“Will We Be Free Churches Or Not?” A Wake-Up Call To The Southern Baptist Convention -- By: Matthew W. Ward

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 06:1 (Spring 2009)
Article: “Will We Be Free Churches Or Not?” A Wake-Up Call To The Southern Baptist Convention
Author: Matthew W. Ward

“Will We Be Free Churches Or Not?”
A Wake-Up Call To The Southern Baptist Convention

Matthew W. Ward1

When Will The Bomb Explode?

Those who have taken the time to read and consider Malcolm Yarnell’s recent book, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, realize that he has pulled the curtain back on a theological and ecclesiological time bomb sitting in the Southern Baptist Convention’s living room. This bomb has largely been ignored by many Southern Baptists because most of us have not understood the contentions or the consequences; after all, how important can theological method be? How significant an impact can seemingly minor variations in theological method have on a local church? These are the questions that Yarnell insists the Southern Baptist Convention ask itself because he believes the stakes are in fact quite high. I, for one, agree, and that is the reason for this article. Anyone who reads The Formation of Christian Doctrine will immediately identify his call for a friendly but frank theological and methodological conversation between the various church traditions. Obviously such dialogue is incredibly helpful, but I do not think that is Yarnell’s primary goal for this first installment in what promises to be a substantial, on-going contribution to local Southern Baptist churches. Rather, he specifically extends this call to Southern Baptists first, and it is absolutely essential that Southern Baptists answer his call.

We are in the midst of an identity crisis. Because Southern Baptists do not seem to understand our Free Church heritage or how that should affect the way we “do” theology, we have allowed ourselves to adopt a range of conflicting and alien theological methods. Yarnell believes that we do so to our detriment, and he calls Southern Baptists not only to claim a distinctly Free Church identity ecclesiologically but also to explore its ramifications theologically. In our defense, we really have not known exactly which questions to ask because we are not exactly sure what a Free Church theological method is, let alone what it is not. But no longer, for The Formation of Christian Doctrine proposes that very identity. In response, Southern Baptists must ask themselves two questions: Is Yarnell’s proposed theological method for the free churches right? And more importantly, does it matter enough to adopt?

Actually, a more fundamental question exists: Should Southern Baptist churches consider themselves free churches in the first place? I believe the answer is yes, but with more and more Southern Baptists freely and uncritically aligning themselves with all things “evangelical,” thi...

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