Theologically-Driven Missiology, Part 1: A Southern Baptist Moment

Perhaps the most significant issue facing evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, today is a disconnect between doctrine and practice, between theology and missiology. Our tendency is to affirm Christian Scripture as being inspired by God and without error, and then to ignore Christian Scripture in forming our strategies and methods. It is as if we are saying that “what” we believe about God is important, but “how” we practice is not. We think that we can “bank on” inerrancy and then do whatever we’d like.

In a recent paper, “Will We Correct the ‘Edinburgh Error’?-Future Mission in Historical Perspective,” David Hesselgrave laments the current disconnect between theology and missiology, and traces it back to the Edinburgh conference of 1910. At that conference, Chairman John R. Mott and other organizers made the decision to restrict the conference discussion to matters of strategy and policy, ruling out discussion of doctrinal issues.

For Mott, the issue of doctrine was “divisive,” and thus to be avoided, but for Hesselgrave, doctrine is the life-blood of the church and her mission. The Edinburgh planners “should have insisted on including doctrinal discussion both when planning and when guiding conference proceedings.” And again, “I believe that only on very rare occasions and with more precautions than were evident in 1910 do representatives of mission agencies have the prerogative of ruling divine revelation out of order in order to pursue their own objectives, however noble.

Hesselgrave is right and his paper’s thesis, while focused on missiology, is easily applicable to other disciplines and areas of church practice-including preaching, evangelism, church growth, church planting, contextualization, and pastoral counseling.

It is the contention of this post, and the others to follow in this series, that we must avoid such a disconnect between doctrine and practice, between theology and missiology. We must build a theologically-driven missiology, one in which doctrine and practice are riveted together.

This missiology will be in conversation with the social sciences, which are useful as humble handmaidens for the gospel. However its starting point, trajectory, and parameters are determined by Christian Scripture. Problems arise when this is not the case. A faulty doctrine of God will lead us to a wrong definition of “success.” A poor hermeneutic will lead to an aberrant understanding of God’s mission and of our mission. A faulty soteriology neuters our attempts at evangelism and discipleship. And so forth and so on.

In the posts that follow this one, I will take the classical loci of Christian theology and give examples of how each one may be brought to bear upon the church’s practice in general, and upon missiology in particular. An examination of the doctrines of revelation, God, Christ, the Spirit, Creation, Man, the Church, and the End Times bear fruit for the church’s practice, and are fruitful for reflection in connection with all aspects of the church’s mission.

David Hesselgrave is correct that evangelicals, who are defined by their belief in the Divine inspiration of Christian Scripture, often contradict that very belief by ignoring it in matters of practice. We proclaim the inspiration of Scripture while at the same time undermining it in our strategies and methods. Southern Baptists are not exempt from this ironic state of affairs, and it is our charge under the Lord to work against this trend. We must consciously, carefully, and consistently proceed in such a manner that theology takes the “driver’s seat” in our missiology.

If we will do so, there is no limit to the way that we will be able to bring glory to our God. God will not have to plow around us in order to advance His kingdom. Instead, He will be able to employ the great resources He has given us-ecclesiological, financial, missional-toward that same end.

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[Note: The excerpts from David Hesselgrave are taken from an unpublished version of his essay, “Will We Correct the ‘Edinburgh Error’?-Future Mission in Historical Perspective.”]_gamesmmo online mobilonline for mobile

Some Thoughts on a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention

For well over a year now, some of us have been talking about the need for a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Sermons have been preached, addresses have been given, articles have been authored, and blog posts have been devoted to this topic. In Indianapolis, I heard several different recognized SBC leaders use this terminology from the Convention platform. And I find that encouraging.

The Conservative Resurgence came to an end over the course of the 1990s. It actually happened in several stages. First, with the formation of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991, moderate Southern Baptists began to disengage from the Convention in increasing numbers, a trend that actually began as early as 1988 when the Southern Baptist Alliance was formed (now Alliance of Baptists). Second, the Covenant for a New Century was approved in 1995 and implemented in 1997, leading to a bureaucratic restructuring of the denomination. Third, the Baptist Faith and Message was amended in 1998 so as to reflect conservative gender and family views. Finally, a substantial revision of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 2000, marking the symbolic end to the Conservative Resurgence.

A Great Commission Resurgence needs to build upon the theological foundation of the Conservative Resurgence. Our agencies, boards, and seminaries are now led by conservative administrators who are accountable to conservative trustees. We have embraced a thoroughly conservative confession of faith. LifeWay is producing conservative curricula and developing conservative programs for use in our churches. Our future pastors and missionaries are being taught conservative theology in our seminaries and a growing number of state Baptist colleges. Our professors are pursuing conservative scholarship that is often relevant to what happens in local churches. Our missionaries are planting conservative churches in our Jerusalem, our Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The time is ripe for all of these things to come together in a Great Commission Resurgence.

A Great Commission Resurgence needs to include at least three components. First, we must reemphasize–and in some cases recover–the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must never tire of telling the world of all that God has done on our behalf through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hopeless sinners have been adopted as cherished sons of the Father. Hateful rebels have been transformed into loving subjects of the True King. The dead have been made alive in Christ. And those of us who have been captivated by this gospel are called to live cross-centered lives that bear the fruit of the gospel as the Holy Spirit conforms us more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Our Great Commission Resurgence must coincide with a Gospel Resurgence among the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Second, we must recognize that God is a missional God and that the church is His missional people. God has been at work from before the foundation of the world to redeem a people unto Himself (Eph. 1:3-14). He has revealed Himself to sinners progressively throughout redemptive history, culminating the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-4). He has made provision on our behalf through the person and work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20), today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2), and all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13). God is on mission to claim ruined sinners as His own and to make us into what we were really created to be.

God accomplished his missional purposes through his missional people, the church. The church is the community of the redeemed (Acts 2:37-47). We are the means that God is using to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). We partipate in God’s mission by preaching the gospel to the nations (Rom. 10:14-17). By God’s grace, that preaching will be effective and one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). There will be men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation who have turned from their sin, cast themselves upon Christ’s mercies, and become citizens of that kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10, 7:9). And we long for that day.

Third, because we long for that day, we commit now to labor on behalf of that day. In other words, we put the above theological concepts into action and apply them to our own lives and churches as we live what we believe and actively join God in His missional work. We pray for the lost, our hearts broken on behalf of those who do not yet know Christ. We share the gospel with our lost friends and neighbors, baptizing those who believe in the name of the Triune God. We strengthen existing churches and plant new churches, knowing that our churches exist as kingdom outposts and mission-sending agencies in the context God has placed them. We contextualize the good news in ways that commend Christ to every type of culture. We give sacrificially from our resources, knowing that their are gospel riches that far exceed the things of this world. And we not only do these things in North America, but we do carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, heralding Christ everywhere men do not know His name. When Southern Baptists do these things with greater passion than we can now imagine, we will be in the midst of a Great Commission Resurgence.

The Southern Baptist Convention now stands at a crossroads. We can rest on past victories and become self-satisfied, arrogant, or insular. We can shoot at each other over secondary matters, try to out-Baptist each other, or pursue our own intradenominational fiefdoms. Or we can allow our love of the gospel, our commitment to Scripture, and our historic identity as missionary Baptists to ignite in us a love for the lost and a heart for the nations. And God will get the glory.

The time is now. The choice is ours. I pray we choose wisely. games mobi

Southern Baptist Convention 2008: A Time To Be Encouraged And A Time To Get To Work For Our Lord

The 2008 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention took a number of interesting and unexpected turns. However, I leave “Indy” hopeful and encouraged, still recognizing we do have some significant challenges before us. What follows are some general reflections on our annual meeting.

1) Johnny Hunt was elected president of our Convention on the first ballot from a field where there were a number of gifted and godly men. Being elected on the first ballot surprised many if not most. His election is an occasion for hope for our future. I believe Dr. Hunt will build on the two years of statesman-like leadership of Frank Page. I am praying that his passion for the gospel, the church, and the lost both in America and among the nations will infect our denomination. I know he has a burning desire to reach out to a younger generation and get them engaged and involved in Southern Baptist life. I know his heart is to extend a welcoming hand to any and all Southern Baptist who long to see a Great Commission Resurgence in our Convention. I believe Johnny Hunt is the right man at the right time for Southern Baptist. I encourage all to join me in praying for him and supporting him as he leads us.

2) We finally passed a resolution on Regenerate Church Membership that, with several amendments, has biblical conviction and theological integrity. A regenerate church has always been a Baptist distinctive, but somehow that was lost along the way. I am grateful for the fine work of men like Tom Ascol, Bart Barber and Malcolm Yarnell in getting this issue before our people. Now we need to begin the recovery process. Let’s pray that we will do this with pastoral wisdom and sensitivity. It will not happen over night. It will take time. Let’s preach and teach on the biblical basis and theological necessity of a believer’s church, the nature and fruit of genuine regeneration, and the importance of gracious and loving church discipline.

3) Al Gilbert’s charge in the Convention sermon to our denominational entities and our churches was a clarion call we all need to heed. A bloated denominational bureaucracy on the national, state and associational levels is choking us, and it must receive attention. The stewardship of our financial resources and how we account for and count those resources needs to be rethought. Praying that God would send us to the great missions fields of America and the nations and, if not us, then our children (and grandchildren), should become the heartbeat of every Southern Baptist. It certainly will be mine and one I hope captures all who are a part of the Southeastern Seminary family.

4) The recognition that we are “graying” at our annual meeting and must reach out to our younger brothers and sisters, I believe, became more evident at this Convention. Both Johnny Hunt and Ed Litton (President of the 2009 Pastors Conference) recognize this. My close friends Al Mohler, James Merritt, Mark Dever and I had conversations about this. All of us who have leadership assignments in our Convention have a responsibility to get busy in addressing and solving this growing crisis. Some excellent ideas are already being bantered about. As someone who, by God’s providence and grace, has been placed in a position of responsibility, I am happy to hear from anyone on what we can do to move ahead in bringing grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren together for the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

5) I sense that the vision for a “Great Commission Resurgence,” is beginning to capture some real excitement. David Dockery’s new book Southern Baptist: Consensus and Renewal and his address at the Convention points in that direction. The reports of NAMB and the IMB certainly had that focus. Standing on the shoulders of men like W.A. Criswell, Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines and the ground they reclaimed for Southern Baptist in the “Conservative Resurgence,” we have the opportunity to move forward together trumpeting in work and deed, “Southern Baptist are a Great Commission people.” As I shared in my report, there will be no retreat from or compromise of the great theological truths and Baptist distinctives that unite us. We have a wonderful body of biblical truth affirmed in our confessions of faith to unite us as we work together in fulfilling the final marching orders of King Jesus (Matt. 28:16-20).

I have left the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention hopeful and even optimistic. Of course how could I not be? I’ve read the final chapter of God’s grand redemptive story. King Jesus reigns, His church will prevail, His gospel will be preached to all the nations and a number too great to count will gather around His throne for all of eternity worshipping Him and praising Him. So let’s get to work for our Lord. The glory is His and the joy is ours!