Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 2: The Theological Foundation for a GCR

This past week Betweenthetimes.com began a series of posts on the call for a Great Commission Resurgence with the post of Danny Akin’s “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 1: Continuity with the Conservative Resurgence.” The series will continue over the next months, typically with a new post on the topic each week. Our aim is to discuss the contours of a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the Southern Baptist Convention. Others in the SBC have used the language of GCR to call the convention to renewed focus on the gospel and the kingdom among our churches and entities. We hope to offer some definition 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.

In Part 1 of this series, Danny Akin noted that at the heart of the call for a Great Commission Resurgence in SBC life is “a renewed passion for the pursuit and fulfillment of Matthew 28:16-20.” In this post I want to address the foundation upon which such a passion and pursuit rests. We must consider the theological foundation for a GCR because a GCR rests on God himself.

The triune God is the Lord who is life and love. He is Yahweh, the name by which God revealed himself to Moses, which indicates that the Creator who made covenant with Abraham and who delivered Israel from Egypt is the self-existent One. He is the “I AM”, and he is not only the “one true living God,” he is life itself. This life is shared in eternity among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Before the creation of this world, God existed perfectly in his triunity; God’s life is not dependent on anyone or anything.

“God is love” is one of the first confessions Christians teach their children. The eternal nature of divine love is exhibited in the prayer of Jesus: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (Jn 17:24). It is in God’s nature to love, and divine love existed before the creation of the world within the love shared between the Father, Son, and Spirit. This love is not dependent on anyone or anything. God is the God who is not simply living, but who is life itself; God is the God who is not simply loving, but who is love itself.

God chose to share his life and love by creating a world. God did not need a world, since he exists perfectly within himself. That he chose to share life by creating the cosmos is a witness to his love. He created the world to share life and to create a people for himself, creatures made in his own image and likeness, so that they would follow the Great Commandment, to love the God who first loved them, and to give God the glory due his name.

Thus, Moses records in Gen 2:7 that Yahweh breathed life into Adam, and God put at the center of the land he prepared for man a tree called the Tree of Life (Gen 2:9). God created a woman as a companion for Adam, and they were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” God’s creatures, including the one made in his image, are to reproduce life. Man, given life by God, was made to love God and to glorify him. All creation is called to join with God himself in loving the triune God.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the life of those made in God’s image is placed in jeopardy, because sin destroys life. God, therefore, sets into motion his mission to redeem a people for himself, a people who will worship God for all eternity. The missio Dei, the “mission of God” includes the Great Commission, but it is rooted in the very being of God himself. God created a world so that his creatures could share both life and love. But in the face of the death and enmity bred by sin, it is the mission of God to restore life and love. God’s mission proceeds from God’s very essence. The church’s mission is rooted in the mission of God. The church pursues its mission because it is Christ’s church. We are being conformed to Christ’s image and we reflect his glory as we participate in the missio Dei.

The foundation upon which a Great Commission Resurgence rests is God himself. We are called by God to this mission and empowered by the Spirit of God to engage in it. As God’s redeemed, we are a people who passionately pursue the Great Commandment by fulfilling the Great Commission. When God finally restores all things, the new heavens and the new earth are centered once again on life with God – the New Jerusalem has a “river of life” (Rev 22:1) and a “tree of life” (Rev 22:19), which recall the original creation. This new heavens and new earth is the place in which God’s people will gladly fulfill the Great Commandment, adoring and worshiping the triune God for all eternity, all to the glory of God. Our call for a Great Commission Resurgence is rooted in these truths about our triune Lord.

How to Weaken Pride and Cultivate Humility

One of the most convicting and encouraging books I have read in the last year is C. J. Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness. At the conclusion of the book, Mahaney offers a list of activities to help believer’s weaken their pride and cultivate humility. Though I meditated on the list when I first read the book, I was reminded of it on a recent Sunday when one of our pastors referenced Mahaney’s list during a Sunday School lesson. I thought I would make the list available here as a brief word of encouragement for all of our readers who, like me, are daily waging a spiritual battle against pride and seeking to mortify that most fundamental of sins.

HOW TO WEAKEN PRIDE AND CULTIVATE HUMILITY

A List of Suggestions

Always:

1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ.

As Each Day Begins:

2. Begin your day by acknowledging your dependence upon God and your need for God.

3. Begin your day expressing gratefulness to God.

4. Practice the spiritual disciplines–prayer, study of God’s Word, worship. Do this consistently each day and at day’s outset, if possible.

5. Seize your commute time to memorize and meditate on Scripture.

6. Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.

As Each Day Ends:

7. At the end of the day, transfer the glory to God.

8. Before going to sleep, receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge His purpose for sleep.

For Special Focus:

9. Study the attributes of God.

10. Study the doctrines of grace.

11. Study the doctrine of sin.

12. Play golf as much as possible [he wrote it–I promise! NAF].

13. Laugh often, and laugh often at yourself.

Throughout Your Days and Weeks:

14. Identify evidences of grace in others.

15. Encourage and serve others each and every day.

16. Invite and pursue correction.

17. Respond humbly to trials.

[Note: This list is taken from C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah, 2005), pp. 171-72. I would also highly recommend Mahaney’s great little book Living the Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing (Multnomah, 2006). Either book would be an excellent choice to read as part of your personal devotions and the latter especially would also be very useful in a small group study in your local church.]

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.