Malcolm B. Yarnell III (born 1962) is a free church theologian affiliated with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Yarnell has contributed to academic discussions in the areas of theological method, systematic theology, and historical theology. Yarnell is closely involved with the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States, although he is also a frequent speaker internationally.
Yarnell has served in numerous administrative roles, including as an Academic Dean. He is currently Director of the Center for Theological Research, Managing Editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology, Managing Editor of BaptistTheology.org, and Director of the Oxford Study Program at Southwestern Seminary.
Yarnell's work in theological method is a groundbreaking effort among the free churches. He divides his methodological concerns into two realms: the foundation of doctrine (a.k.a. prolegomena or Fundamentaltheologie) and the development of doctrine.
Drawing upon the hermeneutics of Pilgram Marpeck, Yarnell demonstrated that the free churches possess a distinct theological method in opposition to, yet in frequent conversation with the Roman Catholic, liberal Protestant, and evangelical Protestant traditions. The foundation of free church doctrine focuses upon discipleship to the Lord. This foundation may be considered in four dimensions: Christ-centeredness, the coinherence of Word and Spirit, the sufficiency and progressive dimensions of Scripture, and the local regenerate church.
Development of Doctrine
The free churches also possess a distinct understanding of the development of Christian doctrine, focusing upon the cross of Jesus Christ as the pattern of history. Free church historiography has much in common with modern conceptions of history, as exemplified in the work of the Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield. Yarnell identified six dimensions in the free church theology of history: the Lord of eternity is the Lord of history, the Lord of all humans equally, divine providence, the Lord of the fallible, the Lord of both covenants, and the Lord of the churches. These dimensions, especially the fallibility of the churches and the equality of the churches under Christ, allow the free church historian to avoid privileging the free churches in history.
Yarnell has focused upon the systematic loci of Pneumatology and Ecclesiology so far in his writings.
Yarnell's Pneumatology is concerned first and foremost with the person of the Holy Spirit. Believing that twentieth century discussions of the Holy Spirit were dominated by a narrow focus upon the work of the Holy Spirit, specifically the charismata, Yarnell chose to emphasize the Trinitarian dimension of Pneumatology. This focus upon the Person of the Spirit is, however, not without recognition of the Work of the Spirit. The Spirit is the Executor of the Trinity, bringing into form the will and word of God, in creation and in redemption. As God, the Spirit is to be addressed in prayer and worshiped with the Father and the Son.
Yarnell's Ecclesiology is apologetically free church or Baptist, so much so that he has been characterized as a "Neo-Landmarkist," although he personally rejects the label. Yarnell's understanding of the church is that the only proper development of Ecclesiology is contained within the New Testament itself. As a result, the primary meaning of "ekklesia" is that of the local congregation. The local congregation is directly ruled by Jesus Christ, governed by the congregation, led by pastors, and served by deacons. The local congregation is separated from the world, begins with a covenant, and is tasked with fulfilling the Great Commission. The Great Commission necessitates going to the world, the making of disciples prior to baptism, and the continual teaching of doctrine. Yarnell affirms the universal church, yet because its gathering is eschatological, he prefers not to speak of it as a current manifestation except in a proleptic sense.
Yarnell's ThM thesis at Duke Divinity School was concerned with the continental development of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers during the Reformation period and surveyed the Lutheran, Reformed, and Radical representations of the doctrine. His DPhil dissertation at The University of Oxford was concerned with the English development of the doctrine of Royal Priesthood during the late Medieval and Reformation period and surveyed traditional, evangelical, and radical representations of the doctrine.
Yarnell has continued to produce articles in the area of the Reformation, but has expanded his concerns back into the classical Christian period but most often forward into the modern period. He has written on the history and theology of the Early English Baptists and on the history and theology of the Southern Baptists. His most recent articles have focused on Christopher Blackwood among the English Particular Baptists, on Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention, and on the history of religious toleration.
Shaping Yarnell's entire approach to theology in his writings as well as in the classroom is his concern for the local churches. This practical emphasis has tempered his teaching style, making him a popular choice for students, but his writing sometimes exhibits a rather thick British academic style. His churchmanship was shaped by his pastorates in Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, and continues with his own local church involvement and recognized service with the state and national conventions, especially in the shaping of formal theological resolutions.
The Formation of Christian Doctrine (B&H Academic, 2007)
"The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit," in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (B&H Academic, 2007)
"Article VI: The Church," in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Critical Issues in America's Largest Protestant Denomination (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007)
Managing Editor, Southwestern Journal of Theology (2006-)
Co-Editor, First Freedom: The Baptist Perspective on Religious Liberty (B&H Academic, 2006)
Co-Editor, Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches (Kregel, 2008)
Co-Editor, Upon This Rock: The Baptist Understanding of the Church (B&H Academic, Forthcoming 2010)