Missionaries Made Modernity

“Missionaries profoundly shaped modernity.” This is the provocative conclusion made by Robert Woodberry, as he delivered this year’s Carver-Barnes lecture for the L Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture. Woodberry, a sociologist at the Univ. of Notre Dame, makes a compelling argument that many of the positive features generally associated with the Enlightenment–worldwide advances in literacy, health care, and human rights–were actually accomplished primarily by evangelical missionaries.

To make his case, Woodberry has amassed a remarkable amount of data. But he presents the material in a manner that is both accessible and engaging. If you care about the Great Commission then you’ll want to watch his lecture. Enjoy.


Balanced: Truth and Love in Salvation and Mission

I am the supervising professor for a doctor of ministry student here at the seminary who is trying to graduate this spring. I had the privilege of directing the program for a several years and have always loved the students. The program is in far better hands now but I still get to interact some with them. One of the reasons I enjoy them so much is the fact that probably close to 90 percent of D.Min. students at Southeastern are pastors or missionaries in real ministry contexts. My own experience draws me to them.

The student I am supervising who is seeking to finish within a few days is an incredible guy. He is an Ethiopian pastor who leads a church in the Raleigh area. The church reaches out to the Ethiopian peoples of the region in language and culture. God is richly blessing his ministry and their covenant community. He is a sharp student and a great leader. I am probably learning far more from him than he is from me.

He is writing about a holistic approach to evangelism. This may sound odd to us but not for those from within his people group. In the Ethiopian context the word for salvation, for instance, means to be completely saved. Holistically saved. Just as Greek word for salvation can mean saved spiritually or physically depending upon the context, so it is in their language. For the Ethiopian believer, therefore, to be saved means to be saved spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally and even relationally. They do not think about trying to separate or compartmentalize the various spheres of life and existence like we often do in the American context. Somehow I feel they might be closer to the biblical context than we are at times.

He is writing specifically about the balance between personal proclamation evangelism where one is focused on sharing the gospel in hopes of spiritual conversion and social ministry based evangelism ministries; the discussion of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment so to speak. It would be difficult for him to divide the need to share the gospel with someone or to love that person by taking care of their needs. To love God and your neighbor would be part of the Great Commission in his mind, and in the fullest sense of meaning.

There is no doubt if one must choose that he recognizes the primacy of the salvation of the soul for eternity as compared to the temporal needs of people. Do not worry, he is theologically and soteriologically sound. (My name will be on this paper!) He just would wonder, why do we have to choose to do one or the other if we can do both?

The reason I am writing this blogpost is to prompt you to think about your balance in these areas. I have known some folks who can quote every theologian but are, quite frankly, pretty lousy at loving people. I have known others who cannot stand for truth because they are overwhelmed by their relationally driven emotions. I know some who are so uncaring they do not share the gospel. I know others who share the gospel but really do not seem to care for the people. Who are you? How is your balance?

I like talking with my student. I like talking about this balance. I am thankful to God to be able to think about and praise Him for totally saving me––all of me. I pray my balanced sanctification and obedience to Him will bring Him the glory He deserves.

The Great Commission, You, and “Them”

One of the great joys I have in my role here at the seminary is to work with the leadership of the Center for Great Commission Studies. This center helps to guide our campus in both our awareness and understanding of and our participation in global missions. As a church leader you should check out their website and blog.

This week they are sponsoring our Global Missions Week which features various events and training opportunities for our students, faculty and guests. These days truly represent the ethos and mission of Southeastern! It is fun to meet missionaries from around the world and watch them interact with our campus.

One event is a pastor’s luncheon jointly sponsored by the CGCS and our Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching, featuring a discussion panel with Drs. Johnny Hunt and Daniel Akin as well as presentations by the CGCS team. The theme is “The Great Commission and the Local Church.” Be sure to check out the video that will be on the center’s website. Since I am facilitating part of it, I have been thinking a lot about this topic.

We as Baptists often talk about a primary way to fulfill the mission of God and to bring Him glory is through the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Our denomination is intended to be one large Great Commission affinity network by design and purpose. It is really why the Southern Baptist Convention was created and why we should continue to exist. If each church, therefore, would engage in true Great Commission fulfillment then logically our convention should be so engaged as well. So, what are we doing? How are we doing? Why or why not are we doing?

Sometimes it seems to me that we create this nebulous “them” that somehow gets us off the hook or lessens the blow of our failed responsibilities. The denomination becomes someone other than us somehow. It is always easier to blame “them.” Sounds to me like an old story in a garden about a piece of fruit.

For the Southern Baptist Convention to be engaged fully in Great Commission fulfillment, each church must be engaged as stated above. For each church to be engaged, we need engaged leaders and members. This whole process must begin with each believer. Then it’s harder to make that a “them.” I believe that is an “us.”

So think about these questions before you try to find another “them” to blame: What does it mean to personally be engaged in Great Commission fulfillment as a church leader or member and how do I lead others to join me? How can we best lead churches who have not had a strong commitment to this type of Great Commission fulfillment to develop the necessary awareness and to actually pursue it?

And while we are at it let’s make certain we are leading our churches to fulfill the “whole” Great Commission. Christ’s mandate was not simply a call to evangelism. He also wanted us to teach them what He taught us and to lead them to identify with Him. As YOU are going, disciple. Hard to push that off on “them” isn’t it?