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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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.

Interviewing for a Church Position — Questions to Ask

Often I am asked about how one should conduct themselves in an interview for a ministry position. Usually the conversation is one way: the committee asks the questions and the prospective candidate responds. This is right and fine but also incomplete. A potential minister should also have questions he needs answers to as well. Such questions can help in discerning is this the place God would have me serve. Below is an extensive list of potential questions for the interview process. The list, though long, is not exhaustive. Further, not every question may need to be addressed for every ministry opportunity. I believe one cannot have too much information when it comes to choosing leaders in our churches. I believe this is true both for the church and the minster. Hopefully these questions can guide and aid in a fruitful conversation for both parties in this crucially important process.

  1. Do you have a church constitution/bylaws that I can see?
  2. Do you have a church budget I can review?
  3. Are you committed to reaching all people within your geographical area (regardless of race, social or cultural status)?
  4. Do you believe the pastor is called to lead the church? Does your church believe this also?
  5. Who decides who fills the pulpit?
  6. Who calls and hires staff? What is the relationship of the pastor and staff? Do you utilize/have a personnel committee? What is their function?
  7. What is the role of the deacons and their relationship to the pastor? Do your deacons rotate?
  8. To whom is the pastor accountable? The staff?
  9. For what reasons would you consider firing the pastor? A staff person? Has your church ever fired a pastor or staff person? If so, when and why?
  10. What were the tenures of your last pastors? Why did they leave?
  11. What is the committee structure of your church and how are they elected?
  12. What expectations do you have for the pastor’s wife and family? Staff and their spouse?
  13. Would you provide for me the names and telephone numbers of your last three pastors so that I can visit with them about their ministry here?
  14. What are the doctrinal essentials your church has for: a) the pastor; b) worship leaders; c) teachers; d) membership?
  15. May I share with you certain doctrinal standards and emphases of my theology/ministry?
  16. What is the present membership of the church? Is it in a pattern of growth or decline? Where do the members live in relation to the location of the church? What is the age balance of the membership? What is the educational level of the membership?
  17. Is there a clear and complete job description of all staff positions?
  18. What, if any, secretarial and other assistance will be at my disposal?
  19. Has the church been successful in meeting its yearly budget?
  20. What are the music/worship concepts of the church?
  21. Could the community be characterized as static, transient, growing or declining?
  22. Would the church be responsive to innovations in worship? Ministry? Programs?
  23. Does the church support the Cooperative Program? Other programs of mission outreach, both local and international?
  24. What is the position of the church on race relations, homosexuality, women as pastors/elders?
  25. What is the position of the church on inerrancy, baptism and communion?
  26. How effectively does the church minister to its youth? Senior adults? Families? Singles?
  27. What is the salary structure of your church, the pattern and policies on future salary increases and the tangible benefits such as hospitalization, disability, retirement, housing allowance and travel expenses? Is a house or housing allowance provided?
  28. What opportunities will there be for outside engagements? Continuing education?
  29. What commitment does the church have to long-range planning?
  30. May I see a video tape of recent services?
  31. Is there a church policy about staff members’ involvement in weddings, funerals, etc.?
  32. Is there an annual review or any standardized evaluation process of my work?
  33. What are the spiritual “barometer readings” of the church?
  34. What is the theological basis for this church’s existence?
  35. Do you have a Confessions of Faith?