Toward a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention: Part Two

This evening, I am signing on again from Central Asia, where I am drinking a coffee at a small café in the middle of the city. Inside the café are tourists, mostly from America and Europe. It is a scene to behold. Directly in front of me, at the table that is rammed right up next to mine, is what appears to be an alternative rock band of some sort, thirty-somethings, complete with pierced pre-frontal cortexes and little dust bunnies on their chins.

To my left is a long table surrounded by mid-50s women, wielding their cell phones and Louis Vuitton purses, and laughing loudly enough to be heard over a cement mixer. There is another group of Americans outside on the street. Surely they are on a church trip-they’re wearing matching, neon green backpacks, and walking around grinning like its their birthday. And then there is the author of this blogpost, sitting at the booth in blue jeans and a Gap® shirt, sipping my hot brew and trying to write this post.

Here in front of me are three different groups of Americans, with some things in common such as the English language and a shared national history; however, from another angle, they likely have many things at variance, such as their views of the world and of cosmic history, or their convictions about the end goal of human life, or their preferences in music and TV and literature. They share a civilizational and national context, but probably not a cultural or existential context. Communication across these three groups would very likely be cross-cultural communication.

And all of this reminds me that Danny Akin and Paige Patterson, and Ed Stetzer and Bob Roberts, are right. We must treat the United States as a mission field. We must proclaim and embody the gospel across boundaries, we must plant churches, we must live missionally, as if our lives depended upon it.

While it is true, as I wrote in an earlier post, that there are places in the world where people have little or no access to the gospel, and that we should unite as a convention to focus our attention on those places, it is also true that we should unite as a convention to focus our attention also on North America, including especially the USA.

Living missionally in North America?

We most often use the term “missions” to denote the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic outworking of the church’s mission. It is for this reason that missions has most often been used to refer to international evangelism, discipleship and church planting. International missionaries cross vast cultural divides and overcome daunting linguistic barriers in order to share the gospel.

The point of this post, however, is that those who minister in the United States now must often cross subcultures and overcome linguistic barriers in their efforts to advance the kingdom.

A missional Christian in an American context is the same as one in the international context. He is first and foremost a theologian, but also is a student of other disciplines such as world religions, contemporary cultures and sub-cultures, and current affairs. In studying world religions, he learns to understand the core beliefs and religious practices of those to whom he will minister. In becoming a student of other cultures and sub-cultures, he learns to pay careful attention to the people group he is working amongst. He seeks to understand their beliefs, feelings, and values, as well as their patterns of behavior and material trappings. From current affairs, he gains an understanding of the broader regional, national, and international context within which he ministers.

What, then, is the task of the SBC, in relation to North America?

Given the present situation, the focus of North American missions should be to create and implement a missiology for North American cultures. One of the challenges facing Southern Baptists is how to reach our own country. The United States is not monolingual or monocultural. Multiple cultures and languages have been introduced within our borders by immigrants.

In addition, there is a dizzying array of sub-cultures, each with their own distinctive beliefs and ways of life. Many of these sub-cultures are post-Christian, in that they do not have even a basic understanding of a Christian worldview or Christian vocabulary.

We have got to learn how to take our own cultural contexts as seriously as IMB workers take their contexts. This means that we would take care to learn the cultures and sub-cultures around us so that we can communicate the gospel faithfully and meaningfully, and plant churches faithfully and meaningfully, within the framework of our neighbors’ cultural and existential contexts.

Integrity in Ministry

For 30 plus years I have been burdened for the personal integrity of those in the ministry. The reasons are simple. Integrity is a biblical requirement (1 Tim 3:1). And, the respect for those in ministry is at a low ebb, especially in our nation. Of course one major area of importance is how ministers conduct themselves with the opposite sex. I have always challenged fellow pastors to make a rock solid, non-negotiable commitment: “I will never be alone with a woman who is not my wife.” This commitment and conviction has not always been applauded. I have been accused of being a Pharisee, legalist, sexist and Neanderthal. I was once accused of having “psycho-sexual hang-ups in need of therapy!” But praise God and by His grace, I have never been accused of adultery because in almost 30 years of marriage, I have never been alone with a woman other than Charlotte. I have no plans to change this.

Sexual temptation is a powerful reality, and a wise person will never forget that no matter how much you love Jesus, “the wrong person plus the wrong place plus the wrong time will equal the wrong thing happening.” Look no further than to the tragic story of King David, a man the Bible says was after God’s own heart.

Sexual immorality exacts a heavy price tag. It will cause you to dishonor Christ, wound the church, break the heart of your mate and lose forever the respect of your children. That is a price only a fool would pay.

This issue was brought to my mind again in a recent blog by my friend Ed Stetzer. By the way, I am excited to tell you that Dr. Stetzer is going to join the Southeastern faculty as a visiting research professor. Personally I am thrilled we will get to share him with our friends at LifeWay. In Ed’s blog he referenced the “The Commandments for Saddleback Staff” by Rick Warren. Here is Rick’s list.

  1. Thou shalt not go to lunch alone with the opposite sex.*
  2. Thou shalt not have the opposite sex pick you up or drive you places when it is just the two of you.*
  3. Thou shalt not kiss any attender of the opposite sex or show affection that could be questioned.*
  4. Thou shalt not visit the opposite sex alone at home.*
  5. Thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex alone at the office, and thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex more than once without that person’s mate. Refer them.
  6. Thou shalt not discuss detailed sexual problems with the opposite sex in counseling. Refer them.
  7. Thou shalt not discuss your marriage problems with an attender of the opposite sex.
  8. Thou shalt be careful in answering emails, instant messages, chatrooms, cards or letters from the opposite sex.
  9. Thou shalt make your co-worker your protective ally.
  10. Thou shalt pray for the integrity of other staff members.

[*The first four do not apply to unmarried staff.]

These are wise words for any minister of any sex or age. These are principles that will help us in finishing the race well for King Jesus. Integrity as it relates to your sex life is not optional for the minister of the gospel. It is essential. Take the high road in this area. Be cautious and be careful. Stay close to Jesus and stay close to your mate. End your race with no regrets. It will glorify God, and you will be glad you did.mobi online

Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: Summary

Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal[This is the first of two posts that will interact with David Dockery’s new book, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (B&H Academic, 2008). This first post is a relatively detailed summary of the book. In the second post, I will interact with some of Dockery’s key proposals. You can purchase the book for $9.99 from LifeWay Christian Resources.]

Over the past twenty-five years or so, Union University President David Dockery has been engaging some of the most pressing issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention. In his articles, conference addresses, chapel messages, and books, Dockery has been consistently charting a course for the future of the Convention. Much of that material has now been brought together and synthesized as Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, a book-length agenda for the SBC.

Dockery begins with an introduction titled Southern Baptists: Past, Present, and Future. He recounts the origins of the SBC as a sectional denomination, discusses the various theological and cultural movements that shaped Southern Baptist identity, and describes the evolution of the Convention into a modern denomination during the mid-20th century. He also addresses how the Convention’s theological identity shifted from a principled conservatism shaped mostly by pastor-theologians to a progressive pragmatism nurtured by denominational programs. This shift contributed to the rise of progressive theology in the 1960s and 1970s, which in turn inspired periodic conservative backlash. These two competing visions collided in the Conservative Resurgence that began in 1979 and captured control of the denominational bureaucracy. After a helpful discussion of the varieties of Southern Baptist conservatism and the tensions that result from this diversity, Dockery concludes his introduction by calling for “a new generation that will be both convictional and cooperative (12)”. Such Southern Baptists will build a consensus around the gospel, pursue a renewed Baptist identity, and recommit to the cause of missions and evangelism. The rest of the book fleshes out Dockery’s call.

The first true chapter is devoted to renewing various “markers” of Southern Baptist identity. Dockery first discusses the primacy of Scripture, arguing that Baptists have historically been thoroughgoing biblicists. He then outlines an evangelical doctrine of Scripture that hinges upon the inerrancy and sufficiency of the canonical texts. Dockery also discusses the place of doctine, arguing that Southern Baptists need to differentiate between primary and secondary doctrines by faithfully searching Scripture and looking to Baptist history and the wider Christian tradition for guidance. He then discusses the role that global missions has played in Baptist history in general and the SBC in particular. Dockery closes the chapter by discussing how cooperation fuels our mission endeavors. He argues for a gospel-driven consensus within the SBC that balances a passion for the truth with a call to love others and that models Christian unity before the watching world.

The second chapter focuses on the gospel, calling for a Southern Baptist consensus on the good news of all that God has done on our behalf through the person and work of Christ. Dockery begins by noting how programmatic cooperation in the SBC contributed to the decline of the gospel among our churches. He then argues from Scripture that the gospel is based upon God’s sovereign initiative to save sinful humans, though he is careful to argue that individuals are responsible for responding to God’s divine intitiative. Dockery then discusses how the issue of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility has been debated throughout church history, particularly in the debates between Calvinists, Arminians, and those who pitch their tent between the two positions. He argues that Southern Baptists must reject hyper-Calvinism, Pelagianism, and “consistent” Arminianism, while focusing on the proclamation of the gospel to all men. Dockery then provides a lengthy explanation of the gospel message itself, including God’s creation of all things, humanity’s creation in God’s image, humanity’s fall into sin, God’s provision for salvation through the person and work of Christ, God’s actual salvation of men and women when they look to Christ as Lord and Savior, and God’s ulimate redemption of the entire created order. He closes the chapter will a call for a Southern Baptist consensus around these fundamental truths.

Chapter three focuses on worship among Southern Baptists. Dockery begins by noting the genuine diversity of worship styles among North American Christians, including Southern Baptists. He then provides a brief overview of how Baptists have worshiped over the last 400 years, with particular emphasis on the role that revivalism has played in shaping our worship and the central place of preaching in our corporate worship. Next, Dockery helpfully outlines six different worship styles, most of which are present within sectors of the Southern Baptist Convention. The chapter closes with a call to renew Southern Baptist worship. Dockery calls for Scripture-saturated worship, including text-driven preaching, a high degree of congregational participation in praise, prayer, singing, giving, and confession, and a greater appreciation for the ordinances od baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Dockery finishes with seven suggestions for renewing worship: (1) recognize that worship is a primary function of the church; (2) realize that worship is not passive but active; (3) understand that worship is a response to the person and work of Jesus Christ; (4) emphasize that worship is primarily spiritual and symbolic; (5) rediscover the significance and importance of the Lord’s Supper; (6) help people realize the need to prepare for worship; (7) show a greater appreciation for the centrality of the local church as the place for corporate worship. Dockery is convinced that the renewal of Baptist worship will help facilitate renewal in every other area.

Chapter four is titled Serving Church and Society: A Vision for Baptist Education. This is a topic Dockery has extensively addressed in other works, most notably Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society Through Christian Higher Education. After an historical overview of Baptist higher education, including early schools, theological traditions, and ten shaping influences, Dockery discusses how our Baptist distinctives inform our approach to higher education and how certain tendencies within the Baptist tradition threaten higher education. He argues for wedding Baptist identity with a deeper commitment to the historic confessional tradition of the church. Dockery then proposes five keys to a renewed vision for Baptist higher education, including a closer connection with the churches, a commitment to academic freedom within a confessional context, the formative role of higher eduction in Baptist identity, a focus on students, and developing faculties that are communities of scholars who are also devoted churchmen. Dockery closes by proposing a view of theological (seminary) education that is theologically driven, is connected to the church, is pursued in service to the church and on behalf of the church, that consciously weds theology and practice, and helps facilitate renewal within the SBC.

Chapter five focuses on rediscovering our theological heritage for the purpose of contemporary renewal. Dockery begins with an overview of the unique theological emphases of the first three centuries of Baptist history prior to the formation of the SBC. He then traces the development of Southern Baptist theology through the writings of six theologians: John L. Dagg, James P. Boyce, Basil Manly Jr., B.H. Carroll, E.Y. Mullins, and W.T. Connor. The general trend moves from Scripture to experience, along with the waning of doctrinaire Calvinism. Dockery then discusses Southern Baptist theology since the mid-20th century, dividing his discussion into pre- and post-Conservative Resurgence tendencies. He notes that prior to 1979, the Convention was divided between conservatives and moderates, the latter including both theological progressives and those who tolerated them, including many who were individual conservatives. There was no real confessional center to the SBC, leading to a series of theological controversies and the breakdown of the older, theologically based consensus in favor of a more pragmatic consensus. Since 1979, the shift has been back toward the older consensus’s focus on the truthfulness of Scripture, though the Convention remains internally divided on any number of issues. But our commitment to biblical inerrancy provides us with the foundation to move forward toward a new consensus within the SBC.

The final chapter is titled Praying for Church and Convention Leaders: Character, Conviction, and Cooperation. Dockery calls for Convention leaders who exemplify godly character. He also calls for leaders with strong theological convictions, in particular a commitment to biblical inerrancy and sufficiency and an appreciation for the heart of the historic Baptist confessional tradition, though not necessarily total doctrinal uniformity. He then argues for a renewed cooperation built around our renewed confessionalism, with genuine humility and Christ-centered unity driving us every step of the way. Dockery concludes this chapter, and the book, with a review of all that he has discussed and a call for these priorities and emphases to guide us in a new Southern Baptist consensus and renewal, for the glory of God, the health of our churches, and the sake of those who do not yet know Christ. online rpg mobile game