The Great Commission has tremendous import for Southern Baptists. Historically, our Convention was founded upon the desire for churches to participate in God’s global redemptive mission. More recently, the 2010 SBC in Orlando saw the historic passing of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations. And here at Southeastern Seminary, we “seek to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.” We are truly a Great Commission people, though we don’t always display this through our priorities and planning. This is precisely why SEBTS holds to the mantra, “Every classroom a Great Commission classroom.” We seek to equip students not just in the realm of orthodoxy, but in orthopraxy as well. More simply, we seek to teach the Scriptures in such a way as to capture students’ hearts with godly affections, permeate their minds with a biblical worldview, and challenge their hands with missional practice.
Capturing Hearts with Godly Affections
One of the common mistakes in theological education is that courses are developed unilaterally around content without regard for the affections. The result is a dry “shot to the head” that may be thoroughly orthodox, and yet leave students unchanged at their core. The most direct route to the mind begins in the heart. If a person’s affections are transformed, their desire for knowledge is increased. I am a firm believer however that there is no such thing as “dead orthodoxy.” If truths are taught with passion, the supernatural result is transformation. True, some are guilty of zeal without knowledge – which is altogether superficial. But when the teacher is captivated by the truths that he is conveying, the students take note.
Many have said that “some truths are more caught than taught.” I would argue that the best teaching is that which captures the heart with godly affections, thereby making the content go “viral” in the classroom and beyond. I want my students to know that when I speak of the missio Dei and our role in it, that I not only believe it with my head, but I feel it with my heart. Thus, a Great Commission classroom starts by capturing the heart with the things that are of most importance to God, namely the fame of His Name and renown and the spread of authentic Christ-centered worship among the nations.
Permeating Minds with a Biblical Worldview
Capturing the heart with godly affections is not simply about passion. Rather it is about passion focused on the person of Christ and on His mission. A Great Commission classroom is built upon the premise of a missional hermeneutic. In other words, the Great Commission is not just a single verse (Matthew 28:18-20) or even a group of verses. Rather, the Great Commission is what the Bible is all about from cover to cover. In fact, Genesis 1:28 documents the first recorded words that Creator God spoke to the man and woman He had made in His own image. “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it . . .'” Often the emphasis here is placed upon the subduing, relegating the multiplying and filling as a means to that end. However, when one understands that God then declared His creation to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31), this mandate expands from merely that of the cultural realm (which is important) to that of the spiritual realm.
After all, by what standard did God measure their goodness? God alone is good (Luke 18:19) meaning that His creation was functioning according to the purpose for which He had created. Only humanity held the distinction of being made in God’s image, which must mean that the man and woman were relating properly to God through worship. So with this in mind, God’s first imperative to humanity was to fill the earth, not merely with warm bodies to establish human culture, but rather with authentic worshippers who rightly relate to God. Matthew 28:18-20 says the same thing! In a post-fall world the only means for obeying that original command is to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I (Jesus) have commanded you.” God’s purpose did not change. It has always been His plan to gather worshippers around Jesus from among all peoples of the world. This purpose is foundational to the interpretation of the entire Bible and forms the basis for permeating students’ minds with a biblical worldview at Southeastern Seminary.
Challenging Hands with Missional Practice
Once the heart has been captured by and the mind has been permeated with the word of God, that orthodox worldview must supernaturally work its way out through orthopraxy. This is why we strive to make our courses at Southeastern go beyond the theoretical. Academia certainly has its place in Kingdom work, but it must never be of the “ivory tower” sort. Therefore, we seek to challenge the hands of our students to engage the world through missional practice. This manifests itself in many ways around our campus. One example from the courses that I teach is that my students are challenged to report throughout the semester on gospel-centered conversations that they have in their circles of influence. It is not infrequent for students to dread this particular aspect of my courses early on, however I have gotten countless notes about how this challenge to engage has been one of the most significant aspects of their seminary experience.
I remember one young lady reporting on sharing with a Muslim woman in the area who soon after came to faith in Christ. What’s more, she came back a semester later and reported to me that the woman’s husband has now become a Christ-follower as well. So the Great Commission at Southeastern Seminary is not merely a concept – it is a way of life. And our faculty labors to the end of being a tool for transformation in the lives of our students through capturing their hearts with godly affections, permeating their minds with a biblical worldview, and challenging their hands with missional practice. Nothing short of that would be a comprehensive theological education.