Yarbrough calls for courageous biblical fidelity

New Testament scholar Robert Yarbrough challenged students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to stand firm in believing the Bible, even amid the various challenges to biblical faith in the 21st-century. Yarbrough reflected on the “Challenge of Believing the Bible” during the three-part Drumwright Lectures at Southwestern Seminary, March 2-3.

Yarbrough’s lectures broached a range of topics, including the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, biblical criticism in academia and the way Muslim background believers understand biblical statements about women’s roles in the church.

The Christian defense of Scripture “has not been easy,” Yarbrough said, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s stand for God’s Word was “particularly difficult and in fact proved fatal to earthly life.”

Popularized by Eric Metaxas’ 2010 biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, this German theologian and pastor is known as the author of The Cost of Discipleship and for his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. For opposing the Nazi regime on the basis of his biblical convictions, Bonhoeffer was hanged on April 9, 1945.

“The staunchly confessional and the increasingly biblicist Bonhoeffer did not jettison Christian faith at the end, as some have proposed,” Yarbrough said. “So there lies a point for all of us to affirm confessional courage. Whatever our gifts and calling, Bonhoeffer’s example surely challenges us to live faithfully to the end, even if the price be death. For many of our peers in kingdom service and in other less privileged realms, death or at least bitter hardship is turning out to be the going price.”

Yarbrough particularly noted the sacrifice of three Baptist medical workers—William Koehn, Martha Myers and Kathleen Gariety—who were shot in Yemen’s Jibla Baptist Hospital in 2002: They “did not count their own lives dear,” he said, “but laid them down for their witness for Christ.”

During his second lecture, Yarbrough criticized evangelical scholar Kenton L. Sparks for promoting historical criticism at the expense of biblical fidelity in his recent book, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.

“The history of Christianity is in key respects the history of great thinkers and writers whom we rightly call scholars,” Yarbrough said. “When the church advocates its call to rigorous thought—to criticism in that sense—it advocates one of its high and holy callings.

“But the historical (critical) methods—often grounded in covert theological convictions of Protestant scholars since the enlightenment who have set the tone and made the rules for the criticism that Spark's commends—emanate from a community that has overall rendered a negative verdict on the truth of the Christian message of salvation, through the saving death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God."

In his third lecture, Yarbrough reflected on how Muslim background believers have responded in positive ways to a biblical passage that is “hotly contested” in the Western world—namely, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul’s instructions about women’s roles in the church. While many Westerners challenge the authority of this and other biblical passages, Christians in the Muslim world eagerly defend Scripture’s authority even amid suffering.

“We need to toughen up, like the church in so many other parts of the world,” Yarbrough said at the end of his lecture. “The cross they have been called to take up is increasingly congruent with the Bible, which contains unpopular words they are pressured to denounce. Like few times in church history, ours is an era when God’s people face, in stark and increasing measure, the challenge of believing the Bible.”

To listen to the Drumwright Lectures, visit swbts.edu/mediaresources.

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