Conference to consider influence of 16th-century Anabaptist movement

California pastor Rick Warren and Reformation scholar Abraham Friesen will join Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty to weigh the impact of the so-called Radical Reformation on modern trends in Baptist thought and life during Southwestern’s annual Anabaptism & Contemporary Baptists Conference, Jan. 30-31.

The two-day conference, hosted on the seminary’s campus, acts as part of the school’s annual celebration of the work of the Reformation’s radical reformers to birth the return of the free church on Jan. 21, 1525. Relying on Scripture and a conviction for in believer’s baptism and a free church under Christ’s lordship, the radical reformers were forebears of modern Baptists and other free church groups.

In honoring the doctrinal fidelity and missionary spirit of the Anabaptist movement, the conference will highlight the theology and methodology of these 16th-century reformers that often resulted in persecution, slander, and even martyrdom for the sake of the gospel.

Malcolm Yarnell, SWBTS associate professor of systematic theology, said many of the conference speakers bring decades of academic research in both the Radical Reformation and Baptist heritage.

“From a material perspective, each contributor will, like the radical reformers themselves, advocate his own unique outlook,” Yarnell told the TEXAN. He went on to characterize the radicals’ as “freely following the spiritual call of our Lord in Scripture rather than slavishly mimicking some favored scholar’s preconceived philosophical paradigm.”

Yarnell said conference attendees could expect to hear voices advocating radical pursuance of the Great Commission and the recovery of theological and ecclesiological integrity in local churches.

“Some will focus on the mission of the church to preach freely to all peoples the saving gospel of the crucified and resurrected God-man; others will note the need for restoring covenantal fidelity in baptism, communion, and church discipline in the churches headed by Jesus Christ; yet others will recall the staunch biblicism of the Anabaptists as necessary for Baptists today if we wish to restore New Testament Christianity,” he said.

Speakers for the event include Renaissance and Reformation history expert Abraham Friesen, professor of history emeritus at University of California at Santa Barbara.  

A champion of the Anabaptist movement, Friesen is the author of numerous books and articles including “In Defense of Privilege: Russian Mennonites and the State Before and During World War I,” “History and Renewal in the Anabaptist/Mennonite Tradition” and “Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission.” He has also served as a member of the Editorial Board of Sixteenth Century Journal, Journal of Mennonite Studies, and Mennonite Quarterly Studies.  

At the conference, Friesen will look at the impact of Dutch Renaissance scholar Erasmus on Martin Luther and the Anabaptists.

Warren, well-known pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, will join the conference to look at the contribution and commitment of the radical reformers to the Great Commission.

While Warren is perhaps most well known for his best-selling books, “The Purpose Driven Church” and “The Purpose Driven Life,” he has also lectured around the world at numerous seminaries and universities. His six books seek to explain theology in understandable ways and have been translated into more than 50 languages.

Like the early Anabaptist leaders who were both theologians and pastors, Yarnell said Warren follows in the “vibrant tradition of free churchmen who preach and teach the truths of Scripture” that transform all aspects of Christian life.

“Their theologians, who were their church leaders, were more interested in the practical nature of the Christian life of radical discipleship than in creating theoretical systems,” he added.

SWBTS President Paige Patterson, who initiated the idea of a Reformation Day celebration on the campus, will address the impact of Anabaptism’s legacy. Last year, Patterson addressed the Evangelical Theological Society with a plea for “theological and spiritual kinship” free of ecumenism between English and American Baptists and the 16th-century Anabaptists.

Patterson, who has also served as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Criswell College, is author and contributor to numerous books and publications including “The Church in the 21st Century,” “Christ or the Bible,” “Heaven,” “The Troubled Triumphant Church: An Exposition of First Corinthians,” and “A Pilgrim Priesthood: An Exposition of First Peter.”

At the conference, Yarnell will address the Anabaptist theological method. Yarnell is the author of “The Formation of Christian Doctrine,” and is under contract for the publication of his doctoral dissertation, “Royal Priesthood in the English Reformation,” as well as a new Baptist heritage text. He is also the editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology and of BaptistTheology.org.

Emir Caner, president of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., will evaluate the legacy of famous Anabaptist leader Balthasar Hubmaier for the modern church. A prolific writer, Caner has written or contributed to 18 books on topics including Islam, persecution, religious liberty, ecclesiology, Baptist history, and apologetics. His dissertation centered on Hubmaier. In addition to his other publications, “Unveiling Islam,” which received the Gold Medallion Book of the Year award, sold nearly 200,000 copies, and his book “More Than a Prophet” was a finalist for Book of the Year in Evangelism for Outreach magazine.

Additional conference speakers include SWBTS Ph.D. student Ralf Schowalter and International Mission Board missionary to the Ukraine Russell Woodbridge, who has also served as assistant professor of theology and church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike Wilkinson, minister to adults at First Baptist in Rockwall and adjunct professor of Baptist history and heritage at the College at Southwestern, will also present at the conference. The men are experts on Anabaptist leaders Hans Denck, Gerhard Westerburg, and Leonhard Schiemer, respectively.

Along with scheduled speakers, the conference will also offer breakout sessions covering subjects such as Italian Anabaptism, Michael Sattler and the first Anabaptist confession of faith, Anabaptist catechisms, church discipline and more.

“Southwestern Seminary hopes to demonstrate that the 16th-century Anabaptists still have a thing or two to teach contemporary Baptists about the radical nature of Christian discipleship,” Yarnell said. “As
Balthasar Hubmaier typically concluded: this truth is unkillable.”

To register for this conference or to find out more information, call 1-877-474-4769 or e-mail RileyCenterCalendar@swbts.edu.

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