A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 7: Salvation)

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 7: Salvation)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

The doctrine of salvation receives as much attention as any of the classical loci of Christian doctrine. It is central to missiological method, and yet ironically, it seems that we have a difficult time making a “full connect” between the doctrine and our methods and strategies.

The Redemption of Man

Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end (Ps 3:8; Heb 12:2). At the beginning, we see God’s hand in election, the gracious decision by which He elects man to salvation. We see God’s hand also in His calling of man back to himself (Gen 3:9), and in calling proclaimers who are an instrument of others’ salvation (Rom 10:14-15).

God is also at work as man repents and places faith in Christ. He is converted as God regenerates him, renewing his inner man, and imparting eternal life to him. Together, conversion and regeneration shed light upon the fact that a saved man now has union with Christ. This salvation is wrought by Christ’s work on the cross, whereby man may be justified and sanctified. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

We seek to form missiological practices that recognize all aspects of God’s work of salvation. Because of the limited scope of this post, I will choose only a handful of the many facets of soteriology and give a limited exposition of their implication for missiology.

We must recognize that it is God who calls.

In the ordo salutis, we seek God drawing men unto Himself (Gen 3:9; Lk 15:1-7). While we as human beings will never have sure or final knowledge of who God is drawing unto Himself, one thing that we may do is pray that God will bring across our paths those men and women whom God is drawing unto himself. These may very well be men and women through whom He will declare his glory to an entire city or people group. We may pray for particular people, asking God to begin drawing them unto Himself.

We must call them to repentance and not merely mental assent.

We must work hard to form evangelism and discipleship practices that recognize all of the salvific process. We cannot ignore any one part (e.g. calling, belief, repentance, etc.) One of the most oft-ignored aspects of salvation is repentance. Therefore, we seek to form testimonies, and gospel presentations, and Bible-study sets that call men to repentance rather than merely to mental assent. This means that men must turn their backs on false saviors; they must repudiate tribal gods and witch doctors; they must reject their belief that the Qur’an is God’s revelation and that Muhammad is His prophet; they must cease to worship in spirit temples and ancestral shrines; and they must turn their back on the worship of sex, money, and power.

We must preach salvation by grace through faith in Christ, and do so in a way that is both faithful and meaningful.

We must work hard to preach justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We must do so in a way that is both faithful and meaningful. By faithful, I mean that we must be true to the authorial intent of the biblical writers, to the meaning of the text of Scripture, and by meaningful I mean that we must communicate in such a way that the audience understands our message in the way we intend it. We must be very careful, as we face cross-cultural and cross-linguistic challenges, to work hard not only to rightly divide the Word, but also to clearly proclaim the Word.

We must beware of mechanical or magical understandings of salvation.

During a recent conversation with a regional leader for the International Mission Board, he mentioned that perhaps the greatest confusion for many of our good Baptist people is the tendency toward a “magical” or “mechanistic” view of salvation. We must correct the tendency to view salvation as mere mental assent, mere verbal profession of faith, or mere repetition of a prayer of salvation. If a person holds to such a reductionist view of salvation, he will have a wrong goal: the maximum number of people who have prayed a prayer or made a verbal profession. Further, he will have given false assurance of salvation to men who are not saved, and a false testimony to the church and the broader community. Finally, he will likely create methods of evangelism that are reductionist to the extreme and harmful to the progress of the gospel and the planting of healthy churches.

We must beware of both reductionism and complexification.

One who holds to a mechanical or magical understanding of salvation will likely create methods of evangelism, discipleship, leadership training, and theological education that are reductionist to the extreme, that misunderstand what we are saved from and what we are saved for. Others, however, run the opposite risk of crafting methods that are unnecessarily complex. Here, the tendency is to attempt to dump one’s historical, systematic, and philosophical theology on the new convert’s head. Instead, he needs to be taught the gospel in a manner that he is capable of understanding and reproducing. We must resist, therefore, the twin errors of reductionism and complexification.

We must make sure that our methods are grace- and gospel-centered.

We must make sure that our missiological methods are gospel-centered and therefore grace-centered. Since it is only the gospel that saves, our methods should be gospel-centered. Since salvation is by grace through faith, our methods should be centered on grace. Too often, we unwittingly teach and operate in a legalistic, works-centered manner. Further, we fail to realize that it is not only justification which comes by grace through faith, but sanctification also.

We must learn how to disciple.

We must learn to make disciples, and we must learn that discipleship is not a once-a-week Bible study.

When we teach the Scriptures, we seek to teach the whole counsel of God. Evangelism and discipleship are best accomplished by teaching the Grand Redemptive Narrative (GRN). We don’t need months or years to do this. It may be accomplished in 15 minutes, in an hour, or in a 20 lesson Bible study set. This narrative is what explains to us who God is, who we are, what salvation is, and (I would like to stress) exactly what it means that salvation comes by grace through faith.

We must also learn to do obedience-based teaching. We teach men and women to obey the commands set forth in Scripture. This encourages and equips them to begin obeying their Lord and living the Christian life from the very outset. It is best if obedience-based teaching is done in the context of GRN teaching, so that the disciple does not revert to a works-centered, legalistic view of the gospel.

We must learn that discipleship is life-on-life. Discipleship is not accomplished merely by information dissemination. It is caught just as much as it is taught. We must roll up our shirt sleeves, and get involved in people’s lives, eating with them, laughing with them and weeping with them. We must show a man what it means for him to love his wife and children, and show him what it means to carry himself with the grace and love of Christ, and show him how to remain faithful in the midst of adversity.

Conclusion

In sum, the doctrine of salvation is a most precious doctrine, displaying for us the salvation that we have found in Christ Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. It is our responsibility and high privilege to proclaim that gospel in a manner worthy of our Lord. Whatever we model, for the new believers we disciple and for the churches we plant, will likely be copied for generations to come. Nothing less than the purity of the gospel and the health of the church is at stake.

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A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 6: Man)


A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 6: Man)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

Apart from the Christian Scriptures, one cannot make sense of humanity. No religion, worldview, or philosophy is able to account for the unique nature, capacities, and ends of human existence. Inevitably, they tend toward either an enthronement or a denigration of humanity, unable to strike a proper balance. The atheists of the early Humanist Manifesto, for example, enthroned man; they spoke of him as if he is a god. Contemporary pagans, such as Peter Singer, denigrate man; they speak of man as if he is a mere animal.

The Scriptures, however, make clear that man has both a great humility and a great dignity. His great humility, on the one hand, is that he is not God; indeed, He is created for the express purpose of worshiping God. His great dignity, on the other hand, is that unlike the animals and the rest of the created order, he is created in God’s image. The significance of this is highlighted in the Genesis narrative. The writer signals to us that something of significance has happened-whereas every other living creature is created ‘according to its kind’ only man is created in the “image of God.”

Creation & Fall

At creation, we see a four-fold excellence in man’s relational capacity. He was in right relationship with God, with others, with the created order, and even with himself. There was shalom-a universal human flourishing, a right ordering of things, a divine peace. It was in this state of shalom that God instructed man to work the ground, to change and even enhance what God had made. Further, He instructed man to multiply and fill the earth. Man, therefore, is made to be both productive and reproductive.

However, after the Fall, man experienced the cataclysmic consequences of his rebellion; he was no longer in right relationship with God, with others, with the created order, or with himself. Beginning with Adam and Eve, every member of the human race has taken up arms and rebelled against God. The results have been devastating, wreaking havoc across the entire fabric of human life. All of our God-given capacities are corrupted by sin. Rationally, we have difficulty discerning the truth. Morally, we have difficulty discerning good and evil, and are unable to do the Good. Socially, we exploit others and seek our own good. Creatively, we use our imagination to create idols. The Fall, therefore, has caused a deep and pervasive distortion of God’s good creation.

One implication of this is that we should minister holistically. If God has given man manifold capacities with which to glorify Him (such as spirituality, morality, rationality, relationality, creativity, etc.) and if the Fall distorted and defaced these capacities, then we can take this into account in forming our understanding of the church’s mission. We may use all of our human capacities to minister to man in the wholeness of his humanity. We may seek to glorify God in the arts, the sciences, education, and the public square, as well as in the four walls where a church meets. We must teach our children to devote their intellectual and creative capacities to Christ, and not merely their spiritual and moral. We must teach them that “pastor” and “missionary” are not the only honorable callings for a godly child, that science, education, law, and journalism are also honorable callings.

As a result of the Fall, we no longer flourish in our relationships with God, with others, with the created order, and with ourselves:

Man and God

First our relationship with God is broken; we are serial idolaters, enemies of God, seeking goodness and happiness on our own, apart from Him. We are incurvatus se (Luther); we love ourselves inordinately (Augustine). Our wills are bent toward sin; we are dead in our trespasses. Of the many implications for our method, here is one:

If we are serial idolaters, enemies of God, and dead in our trespasses, then it will take something deep and powerful to save the people to whom we minister. If we are corrupted by sin “through and through”, then salvation is not a matter merely of intellectual assent. Therefore, we must avoid reductionist methods of evangelism and discipleship. We must proclaim the whole gospel of Christ. Salvation comes through Christ alone, and knowledge of Christ comes through the proclamation of the Scriptures. We must proclaim the Gospel according to the Scriptures as we seek to see God break up the ground of hard hearts.

Man and Others

Second, our relationship with others is broken; rather than serving and loving our fellow man, our relationships are marked by interpersonal and societal ugliness. There is hardly a more proven fact than the human badness found in our world-abuse, divorce, rape, war, incest, gossip, slander, murder, deceit, etc. The church should take note that her mission includes the modeling of a more excellent way; a watching world should know us by our love one for another.

Man and the Created Order

Third, our relationship with the created order is broken; rather than unbroken harmony and delight, there is pain and misery. One implication of this for the church is that we ought to use the brokenness of the created order to minister. Natural disasters are signposts that point to the brokenness of the natural order. We can use this signpost to proclaim the gospel, by teaching the gospel according to the Scriptures. In other words, we don’t simply tell hurting and suffering people “Jesus loves you.” We describe how the world was created without such evil, that such evil entered the world because of sin, and that one day there will be a new heavens and earth where there is no more sin and no more evil. We also act upon the privilege of ministering to the physical needs of our fellow image-bearers, demonstrating the love about which we speak.

Man and Himself

Fourth, we are alienated even from ourselves. We live in direct opposition to the purpose of our own existence, to the good that God has offered us. Man’s alienation from himself is another signpost that points to the brokenness of God’s good creation. Again, we can use this signpost to declare the gospel. Take, for example, the despair that many experience at the apparent meaninglessness of life. The person who despairs may be a philosophical nihilist, a victim of sexual abuse, or merely a person who senses that his life lacks purpose. The gospel answers this concern by showing man that he is created in the image of God, that his purpose in life is to glorify God, and that this purpose is not at odds with his own deepest satisfaction. Happiness, in its deepest sense, comes from being conformed to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29), who Himself is the image of God (Col 1:15). It is only in this manner that man can be fully man, and therefore, fully alive.

Conclusion

We must plant churches that seek to glorify God in every conceivable manner. These churches will realize the deep and pervasive effects of the Fall on the human heart, and preach a deep and powerful gospel message. They will use all of the God-given capacities they possess (moral, relational, rational, creative, etc.) to minister to fallen man. They will proclaim the gospel not only when the church is gathered (the church’s corporate worship) but when it is scattered (through vocation and through the various dimensions of human society and culture). They will seek to minister not only to the common man, but also to the educated, the affluent, and the powerful. And in doing these things, in proclaiming and modeling God’s gospel to His good world, they are glorifying Him and enjoying Him now and forever.

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 5: Spirit)

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 5: Spirit)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

Christians acknowledge that Father, Son, and Spirit live in eternal and unbroken communion with one another. The unified nature of their fellowship lies not only in their shared attributes and perfections but also in the unified nature of their mission. The Triune God’s mission is equally the Father’s, the Son’s, and the Spirit’s mission. Though the persons of the Trinity may play different roles, they nonetheless are working as One.

The Scriptures make clear that the Spirit plays an active role in our mission: It is He who empowers us for mission (Acts 1:8) and He who gives us the words to say in time of need (Mt 10:17-20). It is he who convicts souls (Jn 16:8-11) and He who grows the church both in number (Acts 2:14-41) and in maturity (Eph 4:7-13).

It is probably fair to say that, in Baptist circles, the Spirit often is talked about only sporadically, with hesitancy, and even with apology. What does such an infrequently-discussed and mysterious doctrine have to do with such a concrete and practical discipline as missiology?

The Spirit Reveals

Throughout the ages, Christians have recognized that God reveals Himself through His Word by His Spirit. Indeed, the human writers of Scripture wrote as they were moved by the Spirit (2 Pet 1:21) so that Paul could make clear that all Scripture is theopneustos, or “God-breathed,” and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Scripture is the very breath of God. This teaching has manifold and serious implications for our missiology.

For example, there are entire people groups, consisting of millions, who are unable to access Holy Scripture. This means that Christian workers must (1) make every effort to communicate the Scriptures to them even though they are not able to read the Scriptures on their own; (2) equip those same oral learners to share the gospel and build the church even while they are unable to read the Scriptures; (3) pray for and support those who work in Bible translation; (4) pray for Bible translation movements just as we pray for church planting movements; and (5) pray for, and work toward, the development of literacy in these people groups. Why should we withhold from them the very words of God, the workmanship of the Spirit of God?

This also means that we must pray, work, and even fight to have the Scriptures translated accurately. In Muslim areas, some Bible translators have sought to remove necessary Christian language, such as “son of God,” from translations in an attempt not to offend Muslims. However, to do so is to remove a central biblical teaching and to neuter the gospel itself.

The Spirit convicts, teaches and illumines

Further it is the Spirit who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8-11), who teaches all things (Jn 14:26) and who opens the eyes of our hearts that we might understand (I Cor 2:12; Eph 1:17-19). With this in mind, we must not rely exclusively on such things as communication models or people-group profiles. Rather, our mission in any context should be undergirded by prayer. We should pray that the Spirit will enable us to interpret the Scriptures rightly and that He will bring understanding and conviction to those who are our audience.

The Spirit empowers, gives gifts, and enables fruit

In addition to his agency in teaching, conviction, and illumination, the Spirit empowers us to proclaim the Word (1 Thess 1:5; 1 Pet 1:12), to pray effectively (Rom 8:26), and to have power over the forces of evil (Mt 12:28; Acts 13:9-11). He also gives gifts to each person (1 Cor 12:11) and enables believers to bear fruit (Gal 5:22-23). This truth suggests that church planting is probably best done in teams, as the multiple members of a team use their spiritual gifts together, and bear fruit together one with another. The result is that those who are watching will see more clearly what Christ intends for his church. Another implication is that a new convert can immediately be considered a “new worker,” a part of the team, as he is surely already gifted by the Spirit and capable of bearing fruit. Immediately he can give testimony to Christ and edify the believers.

The Spirit restrains

The Spirit works providentially, restraining evil (2 Thess 2:6-7). After the Fall, sin entered the world and with devastating consequences. Man’s relationships with God, with others, with the created order, and even with himself were broken. Sin fractured the world at all levels. It is only by the restraining power of the Spirit that the world is not an utter horror. This is a grace that God has given to the entire world, a common grace that allows us to act and interact in family, workplace, and community. It is a grace that allows use our relational, rational, and creative capacities, even though they are damaged by sin and are bent toward idolatry.

Reliance upon the Spirit

Our great encouragement is this: God the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals, teaches, convicts, illumines, empowers, gives gifts and fruits, restrains, and provides. We go in His power and leave the results in His hands. It is he who quickens the hearts of those to whom we preach. We need not try to coerce or to manipulate.

We go in conscious reliance upon the Spirit; our mission is empowered by the Spirit of the living God. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

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