Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 3: A Compelling Vision Grounded in Confessional Identity

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

In 1991, in the heat of the Conservative Resurgence, Paige Patterson authored an important and visionary article, in what was at the time Southern Seminary’s journal, the Review and Expositor (Vol. 88, 1991; 37-55). The title was “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC.” Filled with wisdom and insight, Patterson called for theological renewal based upon complete confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, seminaries that are “breeding ponds for ardent evangelist” (39), theological parameters “which will guide convention life doctrinally” (41), missiological renewal, “innovative strategies” (42), ecclesiological renewal, socio-political renewal (e.g. a biblical response to racism, abortion, church and state, feminism and the sanctity of the home) and spiritual renewal rooted in prayer, holiness, word and witness. Patterson also challenged Southern Baptist to look and learn from other brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we might not see eye to eye on every point of doctrine. Learn from the “spontaneity and participation” of neo-charismatic friends (45), just stay away from “their experienced-oriented epistemologically defective theology and their topical and overly emotional preaching. . . .” (A good word indeed!). The vision Patterson articulated was comprehensive in scope and compelling in its attractiveness for those who love Christ, the Church, the Word and the lost. In a real sense his vision provided more than a decade and a half ago the contours and impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence that, of logical and spiritual necessity, should grow out of a Conservative Resurgence committed to the truth of Holy Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One aspect of this vision came to fruition with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This was a revision of the 1963 statement. Baptists have always been marked by confessional identity. Such confessions, based upon our understanding of the Word of God, provide a witness to the world of “these things we believe.” They also provide a consensus for our coming together for cooperation in obedience to the Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, like prior confessions, addressed particular theological issues with a long doctrinal history, as well as more relevant questions being debated in the current contemporary context. Thus one finds, for example, clear and unequivocal statements on the truthfulness of the Bible; the exclusivity of the gospel; penal substitution; God’s complete and total omniscience (no “open theism”); baptism by the Spirit at conversion; the sins of racism, homosexuality and pornography; the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death; and a complementarian view of the home and church. It is a point of historical interest that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee was appointed by Paige Patterson and chaired by Adrian Rogers.

All of us recognize that as a human confession this statement is not perfect. Furthermore, it is not exhaustive. Still, it can serve as a sufficient guide providing good, solid parameters for ecclesial and missional cooperation among Southern Baptist. It is instructive to note that all six seminaries have pledged to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In addition, Southeastern Seminary and Southern Seminary also teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Abstract of Principles penned by Basil Manly Jr. in 1858. Finally, and uniquely, Southeastern Seminary also requires each and every faculty member to affirm “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and “The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” These latter statements are in perfect harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in my judgment, and taken together, provide a healthy and robust standard of confessional identity and conviction. Thus there should be no question about what we believe or where we stand. There should be no doubt as to our vision or our mission. When other denominations are in retreat, apparently seeing how little they can confess, Southern Baptists are headed in a different direction all together. We desire to be clear and transparent in what we believe, preach and teach. There is no biblical gospel without theological content. There is no Great Commission to pursue without doctrinal conviction. This is who we are. This is where we stand. This is what we believe. This is why we go!mobile rpg games

Some Reasons I Believe in Seminary and Theological Education

I am convinced that the most important characteristic or qualification of a minister is personal integrity. I address this several times every semester at Southeastern Seminary. Paul says in 1 Tim. 3:2 that a leader in the church must be blameless or above reproach. Personal integrity is foundational to everything else that one does in ministry. Second, I believe compassion and love for those we serve is crucial. Jesus said that love would be a distinguishing mark by which men would know that we are His disciples. Therefore, a genuine love and compassion for our people is absolutely essential. Third is biblical fidelity and conviction. A minister of Jesus Christ should live a Bible saturated life. If a minister does not believe in the inspiration and complete truthfulness of Scripture, in the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, in my judgement he is not qualified to be a minister of the gospel. Our view of the Bible should be the same as that of the Lord Jesus and it is clear that He did not doubt a jot or a tittle (Matthew 5:17 & 18). Fourth, a minister must have a passion for the souls of lost men and women, boys and girls. Jesus came “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We, like our Lord, must be about the task of sharing the gospel, and do so as the Puritans said, “promiscuously.”

At Southeastern Seminary we are committed to training Apostle Pauls. We want men and women with keen minds and theological conviction balanced with a passion for missions and evangelism. Theology and missions should never be divorced. Indeed, each will be impoverished without the other.

Theological preparation can assist a minister in each of these areas. Of course it is the case that one can be competent without theological education, but theological education can take each of these four vital areas and assist the minister in his growth and development. Is theological preparation, then, the most important qualification or even a necessary qualification? No. But it certainly can be a great benefit for those who take the opportunity to pursue it.

I am convinced that tremendous problems will arise in a church as a result of a lack of theological education among its leadership. Our churches overall are grossly anemic in their basic knowledge of biblical and theological truth. The blame for this must lay at the feet of the ministers who are responsible for preaching the Word and also for committing biblical truth to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). Many of our churches are vulnerable to the latest theological fad or “wind of doctrine.” False teachings like open theism, salvific inclusivism, and even universalism can slip in unchecked if pastors are not instructing and exhorting their people in sound doctrine and refuting those who teach error (Titus 1:9). Theological education can assist a minister in knowing both what he believes and why he believes. It can help him understand the great theological debates throughout the history of the church (think divine sovereignty and human responsibility!) and to more readily recognize theological danger and error when it appears. Grounding ministers in biblical and theological truth can help them do the same for their church and enable a church to stand strong for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

I believe the minimum requirement in terms of theological education to be the master of divinity. Again, there are always exceptions to the case, but by and large this three year 90 hour program of study is what I would expect minimally for the minister who would pastor my church. Of course, more education is better. In fact, I encourage every minister that attends our Seminary to go as far in their theological education as they possibly can. Furthermore, I tend to throw down a gauntlet, but one that I believe is true, and say to them that anyone who has the ability, calling and opportunity to go all the way to the highest level and does not do so sins against God and prostitutes the gifts that the Lord has given them. It is a matter of Christian stewardship that we hone and refine the gifts that God has given us for His honor and His glory. Indeed, God deserves excellence in everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31). This includes our loving Him with our mind (Matt 22:37).

At Southeastern Seminary we seek to address the full orbed expectations of the minister of the Gospel. We begin by laying a strong foundation in biblical and theological studies. We continue to be committed to the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, and we believe that they are absolutely essential for the faithful preaching of the Word of God. We do not, however, want our ministers to become ivory tower theologians who are “no good” to the common people. Therefore, we balance our curriculum with strong emphases in missions, evangelism, leadership, biblical counseling, and expository preaching. We have developed “interim partnerships” with local churches who teach our students what they can learn only in the context of a local church. We want to expose our students to various models and approaches to ministry, critiquing all that we examine in light of Scripture.

Southeastern Seminary believes there is really only one valid model for preaching for an effective ministry. That model is exposition. We recognize that exposition can be done in different ways, however, the faithful preaching of God’s Word, book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and word by word cannot be neglected if the church is to be dynamic, vibrant and alive.

Far too many seminaries have compromised in the area of biblical and theological conviction, and as a result they have adopted a more therapeutic model when it comes to educating their ministers. A pastoral care model or a cooperate CEO model too often dominates rather than a pastor-teacher model (Eph. 4:11) which is true to Scripture. The good shepherd of a local church will feed and lead, preach and protect his flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). To do this effectively he must be convicted of biblical truth and grounded in biblical truth. At Southeastern Seminary we place a premium emphasis on the classic disciplines of theological education, and we are convinced that this is absolutely necessary for the health and vitality of the church in the 21st century.

The single most important reason that someone who believes that God has called them to ministry should pursue theological education is because it will enable them to be a better minister. Billy Graham has often said that if he could add anything to his ministry, it would be a seminary education. He believes that the ministry that God has given him would have been even more productive had he availed himself of seminary. That is a strong word from a very well respected voice. I believe all persons who are considering vocalional ministry would do well to heed the counsel of this great servant of God. I don’t think they will be disappointed, and neither will the people they serve.

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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