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Peter, thank you for directing us to this provocative editorial in the Washington Post (since when has anyone inside the beltway had a clue anyway) and Dr. Yarnell’s response. My comments are offered as constructive criticism and prayerfully will be accepted as such.

While Yarnell’s response is not particularly harsh or overtly antagonistic, I fail to see that it was constructive in anyway. While I am most certain that was not Dr. Yarnell’s intent, it may come across as defensive and condescendingly corrective to some readers.

I tend to agree with one of the reader’s post on the newspaper’s website: “If this is the way Baptists explain their way of doing and being Christians no wonder they are in decline. Maybe this is good theospeak, but as a lifelong Christian layperson, the response made little sense to me and avoided the big issues suggested by the original article to which Prof. Yarnell was answering.” ---Website Post

Yarnell astutely succeeds in setting the record straight about how the SBC is not a Church. However, that is totally lost on the reader for two reasons: 1. it’s not relevant (it might even be perceived as him poking his fingers in the eyes of the editor). 2. it’s totally unfamiliar to most of our culture. The response to “educate” the public that is more familiar with the Roman Catholic Church or Mainline Protestant Churches, but is lost because no one outside of SBC circles has any interest in trying to understand the “Convention” and the autonomy of churches. Many Southern Baptist themselves don’t understand it. It may even sound more like semantics, a deflection of the issue.

Lamentably the professor missed an opportunity when addressing the attack on forgiveness as opposed to financial contributions. He stated that forgiveness was one of Southern Baptists primary concerns? Again, theospeak. The reality, unfortunately, is that evangelical Christians (Southern Baptist being the largest body of this group) are some of the most unforgiving people in the world. The statistics on church fights and pastors being fired is staggering.

Leaders and laypeople alike move about from church to church never considering forgiving or seeking reconciliation toward other church members who have violated them. Instead, we harbor bitterness and malice. This is where the Church, or church, has lost her effectiveness. Matthew 5:24 is clear that our gifts are not to be offered until reconciliation is attempted. Reconciliation is a long and frequently arduous process.

While one must strive to be theologically correct, being theologically correct alone is worthless unless others can see the forgiveness that Christ has to offer through the people who claim know Him. That would be the most powerful testimony in the world, giving forgiveness to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps a soft understanding answer from a forgiving victim toward an unwarranted attacker is a starting place.


I was mulling over some thoughts for a reply, but Randy exceeded anything I had in mind.

I will say this, I think Dr. Yarnell's reply overall is excellent, and I honestly do not believe he intended any condescension. I believe he was trying to explain theological concepts and ideas which possibly could be foreign to most of our culture on the "outside" as it were (they often seem to be, shockingly enough).

That said, my only criticism is that Dr. Yarnell did not address the three main reasons given for SBC decline that I can see. What he said was excellent. However, the problem is not in what Dr. Yarnell said, but in the greatest problem and threat the SBC faces in the culture at large: unbelief.

Someone could easily come along and re-title Dr. Yarnell's piece as "View from inside the Southern Baptist Box" or even, "View from inside the religion box." Honestly, and I mean no offense, it reads like that, unless you share the same religious beliefs and theological terminology. Dr. Yarnell's answers to the questions of the original article (which are not even the main points) could all be read as, "This is how my religion thinks about... X, Y, and Z." It might be quality information (and it is), but it will be received as simply religious data to be processed and catalogued (and unfortunately, ignored).

People in general are not interested in Baptist distinctives. They are not interested in condemnation and strict rules. They are no longer impressed with beautiful buildings and parking lots filled with fancy cars in cities with homeless people wandering around begging for food. The older generation of the faithful is dying off, and the younger generation (mine) is tuning out. Church is seen at best as irrelevant and at worst, obsolete and intellectually childish.

That is the tragedy. It is the tragedy of unbelief. The only cure is the Gospel itself.

SelahV Today by Hariette Petersen

Peter, thanks for this post. I went. I read. I commented. I hope all SB's who read your post will go there and post a comment also. How can they hear lest we speak? selahV


Oh, and one more further thing. Another element missing from Dr. Yarnell's article is acknowledgement of wrongdoing and understanding of needed correctives. This does not have to get down to the personal level. This simply means confessing that some who hold our faith have done wrong and acted contrarily and hypocritically towards that faith: that are those who have been unmerciful, unkind, unloving, unforgiving, partial, and guilty of double standards.

Those outside of the Southern Baptist faith can detect the disparity between faith and action, even if many on the inside cannot. And they are not interested in hearing "what's right about my religion" as this conversation has been heard, in detail, many times. It does mean a whole lot to those who are looking for valid complaints and criticisms to be heard and addressed.

That's just my $0.02.

Debbie Kaufman

I think the original article to which Dr. Yarnell responded was full of things that get to the heart of what I agree we need to look at as Christians first and as Southern Baptists.

I agree with Byron, Randy did an excellent job of exceeding what I was thinking.

peter lumpkins


Thanks for your post. In suggesting that Dr. Yarnell’s post "may come across as defensive and condescendingly corrective to some readers" cannot be denied. That it should be must be denied. Nothing he wrote struck of either being "defensive" or "condescendingly" written, though it should be accepted as "corrective." That's the precise reason it was written.

Secondly, whether or not the public understands Church polity is moot. Waters needs to know the difference between the views, a difference he ought to know, being a religion editor.

Moreover, how you can assert Yarnell was imbibing "theospeak" when he gave a warm, encouraging statement about forgiveness makes little sense, at least to me. Nor does the horrible, ungodly record of those Christians who refuse to forgive count as evidence contra Yarnell's response.

Thanks again, Randy. I trust you Christmas and New Year were gracious. With that, I am...


peter lumpkins


Unfortunately, I have to leave for a meeting. I have a few further responses to record.

Grace, all. With that, I am...



No argument about Dr. Yarnell's intention; nor about the cure for unbelief being the Gospel...with one cavet; the Gospel preached and professed, must be consistent with the Gospel lived. The Gospel is far more than a one time commitment of faith; it is a daily practice as well.


I didn't mean that the article had no good points. It just started out a little rough for me.

Since when does a religion editor ever know much? While Waters might need educating, IMHO a private forum is more appropriate.

CHRISTmas and New Year were indeed gracious. Best wishes for you and yours. They look great on facebook.


peter lumpkins


Just one follow-up. Your suggestion about private forum is well received. I heartily agree. Unfortunately, Waters' editorial was a public expression and, in that sense, a public response is not at all out of place. In fact, "letters to the editor" are the bread & butter of that form of journalism.

I am glad you had a great CHRISTmas. Perhaps we'll talk via phone soon. Let's make it our 2009 Resolution!! :^)

Grace, Randy. With that, I am...


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