The Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence

The Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence

By Nathan A. Finn

The past couple of years have witnessed increasing calls for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the Southern Baptist Convention. We at BtT are unabashedly committed to this vision for the Convention. Danny Akin was one of the first SBC leaders to embrace the GCR terminology and has addressed the topic in multiple sermons, conference addresses, and book chapters. All of us have contributed to an ongoing BtT series titled “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence.” Bruce Ashford and I are currently editing a collection of essays advocating a GCR. This is our hope for the Convention’s future.

One reason that we are such advocates of a GCR is because we are such strong believers in the Conservative Resurgence (CR). Each of us are second or third generation products of the CR. We firmly believe the SBC is a fundamentally healthier denomination in 2009 than it was in 1979. We are pleased with the overall direction our Convention has taken over the course of the last generation. We do not want to see a return to the pre-CR status quo, which we believe was characterized by an atheological, pragmatic commitment to cooperation that tolerated a variety of unbiblical convictions. We sincerely believe that a GCR is nothing more or less than the next step in the reformation of the SBC that began thirty years ago.

We believe the CR was a theologically motivated grassroots movement to gain control of SBC leadership for the purpose of facilitating theological renewal within the denomination. Conservative success came in several stages. First, the Convention elected a string of conservative presidents who used their appointive powers to secure conservative trustees for each of our entities. Second, with the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991, moderates began to disengage from the Convention in increasing numbers, a trend that actually began during the mid-1980s. Third, the Covenant for a New Century was approved in 1995 and implemented in 1997, leading to a needed bureaucratic restructuring of the denomination. Fourth, the Baptist Faith and Message was amended in 1998 so as to reflect biblical gender and family views. Finally, the Convention adopted a substantial revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000 (BF&M), resulting in the codification of the conservative theological convictions that inspired the CR.

Our agencies, boards, and seminaries are now led by conservative administrators who are accountable to conservative trustees. We affirm 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 all over North America and to the ends of the earth. This is the fruit of the CR, and Lord willing, it will be the root of a GCR.

Perhaps the best terms to explain our perception of the relationship between the two resurgences are foundation and permeation. The CR is the foundation of the GCR. We agree with Paige Patterson’s contention that a high view of Scripture is the epistemological starting place from which to resolve every issue in the SBC. Simply put, Southern Baptists are now in a better position to pursue kingdom priorities because of our unswerving commitment to the inerrancy of Christian Scripture and its full sufficiency in all matters of faith and practice. Furthermore, the theology articulated in the BF&M provides us with a basic theological consensus from which we can cooperate together in accomplishing all that God would have for us as a Convention.

While the CR has bequeathed to us a healthy foundation from which to pursue a GCR, it must be more than our launching pad. Biblical theology must permeate everything we do, lest we see a gradual return to the pragmatism of the older consensus. To say it a different way, our theological renewal must lead to methodological renewal as our churches strive to be biblical, covenantal, and missional communities that are shaped by the gospel and spread that good news to all people. As a Convention of churches, our thinking rightly about God needs to issue forth in a living rightly before God. And living rightly before God will mean embracing His missional priorities as they are articulated in Christ’s Great Commission to his people.

Our Convention now stands at a crossroads. We can choose to rest on past victories and turn them into half victories. As Timothy George observed over a decade ago, “The exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another doth not a reformation make.” It we allow the CR to become an end unto itself, we will become increasingly self-satisfied, arrogant, and insular. We will continue to shoot at each other over secondary and tertiary matters, try to out-Baptist one another, and pursue our own little intradenominational fiefdoms. Most important, we will not honor Christ.

Or we can choose the better way and work towards a new consensus. We can allow our love for God and His gospel, our love for one another, and our love of Scripture to ignite in us a renewed burden for the lost and a heart for the nations. We can contend for the faith, including biblical authority and sufficiency, without fracturing over matters not addressed in the BF&M. We can embody the best of our historic theological identity as a missional network of Baptist churches in our 21st century context. If we choose this latter path, we believe that by God’s grace the Conservative Resurgence will blossom into a Great Commission Resurgence. And God will get all the glory.

The time is now. The choice is ours. Join us in praying that we choose wisely by laboring together on behalf of a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.download angry racer free

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 3: A Compelling Vision Grounded in Confessional Identity

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern 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.

In 1991, in the heat of the Conservative Resurgence, Paige Patterson authored an important and visionary article, in what was at the time Southern Seminary’s journal, the Review and Expositor (Vol. 88, 1991; 37-55). The title was “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC.” Filled with wisdom and insight, Patterson called for theological renewal based upon complete confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, seminaries that are “breeding ponds for ardent evangelist” (39), theological parameters “which will guide convention life doctrinally” (41), missiological renewal, “innovative strategies” (42), ecclesiological renewal, socio-political renewal (e.g. a biblical response to racism, abortion, church and state, feminism and the sanctity of the home) and spiritual renewal rooted in prayer, holiness, word and witness. Patterson also challenged Southern Baptist to look and learn from other brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we might not see eye to eye on every point of doctrine. Learn from the “spontaneity and participation” of neo-charismatic friends (45), just stay away from “their experienced-oriented epistemologically defective theology and their topical and overly emotional preaching. . . .” (A good word indeed!). The vision Patterson articulated was comprehensive in scope and compelling in its attractiveness for those who love Christ, the Church, the Word and the lost. In a real sense his vision provided more than a decade and a half ago the contours and impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence that, of logical and spiritual necessity, should grow out of a Conservative Resurgence committed to the truth of Holy Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One aspect of this vision came to fruition with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This was a revision of the 1963 statement. Baptists have always been marked by confessional identity. Such confessions, based upon our understanding of the Word of God, provide a witness to the world of “these things we believe.” They also provide a consensus for our coming together for cooperation in obedience to the Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, like prior confessions, addressed particular theological issues with a long doctrinal history, as well as more relevant questions being debated in the current contemporary context. Thus one finds, for example, clear and unequivocal statements on the truthfulness of the Bible; the exclusivity of the gospel; penal substitution; God’s complete and total omniscience (no “open theism”); baptism by the Spirit at conversion; the sins of racism, homosexuality and pornography; the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death; and a complementarian view of the home and church. It is a point of historical interest that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee was appointed by Paige Patterson and chaired by Adrian Rogers.

All of us recognize that as a human confession this statement is not perfect. Furthermore, it is not exhaustive. Still, it can serve as a sufficient guide providing good, solid parameters for ecclesial and missional cooperation among Southern Baptist. It is instructive to note that all six seminaries have pledged to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In addition, Southeastern Seminary and Southern Seminary also teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Abstract of Principles penned by Basil Manly Jr. in 1858. Finally, and uniquely, Southeastern Seminary also requires each and every faculty member to affirm “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and “The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” These latter statements are in perfect harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in my judgment, and taken together, provide a healthy and robust standard of confessional identity and conviction. Thus there should be no question about what we believe or where we stand. There should be no doubt as to our vision or our mission. When other denominations are in retreat, apparently seeing how little they can confess, Southern Baptists are headed in a different direction all together. We desire to be clear and transparent in what we believe, preach and teach. There is no biblical gospel without theological content. There is no Great Commission to pursue without doctrinal conviction. This is who we are. This is where we stand. This is what we believe. This is why we go!mobile rpg games

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 1: Continuity with the Conservative Resurgence

A number of us have issued a call for what is being called “A Great Commission Resurgence.” This idea is being talked about, and there are a number of writings in circulation as well. For example, LifeWay distributed at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis an 83-page booklet entitled Great Commission Resurgence. I contributed to this (a slight revision of my Building Bridges paper) along with Thom Rainer, Chuck Lawless, Jeff Iorg and Jerry Rankin. My Building Bridges presentation can be found at this website.

Still, some may be unclear, or at least have questions, as to what a Great Commission Resurgence would look like in terms of specifics. I believe the big picture is clear: it is a renewed passion for the pursuit and fulfillment of Matthew 28:16-20. I spoke specifically to this in a chapel message that also gave attention to the life and ministry of William Carey. That message is available here. We are to go and disciple all the nations until Jesus comes again knowing He is with us as we go. So, what are some of the details or particulars that would accompany a Great Commission Resurgence, especially for those of us who are Southern Baptists? This will be the first of a series that will hopefully make clear how the Resurgence might, by God’s grace, take shape.

The Great Commission Resurgence, of absolute necessity, must be wedded to the Conservative Resurgence that was launched in 1979 with the election of Adrian Rogers as president of the SBC, and which reached something of a highpoint with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Had there not been a Conservative Resurgence, we would not even be talking about a Great Commission Resurgence. Therefore, the Conservative Resurgence is the foundation upon which the Great Commission Resurgence must be launched. There can be no backtracking from the ground regained through the Conservative Resurgence. Further, there must be continued vigilance and even advance of the Conservative Resurgence. I have in mind here work that still needs to take place on the state, associational and local church level. Further, our national agencies and entities need continually to be held accountable to the vision that marked the Conservative Resurgence. This will be the very nature of things, an ongoing process. If we fail to build upon and stay rooted in the theological convictions of the Conservative Resurgence, the Great Commission Resurgence will be short lived and ultimately a failure. A Great Commission Resurgence by its very nature must be biblically and theologically driven. What that should look like will be the subject of future articles. Suffice it to say there must be a biblically informed, theologically balanced consensus for Southern Baptists to cooperate in a Great Commission Resurgence. This is not optional. This is not negotiable. Coming together around the bedrock essentials that identify us as orthodox, evangelical and Baptist will be a necessary component of an effective and vibrant Great Commission Resurgence. By God’s grace and for His glory, there will be neither compromise nor retreat from “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The Conservative Resurgence was never an end in and of itself. It was about Truth. It was about the gospel. It was about fulfilling the Great Commission.