Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (1): Getting the Mission Right

By: Danny Akin & Bruce Riley Ashford

[Editor’s Note: Southern Baptists will vote on the GCRTF report on June 15, 2010 at the annual Convention in Orlando, Florida. This promises to be a critically important and historically significant moment in our Convention. This series of posts attempts to (1) expound the merits of the Task Force report; (2) address the legitimate concerns raised by our brothers and sisters; and (3) correct misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the report. We are convinced this report charts a hopeful future for our convention of churches. We believe it provides a vision for a better day of Great Commission advance in our nation and among all the nations for the glory of King Jesus.]

Southern Baptists are more than merely an indiscriminate collection of congregations who practice believer’s baptism by immersion and perpetuate the institutions we started. We are churches who by conviction stand in the Baptist tradition of historic Christianity, who cooperate because we believe that our mission will be more effective if we combine our efforts rather than if we “go it alone.” However, cooperation does not, in and of itself, ensure success. The prophet Amos raised the question, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed” (3:31). Our success or failure as a Convention will depend, in part, on having a biblically-driven and clearly defined mission around which we can rally for the furtherance of the gospel. Recently the GCR Task Force has recommended the following statement as a clear encapsulation of the SBC’s mission: As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations. This statement is a clear articulation not only of our Lord’s Great Commission, but also is a faithful reflection of the SBC’s historical mission and her rightful mission for the 21st century. We believe the GCR Task Force gets it right, and this is reflected in the effect it will have on SBC efforts in international missions as well as ministry in the United States.

A Mission Focused on the Nations (Spiritual & Structural Renewal)

Three scarlet truths combine to make international missions a matter of urgent necessity for the SBC. First, Christian Scripture teaches that there is no other name under heaven by which men are saved (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5). In other words, God has ordained that all saving faith be consciously focused on his Son Jesus Christ. Second, there are approximately 2 billion people worldwide who have no access whatsoever to the gospel. These are people who could leave their homes and walk for days and months and years, and never find a Christian, a Bible, or a church. This is a markedly different situation than an unbeliever in the United States faces. Even unbelievers who are in the most unchurched areas of the United States can easily find Bibles, Christians, and churches in order to hear and understand the gospel. This does not mean that ministry in the United States is not a priority; it is a priority. But it is markedly different in nature. Third, the SBC could easily send twice or three times as many workers to the 2 billion people overseas who have zero access to the gospel. But at the moment we are not doing so.

There has been some disagreement over (1) whether the solution to this situation is spiritual or structural, and (2) whether we should simply give more money to the CP or change the way the CP pie is divided. The answer to the first question is that the solution lies in both spiritual and structural factors. The mission is spiritual-surely all of us need the Spirit of God to awaken and reawaken us to the mission which God has for us. But the solution is also structural-the convention’s pocketbook needs to clearly reflect its desire to take the gospel to those who have zero access to the gospel. The answer to the second question is that we do need to change the way the pie is sliced, and at the same time make the pie bigger. In other words, we need to streamline and prioritize our ministries, while at the same time enlarging the pie by giving more generously.

The bottom line is that our personal and church pocketbooks and our CP structure need to sing in unison what our congregations already sing: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” If we believe that salvation comes through Christ alone, and if we know that two billion people have little or no access to the gospel, then we are faced with a dilemma. Either we build Great Commission churches and accomplish the task that God has given us, or we force the Lord to plow around us to accomplish his will. This latter scenario, by God’s grace, must not happen!

A Mission Focused on the United States:

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations. This includes our own nation-the United States of America-and yet the truth is that we are failing to meet the challenge. While the population of our nation increases, the population of our churches decreases. While the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the Southern Baptist Convention remains a mostly middle-class, mostly white, mostly southern network of mostly declining churches. This is a painful truth. If we ignore it, we do so to our shame and eventual death.

And yet this is not an indictment. Many SBC churches have worked hard to reach their cities and many of them have more or less succeeded. But the truth of the matter is that we are losing the battle. Our nation is becoming increasingly post-Christian and we are not stemming the tide. Perhaps one of the reasons that we are losing the battle is that we are “aiming at” a culture that no longer exists. The SBC built its programs and its personality, if you will, in the 1950s. But we find ourselves in a socio-cultural context that varies significantly from that of 50 years ago. Many of our churches no longer have the luxury of communicating the gospel within a city that has basically one culture. Instead, they find themselves communicating across numerous cultural and sub-cultural divides.

The bottom line is this: Southern Baptists missionaries and pastors in North America must adopt a missional posture in the United States just like international missionaries do in other countries. As the United States becomes multicultural, multiethnic, and multilinguistic, our preaching and church planting strategies must reflect our desire to reach those cultures, languages, and ethnicities. As the United States becomes more urban, we must learn to share the gospel and plant churches in urban settings. As we begin to realize that the towering centers of cultural influence are cities like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, we have the opportunity to concentrate our human and financial resources to reach those great cities. As it dawns upon us that the arts, the sciences, and the academic centers are cultural dimensions that wield great influence in our country, we have the opportunity to remind our congregations of their ability and responsibility to work out the implications of the gospel in those dimensions.

Conclusion:

In order to make this work, we need renewed commitment from our people, churches, local associations, state conventions, seminaries, mission boards, and other entities. The GCRTF’s recommended mission statement is one which we can rally around, which points us in the right direction and which is a natural extension of the Conservative Resurgence. Indeed, the great crisis of the SBC in the late 20th century was that biblical revelation itself was being attacked. We met that challenge and will continue to do so. The challenge of the 21st century is not only to hold the ground won in the Conservative Resurgence, but to foster a Great Commission Resurgence, capturing new territory for King Jesus, territory that rightly belongs to Him! Evangelical Baptist theology goes hand-in-hand with mission. There is an inherent connection between them. Without this connection, we lose God’s blessing and its attendant spiritual power. Without a passion for the nations, we become useless to the missional God we claim to love and hope to serve.game list

BRUCE IS LOOSE

One of my earliest memories of my first semester at SEBTS involved a trip to a university in our state with a brand new seminary student named J. D. Greear. J.D. and I hit it off immediately once he enrolled in my first evangelism class. He took me that September to his college alma mater where I spoke to a large group of students meeting weekly in a Bible study he started.

That night I met a senior named Bruce Ashford, a zealous young man with the frame of bamboo and the sharp mind of an aspiring young philosopher. Bruce soon came to Southeastern and another lifelong friendship was forged between a new professor and a young leader. Bruce and I shared a penchant for itinerant ministry and for understanding both the Word of God and the world in which we live, and helping the church to intersect both.

Ashford went on to be an early 2 plus 2 MDiv student, heading to the former Soviet Union to proclaim Christ. Upon his return he earned a PhD in Theology at SEBTS.

Recently Dr. Ashford became the Dean of The College at Southeastern. He immediately led in the implementation of a series of minors and other moves that made the college transfer friendly and more accessible to a greater span of prospective students while maintaining our commitment to linking the Word and the world through the Great Commission. I would argue our missions degree is the best undergrad anywhere. I am honored and excited to head our focus in student ministry with our minor in student ministry featuring a six hour internship.

Southeastern recently produced an excellent video at our website where Dean Ashford introduces the college. Click here to view the video.

We are not for everyone. We want the radicals, the special ops, those who are ready to change the world for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel. I travel and minister with young men who are students or graduates of The College (Chad Lister, Josh Reid, Tyler Mount, etc). But at a time when according to one survey state university enrollment increased about 15 percent over 15 years while evangelical school enrollment increased over 70 percent, we are ready to train a group of young men and women who, to quote John Wesley, “fear nothing but God and hate nothing but sin.” With such, Wesley said, “I will storm the gates of hell and set up the Kingdom of God on the earth,:

Dr. Bruce Ashford is no doubt one of the youngest deans in the country at age 34. His beautiful wife Lauren is expecting their first child (I had just a tiny bit to do with those two getting together, and I have told Bruce he owes me many times!). I am truly honored to serve with Bruce as a colleague and have committed much of my time as a professor to serve in the college. To find out more about the degrees we offer, click here.

By the way, if you are looking for a great speaker at your youth or college event, Dr. Ashford is the man. From preaching the gospel to teaching how to understand a movie, he will help your students learn with wit, humor, depth, and passion. He has led the growth of our remarkable 20/20 Collegiate Conference, and before becoming Dean he led our Center for Great Commission Studies.

Come see us at Southeastern. Come meet Dean Bruce Ashford. Send us your students, and let’s change the world.

Global Context: Europe, Islam, and Christianity

God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis

Reviewed By: Bruce Riley Ashford

Entire forests have been chopped down in order to promulgate the literature that has been written on the religious crisis in Europe, including especially the secularization of Europeans and influx of Islamic immigrants. Bat Y’eor, in Eurabia (2005), argued that Europe is being subverted by Islamic hostility toward the very virtues, values, and vision of Europe herself. Bruce Bawer, in While Europe Slept (2007) argues that radical Islam is destroying the continent from within. Mary Habeck, George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus, and others have also written of the threat that Islam poses to Europe.

God’s Continent is Philip Jenkins’ contribution to the debate. He thinks that many of the doom and gloom prophecies about Islam and Europe are “wildly unlikely.” Even though there are millions of Muslim immigrants in Europe, and even though their birth rate is significantly higher than the Europeans’, Jenkins begs to differ. He argues that (1) European nations can assimilate minorities, just as the United States has done; (2) Muslims will likely secularize; (3) when they do secularize, they will stop having so many children; (4) most of the Muslims in Europe are moderates; and (5) what threat Islam does pose will likely invigorate Christianity anyway.

If Philip Jenkins writes a book, it is probably worth the read, and this book is no exception. He is probably correct that many immigrants to Europe (whether Muslim or not) will secularize, have less babies, and assimilate to some extent. However, the book has weaknesses of which the most significant is this: Jenkins seems not to grasp the threat that Islam poses to Europe. With Islam comes a radically different view of the relationship of religion and the state, of religious liberty, of family, etc. Further, he seems not to grasp the threat that contemporary jihadism poses. He too quickly dismisses the arguments made in books such as Bernard Lewis’ The Crisis of Islam (2003) Mary Habeck’s Knowing the Enemy (2007).

It is for this reason that his his analogy with the United States is hardly helpful. He suggests that Europe will be able to assimilate Muslim immigrants in much the same way that the U. S. has been able to assimilate its Mexican immigrants. But Mexican immigrants to the United States (many of whom are Catholic) are a rather different case than the millions of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian Muslim immigrants to Europe. Americans have to adjust to Mexican Catholics who sometimes glue St. Christopher to the dash for traveling safety, while Europeans must adjust to Muslim immigrants whose religion demands nothing less than the religious, social, and political submission of their nations to the Allah of Islam. Hardly a helpful analogy.

God’s Continent is worth the read, even if it is not up to the level of The Next Christendom and The New Faces of Christianity, the first two books of his trilogy. Perhaps the best thing that Jenkins’ book can do is to turn the church’s attention toward Europe, the home of 821 million people, many of whom (whether European or immigrant) are without Christ and without hope in the world.

Book: God’s Continent (2007)

Author: Philip Jenkins

Region: Europe

Genre: Current Affairs

Length: 340 pp.

Difficulty: Intermediate