FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Seminary professor John Yeo wants his students to stand confidently under the authority of Scripture, a stand he made by abandoning the practice of infant baptism.
When Yeo was presented to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as a newly elected assistant professor of Old Testament, he signed the seminary’s book of confessional heritage in August, agreeing to teach in accordance with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
But in 2007 Yeo was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America when he took a faculty position at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. Although baptized as a boy after his profession of faith in Christ, Yeo taught infant baptism as part of the covenant theology he had embraced within the Reformed tradition.
But he began to doubt this doctrinal system when he was teaching his students about the new covenant mentioned in Jeremiah 31: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
While discussing the passage in class, Yeo taught that “believers in the new covenant were to receive the sign of the covenant, meaning that only true believers were in the new covenant.” As Jeremiah 31 teaches, all those in the new covenant will know the Lord. One student, a Baptist who sat in the front row of Yeo’s class, immediately noticed the implications of this interpretation.
“I guess he was shocked and beside himself,” Yeo said, “because he said this out loud: ‘You’re a Baptist’ — in front of the whole class.”
After class, the student explained to Yeo how his understanding of Jeremiah 31 supported Baptist views. In the following months, as Yeo searched God’s Word, he became convinced he could not support infant baptism with Scripture.
“I was now faced with a dilemma because my son was getting out of the infancy stage, and as a member of my presbytery [the Presbyterian Church in America], I was duty-bound to have my son baptized,” Yeo recounted. But his conscience was bound to the inerrant Word of God.
Yeo knew well that Scripture should have supreme authority for every believer. In fact, Yeo’s doctoral dissertation, titled “Plundering the Egyptians: The Old Testament and Historical Criticism at Westminster Theological Seminary,” traced the gradual decline of belief in biblical inerrancy among some scholars there throughout the 20th century.
Standing under the authority of God’s inerrant Word, Yeo set aside his Presbyterian ordination and his career at Reformed Theological Seminary. He later shared his story with administrators at Southwestern Seminary and trustees elected him to the seminary’s faculty in April 2012.
As a professor at Southwestern, Yeo wants his students to see Christ from every section of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi. The “central message” of Scripture, written by dozens of authors over hundreds of years, is “Jesus and what He did for our redemption.”
“And that proves to me that this is more than just a human book,” Yeo said. “I want my students to actually put all of their confidence in Scripture. They don’t have to shrink away or be ashamed to be conservative or even to be labeled ‘fundamentalists.’ We’re training up ministers for the pulpit ministry, for the Gospel ministry, and I want them to be able to stand confidently upon the Bible and to preach it as the authoritative Word of God.”
Benjamin Hawkins is senior newswriter for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).