Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 19: Why a Great Commission Resurgence? Because of the Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions 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. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence comes from the heart of God who gave the Great Commission. God’s people know of God’s mission for His world because God has revealed it to them through His Word. God has ultimately revealed Himself in the incarnate Word, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He also reveals Himself by His written Word, which is the Bible, the Word given by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles. A Great Commission Resurgence will not truly be a resurgence of God’s mission unless it is rooted in and governed by the Word given by the God of mission.

A GCR will never be authentically pursued or sustained without a commitment to and preservation of “the faith” or the “teachings” of Christianity. Those teachings, which are called “doctrines”, are revealed by God to us in the Bible. It is, of course, fundamental to the nature of the Great Commission that disciple-making is rooted in baptism and teaching. Baptism signals an identification with the crucified, resurrected Christ and entrance into His church, while teaching indicates the formation of a life consistent with Christian baptism through the authoritative teaching of Holy Scripture.

As it is true that a GCR cannot be pursued or sustained apart from such a commitment to “the faith”, it is equally true that “the faith” cannot be known apart from the Bible. Christian “doctrine” is not merely human musings about God, nor is it a set metaphysical abstractions. Doctrine, in its most fundamental sense, is the teaching of Scripture itself. The “doctrine of Christ,” for example, is what the Scriptures teach about Christ. While our expressions and explanations of biblical doctrine necessarily involve language and concepts that lie outside the Bible, the doctrines themselves, in the primary sense of the word, are the teachings of God’s Word.

The Bible is truly the “Word of God.” Repeatedly the prophets claim “God said,” and “thus says the Lord.” The words of Scripture are perfect, sure, and trustworthy (Psalm 19). These texts are, as the apostle Peter puts it, “a word more sure,” by which he means that the Bible supercedes any other claim to revelation, including Peter’s own experience with Christ (2 Pet 2:16-21). In these words, and through His Son, God indeed has spoken (Heb 1:1-2).

Christians have long confessed what the Scriptures claim, that the Bible is inspired and authoritative. Paul instructs us that the very text of the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and Peter informs us that the writers of the Scriptures were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they wrote (2 Pet 1:21), explaining that “men spoke from God” as the Bible was composed. So, we believe, both the text and the authors are inspired by God. Because of this, we hold that the Bible is a divine book.

The authority of Scripture is rooted in a variety of claims. The prophets of the Old Testament claim that they were proclaiming the word of God. The apostles claim that they too were penning divine words as they composed what we call the New Testament (e.g., 2 Pet 3:16). And, of course, Jesus taught from the Scriptures as from a book with God’s authority. There was no question in his His mind – these are the very words of God. Because they are God’s words, they are by their very nature authoritative for the people God created.

A whole set of doctrines accompany the doctrines (the biblical “teachings”) of inspiration and authority. We will consider a few of these, and then trace some of the implications of the inspiration and authority of Scripture for a GCR.

Because the Scriptures are inspired by God, because they are in fact God’s words, we affirm several corollary doctrines in our doctrine of Scripture. For example, because the Bible is God’s Word, we expect the Scriptures to be consistent with the nature of God. We, therefore, affirm that the Scriptures are “perfect” (Psa 19:7), that they are given to us without any error or impurity. The term “inerrancy” has long been used to express this biblical affirmation. Jesus himself expected that the Scriptures “could not be broken” (John 10:10) and that not even the smallest part of the Word would pass away (Matt 5:17).

Likewise, because the Scriptures are inspired by God, we affirm the teaching that the Bible is sufficient for life and doctrine (2 Tim 3:16-17). The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is the affirmation that the Bible itself is sufficient revelation for God to bring sinners to salvation and for God’s people to live as God desires. Put another way, the doctrine of sufficiency affirms that no man needs any further revelation from God in order to be redeemed and sanctified. While the Bible does not teach us everything about everything, it is sufficient in such a way that we need no further divinely inspired revelation from God in order to know God and obey Him.

Finally, the doctrine of the supremacy of Scripture affirms that no other source of knowledge is sovereign over divine revelation itself. The Lord is Lord of knowledge; all our thinking, and all our claims must be subjected to the Lordship that God exercises through His word. To set human wisdom above the wisdom of God, or to allow other sources of knowledge to gain supremacy over the “knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5) is demonic. While I may obtain certain useful information for life from a source other than the Bible, no other source may have a magisterial role over the Scriptures;, instead, other sources of knowledge and ways of knowing must function in a ministerial capacity. That is, Scripture rules while other sources of knowledge serve. And the Lord, by His Word, stands in judgment over knowledge itself.

Let me suggest a few areas in which the necessity of a commitment to biblical inspiration and authority matters for a GCR. First, a GCR is about making -disciples, followers or learners of Jesus. The questions arises, then, about what constitutes the “teaching” that is to be given to Christ’s followers. Paul tells us about the matters of “first importance” that are handed down to the church (1 Cor 15:3-5), and Jude urges the defense of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3). Without the Scriptures the church has no sure knowledge of what constitutes “teaching”, or matters of “first importance,” or “the faith” that is worthy of defense. Disciple-making is the goal of the Great Commission, and no real disciples are to made apart from biblical teaching. Thus a commitment to the authority of Scripture is vital to a GCR.

Another facet of a GCR is the need for the reproduction of healthy churches around the world. This blog series features a number of entries that speak about some vital components of church health. We have to consider what our source of knowledge is for prescribing what constitutes the nature of the church, church health, church polity and governance, and all manner of church practices. There is no shortage of ideas about what constitutes the nature and function of a church, but a GCR that neglects the central biblical teachings about the church will not be a Great Commission Resurgence, but a resurgence of human novelties, which will have no eternal benefit.

Also, we must consider the ways in which the authority of Scripture matters for missional strategies that are crucial to a GCR. Christians determine certain ways of fulfilling the task we call the Great Commission. We employ evangelistic methods, church planting methods, and strategic initiatives. But what is to prevent such strategies and methods from being mere human inventions, and what is to keep us from using strategies and methods that are inconsistent with or contrary to the very teachings of Scripture? Unless we submit to the reality that the Bible is God’s divine word, and that it is authoritative, sufficient, and supreme, we will always be susceptible to the whims of theories and movements that amount to little more than the strongholds of 2 Corinthians 10, which set themselves up against the knowledge of God.

We have said before that a GCR is the natural producte of the Conservative Resurgence of the past 25 years. In no way is this more true than the way that the GCR is rooted in fidelity to the inspired, authoritative Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, which tell of the love and life of God revealed and promised to the nations.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 18: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part F

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions 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. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part F

Martyn Lloyd-Jones understood well what God anointed preaching is:

What is preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. . . . A theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire . . . I say again that a man who speaks about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 97).

Any theology that does not compel you to plead with men to be reconciled with God is not a theology worth having. Any preaching that does expect the living and powerful Word of God to produce results and usher in conversions is preaching that should be retired to the graveyard where it rightfully belongs. “On one occasion a young student of Spurgeon came to the great preacher complaining that he wasn’t seeing conversions through his preaching. Spurgeon inquired, ‘Surely you don’t expect conversions every time you preach, do you?’ The young man replied, ‘Well, I suppose not.’ Spurgeon then said, ‘That’s precisely why you are not having them'” (Roy J. Fish, Giving a Good Invitation, 221).

William Willimon, former Dean of the chapel at Duke University, said some years ago, “today’s conservatives sound like yesterday’s liberals.” In a fascinating article entitled “Been there, preached that,” (Leadership, Fall 1995), Willimon sounds a prophetic warning to evangelicals that they might not be seduced by the sirens of modernity and follow the tragic path of insignificance which mainline denominations have trod.

I’m a mainline-liberal-Protestant-Methodist-type Christian. I know we are soft on Scripture. Norman Vincent Peale has exercised a more powerful effect on our Preaching than St. Paul. . . . I know we play fast and loose with Scripture. But I’ve always had this fantasy that somewhere, like in Texas, there were preachers who preached it all, Genesis to Revelation without blinking an eye. . . . I took great comfort in knowing that, even while I preached a pitifully compromised, “Pealed” – down gospel, that somewhere, good ole Bible-believing preachers were offering their congregations the unadulterated Word, straight up. Do you know how disillusioning it has been for me to realize that many of these self-proclaimed biblical preachers now sound more like liberal mainliners than liberal mainliners? At the very time those of us in the mainline, oldline, sidelined were repenting of our pop psychological pap and rediscovering the joy of disciplined biblical preaching, these “biblical preachers” were becoming “user friendly” and “inclusive,” taking their homiletical cues from the “felt needs” of us “boomers” and “busters” rather than the excruciating demands of the Bible.

I know why they do this . . . it all starts with American Christians wanting to be helpful to the present order, to be relevant (as the present order defines relevance). We so want to be invited to lunch at the White House or at least be interviewed on “Good Morning America.” So we adjust our language to the demands of the market, begin with the world and its current infatuations rather than the Word and its peculiar judgments on our infatuations. If you listen to much of our preaching, you get the impression that Jesus was some sort of itinerant therapist who, for free, traveled about helping people feel better. Ever since Fosdick, we mainline liberals have been bad about this. Start with some human problem like depression; then rummage the Bible for a relevant answer. Last fall, as I was preparing in my office for the Sunday service, the telephone rang. “Who’s preaching in Duke Chapel today?” Asked a nasal, Yankee-sounding voice. I cleared my throat and answered, “Reverend Doctor William Willimon.” “Who’s that?” asked the voice. “The Dean of the Chapel,” I answered in a sonorous tone. “I hope he won’t be preaching politics. I’ve had a rough week and I need to hear about God. My Baptist church is so eaten up with politics, I’ve got to hear a sermon!” When you have to come to a Methodist for a biblical sermon, that’s pitiful.

Walt Kaiser would concur with Willimon:

It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not as all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food;” all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and Biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their bodies. Simultaneously, a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine publication of the Word of God continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church (Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology, 7-8).

Luther, in a different day to be sure, saw the church in a similar condition. However he did not despair, for he saw, as we must see, the antidote that will cure the patient. In his “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” he throws down the gauntlet and gives us final words to guide us and inspire us:

Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate (Martin Luther, “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” in Three Treatises, 23).

Preaching the Word of God for the glory of our Savior and the good of His saints: this is an absolutely essential component for a true and lasting Great Commission Resurgence.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 17: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part E

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions 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. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: a Mandate for Biblical Exposition
Part E

5. Effective biblical instruction will take serious and develop the implications of what Jesus said in Luke 24 about the Christological nature of Scripture.

Jesus said in John 15:26, When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father- the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father- He will testify about Me.” And in John 16:14, Jesus adds, “He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify Me.” Call it what you will, preaching that does not exalt, magnify and glorify the Lord Jesus is not Christian Preaching. Preaching that does not present the gospel and call men and women to repent of sin and place their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not gospel preaching. We are not Jewish rabbis or scribes, and this truth should guide us in how we handle the Old Testament. Jesus, Himself, provides the hermeneutical key in Luke 24 (cf. also John 5:39).

Good and faithful exposition will be Christological in focus, inner-canonical in context, and inter-textual in building a biblical theology. It will carefully interpret Scripture in the greater context of the grand redemptive storyline of Scripture. The near and immediate context will be honored, but the extended and canonical context also will be honored and explored as well. Such a hermeneutic and homiletic is in harmony with that which was employed by the apostles. Applying what can be called a comprehensive Christocentric hermeneutic, we will examine “the little narratives” and “pericopes” in light of the “big narrative,” the great redemptive narrative centered in Christ. As this applies to the Old Testament, we will exegete and expound Scripture recognizing that all of the Old Testament points to Christ, and as those in Christ, it points to and is applied to us mediated through Christ.

Jon Akin guides us when he writes,

We look for clues, themes, etc. that foreshadow what will happen at the end of the story. After reading the whole story, those clues and themes make greater sense, and are read in light of the rest of the story. When reading stories like Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, etc. we do not dissect the earlier episodes without putting them in the context of the entire story. It would be like analyzing act two of Romeo and Juliet without seeing the clues and themes that foreshadow the tragic movement of the plot. The same must be done when reading the Old Testament, because there are “clues” and themes that point forward to fulfillment in Christ (Jon Akin, “Reading the Bible Christocentrically: Part 2,” SBC Witness, 11-08-06).

6. From beginning to end, from the study to the pulpit, the entire process of biblical exposition must take place in absolute and complete submission to the Holy Spirit.

J. H. Jowett captured the essence of what we are after when we stand to proclaim the Word of God. There is a sobering and piercing nature to what he says: “What we are after is not that folks shall say at the end of it all. ‘What an excellent sermon!’ That is a measured failure. You are there to have them say when it is over, ‘What a great God!’ It is something for men not to have been in your presence but in His” (J. H. Jowett, quoted in Context, Dec. 1, 1997, p. 2).

All that we do in preparation and proclamation of the Bible should take place in humble submission to the Holy Spirit. In the study, as we analyze the text, study the grammar, parse the verbs, consult commentaries, and gather the raw materials for the message, we should seek His guidance and confess our total dependence on Him.

When we stand to preach, to minister the Word to our people, again we must plead for His filling and direction. Word and Spirit was a hallmark of the Reformers, and it must be the same with us. Submission to the Spirit is no substitute and no excuse for shirking the hard work of the study. However, a homiletical masterpiece will be of little value without the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

We are not journey guides, self-help gurus, positive thinkers, entertainers, comedians, or liberal or conservative commentators, parroting the wisdom of the world, true though it sometimes may be. We are gospel preachers, Jesus-intoxicated heralds by virtue of the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit. Submission to the Spirit will lead to exaltation of the Son.

7. Changed lives for the glory of God is always the goal for which we strive. Therefore it is a sin, of the most serious sort, to preach the Word of God in a boring and unattractive fashion.

We agree with Charles Koller who says, “It is more important clumsily to have something to say than cleverly to say nothing” (Charles Koller, Expository Preaching Without Notes, 42-43). However, in Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 Solomon says, “. . . the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.”

In the multi-media, entertainment saturated culture in which we live, we repeatedly tell our students, “What you say is more important than how you say it, but how you say it has never been more important.” Haddon Robinson, paraphrasing a Russian proverb says, “it is the same with men as with donkeys; whoever would hold them fast must get a very good grip on their ears.”

We believe that we cannot improve on the 3 canons of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. In the communication event we must weave together in an attractive tapestry Logos (what), Ethos (who), and Pathos (how). Content is essential, credibility is crucial, and delivery is of no small importance. Aristotle reminds us, “it is not enough to know what to say – one must know how to say it” (Rhetoric, 182). Chuck Swindoll warns us, “If you think the gathering of Biblical facts and standing up with a Bible in your hand will automatically equip you to communicate well, you are deeply mistaken, It will not. You must work at being interesting. Boredom is a gross violation, being dull is a grave offence, and irrelevance is a disgrace to the Gospel. Too often these three crimes go unpunished and we preachers are the criminals . . . preaching is not as simple as dumping a half-ton load of religious whine, and a hodgepodge of verbs, nouns, and adjectives; but preparing the heart, sharpening the mind; delivering the goods with care, sensitivity, timing, and clarity. It’s the difference between slopping hogs and feeding sheep . . . [Therefore] study hard, pray like mad, think it through, tell the truth, then stand tall. But while you’re on your feet, don’t clothe the riches of Christ in rags. Say it well” (Evangelical Church Of Fullerton Newsletter, date unknown.) Martyn Lloyd-Jones adds, “There is no doubt about this; effective speaking involves action; and that is why I stress that the whole person must be involved in preaching.”

An effective communicator will always be genuinely relevant. The wise preacher will exegete both the scriptures and the culture. He understands that he must know each equally well. Both Luther and Calvin understood this. Luther said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ” (quoted in Good News, Sept/Oct 1998, p. 9).

Calvin adds,

What advantage would there be if we were to stay here half a day and I were to expound half a book without considering you or your profit and edification? . . . We must take into consideration those persons to whom the teaching is addressed . . . For this reason let us note well that they who have this charge to teach, when they speak to a people, are to decide which teaching will be good and profitable so that they will be able to disseminate it faithfully and with discretion to the usefulness of everyone individually” (John Calvin, quoted in Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words, pp. 132-133).

Bad preaching will sap the life of a church. It will kill its spirit, dry up its fruit, and eventually empty it. If we would dare to be honest, we must say that bad preaching is not true preaching. It is preaching not worthy of the name. It is preaching that will stonewall a Great Commission Resurgence.