would be helpful, in my opinion, for that knowledge to never be forgotten by any of us as we pastor.

By the way, I would say your stock market illustration breaks down, as do all illustrations to some degree, at the following point. There is no dependence on one beyond your own personal research in the stock market if you do it well. In Kingdom stuff, apart from the Spirit, no amount of research/study of history or language, will get to the...TRUTH.

Debbie said...

Paul B said "But I'm to lead the people I pastor to do the same."

Bingo. :)

Debbie said...

Paul B said "In Kingdom stuff, apart from the Spirit, no amount of research/study of history or language, will get to the...TRUTH."

And we have bingo again. 1 Corinthians 2:6-12.

Roger D. Lee said...

Brother Paul B.

I agree.

Winning Truth w/Tim Guthrie said...

Wade, being a very practical "how to" kind of thinker, how do you deal with people who will place your ideas of 2nd tier doctrines in 1st place. I have noticed that several questions have been asked referring to such question with little thought.

I personally believe this the whole in the dough. The bread becomes a quick doughnut when no one seems to have an answer to who decides which is which. Some say "let scripture decide!" Great, who decides who's interpretation is correct and who's is wrong? To me, this takes your post and puts it into the practical.

Wade Burleson said...


I think, as good 'Baptists,' we commit to not tamper with our confessions in order to place third tier doctrines in them.

Keep the fundamentals of the faith primary. And keep those alone in the BFM.

That's my opinion.


Chuck Andrews said...


Here's a good role model for all.

"in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other." (1 Cor 4:6)


Wade Burleson said...

Great verse Chuck!

johnMark said...

As far as interpretation of one's writing I came across something tonight. I don't know what to make of it. Ed Young, Sr. will be sharing the platform with the famous oneness "pastor" TD Jakes. President Page was emailed about it and I really don't know what to make of his response.

I certainly hope we don't see more SB pastors or churches getting involved with folks like Jakes.


Bryan Riley said...

Wow, there's an eye opener. Reading stuff at Ken Silva's site; this was my first time to see it or learn about him. It would be interesting to hear others' take on Silva's ministry.

John Fariss said...

Pastor Brad,

You wrote, "This is how we now see 'through a glass dimly' – not the clarity of communication, but the fullness of understanding."

Granted it is a well-turned phrase--but what on earth does it mean? Maybe I'm just dumb, but I don't grasp that. Would you explain?

volfan007 said...


you said...What makes us want to tell someone they aren't a Southern Baptist?

and, you said...Or even every "secondary" issue, whatever that means.

would you be for sending an m who believed in sprinkling instead of immersion? thats a secondary tier doctrine. its not essential to our faith, but its important...very important...to sb's.


Bryan Riley said...

volfan, have you ever read any of my questions about baptism? It would probably tell you my answer to your question. I'd be happy to email (bwriley4[at]yahoo[dot]com)back and forth on that one, not because i am concerned about putting it here, but i don't want to take over the post and some may grow weary of me asking questions about it. :)

But that wasn't my point regardless. My point was why do we always want to tell people they don't belong? Particularly people to whom we belong in Christ? Why are we always chasing people away? Away from what? Away to what? ARen't we called to draw people to Him? I think with all our defining and chasing we are more about drawing people into our image than we are drawing them to the Risen Savior and God of the Universe.

volfan007 said...


while i agree with you about drawing people in, and wanting people to come along and serving the Lord together, i would still say that there are some second tier issues that would just separate people. we see them as important. and, its not that we are trying to be meanies and run off anyone that doesnt agree with us. its more of a concern with doctrinal purity, and doing whats right in the eyes of God.


Bryan Riley said...

Doctrinal purity? Based on the bible or based on tradition? Moreover, if the teaching is the truth, and your desire is to bring them to the truth, then how will you ever do that by separating from them? Is that ever going to fit the definition of making disciples? I'm not arguing... I'm trying to figure that out. Especially because I strongly believe the Holy Spirit will do the Holy Spirit's work regardless of what you or I do, but something about separating from born again Christians in light of the above questions and Jesus' emphasis on unity just doesn't seem to jive for me...

TruthOfActs said...

Wade & J Thomas 899,
I haven’t made a comment on this post, so why did you two say on the 9th and 10th comments, “Rex, good point” and “Rex, that sounds good, but”?

I mean, I’m not accustomed to compliments—maybe I ought to keep my mouth shut more often.

BTW very good post, Wade.
Rex Ray

Wade Burleson said...

Oops. Sorry Rex. I meant Fox.

joerstewart said...

I think we need to revisit the perspecuity of Scripture.

Anonymous said...

I think all the discussion regarding whether a woman should have authority over men in teaching and whether it makes a difference what subject she teaches misses the most glaring item in this sad story.

Wade wrote in the original post:

"At that closed door meeting in September 2003, Paige gave personal assurances to faculty that their jobs were safe, regardless of gender. Sheri acknowledges her concern at the time, but after the faculty meeting, and the personal assurance by Dr. Patterson that her job was secure, she relaxed and continued in her commitment to invest her life and service in the school she loved. A few days after Patterson's inauguration, four professors resigned unexpectedly, including Dr. Bruce Corley, however, Klouda placed her focus on serving her school and being loyal to President Patterson and the constituency that hired her."

The Convention's servant, Dr. Patterson, gave assurances of job security to faculty members. Either Patterson discovered the meaning of Paul's writing regarding women after this meeting and felt that this new discovery required him to go back on his assurances OR his intention from the beginning was to put "qualified men" in all posts in the school of theology and that assurance to the faculty was dishonest. Are you guys comfortable with that? Is that the way you want your pastor to handle these situations? Is that the way you handle these situations?

I would hope there would be some level of accountability or responsibility requested of Convention employees. I'm sure that there will be none, but it would be nice if Patterson was held to the same standards that he sets for others.

In a related issue, Dr. Klouda, as a professor, needs this to be kept low key--she doesn't need a reputation as being someone who is disruptive. Reputations like that stay with academics (and pastors) for the entirety of their professional life. This situation may become a big issue in SBC life, but one should not expect Klouda to jump on the bandwagon and appreciate any resulting crusades. Her wishes ought to be respected.