Perhaps the most significant issue facing evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, today is a disconnect between doctrine and practice, between theology and missiology. Our tendency is to affirm Christian Scripture as being inspired by God and without error, and then to ignore Christian Scripture in forming our strategies and methods. It is as if we are saying that “what” we believe about God is important, but “how” we practice is not. We think that we can “bank on” inerrancy and then do whatever we’d like.
In a recent paper, “Will We Correct the ‘Edinburgh Error’?-Future Mission in Historical Perspective,” David Hesselgrave laments the current disconnect between theology and missiology, and traces it back to the Edinburgh conference of 1910. At that conference, Chairman John R. Mott and other organizers made the decision to restrict the conference discussion to matters of strategy and policy, ruling out discussion of doctrinal issues.
For Mott, the issue of doctrine was “divisive,” and thus to be avoided, but for Hesselgrave, doctrine is the life-blood of the church and her mission. The Edinburgh planners “should have insisted on including doctrinal discussion both when planning and when guiding conference proceedings.” And again, “I believe that only on very rare occasions and with more precautions than were evident in 1910 do representatives of mission agencies have the prerogative of ruling divine revelation out of order in order to pursue their own objectives, however noble.”
Hesselgrave is right and his paper’s thesis, while focused on missiology, is easily applicable to other disciplines and areas of church practice-including preaching, evangelism, church growth, church planting, contextualization, and pastoral counseling.
It is the contention of this post, and the others to follow in this series, that we must avoid such a disconnect between doctrine and practice, between theology and missiology. We must build a theologically-driven missiology, one in which doctrine and practice are riveted together.
This missiology will be in conversation with the social sciences, which are useful as humble handmaidens for the gospel. However its starting point, trajectory, and parameters are determined by Christian Scripture. Problems arise when this is not the case. A faulty doctrine of God will lead us to a wrong definition of “success.” A poor hermeneutic will lead to an aberrant understanding of God’s mission and of our mission. A faulty soteriology neuters our attempts at evangelism and discipleship. And so forth and so on.
In the posts that follow this one, I will take the classical loci of Christian theology and give examples of how each one may be brought to bear upon the church’s practice in general, and upon missiology in particular. An examination of the doctrines of revelation, God, Christ, the Spirit, Creation, Man, the Church, and the End Times bear fruit for the church’s practice, and are fruitful for reflection in connection with all aspects of the church’s mission.
David Hesselgrave is correct that evangelicals, who are defined by their belief in the Divine inspiration of Christian Scripture, often contradict that very belief by ignoring it in matters of practice. We proclaim the inspiration of Scripture while at the same time undermining it in our strategies and methods. Southern Baptists are not exempt from this ironic state of affairs, and it is our charge under the Lord to work against this trend. We must consciously, carefully, and consistently proceed in such a manner that theology takes the “driver’s seat” in our missiology.
If we will do so, there is no limit to the way that we will be able to bring glory to our God. God will not have to plow around us in order to advance His kingdom. Instead, He will be able to employ the great resources He has given us-ecclesiological, financial, missional-toward that same end.
[Note: The excerpts from David Hesselgrave are taken from an unpublished version of his essay, “Will We Correct the ‘Edinburgh Error’?-Future Mission in Historical Perspective.”]