Baptist Identity and Theological Triage

Last week, Tom Ascol expressed his concerns about the vision of Baptist Identity and in particular, their rejection of theological triage using a chapel message delivered by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell on October 30, 2008 at SWBTS chapel.  The message Dr. Yarnell preached was entitled “The Essentials of Christianity” (MP3) wherein he argued that a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ renders theological triage untenable because every doctrine pertaining to the Lordship of Jesus is inherently essential.

Within hours of the publishing of Ascol’s post, the Baptist Identity bloggers were in an uproar, calling Ascol names and demanding a retraction and apology.  Additionally, within 24 hours after his post, Dr. Yarnell teamed up with Robin Foster of SBCToday to write a six-page response (PDF) spinning the same language of “theological maturity” and verses Ascol used in his post (Philippians 3)–a paper Foster claims to have started “earlier this week.”  With both the serious and sophomoric responses received, it is important to consider the substance of what is at hand in this matter.

Reviewing Theological Triage

First, we need to review the idea of theological triage.  Dr. Mohler makes the case for three tiers of determining the weight of various doctrinal issues, noting that without such distinctions there can be no “theological seriousness and maturity.”  First-tier doctrines are those “most central and essential to the Christian faith” and include “the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.”  Mohler goes on to say the following:

“These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.” (emphasis mine)

At the heart of first-order doctrines is what it means to be Christian.  At the heart of being a Christian are matters pertaining to the gospel, such as substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, and full deity & humanity of Christ.

Second-tier doctrines are those about which, Mohler argues, Christians have serious disagreements that result in various boundaries, such as denominations. An example of a second-tier doctrine is the meaning and mode of baptism.  Mohler does not diminish the importance of baptism, but specifically categorizes it into the second tier because being wrong about it does not necessarily constitute one not being a Christian (i.e., the first tier). Although second-tier doctrines are important and carry enough weight to divide Bible-believing Christians, Mohler rightly asserts that

“Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy.” (emphasis mine)

To summarize the difference between the two tiers, it can be argued that the first-tier defines what it means to be Christian via the gospel while the second tier defines what it means to be a Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. via ecclesiology.  Utilizing theological triage helps us appreciate and cooperate with our brothers and sisters in Christ as the company of the Redeemed who together shared in the stewardship of the Great Commission while at the same time faithfully holding–without apology or compromise–the doctrines found in the second-tier that define our ecclesiology.

Yarnell’s Conflation of First and Second Tier Doctrines

Where Ascol takes issue with Yarnell’s chapel message is in its elevating second-tier doctrines to the first-tier, or more accurately, where it does away with the theological triage idea altogether.  Yarnell’s concern is that placing something like believer’s baptism in the second-tier is undermining its importance or making it somehow nonessential. For instance, Yarnell and Foster write:

“The Christian who relies upon the ‘first-order’ doctrines errs when this becomes an excuse for ignoring or downplaying ‘second-order’ and ‘third-order’ doctrines.” (emphasis mine)

Again, they argue:

“We do spiritual harm to an immature Christian when excusing their immaturity; and we diminish Christ’s Lordship when we glibly refer to His commands as ‘secondary,’ ‘tertiary,’ or ‘non-essential.'” (emphasis mine)

One more, for good measure:

“To term such doctrines [e.g, believer’s baptism, regenerate church membership, NT communion] ‘secondary’ in the sense of ‘insignificant’ or ‘unnecessary’ or ‘indifferent’ is not only a misuse of theological triage; it may be more egregiously a subtle but significant downgrading of Christ’s Lordship over His church.” (emphasis mine)

I can see where they may come away with that conclusion, but theological triage is not intended to minimize the importance of a doctrine but simply to make the distinction that there are certain doctrines that are so foundational to being a Christian that, should one reject them, he or she would depart from biblical Christianity.  When they speak of the misuse of theological triage of late, are they not implicating the author himself, since Mohler employed the meaning and mode of baptism as a second-tier doctrine?

What Yarnell essentially does by saying that there are no secondary or tertiary doctrines under the Lordship of Christ is to conflate what it means to be Christian and what it means to be Baptist. Consequently, Ascol is correct in saying that Yarnell’s stated vision of Christianity reveals that “baptism is just as essential as the deity of Christ or salvation by grace through faith.”  The implications of this conflation would necessarily include the idea that only Christians baptized by immersion are true Christians and therefore should not fellowship or cooperate with anyone outside the Baptist tradition.  It is not surprising, therefore, to see spokesmen of the Baptist Identity vision referring cooperation with non-Southern Baptists holding to the same fundamental doctrines in the first tier as “ecumenical compromise.”

While Yarnell would never say that baptism is essential to salvation, implying that it is equal to a first-tier doctrine leads the reader to the conclusion that believer’s baptism is necessary to the same degree that other first-tier doctrines are necessary to be a Christian.  It is in response to this conflation that Ascol writes,

“That kind of narrow-mindedness strikes me as more than simple theological immaturity. It strikes me as dangerous to biblical Christianity.”

It is narrow-minded because it effectively nullifies what Mohler referred to earlier in “standing together . . . and recognizing each other as authentic Christians” who disagree on second-tier doctrines.  It is dangerous to biblical Christianity because Christians are defined by the gospel of Jesus Christ plus nothing, minus nothing.  To add something like baptism to first-tier doctrines or to conflate the two tiers would be tantamount to what the Judaizers did when they insisted upon circumcision in addition to faith in Christ. This is not the spirit of evangelicalism but Fundamentalism.  Mohler is correct to argue that theological maturity calls us to acknowledge all gospel-embracing believers as fellow Christians and to see that the gospel is not lateral but foundational to Baptist Identity.

Theological Triage and Lowest Common Denominator

Over the past couple of weeks, the Baptist Identity bloggers have referred much to the idea of “lowest common denominator” in particular with reference to Mark Driscoll at Southeastern Seminary.  In one of his articles, Foster writes,

“There is a systematic diverting of attention from doctrinal fidelity by the Southern Baptist (SB) ecumenist. This is being done by aligning oneself to the lowest common denominator for cooperation, a false redefinition of terms, and a pragmatic approach to missions cooperation.” (emphasis mine)

Really? Foster says this is done by aligning oneself to the lowest common denominator for cooperation.  For the Christian, what they would have most in common would be doctrines found in the first-tier–namely, the gospel which I have described as the greatest common denominator.  Interestingly, Yarnell and Foster blame theological triage as a culprit for fostering such ecumenical cooperation that supposedly undermines doctrinal fidelity.  Consider their words:

“While we affirm this paradigm as a laudable effort, what we have seen, as of late, represents a distortion of its employment. The misuse of this method can be seen especially in the spiral downward to a ‘lowest common denominator‘ approach to church fellowship and ethical conduct. We believe that when theological triage is used in this way, it is being used inappropriately.” (emphasis mine)

Later, they add:

“Our point here is that theological triage, while possessing a legitimate use, becomes a dangerous enterprise when used as a means to discover and then remain stagnant upon the least common denominator.” (emphasis mine)

What Yarnell and Foster do not do is explicitly state what exactly mean by “the least common denominator.”  However, it is obvious that they are talking about those first-tier doctrines of which all Christians have in common.  In his presentation at the Building Bridges Conference, Yarnell made the following statement:

“As you can see, Texas Baptists, who brought their pristine Baptist theology with them from many states both north and east, were committed churchmen before Landmarkers J.R. Graves and J.M. Pendleton ever came to their ecclesiastical doctrines, and I pray we will be committed churchmen long after Calvinists John Piper and Timothy George finish testing the ecumenical slope. Leaving the Hyper-Calvinists to kill their witness ever so slowly, the missionary Christians organized in the Union Baptist Association in the Texas of yesterday pursued a healthier path of biblical orthodoxy and missionary ecclesiology. Leaving the ecumenists to pursue their agenda, the missionary Baptists of today are pursuing the ‘unifying and healthy’ path of biblical theology, soteriology and ecclesiology, for we believe “true biblical unity is based upon certain unalterable doctrinal confessions as revealed in God’s inerrant Scripture.” (emphasis mine)

The necessary conflation of first and second tier doctrines is antithetical to theological triage which serves as the gateway to evil ecumenism, so Yarnell argues.  The missionary Christians are those who, with their “pristine Baptist theology,” forge ahead as committed churchmen, leaving the “ecumenists to pursue their own agenda.”  What Yarnell prays for, argues from history, and advocates for the future is nothing short of a vision of Baptist orthodoxy that eliminates any cooperation on first-tier doctrines focusing on the gospel.

It is important to note that while Yarnell dismissed the idea of theological triage as legitimate in October 2008,  last week Yarnell and Foster praised it, and are now policing it, crying foul if it does not meet their standard of legitimacy or appropriate use.


Yarnell and Foster, among others, have repeatedly warned of Southern Baptists who consider the Baptist distinctives as non-essential, unimportant, unnecessary, or indifferent, and they have tied those Baptists to the misuse of theological triage.  However, they have failed to show who, how, and where specifically this is happening today.  It certainly cannot be said of those within the vision of Great Commission Resurgence who emphasize the centrality and sufficiency of the gospel.  To speak in vague admonitions does not contribute to bringing clarity to the vision of Baptist Identity.

On the other hand, it has been shown how the Baptist Identity vision has conflated the Baptist-related tier (second) with the Christian-related tier (first) so that it leads one to confusion at best and dangerous equivocation at worst.  In addition, to argue that Baptists are the Great Commission Christians only further contributes to the proposed isolationism within the Baptist Identity camp.  From the beginning, Southern Baptists have held to the evangelical commitment derived from having been united to Christ by faith and united to one another by His Spirit.  Though there are serious differences among gospel-believing Christians, those differences should not overshadow what we have together in the inheritance of the saints.  We should be as “ecumenical” as Jesus who prayed thus:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

The unity we have in Christ through the gospel is the very means by which Christ prayed that he would be made known in the world so that others would believe.  May we learn to pray, to live, and to love in such a way that the prayer of our Savior is answered and our world is reached for the glory of His name.

Explore posts in the same categories: Responses, SBC

Tags: , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

79 Comments on “Baptist Identity and Theological Triage”

  1. jonny baptist Says:

    The reason they are doing this is to prepare the way for the next war–Calvinism. By creating a definition of Baptist and then teaching that it is essential to healthy, biblical Christianity (read: salvation), the BI folks can, with warrant in their eyes, purge all non-conformists from the ranks.

    Funny, it was the non-conformists purged from the ranks that were the first Anabaptists. Would to God that BI folks would see that they are the very ones that persecuted the forefathers of free churches.

  2. Scott Welch Says:

    it is scary to me that this is going on. Not surprising, just scary. It seems as though the BI crowd is more concerned with being Baptist than being Christian or exalting the gospel. I hope I am wrong.

  3. Dave Worley,

    Say something substantive about my article please, or at least when you are discussing with others, bring something to the table instead of tell everyone “you are just wrong, very, very wrong.” Thanks.

  4. Dave Miller Says:

    Jonny, you really should attempt to understand the BI viewpoint. I argue against their positions often, on their sites.

    I do not agree with BI, but I am trying to understand what they believe and why. You show almost no understanding of what BI advocates. You cannot argue against a false understanding of another viewpoint.

    Do some homework.

  5. Dave Miller Says:

    Scott, same thing applies to you. I think that many of the points of the BI movement are unbiblical and even dangerous.

    But they are not some kind of secret conspiracy to eliminate Calvinism, as Jonny seems to think. And they do not exalt being Baptist above being Christian.

    To effectively argue against them, you have to understand them.

  6. volfan007 Says:


    Scott said that maybe he was wrong. I agreed with that comment that he made. The BI crowd is not more concerned with being Baptist, than being Christian. And, the BI crowd is very concerned with preaching the Gospel.

    We just believe that Baptist doctrine is just plain, ole Bible doctrine. If it’s not, then let’s not be
    Baptist. Let’s be what more closely resembles a NT Church.


  7. David Worley,

    I have made and argument and supported it with first-hand sources of spokesmen of the BI group. To simply state your opinion that the BI guys are not more concerned with being Baptist than being Christian carries no weight.

    You write: We just believe that Baptist doctrine is just plain, ole Bible doctrine. If it’s not, then let’s not be Baptist. Let’s be what more closely resembles a NT Church.

    You miss the entire point and prove exactly what I am saying in my post. No one is saying that ecclesiology is unimportant, but it *is* secondary to the gospel. I am really wondering if you even took the time to read my post. There is more to being Baptist than being Southern Baptist. It begins with being a Christian.

  8. Dave,

    Have I effectively argued against them? If not, then tell me where and why. There are others who are not informed and don’t care to debate the BI guys on the blogs; that’s part of the reason why I have responded here–to give a broader public access to important happenings in the SBC and inform them of directions, both good and bad, of where it is going.

    You said that you disagree with much of what the BI guys advocate; do you agree or disagree with my post?

  9. Dave Miller Says:


    I am in general agreement with your argument and the concept of theological triage. My comments above were directed at Scott and Jonny whom I felt made blanket statements.

    “BI crowd is more concerned with being Baptist than being Christian or exalting the gospel.” Scott’s generalization is wrong here. The BI guys care deeply about the gospel, just as the those of us who stand against them do.

    My problem with BI is that they elevate Baptist doctrine to a level it does not deserve, but I have read enough to know that every one of them, if you pin them down, understands that there is a difference between being Christian and being Baptist. I may draw the line in a different spot than they do, but we both draw the line.

    Jonny said, “The reason they are doing this is to prepare the way for the next war–Calvinism.” That is classic conspiracy theory and I think absurd.

    Many of these guys are opponents of Calvinism, but there are BI guys who believe in Sovereign Grace. It is an unfair generalization.

    In general, I agree with your argument. I have three fundamental beliefs about the whole blogging process.

    1) Blogging tends to magnify our differences. I am in 95% agreement with Bart Barber on doctrine, but most of our conversation is about our disagreements.

    2) Bloggers have a tendency to escalate our differences. Instead of keeping our conflicts in perspective, we magnify them to the point of challenging the basic gospel fidelity of our opponents.

    3) If we are going to be successful, we need to make an honest effort to understand what those we argue with are really saying, not to caricature their beliefs.

    My experience in arguing with BI guys is that they do not make a real effort to understand what others are saying, but jump to conclusions, start demanding apologies and act like the victims. But, if we are going to oppose them, we need to not feed that tendency.

    Your post here will be received poorly among BI adherents. No surprise. But it is well-argued.

    But when people like Scott and Jonny write what they write, it just feeds that “we are the victims of false arguments” mentality that I see so much of.

  10. Dave,

    Fair enough. Honestly, it is a little discouraging to do the research, making the case with argumentation, and to see the comments thread have little to no interaction with the substance of what I wrote.

    I’m not concerned with how the BI guys will take what I wrote. I am concerned that, should they respond, they respond better than they did Tom Ascol last week.

    Regarding your third point about blogging, I have been careful to quote Yarnell and Foster appropriately without reading into their comments anything other than what they themselves have stated elsewhere. In other words, I am not speculating; I am synthesizing. The two are not the same. I present the case and let others decide whether my argument is fair, balanced, and convincing.

    I am not going to call them to apologize or question their “reading comprehension.” They have stated their position, and I’m stating mine. I want the public to see where they stand and where I stand, and yes, where the differences are. Sure, there are things we have in common, but I am being led to the conclusion that the stated vision of the BI guys is one Baptists should not accept. I don’t say that in anger or in a mean-spirited way. I’m saying, and I hope other Southern Baptists say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

  11. Dave Miller Says:

    On that last paragraph, I fully concur. The BI vision is one that I sincerely hope does not gain a hold on the SBC. Obviously, it already has in many circles.

    I thought that Tim Guthrie’s post and Peter’s, both of which challenged Tom Ascol’s intelligence and basic reading ability were unfair. I do not know why they chose to use insult instead of reason in their posts.

    If you are interested in reading my take on this whole thing about the sermon, I have written at my site on it.

    I occasionally comment when I agree with something. However, I tend to comment more to disagree. That’s why I responded to Jonny and Scott instead of to your post. Does that make sense?

  12. Dave,

    I will check out what you wrote. I understand why you engaged Scott and Johnny, but bear in mind that many if not most of my readers are not involved in the ongoing discussion about SBC issues and don’t read the BI blogs. Some of them may be hearing of this stuff for the first time. Having said that, people will have a much different starting point in the discussion, and I try to consider that when their comments may not be as accurate or well-informed as others.

  13. Tom Hicks Says:

    Hey Timmy, great post! I’ve found it helpful to think of first tier doctrines as necessary for salvation, such that no one who understandingly denies them can be saved. Second tier doctrines are necessary for Christian and church health. Usually, even those who disagree on secondary doctrines will still agree that what they disagree about is a matter of health. Third tier doctrines are neither necessary for salvation nor health.

    Do you agree with that?


  14. Todd Pruitt Says:

    Until four months ago I spent my entire life in SBC churches. I am thankful for much of my experience. What is interesting is that I really did not learn much “plain, ole doctrine” in the SBC.

    I am astonished by the parochialism that would not allow some Southern Baptists to have cooperated with men like Edwards, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, Packer, Ferguson, etc. The confusion of priorities is breathtaking.

    Since when did the Gospel become a least common denominator?

    It seems to me (I attended Building Bridges) that Dr. Yarnell and others resent movements like Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition. These movements however are energizing a generation of young men who love God and are committed to faithful proclamation of the Word.

    I tasted enough SBC parochialism growing up. The bottom line – B.I. is not the future of the SBC. If it is then the SBC faces a very bleak future. One would think that Southwestern Seminary should be feeling the pinch by now.

    We have a generation of younger pastors who no longer assume that biblical orthodoxy and Southern Baptist are synonymous. In fact too many of us grew up in “conservative, Bible believing” churches without hearing the Bible preached well at all. Many of us never heard a compelling vision of Gospel-centeredness until we heard it from Dr. Yarnell’s vilanous Baptist ecumenists and their evil twins the Presbyterians. In fact up until I heard a greater vision from those men about ten years ago I was under the impression that the Gospel was something you did to get saved.

  15. Okay Dave and Tim, I’ll bite. Here’s a question relevant to this discussion:

    Based on the contents of this post, how can the adherents to these competing visions (GCR and BI) work together for the gospel?

    Isn’t this really the question we’re getting at behind all the huffing and puffing and saber-rattling?

    For my part, I think that doing so requires a good dose of humility. I do not like the BI position as it has been stated to date by the BI people themselves (and I think it flatly wrong in every aspect it has taken thus far). But if I am really committed to the Great Commission Resurgence, that means I personally must swallow whatever “pride” I may carry towards GCR principles and recognize that the BI folks are first and foremost my brothers in Christ.

    Second, I have to treat these brothers with the respect afforded to a brother in Christ, no matter how difficult it may be to do so, whether personally or in print. No, I’m not saying Timmy has disrespected them — in fact he’s gone out of his way to be fair and accurate in what he’s said of them. What I’m saying is we (and I personally) have to do more than keep our silence like I’m sure many of us have been doing. We have to not only stop rolling our eyes, groaning, and muttering “here we go again” but we’ve got to actively engage these guys in the manner they deserve.

    That means instead of trying to refute them at every turn, we’ve got to start asking them the questions that need to be asked, which is something I think is lacking in all of this hubbub. We must say to these brothers, “Why do you think this way? What is it that brings you to this conclusion? Can you explain this to me in a deeper and better way? Can you show me the Scriptures and doctrines that lead you to these conclusions?”

    And that would be a fantastic way to start. In fact, I suggest that we of the GCR persuasion be the ones to do it. If we really believe what we say we do (as Timmy outlines very well here), then we ought to be the first ones to step up to the plate. If we are rebuffed at every turn, then we are guiltless before God.

    So, BI guys, especially those of you who’ve commented here: help me understand where you’re coming from. Explain more clearly to me why you have reached the conclusions you’ve reached. Show me just why I should agree with the Baptist Identity vision or at least why I should acknowledge it as worthy of my energies as a Southern Baptist.

  16. Dave: The BI guys are not that difficult to understand and I fully agree with Timmy in that being Baptist is elevated much higher than it should be. Baptist= Christian, history seems to trump what scripture actually says.

    You make it appear as if the BI guys are over our heads. I can assure you that they are not. They are plain, clear, and I believe, wrong, even if one simply went by the examples Timmy gives in his post.

  17. Steve: In relation to your comment, I could be wrong on this, but it seems the BI definition of the gospel and mine are two different things. That for me is the first problem.

  18. Tom, Todd, Stephen, et al.,

    I will interact with your comments shortly. I’m prepping for tonight’s teaching at Grace and will respond either later tonight or early tomorrow.

  19. I think it flatly wrong in every aspect it has taken thus far

    Let me amend this to say “in every respect it has taken towards the Great Commission Resurgence.” Just realized that could be taken to mean I think they are wrong to the point of not being saved. Oops!


  20. Dave Miller Says:

    While I disagree with them, Debbie, I think your conclusions about the gospel are unfair. These guys preach the gospel, they just have a different view of denominationalism than I do.

  21. Matthew Svoboda Says:

    First, I want to say that I do not agree with the BI guys.

    But when people do this- “Baptist= Christian, history seems to trump what scripture actually says.”

    It does not help the conversation. I interned and am close with one of those ‘BI guys” and it is not a case of Baptist=Christian, but rather, ‘If you do not have the right view of the ordinances then you can’t be a true church.’

    Let’s try our best to correctly represent every side.

  22. Matthew Svoboda Says:

    Dave Miller,

    Your last comment made a good point as well. Debbie, you mischaracterize the BI guys pretty bad which doesn’t do anything, but hurt the conversation. I know you love Wade Burleson, but misrepresenting people is one thing you shouldn’t try to pick up from him!

  23. Matthew Svoboda Says:


    I greatly appreciated your post. You indeed put the work in to deal with the issues, which is important. All any side asks for is that the issues be dealt with rather than people mischaracterizing each other and lashing out.

  24. Dave: And you mischaracterize me. If you have a problem answering my comment, please don’t go into insult. I as a woman stand on my own two feet just fine. BTW you have my permission to ask Wade or anyone else who truly knows me if you need further proof.

  25. Excuse me that should have been addressed to Matthew as well. Neither of you have I ever met personally to my knowledge.

  26. Alright, enough of the tit for tat. I really would like things to get back to the topic, okay? If this continues, I am going to dump all off-topic comments into the moderation pool.

  27. Dave Miller Says:

    Timmy, would a comment about the Yankees be considered off-topic?


  28. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    “When they speak of the misuse of theological triage of late, are they not implicating the author himself, since Mohler employed the meaning and mode of baptism as a second-tier doctrine?”

    Yes, exactly. This is what was said at Welcome to SBC Today today: “The idea of Triage may have been a good one on a day where the brain was racing and creative juices were flowing. But I think the idea rolled out and went along the way without some caution and clear understanding as to what and how we were going to apply it.”

    I am not sure what Mohler might think of this, but the denigration of his character and intelligence, I don’t think he would take well. Something makes me want to believe that Mohler is not one given to spontanaeity and speaking before he has searched out a matter.

  29. Chris Poe Says:

    I am thankful for Dave Miller’s voice of reason here. It seems to me that both sides are talking past each other to a considerable degree and perhaps imputing ideas to the other side that they don’t hold.

    For example, I have yet to see how one could reasonably believe that Dr. Yarnell was arguing that Baptists were the only true Christians in the chapel message that was cited by Dr. Ascol. I also seriously doubt that Timmy and Dr. Ascol (and hopefully most if not all involved in the GCR as well) would endorse Billy Graham type neo-evangelical ecumenism that involves cooperation with liberals and Roman Catholics since cooperation with such groups infringes on first level theological issues.

  30. Chris,

    I would like for you to explain how you believe that my article is “talking past the other side” when I quoted them seven times showing with their own words their stated position. If you believe I have not represented their positions accurately using their own words, then show me.

    You said, For example, I have yet to see how one could reasonably believe that Dr. Yarnell was arguing that Baptists were the only true Christians in the chapel message that was cited by Dr. Ascol.

    In my article (in case you didn’t read it), I made the following points:

    1. 1st tier doctrines are related to the gospel and define being a Christian
    2. 2nd tier doctrines are related to ecclesiology and define being a Baptist
    3. Yarnell dismisses theological triage and calls ecclesiological doctrines such as believer’s baptism essential and equivalent to gospel-related doctrines
    4. Ergo, Yarnell conflates the 1st & 2nd tiers making the identity of being Christian and Baptist indistinguishable.
    5. On top of that, Yarnell takes the initiative to be adjudicate between legitimate and illegitimate usages of theological triage.

    These are just some of the points I made in my argument. If my article is not reasonable, then prove it. State your case and provide substantive argumentation.

    In the very comment where you mention talking past each other, you are indicating that you have either not read or not attempted to interact with my article. No one has said here about cooperating with liberals and Roman Catholics since their understanding of the gospel would be indistinct from biblical Christianity.

  31. Tom (Hicks),

    I agree with what you said about the tiers, except maybe about third tier doctrines. I think that any doctrine or issue carry even a tertiary degree of importance has something to do with health, although gospel-embracing Christians (1st) who are confessionally committed (2nd) to one another may have legitimate disagreements. An interesting discussion would be to consider whether third tier doctrines are adiaphora (matters of indifference) and if not, what the distinctions are.

  32. Todd,

    You asked, Since when did the Gospel become a least common denominator?

    That’s a great question and one the BI guys are obfuscating. Regarding evangelical orthodoxy and Southern Baptists, it is interesting to note that many of the early confessions including the Apostles Creed. I think Drs. Dockery and George have addressed this in the past, as well as Dr. Nettles who wrote about Baptist Identity before Baptist Identity was a “movement.”

  33. Stephen,

    Thank you for your comment, and especially in the tenor in which it was written. I agree with it entirely. I am not against the BI guys, but I am against their stated vision regarding the future of the SBC. The GCR guys have written extensively about Baptist Identity issues and importance of being distinctively and confessionally Baptist, and there is much that the two movements have in common regarding those Baptist distinctives. It is where the differences lie and the foci that brings out the contrast. A good example of where there is commonality is a recent discussion I had with Bart Barber on his blog a couple of days ago. Notwithstanding however, what has been revealed thus far in the BI vision is one that I do not to see succeed. As I said on my post, I am going to be as ecumenical as Jesus and hold to the evangelical idea that we are Christians because of the gospel–nothing more and nothing less.

  34. Dave Miller Says:

    Theological triage just seems like a no-brainer to me. We all do it. and it is biblical. In Corinthians 15:3 Paul said that the gospel (which he was defining) was of “first importance.” If he defined some doctrine of first importance, it clearly means that there has to be some doctrine that is second level.

    On a blog, one of the BI guys wrote challenging the usefulness of triage, and some of us peppered him with questions. He had to back off immediately and admit that baptism was not on a par with the Trinity or other such doctrines.

    I think it is for them, a battle of heart and head. In their heads, they know that Baptist and Christian are not synomymous, but in their hearts, they just can’t give it up.

  35. Scotty Karber Says:

    Dave Miller,

    Wise words all I think. Your last comment ends. “In their heads … but in their hearts …” I think this is the heart of the distinction. Christian (in the sense of sharing deepest unity in the gospel) in their heads, but Baptist (sharing deepest unity in the particularities of Baptist doctrine) in their hearts. I wish it were the other way around. I think Timmy’s point is that they admit baptism (and other Baptist particulars) are not on a par with the Trinity, but their argument for Baptist Identity seems to often obscure or even contradict that. I agree.

  36. John Elam Says:


    Thanks so much for taking the time to work this out on your blog. You have done good work, fairly quoted those you disagree with and have commented in a civil manner on their viewpoints. I do not have much to say about the content of your thoughts other than I agree with you brother!

  37. Dave and Scotty,

    I think you guys are correct, at least that is what I’ve seen in the comments of Tom Ascol’s blog in recent days with the commentary from Bart Barber on this issue. I think they have legitimate concerns that the Baptist distinctives are unimportant or nonessential in Baptist life. I would argue that that indeed has already happened with such marks as regenerate church membership, church discipline, and even (to some degree) local church autonomy.

    The issue has to do with the vision they have within the SBC and the kind of relationship Southern Baptists will have as both Baptists and evangelicals. I am much more of the spirit of Carl F.H. Henry and Timothy George than Paige Patterson and Malcolm Yarnell. They are all my brothers in Christ, but they have very different understandings, the former being the ones which align head and heart in word and deed with what I find in Scripture.

  38. Chris Poe Says:


    Sorry for any confusion.

    I was referring moreso to the general interaction on this issue on a number of blogs, not so much this specific post. While I do believe Dr. Yarnell could be clearer, (IMO this has been a problem with BI all along, although admittedly I haven’t read all of their writings on the subject) I don’t think it is fair to state that he thinks non-Baptists cannot be Christians, as some were insinuating. J.R. Graves himself didn’t go that far.

    I tend to agree with Dr. Yarnell on baptism being an issue of the Lordship of Christ, but I don’t disagree with Dr. Mohler’s theological triage either.

    My view is that there are doctrines that are essential to the esse of the church (that determine whether it’s a church at all) and others that relate to the bene esse or well being of the church.

    What I would like the GCR side to be clearer on is just what kind of cooperation with non-Baptists (especially non baptistic believers) is contemplated. I have no problem with T4G and similar ventures, but what other kinds of “Great Commission” cooperative ventures could be pursued? Cooperative evangelism could be done to a certain extent, but the converts have to (or certainly should) land in a church. Which one will it be? On the mission field, churches will eventually be planted, etc.

    It also seems that behind a lot of this commotion (at least with some) is the issue of open vs. close communion. Close communion of course isn’t a landmark distinctive, as Gene Bridges noted in his posts on Landmarkism a few years ago. If it’s being considered a “BI” distinctive by some, then I ask such individuals to take a look at the Founders (as well as English Particular Baptists like William Kiffin and many others) and see what their practice was. That’s not to say that it was necessarily right, but to illustrate that it certainly isn’t a “Landmark” position as some seem to believe.

    A wise old pastor once told me to “beware of movements,” because they can needlessly divert attention. At this point (especially in light of the Driscoll interaction) it doesn’t appear that I really fit in with either the GCR or BI side. So I think I’ll take his advice and simply not play so far as getting immersed in these movements and especially these blog posts when there is important work to do in my local church and elsewhere.

    I’m going out of town and will probably going to be away from the computer for a couple of days, so this will likely have to serve as my last word for now.

  39. Sean Post Says:


    Your post is very well done and is helpful to those of us who have not been able to read all, or even most, of the relevant blogs. Thank you for your efforts.

    It seems to me that a question that needs to be answered by Yarnell and Foster is; At what point can christians disagree and still work together? I am curious where they draw their lines.

  40. Dave Miller Says:

    Sean, Dr. Yarnell answered that question, though he does not speak for all BI adherents. He said that the only appropriate partnership that Baptists shoudl have with non-Baptists is “co-belligerency” – joining together on political or social issues in the community.

    He ruled out partnering on evangelism projects or anything else.

    He says that friendship and personal fellowship are fine and good. But we should have no partnership with that one limited exception.

    • Sean Post Says:


      Maybe I should have been more clear. I didn’t ask at what point can baptists work with non-baptists. I asked at what point can christians disagree and still work together. In other words, what doctrines are essential for cooperation and what doctrines are not? My point is, depending upon where one draws that line and depending upon what one’s theology is, one may have more in common as a baptist with a Presbyterian, AG, or Methodist than one has with other SBCer’s.

      I guess what it really gets down to is who gets to determine what a genuine baptist is? Patterson? Mohler? Boyce? Carroll? Smith? Fuller?

  41. Todd Pruitt Says:

    Dave Miller,

    Oustanding point that we ALL do theological triage. Spot on. Whether he knows it or not Dr. Yarnell practices theological triage. If he doesn’t then he is committing some profound errors.

    I preached recently from 1 Corinthians on precisely the point you are making. There is a matter that, for Christians rises above all other matters: the Gospel. It is the matter of first importance which presupposes that there are other matters that, while important, do not occupy a place of first importance.

    Those of us who see the value and, yes, biblical coherance behind theological triage must be careful to communicate that second and third tier doctrines are not unimportant. Indeed they are important. But we also rightly distinguish between matters of heaven and hell and those doctrines upon which brothers and sisters may disagree without dividing. It is hard to believe this is even being argued against.

  42. Cooperative evangelism could be done to a certain extent, but the converts have to (or certainly should) land in a church. Which one will it be?

    With no disrespect intended (I want to make that abundantly clear before I say this), this is an absolutely silly question for us to be asking. We cannot force converts to be Southern Baptists any more than we can force people to convert in the first place.

    Or to say it a much less harsh way (since I’m sure no one is intending to force anyone to do anything), we can’t expect people won to Christ by Southern Baptists to automatically become Southern Baptists as well. That’s wishful thinking at best and plain stupid at worst.

    In an ideal world we’d want every convert the Lord blesses us to win to be discipled as a Southern Baptist, but that is not being realistic. Isn’t the point to see lost people saved and rooted in a “Bible-believing church,” as the old saw goes? Why should it matter to us, then, if a convert decides not to become a Southern Baptist, but a Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Nazarene, etc.? Better yet, why should it matter to us beyond mere denominational survival?

    And to continue to ask relevant questions as per my last comment, what makes us think that only Southern Baptist churches are “Bible-believing churches?”

    The arrogance of such a position is astounding to me, and I’d really like to know what doctrines and Scriptures would lead one to think so. Perhaps such an explanation would temper any harsh “Huh?” moments I’m tempted to have.

    The next question I’d ask after that would be what is the problem with working with other evangelical denominations to spread the gospel? Can you help me understand why it seems you want nothing to do with sharing the gospel alongside other non-Baptist believers? What makes you think that doing so is tantamount to denominational compromise? Have I really misunderstood your position by reading it this way?

    Again, we’ve got to ask these hard questions before any common ground can really be reached. These questions aren’t even that hard; it just seems no one wants to answer them.

    • Chris Poe Says:


      Your questions can best be answered by a “BI” proponent.

      I’m not BI and have stated so several times. Now I am strongly credobaptist and believe that Presbyterians as well as other evangelical paedobaptists cling to far too much of Rome’s apostate ecclesiology. With John Gill I agree that infant baptism is “part and pillar of popery” and with John Quincy Adams I believe that the Baptists are the only thorough reformers. However, my baptism wouldn’t even qualify under the IMB guidelines, which I’ve also stated several times, and I am a long way from being convinced that it is invalid. I can see the logic behind that position if you accept certain presuppositions. Likewise, Reformed covenant theology is also very tight logically if you accept their presuppositions.

      I don’t blame you, but IMO your response is just another example of us talking past each other. Actually, I blame myself for becoming involved in what I’m half inclined to think of as a largely fruitless blog interaction on this and the Driscoll issue, but it has certainly been eye opening from my perspective.

      Unlike the vast majority of those involved in these discussions, I have no background in the SBC so am not surprised that a number of people seem to have no clue where I’m coming from. (I have however been an observer of the SBC for many years.) I asked for an explanation from a GCR perspective (if such can be said to really exist in a cohesive form) on some issues and was met with your response asking me to defend positions that I do not hold, apparently assuming that because I have questions about the “GCR” that I must be “BI,” Landmark or whatever. I never made any statement that precluded cooperation with non Baptists, and certainly not non Southern Baptists.

      I’m really an independent separatist by inclination (more or less the position that Phil Johnson articulated in his “Dead Right” messages on fundamentalism at the Shepherd’s Conferences in 2005 and 2006.) But as you may know, those types of churches are few and far between in the South. Thus, after leaving Presbyterianism last year, my wife and I became members of a Southern Baptist church since it is the most likeminded church in our immediate area. By some definitions that makes me a “Southern Baptist,” even though I don’t consider that my identity. If so, I’ve only been one since November. In some respects my stance is both broader and at the same time narrower than that of much in the SBC. My biggest “heroes” are probably C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. My biggest influences more recently are S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur. Of course, only one of the above was a Baptist from a denominational perspective.

      I inserted myself into the Driscoll controversy, but it wasn’t from a “BI perspective,” but simply a response to the simplistic knee jerk and apparently politically motivated reactions in the blogosphere by those who either could not or would not acknowledge his extremely poor judgment, and in some cases even defending his most extreme actions. I’m not going to rehash that here.

      The SBC is a convention at war with itself to a certain extent over the issue of what the parameters of cooperation should be, etc. The CR wisely focused on the singular issue of inerrancy because that’s one issue that all “conservatives” could agree on, whether they were 1 or 5 point Calvinists, Landmarkers, open communionists, etc. Now the issue is, how is the inerrant Bible to be interpreted? After the downgrade of much of the 20th century and the broadness of the Conservative Resurgence, this “battle” over issues like Calvinism and Landmarkism (which seems to be defined by many as anyone more restrictive in ecclesiology than they are,) both of which have strong roots in the SBC, should not come as a surprise to anyone.

      However I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it is not my battle and that my energies are best spent elsewhere.

  43. volfan007 Says:


    I would like to ask you to show us…from the Bible…where Dr. Yarnell and Robin Foster are wrong. You seem to be challenging this from your own philosophical/theological system of believing, but I see very little Scripture. Dr. Yarnell and Robin used a lot of Scripture in their post on this matter. Could you please show us from Scripture where Dr. Yarnell and Robin Foster are wrong on this issue?


  44. Wayne Smith Says:


    I believe they called it Unrepentant Sin.


  45. David,

    The issue is not that the use of Scripture in this paper is wrong. The issue is that the paper is so blatantly and obviously wrong to say that those not of the BI persuasion regard the lower levels of “theological triage,” in Yarnell and Foster’s own words,

    1. “desire to discover the lowest possible standard before sin happens,”

    2. attempt to see “how far we may travel away from
    Christ’s will before we have gone over the edge,”

    3. use theological triage “as a means to discover and then remain stagnant upon the least common denominator,”

    4. use the triage “an excuse for ignoring or downplaying “second-order” and “third-order” doctrines,” or “as an exculpation of Christian immaturity,”

    5. consider lower triage levels “detriments to local church cooperation and Christian unity,”

    6. term doctrines in these levels “secondary” in the sense of “insignificant” or “unnecessary” or “indifferent”

    7. “dishonor Christ for the sake of unity in Christ”

    8. “consider important issues regarding the church and the Christian life to be matters of

    Here’s the problem many who do not follow the Baptist Identity movement have, again in Foster and Yarnell’s own words:

    Conversely, we would ask them to speak truth to us and to pray for us so that He would show us where we have erred. Nevertheless, where the perfect Word of the Lord is clear before us, we cannot but be held by Him.

    To date, to my knowledge none of the most vocal supporters of Baptist Identity have been willing to be corrected or accept correction, in direct contradiction to this statement.

    Therefore I ask the questions I do above in an attempt to get to the root of the issue, which no one seems to be doing.

  46. And I forgot to add that if not for what I just wrote above, you would find GCR adherents giving that paper a standing ovation.

  47. johnMark Says:

    Very interesting discussion. I understand what the BI guys are trying to do, I think. However, I don’t think it would go over so easily. Just look at some of the SBC cooperation with non-SBCers. Why not publish an article in the Baptist Press “correcting” such visible cooperative efforts?

    I don’t understand why people are questioning Tom Ascol’s reply to what was actually said. Knowing what someone believes on a topic vs. what they say publicly on the same topic that’s different from what you know can be confusing. So it’s not outside the realm of inquiry to question such public statements.

    It would be an interesting resolution to bring to the Convention floor.


  48. volfan007 Says:


    Give me Scripture.


    Give me Scriptural proof that what they’re saying is not true about the triage system.

    John Mark,

    Give me Scripture.


  49. David,

    How about 1 Corinthians 15:1-11? Especially verses 3 and 11?

    You can only plug your ears with “give me Scripture” so long before you start collecting earwax. Please read what we are saying and interact with that instead of sticking your head in the sand. That’s not befitting of a fellow Tennesseean.

    BTW, our Vols gave South Carolina what for tonight. Did you watch it?

  50. Dave Miller Says:

    Paul CLEARLY used theological triage in 1 Corinthains 15:3 when he said that the truths related to the gospel were of “first importance.” If they were of first importance, we have to assume that some other truths, while still important, are of lesser importance.

    In Romans 14-15, Paul argues that there are some issues (like what we eat and drink or observing the sabbath) that we should each decide on our own under the Lordship of Christ and allow others to do the same.

    Paul used theological triage. It is biblical, it is rational, it is loving and unifying.

    It is absolutely essential if the church is to hold on to doctrinal truth and also pursue unity, that we maintain some form of theological triage.

  51. Dave made some very good points. We are all growing spiritually are we not? I just have a problem with all doctrine being equally first tier, for lack of a better term. It seems to make all doctrine salvic, and I just don’t see scripture doing this. We are constantly learning and growing spiritually in our Christian life aren’t we? Each person, even if they have been a Christian for years is constantly growing and changing as God opens our eyes to the truths of scripture. Phil. 1:6.

  52. joe white Says:


    It seems that you, like Tom Ascol, and many of your posters are at best misrepresenting the B.I. movement. Thankfully, Dave Miller was here to set the record straight.

    Dr. Carson ascribes to his father this quote… “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” Your “cut and paste” blog post fits this mold. The point that Dr. Yarnell is making in his sermon and paper is not that there is no such thing as “Theological Triage”, or that it should never be used. Dr. Yarnell’s point, if I am reading him correctly, is that “Theological Triage” is being misused and comes with a call for Theological Maturity.

    Here is the money quote (one that you only partially noted) from the introduction of their paper… “Our point here is that theological triage, while possessing a legitimate use, becomes a
    dangerous enterprise when used as a means to discover and then remain stagnant upon
    the least common denominator. Defining the gospel is necessary for clearly preaching the
    only means of salvation, a salvation that comes by grace through faith in the God-man,
    His death and resurrection. But receiving the simple (yet profound) gospel is but the
    inception of the Christian life. The Christian who relies upon the “first-order” doctrines
    errs when this becomes an excuse for ignoring or downplaying “second-order” and
    “third-order” doctrines.

    Using theological discrimination to discern the gospel is one thing, but using it as an
    exculpation of Christian immaturity is quite another. Discerning when a person is
    doctrinally and experientially a Christian is both proper and necessary for the preaching
    of the gospel. But leaving a Christian doctrinally, morally, or ecclesiastically in the early
    stages of the Christian life is grossly improper. We do spiritual harm to an immature
    Christian when excusing their immaturity; and we diminish Christ’s Lordship when we
    glibly refer to His commands as “secondary,” “tertiary,” or “non-essential.””

    If we are to truly become Great Commission Christians and have a Great Commission Resurgence, then let’s preach and practice and embrace all of the Great Commission. Yes, we want to see people saved and this comes “first” in the Great Commission. But we also want to see believers biblically baptized and then discipled (also a part of the GC).

    Let us not take a clear command from the Lord Jesus lightly or view it as “non-essential”. This is Dr. Yarnell’s point. He is not talking about essential to salvation, but essential to the maturation of a Christian.

  53. “Let us not take a clear command from the Lord Jesus lightly or view it as “non-essential”. This is Dr. Yarnell’s point. He is not talking about essential to salvation, but essential to the maturation of a Christian.”

    Nice try Joe. But your explanation doesn’t square well with this: “Now, does that mean that baptism saves you? No! But if you are saved then you will obey and you will be baptized according to Christian baptism not according to something of your own invention.”

    I’ve said it before, Dr. Yarnell is not that hard to understand. The above statement is crystal clear. It’s been asked if he overstated. Rather than answering that question, folks keep trying to defend his statement with distractions or claims of misunderstanding.

    But he clearly stated IF you’re saved, THEN you WILL OBEY through Christian baptism (presumably baptist baptism). According to his statement, if one isn’t baptized according to “Christian” baptism, then he isn’t saved. Salvation = baptism. No baptism = no salvation. Dr. Yarnell’s statement is crystal clear.

    Professors are used to having to speak and write with grammatical and theological precision. I’m not going to disrespect Dr. Yarnell by suggesting he doesn’t know how to be properly understood.

  54. volfan007 Says:


    You said it exactly. Thanks for your insight.

    Stephen, I didnt get to watch them last night. My son had a baseball game. I got home too late. I think that Dr. Yarnell and Robin Foster are coming from Scripture to express their thoughts. All I’m hearing from Timmy is his opinion based on his theological/philosophical system. I’d rather hear what the Scriptures teach over a man’s opinion. Wouldnt you?

    Also, to the rest of yall, do you not believe that a person that truly gets saved will get baptised? If they dont get baptised, then maybe we ought to question their salvation. And, I think that Joe hits the nail squarely on the head when he says that some have taken this theological triage, and they’ve made it seem like some of the commands of the Lord are less important. They are not less important. All of His commands are important. All the clear teachings of Scripture are important…if we’re concerned about the Lordship of Jesus.


  55. joe white Says:


    I agree; “Dr. Yarnell is not that hard to understand”, if you hear him in context.

    I think the four Gospels are pretty clear as well. Matthew 27:5 says… “And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” Luke 10:37 says… “Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

    Out of context, we can make the Bible or a person say anything we wish. Why do you want to hold up his “if / then” statement, but are willing to overlook the one before it… “Now, does that mean that baptism saves you? No!” We cannot just pull out a sentence here and there from a 30 minute sermon or a sentence here and there from a 6 page paper to meet our purposes. We need context.

    If we hope to have Great Commission Churches, full of Great Commission Christians, leading to a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC we can’t just focus on, practice, and teach one third of the Great Commission. Baptist Identity is about Biblical Unity around Biblical Discipleship.

  56. david: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

  57. Joe, first of all, thanks for the response. You’ve proven my point. I agree with you that the sentence you quoted is in the immediate context of Yarnell’s statement. We’ll do this your way. So where does that leave us, “in context”?

    In the context you’re requiring, Dr. Yarnell contradicts himself, saying two different things in two back-to-back sentences. It seems he wants it both ways. He doesn’t want to be accused of saying baptism saves, thereby denying a critical baptist tenet. So he says, “Does baptism save you? No!” But he also doesn’t want to downplay the importance of baptism, thereby denying another critical baptist tenet. So he says, “IF you are saved, THEN you WILL OBEY” through baptist baptism.

    Joe, this is not hard to understand. In the first sentence, Dr. Yarnell says baptism doesn’t save you. In the next sentence, Dr. Yarnell says saved people will be baptized according to baptist baptism. Where does that leave every professing reformed and presbyterian Christian? UNSAVED. Because according to Dr. Yarnell, if they were saved, they would naturally be baptized according to the baptist understanding of Scripture.

    Just read what he says. No one is taking anything out of context. Your example from the gospels is comparing apples and oranges. I just showed you from the context you required how Dr. Yarnell’s statement doesn’t make sense. I’m not saying Dr. Yarnell believes that those not baptized a certain way are unsaved. I’m saying that’s what he said. And since no one is giving a rational reason for why he said it (including him?), then what are we left to think?

    I still can’t believe how many people want to disrespect a professor of systematic theology by suggesting he doesn’t know how to be properly understood.

  58. I agree with Dr. Yarnell in that true born again Christians will be baptized in obedience to Christ’s command. What I don’t agree with is that this is always immediate, it comes with maturing. Baptism should be understood before the actual act, and most come to this realization later in their salvation, not always right away, as they mature in the hearing, and studying of the gospel.

    I know of a man who was a born again Christian for many years, a superintendent of Sunday School, and had not come to the realization of baptism by immersion until much later, not having been brought up Baptist, but in another denomination, having been sprinkled as a child. When he became convicted of his need for immersion, he went to the pastor seeking to be immersed in baptism. The pastor was embarrassed that this man who was Superintendent of Sunday School, was never baptized. He offered to baptize this man privately with a few family as witnesses, to avoid embarrassment. The man in need of baptism was my father.

  59. Scott Welch Says:


    Dude, I was making a general observation, even said I hoped I was wrong. I am one who is trying to enter the dialogue and learn. I was not attacking the BI movement in any way. Was that a reason to attack me?


    I have read your blog a long time and did not appreciate being accused of not being “uninformed” as your other readers by you. Grace???

  60. Todd Pruitt Says:

    Jesus chided the Pharisees for tithing of their property but ignoring “the weightier matters”. Is this not an example by Jesus of theological triage?

    Also, Volfan, I would be very careful about connecting one’s baptism too closely to regeneration. Of course geneuine regeneration will produce fruit in keeping with new life in Christ. But lest we pass judgment too quickly on others let us keep in mind that Jesus clearly equates lust with adultery. So can we justifiably question someone’s conversion who lusts?

    Dr. Yarnell thinks that those brothers and sisters who hold to infant baptism as proper New Testament baptism are living in disobedience to the Lord Jesus and therefore have cause to doubt their salvation. That seems a bit outrageous to me.

  61. volfan007 Says:

    Debbie and Todd,

    I’m not saying that baptism has anything to do with saving anyone…good gracious, no. But, when someone is truly born again…truly regenerate…then, they desire to please the Lord and obey Him. Part of that obedience…out of love and gratitude towards the Lord…is to be baptised. And, if you’re a serious student of the Bible, and serious about the Lordship of Christ, then you should want to get baptised the correct way for the correct reason…correct?

    Someone who does not want to get baptised, knowing full well the command of Jesus to be baptised, would make me question their salvation. Was it real?

    Also, Dr. Yarnell is not saying that Presbyterians are not saved….but he is saying that baby baptism is not true baptism, and that Presbyterians should get it right. And, Christians want to do what their Lord wants them to do….right? Darby, I think you’re stretching what he wrote a whoooooole lot.


    • Thomas Twitchell Says:

      “And, if you’re a serious student of the Bible, and serious about the Lordship of Christ, then you should want to get baptised the correct way for the correct reason…correct?” (Remember these words, the bite)

      As Gene Bridges says, this is a “Baptist Gnosticism.” It assumes the argument and infers that only an elite can have true knowledge. The elite being Yarnellists.

      “Someone who does not want to get baptised, knowing full well the command of Jesus to be baptised, would make me question their salvation. Was it real?”

      And if you add baptism to the finished work of Christ, Paul would say you’re anthema and doubt yours.

      Again, you’re assuming the argument that if one does not “get it” and does not want to get baptized according to the “get it” one is not saved even if one is not convinced according to your “knowledge.” And no one is saying that anyone is refusing baptism, any way, just your kind of baptism.

      “Also, Dr. Yarnell is not saying that Presbyterians are not saved….but he is saying that baby baptism is not true baptism, and that Presbyterians should get it right.”

      Unless of course you don’t understand their understanding of it, which apparently you do not.

      Again you assume the argument. And as Debbie is saying it may be that you don’t get it right, that you are in effect a baby, and that by your standard of “Christian baptism” your baptism was invalid. Are you alone right about the doctine of baptism? Know all there is to know about it? But also, that most in the SBC have only a babies baptism because they lack understanding. Are you saying that when the gain that proper understanding they should get rebaptized? And just how many times? Each time they get it more right? And what if there is no water? Or, it is such short a supply because of pollution, that only alternatives are available (as with the exception in the Didache)?

      “And, Christians want to do what their Lord wants them to do….right?”

      Can you prove Jesus was baptized by immersion? Demonstrate it. Do you believe baptism to be instrumental, or just symbolic, a necessity or was it in Paul’s ministry secondary? Tell us, how do you symbolize the sprinkling of Christ’s blood if Scripture ties the meaning of blood to the death of Christ and baptism to a clean conscience and that to sprinkling?

      Tell me, when was the last time you washed your brothers feet? The Supper is absent from John’s Gospel and the emphasis there is the communion of the saints. Do you do this for one another when you offer communion? He did and he commanded it to be done. Do you hold to the correct symbol, or do you spiritualize his commandment in other modes of service?

      “Darby, I think you’re stretching what he wrote a whoooooole lot.”

      And so are you.

      Tell me again how it is that we are baptized in a cloud and in the sea, righteousness, the Holy Spirit and in his death in the symbol of immersion? Isn’t the symbol of death the pouring of oil? How about fire? Do you burn your congregants after you douse them with oil? Some how I don’t think you are that particular when you do not want to be.

      You have bitten into Baptist traditional myths as the standard for all Christians. Though I believe that baptism by immersion is the best symbolic mode to demonstrate Christ’s finished work on the behalf of believers, I doubt that you teach that it was into his death that you were baptized, alone, without reference to the works of the believer. Rather, you probably believe that it was into his offer of salvation, if you obey, and it was at that point his death was for you. This is actually contrary to Scripture in many Baptists’ opinion. For many of us believe we were in him in his death or we did not die with him at all. We do not adjoin it at some other time. And, unless you believe that he is offered as a sacrifice everytime someone is baptized, you believe the same. And just when does the holy Spirit make baptism true in the believer’s life, at his water baptism, or was he baptized by the Spirit into Christ before it? And just when was that, upon his confession? Or is it as Scripture teaches, that no one without the Spirit can confess Jesus as Lord. Are we regenerated before we can call upon the Lord? The Apostle John said absolutely no one calls upon him unless he already has the Spirit. What say you? Are you willing to excoriate all Calvinists who reject your kind of “obedience” to the Lord as unscriptural? I know Yarnell calls us five pointers heretics by his definitions. Is that true? If we believe regeneration precedes faith into Christ, are we being baptized and baptizing according to Christian baptism? Or are we also apostate concerning the faith?

  62. I don’t have time to respond to all of you, although I would like. I would like to first offer a response to Robin Foster who has responded on SBCToday.

    1. Foster wrote,

    I pray that Dr. Mohler does not see anything I have written of him as some kind of division from what he has tried to articulate in his theological triage.

    But that is precisely what Foster and Yarnell did by implicating Mohler when he put baptism in the second tier in his theological triage. Mohler is guilty of “a subtle but significant downgrading of Christ’s Lordship over His church,” and so is everyone else who places Baptist Identity in the second tier.

    2. Foster wrote,

    Of course I would not be surprised if these statements were misused in order to create further division. It is a divisive nature that some are wanting to advocate so they can discredit us.

    BI guys have a talking point, and that is to pretend that there is no divide within the two competing movements in the SBC. I will expound on this in the not too distant future, but for now it is suffice to say that the unreasoned, vitriolic dogmatism from Tim Guthrie to Peter Lumpkins regarding Tom Ascol’s blogpost to the flip-flopping by Yarnell/Foster on Mohler’s theological triage is quite telling. Moreover, Foster, like David Worley here, has not attempted to challenge specifically what I have written in my article where in I quote him several times. The “Give me scripture, give me scripture!” and “You are wrong, dead wrong!” chants from the BI advocates does not contribute to the viability of the BI message; however, what it does reveal is that the repeated demands for apology, the “we agree with the principle of triage so long as we can determine if it is used correctly,” and the attempts to label me as divisive, is all a diversion from what really needs to be addressed and what I attempted to bring out in my article.

    3. Foster said,

    [I am for] cooperating in the church planting effort with anyone who agrees wholeheartedly with the Baptist Faith and Message so that we may plant Southern Baptist churches that reflect our Southern Baptist beliefs in ecclesiology.

    I was encouraged to hear from Bart Barber who said that he has no problem in supporting or partnering with someone like myself who was trained by a PCA conference and attended and participated in Acts 29 bootcamps, so long as I planted distinctively Baptist churches. From his responses, I cannot tell where there are any significant differences, except maybe that he needs to go to the next A29 bootcamp with me. 🙂

    Perhaps it is good to read again what the BF&M2000 says about cooperation, since Foster uses it in such an authoritative manner. It says:

    Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

    The BF&M itself does not require cooperation along the lines of the BF&M but rather as long as there is “no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.” This cooperation is not just around social, ethical, or political issues, but includes missionary involvement in Christ’s kingdom.

    Foster uses the BF&M2000 in a way that not even the BF&M2000 prescribes its use; furthermore, the BF&M2000 goes further in cooperation around missionary enterprises where Foster relegates cooperation to political and social issues.

    In the end, while Foster is concerned about being discredited by others, it is of far greater importance to see where the Baptist Identity spokesmen have discredited themselves in both word and deed.

  63. Scott,

    I was not speaking of you in particular but those who are not familiar with the ins and outs of the current discussions in the SBC. I have a pretty good idea who my readership is, and many of them are not Southern Baptist, which I suppose, would make my blog quite “ecumenical.” 🙂 BTW, your general observation is one that I have heard spoken of by various people both online and offline.

  64. David Worley,

    Regarding theological triage, I believe there is not only biblical support, but historical, confessional, and practical support for its use. While I am short on time, perhaps Robin and Dr. Yarnell could give you some biblical support since they are now strong supporters of its use. 🙂

  65. Todd,

    You said, There is a matter that, for Christians rises above all other matters: the Gospel. It is the matter of first importance which presupposes that there are other matters that, while important, do not occupy a place of first importance.

    Those of us who see the value and, yes, biblical coherance behind theological triage must be careful to communicate that second and third tier doctrines are not unimportant. Indeed they are important. But we also rightly distinguish between matters of heaven and hell and those doctrines upon which brothers and sisters may disagree without dividing. It is hard to believe this is even being argued against.

    Exactly. The case for theological triage is clearly revealed among a Corinthian church. This was a church who had abandoned church discipline (1 Cor. 5), a mark of true churches, and what when Paul came to them he said that he determined to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). He did not say, “I determine to know nothing among you except believer’s baptism and church discipline.” Those are not doubt important, but what was preeminent and sufficient in Paul’s mind was the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Furthermore, he did not say that “those who were saved,” but to those who are being saved it is power of God. The gospel is not an afterthought or auxiliary to the Christian. It is the power through which we live and operate under the Lordship of Christ.

    In 1 Cor. 15, Paul said that what he delivered was that which he also received. This is the transaction of the gospel from one believer to another. Paul was not writing to non-Christians but to those “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2).

    One look at the Apostle Paul will see a man fully engaged and committed to the most important thing–the gospel of Jesus Christ. There were churches everywhere that had problems–Galatians with Judaizers, Ephesians with losing their first love, Colossians with Gnostics and worldly philosophy–and to all of them, the answer was the gospel. Is it not an interesting observation that believer’s baptism was not stressed as much in Paul’s writings as the Baptist Identity guys would have us think? In fact, when speaking of baptism among the Corinthian church, he said emphatically that he did not baptize a single one of them (1 Cor. 1:14) because incidentally baptism had become a source of division among the church.

  66. Joe White,

    As I stated earlier, the fact that Mohler puts ecclesiological matters in the second tier “significantly downgrades” Christ’s lordship, according to Yarnell and Foster. What Tom Ascol and myself are arguing is precisely the same thing Mohler is arguing. Mohler must, therefore, be implicated with the misuse of his own theological construct and Yarnell and Foster as the ones who are to determine whether one’s application of it is right or wrong. Apparently, while they affirm theological triage, apparently everyone, Mohler included, is not using it appropriately and hence the mantra of “lowest common denominator” is repeated time and again.

    No one is making excuses for theological maturity; however, no one should demand perfect obedience without an understanding of progressive sanctification and Christian growth. A good example of this would be Chris Poe who recently was a guest blogger on a BI blog. Chris was saved in a Methodist/Wesleyan church, attended for years an OPC church, and is now Southern Baptist. Furthermore, we should not equate theological maturity with Baptist Identity. Good grief, just look at the Southern Baptists today and tell me where the theological maturity is! Divorce is higher among us than the pagans; we have more money than ever but give less than ever; we have become an unregenerate denomination largely filled with biblically illiterate members; we quick to fight wars over alcohol and gambling but cannot articulate the gospel. If anyone has excused immaturity, it is us. We are to blame, and theological triage had nothing to do with it.

  67. volfan007 Says:


    I believe in the theological triage system of Mohler. Of course, there are essentials of the Christian faith, and there are doctrines that are not so clearly spelled out in Scripture where there’s room for disagreement. I mean, someone must believe in the virgin birth, and the atoning death, and resurrection of the Lord to be saved. These are certainly doctrines that one must hold to in order to be considered Christian. And, baptism is not an essential doctrine. In other words, a Methodist can certainly be saved if he’s sprinkled on top of the head….his baptism is not correct, but I dont doubt his salvation if he has put his faith in Christ and shows evidence of salvation. So, baptism is certainly a second tier doctrine.

    But, like Dr. Yarnell, this doesnt mean that our belief about baptism is not important…as some seem to be implying here lately. It is important that a Christian get baptised, and it is important that it be done the right way for the right reason. It’s very important to the true child of God, who wants to please His Lord.

    Thomas Twitchell,

    What planet are you living on? And, did you actually read what I wrote about a Christian and baptism? And, Thomas, the Bible does say that someone, who is truly born again, will have a new “want to.” They will want to live for the Lord, who saved them. Part of that is that they will want to obey their Lord. In everything….including baptism. Do you really disagree with this? Or, am I reading you wrong? Because Brother, I have no idea where you’re coming from with what you wrote to me. “Baptist Gnosticism?” lol. Wow, Brother…what in the world are you talking about? There aint nobody adding baptism to the Gospel. I have no idea where you’re coming from with that. Let me make it very plain to you….baptism does not have anything to do with the saving of anyone’s soul. Baptism has no saving efficacy to it whatsoever. A person who gets saved in a hospital bed, and who dies before they get baptised goes to Heaven just like the thief on the cross did. BUT, a true, born again Christian… someone who truly comes to know the Lord…will want to obey their Lord. Someone who claims to be saved, and they still run around living like a lost man, not desiring the things of God, is probably not saved. And, being baptised is a command of the Lord. Do you even agree with that?


  68. Someone who claims to be saved, and they still run around living like a lost man, not desiring the things of God, is probably not saved.

    So, David, does this mean that Presbyterians, Methodists, and others who don’t use or don’t agree with “Baptist” baptism are “running around living like lost men?” Because that is how Mr. Yarnell’s words are coming across. That is what is being disagreed with.

    It would seem, from your last comment above, that you actually agree with those who are taking issue. You don’t really believe, as Mr. Yarnell seems to imply, that you must have a “Baptist” baptism to be a “true, born again Christian.”

    I really do hope Mr. Yarnell is simply being misunderstood. He sure hasn’t done a good job of making himself clear so far.

  69. volfan007 Says:

    Dr. Yarnell, although he can speak his own mind, does believe that Methodists and Presbyterians can be saved without a correct, proper, Scriptural baptism.


  70. tom ascol Says:

    Malcolm Yarnell: “You cannot perform theological triage on the lordship of Jesus Christ without severing His will into pieces and picking and choosing what you want to do.”

    David Worley: “I believe in the theological triage system of Mohler.”


    Malcolm Yarnell: “New Testament Christianity has no secondary doctrines when it comes to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s why I say Baptism is not secondary nor is it tertiary. It is essential.”

    David Worley: “Baptism is not an essential doctrine.”


    Curiouser and curiouser.

  71. David Worley,

    You said, “I believe in the theological triage system of Mohler. Of course, there are essentials of the Christian faith, and there are doctrines that are not so clearly spelled out in Scripture where there’s room for disagreement. I mean, someone must believe in the virgin birth, and the atoning death, and resurrection of the Lord to be saved. These are certainly doctrines that one must hold to in order to be considered Christian. And, baptism is not an essential doctrine. In other words, a Methodist can certainly be saved if he’s sprinkled on top of the head….his baptism is not correct, but I dont doubt his salvation if he has put his faith in Christ and shows evidence of salvation. So, baptism is certainly a second tier doctrine.

    That’s almost precisely what I said in my article. No one wants to downplay the importance of baptism, and I don’t think anyone in the discussion is implying that. What I (and I think others) are saying is that while Baptism should be the inevitable fruit of a Christian, it does not make one a Christian or is in any way included in the salvation act.

    You can be a Christian (first tier) and not be a Baptist (second tier), but you cannot be a Baptist (second tier) and be a Christian (first tier), or at least it is supposed to be that way (we know, however, one of the biggest challenges to our Baptist Identity is that there are many Baptists who bear no evidence of being regenerate (first tier)). That is why the gospel is so necessary and why I argued it is our greatest common denominator.

    And as I have said elsewhere, I am not talking about the five-points of Calvinism. I am talking about matters pertaining to the person and work of Christ such as his incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection, matters pertaining to the sinfulness of man, and matters pertaining to salvation such as justification by faith, exclusivity of Christ, and so on.

    Because of our *Christian * identity, we share things in common with believers who are not Southern Baptist and who are equally committed to the gospel and making it known around the world. There are things Baptists can learn from others, and this is stated reasons why, for example, Akin brings in guys like Acts 29, Driscoll, and Mahaney to SEBTS.

    In any case, what you affirmed (as Tom Ascol pointed out), is opposite of what Yarnell and Foster have been arguing. Now, if our conversation can result in clarification and better understanding on both sides, that is great. I just think that it should be noted that what you just stated is something altogether different than what was being argued no more than a week ago.

  72. volfan007 Says:

    Timmy and Tom,

    Dr. Yarnell believes that all doctrines are essential in importance…that none of them are to be shoved to the side as if they dont matter…as in joining with other denominations and letting sound, Bible teaching like baptism by immersion only of Believers only, and salvation by grace thru faith, and the requirements of elders/pastors/overseers, etc. He doesnt believe that we can relegate some doctrines to secondary in importance, as if they dont matter anymore…all in some people’s desire to form some kind of ecumenical SBC. I really believe that if you would talk to him, he would be more against the misuse and abuse of Dr. Mohler’s triage system. IOW, while he would accept a Presbyterian, who was baptised as a baby yet has put thier faith in Christ, as a fellow Believer; he would correctly say that they needed to be properly baptised, and he would have a hard time joining with them in starting Churches, forming seminary studies, etc. He would say that all the commands of Jesus are important.

    I’m really not comfortable answering for Dr. Yarnell. I’m just saying what I think he would say from my interactions with him. In fact, he might disagree with me about accepting Dr. Mohler’s triage system, and that’s fine. But, I agree wholeheartedly with him that all the commands of Jesus are important, and just because baptism and the Lord’s Supper and men being elders are considered as second tier, they are still of the utmost importance in us obeying the Lord and being true to Scripture.


  73. David,

    It’s become painfully obvious you aren’t listening. It might be better for us to either actually discuss the content of this post or for Timmy to just close it up and move on to the next post.

  74. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Broadus on Baptist Distinctives:

    “Baptists differ widely from large portions of the Christian world, and are persuaded that their own views are more scriptural, more in accordance with the Saviour’s commands. They must therefore feel themselves required to teach these things

    as well as others.

    Hence, the text lays upon us the duty of which I have been requested to speak — the duty of Baptists to teach their distinctive views.”

    Interesting then that many Baptist churches don’t teach the other side, isn’t it?

    “We insist that baptism ought to be simply what Christ practiced and commanded.”

    That would be hard since Jesus never baptized anyone.

    “We care nothing for the mode of baptism, the manner of baptizing, if only there is a real baptism according to the plain indications of Scripture.”

    Gotta love this one, but boy the Yarnellites are gonna scream reductionism over it.

    “Now, I repeat that we do not consider these externals to be intrinsically so important as the spiritual, or even the ethical, elements of Christianity.”

    And another, if Brodus were alive today he would be shouted down at SBC Today. In this one, Broadus elevated ethical practices over the ordinances. Man o’ man.

    “We are glad that as to one or another of these distinctive views some of our fellow-Christians of other persuasions agree with us more or less. We welcome all such concurrence, and it is not now necessary to inquire whether they hold those opinions with logical consistency. For ourselves, we do not claim to be fully acting upon these views, but we aim to do so, acknowledge ourselves blameworthy in so far as we fail; and we desire, notwithstanding our shortcoming in practice, to hold them up in due prominence before ourselves and others.”

    Oh man, he has totally undercut the BI position on this one.

    “Some are constantly going out of their way to find such topics through a bred-and-born love of controversy or a mistaken judgment as to its necessity and benefits. Others go out of their way to avoid all disputed questions, and want nothing to do with controversy of any kind. This latter class might be advised to study the history and recorded writings of a man named Paul. He did not shrink from controversy. Yea, and his Master and ours is polemical on every page of his recorded discourses, always striking at some error or evil practice of the people around him.”

    For the sake of division, clamor, or the sake of peace cowering silence should find no place in the church. Let all be willing, adament and prepared to give a defense of the Gospel. We should speak as we have always done, being true to the temperment the Lord has graced us with and the openness which truth requires to set men at liberty.

    “Let us gladly co-operate with our fellow-Christians of other persuasions in general Christian work as far as we can without sacrificing our convictions. Men who think ill of us are sometimes sorely perplexed They say, “Look at these narrow-minded, bigoted ‘close-communion’ Baptists! How zealously they work in our union enterprise! how loving they seem to be! I don’t understand it.” It is well to increase this perplexity. At the same time, we must not allow our conscientious differences to be belittled…We must learn how to distinguish between abandonment of principles and mere practical concessions in order to conciliate — a distinction well illustrated for us in Acts xv. and in Paul’ action as to Titus and Timothy. In the case of Titus the apostle would not yield an inch, would not give place for an hour, because a distinct issue of principle was made; and shortly after he voluntarily did, in the case of Timothy, what he had before refused, there being now no issue of principle. It may sometimes be difficult to make the distinction, but that is a difficulty we may not shirk. One of the great practical problems of the Christian life, especially in our times, is to stand squarely for truth and squarely against error, and yet to maintain hearty charity toward Christians who differ with us. This assuredly can be done. The very truest and sweetest Christian charity is actually shown by some of those who stand most firmly by their distinctive opinions.”

    Great message and as he finishes with wise words: “Let us cultivate, I say, this unity among ourselves. In order to do so, our watchwords must be freedom, forbearance, patience. There can be no constrained unity among us. The genius of our ideas and institutions quite forbids it. That newspaper, seminary, or society which undertakes to coerce American Baptists into unity will soon weary of the task. We must be forbearing and patient, and not discouraged by many things which under the circumstances are to be looked for.”

    The real key to end disputation and disruption thoughout Brodus’ paper was education about us and them, we and ours, wart, wrinkles and rubber noses. We learn, and teach, and study more. Perhaps God gives more light, perhaps he brings coalescence of competing thoughts in a unity of understanding, yet the one thing rings loudest, He has given us some to be pastors and teachers until we come, all of us, into the unity of the faith. Let us then boldy proclaim and polemically defend the great truths of Scripture, humbly accepting the fact that if any student learns, he is to share it with his master, for even the least shall be the greatest in the Kingdom.

    Timmy said: “Yarnell’s concern is that placing something like believer’s baptism in the second-tier is undermining its importance or making it somehow nonessential.”

    Broadus and Yarnell would not get along on this point. They would get along with TA and Timmy, and agree on concerns with the propensity to neglect the training in, and defense of, Baptist distinctives. Where Broadus would differ with Yarnell, also, is in the area of cooperation. Broadus, for as rigid as he would be considered today, would not have countenanced embracing the separatistic vitriol of Yarnell. And what shall we say then of Broadus, that he was not Baptist?

    Sorry for the long post Timmy.

  75. Scott Welch Says:


    thanks for that. Sorry, I was making a mountain out of a molehill anyway. I really appreciate your voice in the blogosphere! BTW, change of subject, I hope your family is doing well.

  76. […] Timmy Brister has been on top of some other issues in Southern Baptist life and last week he weighed in on a current debate.  You should take the time to check out his post here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: