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.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 1: Continuity with the Conservative Resurgence

A number of us have issued a call for what is being called “A Great Commission Resurgence.” This idea is being talked about, and there are a number of writings in circulation as well. For example, LifeWay distributed at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis an 83-page booklet entitled Great Commission Resurgence. I contributed to this (a slight revision of my Building Bridges paper) along with Thom Rainer, Chuck Lawless, Jeff Iorg and Jerry Rankin. My Building Bridges presentation can be found at this website.

Still, some may be unclear, or at least have questions, as to what a Great Commission Resurgence would look like in terms of specifics. I believe the big picture is clear: it is a renewed passion for the pursuit and fulfillment of Matthew 28:16-20. I spoke specifically to this in a chapel message that also gave attention to the life and ministry of William Carey. That message is available here. We are to go and disciple all the nations until Jesus comes again knowing He is with us as we go. So, what are some of the details or particulars that would accompany a Great Commission Resurgence, especially for those of us who are Southern Baptists? This will be the first of a series that will hopefully make clear how the Resurgence might, by God’s grace, take shape.

The Great Commission Resurgence, of absolute necessity, must be wedded to the Conservative Resurgence that was launched in 1979 with the election of Adrian Rogers as president of the SBC, and which reached something of a highpoint with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Had there not been a Conservative Resurgence, we would not even be talking about a Great Commission Resurgence. Therefore, the Conservative Resurgence is the foundation upon which the Great Commission Resurgence must be launched. There can be no backtracking from the ground regained through the Conservative Resurgence. Further, there must be continued vigilance and even advance of the Conservative Resurgence. I have in mind here work that still needs to take place on the state, associational and local church level. Further, our national agencies and entities need continually to be held accountable to the vision that marked the Conservative Resurgence. This will be the very nature of things, an ongoing process. If we fail to build upon and stay rooted in the theological convictions of the Conservative Resurgence, the Great Commission Resurgence will be short lived and ultimately a failure. A Great Commission Resurgence by its very nature must be biblically and theologically driven. What that should look like will be the subject of future articles. Suffice it to say there must be a biblically informed, theologically balanced consensus for Southern Baptists to cooperate in a Great Commission Resurgence. This is not optional. This is not negotiable. Coming together around the bedrock essentials that identify us as orthodox, evangelical and Baptist will be a necessary component of an effective and vibrant Great Commission Resurgence. By God’s grace and for His glory, there will be neither compromise nor retreat from “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The Conservative Resurgence was never an end in and of itself. It was about Truth. It was about the gospel. It was about fulfilling the Great Commission.

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).

Online game on mobile