Tuesday, November 17, 2009

White, Duesing, and Yarnell, eds. Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches - A book review

White, Thomas, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcom B. Yarnell III, eds. Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008. 183 pp. $ 8.04.

Though, not directly touted as such, this volume is a collection of papers presented at the second annual Baptist Distinctive Conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in September of 2006. In the context of restoring integrity in Baptist churches, this volume offers papers on the topics of church membership by John Hammett and Mark Dever; on the topic of baptism by Daniel Akin, David Allen, Thomas White, and Jason Lee; on the topic of the Lord’s supper by Thomas White and Emir Caner; on the topic of Church Discipline by Gregory Wills and R. Stanton Norman; and on the topic of the priesthood of believers by Malcolm Yarnell III.


In the introduction to this volume, co-editor White proposes that “the presentations in this book seek to confront these challenges and how a church can maintain proper ecclesiology while remaining relevant to culture” (18). The challenges he is referring to are five: extreme individualism, theological denigration, emergence of megachurches, consumer driven culture, and the seeker sensitive movement. He also adds that the ordering of the chapters is thematic, but not in order of importance.

The first two chapters focus on regenerate church membership. Hammett looks “at the Biblical rational for regenerate church membership,” then he traces “its rise and fall in Baptist life” and argues “for its centrality in Biblical ecclesiology.” Finally he suggests “ways that it may be recovered in Baptist churches today” (22). Dever, writing on the same topic, approaches the discussion with a theologically driven, yet pragmatically applied directive on how to regain meaningful church membership.

The next four chapters focus on baptism. Akin begins this section by defining baptism from a theological point of view with an exegesis of Rom 6:1-14. His chapter is followed by historical, lexical, and Biblical analysis of the necessity of immersion, wherein Allen reminds us that “baptism symbolizes cleansing, but is far more than cleansing. To substitute sprinkling or pouring for immersion focuses on the cleansing only; it lacks the symbolism of the method of cleansing that is the cross of Christ” (105). White’s chapter follows; in it he brings “six overlapping categories” into the discussion: subject, mode, meaning, place, administrator, and formula. This section is concluded by Lee’s attempt at connecting baptism and covenant historically, but not theologically.

The next section focuses on the Lord Supper. White presents a theological study on the topic and offers a good resource to all the issues one must consider and all the positions that are present in Christendom. Caner presents a historical overview which culminates in a useful analysis of five views on the supper: laissez-faire, open, cracked, closed, and locked communions. Both authors do a good job at defining their terminology in an area of theology where terminology is used with very little consistency.

This is naturally followed by two chapters on church discipline. Wills leads the reader through the Baptist development and decline of this doctrine, introducing him to the efficiency movement and the revolution of individual freedom. Norman trails Wills’ chapter with a theological and historical treatise on how to reestablish proper church discipline. A very much needed chapter on the priesthood of believers follows. In it, Yarnell reminds us of the plurality of the term “believers” in this doctrine and that we do still have a mediator: Jesus Christ himself. Duesing concludes the volume by identifying its purpose as a tool to combat ecclesiological indifference and pleas with his readers to combat this indifference “for the sake of future churches” (251).

Critical Evaluation

One really cannot critically evaluate all eleven essays in such a short review, therefore an attempt will be made to evaluate the volume as a whole and at times some specific issues will be raised regarding specific authors or topics. As is usually the case with a volume of this type, one finds some repetition of ideas and concepts and even some differing opinions on specific topics. For example, both Hammett’s habitual appeal for pre-baptismal new members’ classes and Hammett’s and Dever’s plea for waiting on baptism, seem to be contradicted by the opening paragraph of Akin’s chapter on baptism. A few differences aside, this book, overall, offers a very cohesive view of what the authors see as necessary to restore integrity in Baptist churches. The reader cannot leave, after having read this volume, without being convinced at least to evaluate the concepts of regenerate membership, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and church discipline and how they are applied in one’s church. Also, one will leave this volume, hopefully, with a renewed understanding of the essence and importance of a proper understanding of the priesthood of believers.

When it comes to the structure and purpose of the book, a few adjustments might be suggested. First, while White offers five characteristics in his introduction, it is telling that as he expounds them, he only expounds the first four (membership, baptism, Lord’s supper, and church discipline), ignoring the priesthood of the believer. Throughout the volume there seems to be much cohesion and flow within the first ten chapters. This is probably due to the fact that Hammett’s chapter touches all the topics that follow as he introduces an ecclesiology of regenerate church membership. Unfortunately, the last chapter by Yarnell, which is very important to the discussion, almost feels isolated. Due to its importance on the topic, it might have helped the discussion if this chapter had been at the beginning of the volume, settling the issue before continuing with the rest of the work. Second, again in the introduction, White spends much time describing five challenges to Baptist ecclesiology and leads the reader to understand that these chapters were written specifically to “confront these challenges.” That direct confrontation is found lacking in many of the chapters; the chapters do deal with issues that can be used to confront those challenges, but the loop is not well closed.

As for specific comments on specific chapters, I will only mention some here. While appreciating the intent, I cannot but have some disagreements with Dever in his chapter on regaining meaningful church membership. Dever is obviously a proponent of a very institutional church, which places great emphasis on structure. Why do I say this? From the first page of this chapter, emphasis is placed on attendance of members. For Dever, members who do not “attend church”[1] are in sin because they do not follow Heb 10:25. One wonders if he would consider the majority of members who attend but do not encourage one another also as being in sin according to Heb 10:25. In his bare outline of membership, Dever does slightly soften his stance by allowing “a few, particular exceptions” to his regular attendance rule, unfortunately he does not specify what these exceptions are. He also places much weight on pastors and their role in the institutional structure. Why do I say that? He ends his chapter with twelve steps to regain meaningful membership, which he suggests as a “twelve-step recovery plan for pastors to regain church membership” (57). Why for pastors? Would it not make more sense, if the “local church is entrusted with the responsibility of defining church membership” (50), for these twelve steps to be a plan for the church? There is much that can be gleaned from Dever’s chapter, but one who does not approach the body of Christ in such an institutional manner will be frustrated by his language and some of his concepts.

While the six categories offered by White are necessary for a complete discussion on baptism and while his foresight in seeing the need for a discussion of the definition of true church in this discussion is much appreciated, White presents several weak arguments in the chapter on baptism. His argument for baptism as an initiatory ordinance into the local church is only tangentially connected to the great commission and overall weak. His insistence that “baptism must be associated with the local church” (113) is found in the midst of a variety of “should” statements and is not supported scripturally. Finally, his personal opinion that baptism should be performed by a pastor or staff member does not do justice to the great commission. Having said all of that, White’s humility in presenting his personal opinion is much appreciated and his balanced presentation of counterarguments in his chapter on the Lord's supper is noble.


Whether the editors meant restoring honesty, or unity, or soundness to Baptist churches when they used the term integrity in the title, this volume successfully initiates all three of these processes by directing the reader’s thoughts to some important topics in ecclesiology and therefore lives out its purpose to combat indifference on the topic.

[1] While defining a church as “not a building” (47), Dever still uses the terminology of attending church. I just wonder what he would say to the words of John Gill who accused those “who call going to a place of public worship, going to church” of “great impropriety” (John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, new ed., vol. 2 (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1839), 559).

Friday, November 6, 2009

White, Duesing, and Yarnell, eds. First Freedom - A book review

White, Thomas, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcom B. Yarnell III, eds. First Freedom. Nashville: B&H, 2007. 183 pp. $ 1.16.

This volume is a collection of papers presented at the first annual Baptist Distinctive Conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that took place in September of 2005. The title of the conference was “The First Freedom: A Conference on Religious Liberty,” and included papers from Emir Caner, Barrett Duke, Daniel Heimbach, Richard Land, Craig Mitchell, Russell Moore, Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Thomas White, and Malcolm Yarnell III. Each paper constitutes a different chapter in the book with topics covering theology, history, ethics, comparative religions, and jurisprudence.


As stated by co-editor Jason Duesing in the introduction, the book has mainly two purposes: “to provide an introductory look at the biblical and historical foundations of religious liberty,” and to remind “Baptists in the twenty-first century of the price that was paid by their forefathers for the establishment and defense of religious liberty” (4). Duesing also offers, in the introduction, a useful summary of each of the ten papers presented in this volume. I highly recommend it to anyone who quickly wants to determine the content of each chapter. Not wanting to repeat needlessly his effort, I will provide here a short summary of the book as whole, dealing with individual authors as needed, but not necessarily dealing with each individual paper. The structure of the book, as will be discussed in more detail in the critical evaluation, is of ten individual chapters, and while each chapter is a unit in itself, one can detect a flow, throughout the book as a whole, from theology to history to application. Duke and Patterson, therefore, begin the volume with a biblical analysis of the foundations of religious liberty. The concept of religious liberty is seen to stem from fundamental human rights, as seen in Scripture, and to be congruent with the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, “Christians embracing the exclusivity of Christ as the only saving and accurate expression of the true and living God are properly the most effective advocates of absolute religious liberty” (46). As Duke articulates it, for God “[t]o have designed humans to seek him and find him, and then to ordain an institution with the power of life and death to restrict them from this search, would be equivalent to creating people with a need for water and then not providing any water to drink” (22).

While all the authors offer some historical support for their positions, the chapters by White, Yarnell, and Land provide the historical background section for the volume. This volume, thus, presents a historical perspective of the ideas associated with religious liberty starting with the European Anabaptists, through the English Baptists, and crossing the pond to the American Baptists. The latter are reviewed from two different perspectives: the contributions made by some who were instrumental in the foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention and the contributions made in the founding and development of America. In the words of Basil Manly Sr., this rehearsal of history is meant to help “Baptists fulfill their duty by furnishing direction, imposing restraints, supplying powerful motives, and promoting perseverance” (91).

The volume then takes a turn to the applied, starting with a look at the interaction between natural law and religious liberty and its application to today’s social and political atmosphere. Following it, we find an explanation of the differences between religious liberty and religious autonomy with its application to politics. On its tail, we find an exposition of 1 Tim 2:1-10 with its implications on the American church, for our children and grandchildren “will find religious liberty ... not in the words of the Constitution or in the ‘natural rights’ of humanity, but by being hidden in Christ and living together in his body” (153). It is on a similar note that Caner subsequently optimistically approaches an analysis of the possibility of religious liberty in Islamic countries. He concludes in the affirmative, but warns the reader that “the road to freedom in countries that have been immersed in tyranny and theocracy for centuries can be a tough and long one” (168-69). The volume ends with an analysis of the current (2005) American political situation in which Pressler presents a good historical and logical understanding of the first amendment and an overview of some current efforts by believers not to allow the “national secular religion” (181) to deprive them of their, and others’, God-given right to religious liberty.

Critical Evaluation

The structure of the book presents the major plight of this volume. While the ordering of the chapters does present a somewhat flowing argument, each chapter is truly a unit in itself, not necessarily connecting with the previous or the following one. This allows each unit to be self-sufficient, but also results in several weaknesses. First, had this been a single work, the material could have been organized much more efficiently and effectively allowing for the volume to be more fluid. Second, had this been a single volume, there would not be so much repetition. Most of the authors, attempting to make their point, include some mention of history, especially Anabaptist history. Many of the same facts are therefore needlessly repeated by multiple authors; this is epitomized in the duplication of a quotation by Roger Williams by both Duke (20) and White (64). Third, one has to look at the whole work to gain an understanding of all the theological or all the historical arguments present in this volume, in a sense decreasing its usefulness as a research tool.

Given the number of theological writings which are purely philosophical or historical in nature, this volume’s detailed look at Scripture is a breath of fresh air. This being an introduction, many, but not all, Scriptural arguments were presented (for example, the justification for religious liberty from the perspective of the sovereignty of God was not investigated) and therefore only constitutes a good first source to start getting acquainted with the arguments or to start further research. Nevertheless, as an introduction it serves its purpose. From a Scriptural perspective, the only fusty aspect was found in Yarnell’s essay’s title, which promises theology, but really only delivers a historical evaluation of William Screven’s, Oliver Hart’s, and Richard Furman’s Political theology and how it impacted the Southern Baptist Convention. As interesting as it was, a detailed scriptural development of Political Theology would have been much more invigorating for the soul.

While, as mentioned above, the historical background could have been more effectively combined in one single section, its presence in this volume was also well appreciated. The sober reminder of the sacrifices paid by our Anabaptist and Baptist forefathers helps the reader to have a greater appreciation for his/her religious liberty, and it provides support for Caner’s thesis that change can happen even in Islamic states, where it seems unlikely, though change will be costly. The historical explication of the road to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the expounding of the intents of the founding fathers provided yet another sober reminder that while religious liberty for Christians might be counter cultural in today’s secularly dominated society, it is a basic right at the foundation of the American government and a way of life stemming from the faith of the masses who crossed the ocean in centuries past.


While this volume has much to commend it as an introduction to the topic of religious liberty, ultimately its greatest strength lies in the fact that throughout the volume, the reader is reminded that religious liberty stems from the Almighty, and therefore Christians, as His followers, are to “be courageous advocates of religious liberty, defined as the free marketplace of ideas,” for “we never have to fear such liberty because with the truthfulness of Scripture and witness of the Holy Spirit of God empowering that message, truth will always ultimately carry the day” (48).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Georgia Tech Ranked No. 12 Worldwide

US New and World Report ranked Georgia Tech as no. 12 in its World's Best Universities: Engineering and IT Universities, for 2009.

Go Jackets!!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Going to Church: a great impropriety - John Gill

The word church has various significations, which it may be proper to take notice of, in order to settle the true sense of it, as now to be discoursed of. Some take it for a place of worship, and call such a place by that name; but wrongly, at least very improperly: it is a remarkable saying of one of the ancients, even of the second century, Not the place, but the congregation of the elect, I call the church. . . . The papists, indeed, call an edifice built for religious worship, a church; and so do some protestants, I might add, some dissenting protestants too; who call going to a place of public worship, going to church; though with great impropriety.
found in John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, new ed., vol. 2 (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1839), 559.

... Hum ... terminology. So what do you think, does our use of terminology matter? When many Christians use the terminology "going to church" are they really committing a great impropriety?

Join my blog network
on Facebook