Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence (Part 7): The United States in Great Commission Perspective

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence (Part 7):
The United States in Great Commission Perspective

Note: This post is one in a series entitled, “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence,” wherein we hope to give some definition of what constitutes a GCR, why the SBC needs a GCR, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life.

In the first five installments of the “Contours” series, Danny Akin, David Nelson, and Ken Keathley have written about a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). Parts Six and Seven clarify the “GC” of the “GCR.” In the last post, we discussed “the nations” in Great Commission perspective, while in this post, we will discuss “this nation,” the United States of America, in Great Commission perspective.

A Painful Truth

It is our conviction that missions matters because God is a missionary God. Therefore, His people must be a missionary people. Indeed, He commands us in Matthew 28: 18-20 to make disciples of all nations. Baptists often have heeded this call, and yet the painful truth is that, in North America, and indeed in our own country, God’s glory often is not clearly or consistently displayed. His gospel often is preached in a way that is neither faithful nor meaningful. There are millions of lost who have little chance of hearing the gospel preached in their community in a clear, compelling, and biblical fashion. We have not made disciples of our own nation.

The task of the evangelical church in general, and of the Southern Baptist Convention, therefore, is to create and implement a missiology that will enable them to win the lost, make disciples, and plant churches in an increasingly larger array of American socio-cultural contexts. We must plant churches that are grounded in inspired Christian Scripture, sound in their doctrinal foundations, contextual in their cultural forms, aggressive in their evangelistic orientation, and intentional in crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries.

Our Mission Must Be Cross-Cultural and Cross-Linguistic

The United States is increasingly multicultural, multiethnic, and multilinguistic, as immigrants from around the world now live in our own cities, suburbs, and even rural areas. Many of the nations, peoples, and languages of Revelation 5 are right here on our doorstep. Further, there is a dizzying variety of sub-cultures within the broader American culture, each with their own distinctive beliefs and ways of life. Many of them are non- or post-Christian, in that they do not have even a basic understanding of Christian worldview or vocabulary. Southern Baptists missionaries and pastors in North America must take their own cultural contexts as seriously as Southern Baptist missionaries take their international contexts. Ed Stetzer, among others, has made this point many times and in many ways.

We must seek to understand the cultures and sub-cultures around us so that we can preach the gospel faithfully and meaningfully within the framework of our neighbors’ cultural and social contexts, and plant churches in those same cultural contexts. The gospel must be preached faithfully, being defined and delimited by the Scriptures. It must also, however, be preached meaningfully, in such a manner that the hearer understands the gospel in the same way that the the biblical author, and the preacher, intends it. The concept of the gospel might be foreign to them, but it can be communicated in language and constructs that are not. By doing so, we seek to preach the gospel clearly within the framework of the audience’s cultural and existential context. In other words, we must talk in a way that allows them to see and hear and grasp the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel we proclaim.

There are many in our convention who embody the ability to “speak the language” of a particular socio-cultural context. I think of Danny Akin’s marriage conferences and college campus invitations, Paige Patterson’s Great Game banquets, and Al Mohler’s engagement in Western social and political circles. This is not just an issue of “style;” these men and others have worked hard to be able to proclaim the gospel in multiple contexts, adjusting the delivery where needed so as to proclaim the gospel faithfully and meaningfully in each unique context. In particular, I think of Junior Hill, who has the uncanny ability to disarm listeners across the spectrum of ages, races, and cultures. Through the hard work and experience of years of preaching, he can “get to the heart of a matter” with a broad spectrum of people, and do so while being faithful to the gospel and meaningful in his presentation.

Our Mission Must Be Multi-Faceted

In addition to proclaiming the gospel from inside of the four walls of a church building, and in addition to community outreach programs and door-to-door visitations, it would behoove our churches to teach her members that everything they do matters to God. Perhaps drawing upon Martin Luther’s conception of vocatio, we may teach that every believer has the privilege and responsibility of bringing glory to God in each of his callings, whether it is family life, workplace, or community life. The workplace is an almost unparalleled opportunity to bring God glory and to love one’s neighbor. This is one area where we need to give special attention in the years ahead. The possibilities and potential are enormous.

Further, we ought to take every opportunity to glorify our Lord in the various spheres of culture, including especially the arts (e.g. literature, music, movies, visual art), the sciences (e.g. biology, physics, chemistry, sociology, anthropology, psychology) and the public square (e.g. law, politics, economics, journalism, moral philosophy). In so doing, we recognize that we may not abdicate our responsibility to glorify God across every square inch of His good creation. After all, Abraham Kuyper reminds us, He stamps all of it with the exclamation, “Mine!”

Our Mission Must Be All-Encompassing

The sometimes cross-cultural and always multi-faceted nature of our task also demands that we take care not to neglect any geographic or demographic dimension of our great country. Of the many things we could mention, here are three: First, we must not neglect the great cities of the United States. While evangelicals and Baptists have been fairly successful in the Bible belt, we have been less successful in the great cities. We recognize the strategic nature of urban involvement and seek to heighten Southern Baptist involvement in the largest, least churched, and most influential American cities. Urban centers such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles are the nerve center of North American socio-cultural activity, having massive influence on our continent and across the globe, and yet they are among the least churched cities in America.

Second, we may not neglect either the cultural elite, on the one hand, or the down and out, on the other hand. Southern Baptists have reached the upper and lower middle classes, but often we have not reached the cultural elite or the poor and disenfranchised. In reaching those who are “down and out,” we must be work hard to build churches who intentionally minister in the inner cities, who are willing to embrace those with HIV, who may never be able to contribute in a significant way to the church financially, but who are nonetheless God’s image-bearers and deserve our love and attention every bit as much as anyone else. Treasuring Christ Church (Raleigh, NC) under the leadership of pastors Sean Cordell and Travis Williams, is a church that is doing just this. In reaching those who are the cultural elite, we must build churches that intentionally reach out to artists, scientists, philosophers, moral and political movers, and others.

Third, we must build churches that do serious-minded student ministry, both for youth and college students. It will be a good day indeed when youth ministries become places that are known more for sound doctrine and genuine cultural savvy than they are for cutesy Bible studies and superficial cultural gimmickry. Moreover, we pray that the day comes that our churches seek, consciously and consistently, to minister on college campuses. On the campuses of our American universities walk the students who are the future of our nation and in many cases the future of our churches, as well as international students who are the future of their nations and of their nation’s churches. We must make college ministry a priority in our churches, even during those times when it seems not to bear spiritual fruit, and even during those times (most of the time) when it does not make financial sense. The Summit Church (Raleigh-Durham, NC), under the leadership of J. D. Greear, and Providence Baptist Church (Raleigh, NC) under the direction of David Horner and Dave Owen, are two of the churches leading the way in making major inroads on college campuses such as Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and N. C. State University.

Our Mission Must Center on Church Renewal, Church Planting, and Cooperation

Our mission will not succeed without healthy churches. This requires, first and foremost, an emphasis on church renewal. We must work hard to build churches that are biblically faithful, sound in their doctrine, aggressive in their evangelism, intentional in crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries, and contextual in their cultural forms. It is only from such healthy churches that we will see a church planting movement that is capable of reaching our own country. Only healthy churches will faithfully and meaningfully proclaim the gospel of our Lord and build churches across cultures and sub-cultures, languages and races, vocations and dimensions of culture, cities and suburbs, rich and poor, young and old. Capitol Hill Baptist Church and IX Marks Ministries (Washington, DC), under the leadership of Mark Dever, is important in just this respect, as it seeks to foster church renewal through sound doctrine, biblical practice, and intentional evangelism and church planting.

Finally, our mission will not fare well if it is not cooperative. This includes local church cooperation with other churches, through local associations, state conventions, seminaries, and agencies. The daunting nature of our task demands that if any of the above associations is unwilling to fulfill their missional calling, then healthy churches will seek other ways to cooperate in order to fulfill the calling God has given them. It must be the hope and prayer of the churches of our convention that the associations, conventions, seminaries, and agencies that we now have will prove to be sufficiently willing and able to take on this God-given calling. If not, God will likely pass us by and we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.

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.