Southeastern Seminary (2): A Mission Centered on our Lord’s Great Commission

[Note: This blogpost is the second installment in a five-part series which articulates and expounds Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s mission to be a Great Commission seminary.]

The mission of God, depicted in the previous blogpost, is one in which he redeems his imagers and restores his good creation. However, we find ourselves living “between the times,” as it were. We live in an era between the first and second comings of our Lord, an era in which Christ’s reign has been initiated but not fully realized. In this time between the times, the Lord commissions us to be signs and instruments of his kingdom, charging us to bring the totality of our lives under submission to his Lordship, and making disciples of all the ethne. One of the purest distillations of this mission is found in the Matthean account of the Great Commission, to which the seminary’s mission statement refers. Matthew writes, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen” (Mt 28:19-20). Matthew presupposes the mission of God and applies it to the mission of God’s people in a way that is uniquely helpful for articulating the seminary’s ministries. Arising from the main points of this text are three imperative characteristics of our seminary faculty:

1. At SEBTS, we will not take for granted the Lordship of Christ. Our Lord begins this passage by declaring that all authority had been given to him in heaven and on earth. This “heaven and earth” language points the reader back to the Genesis account, linking Christ the Redeemer with God the Creator. Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, is the one true and living God. This Jesus—Lord of creation and new creation—is the one who commands us and does so with universal authority. A healthy Great Commission seminary, therefore, will provide an environment in which students learn to bring all of life under submission to Christ’s Lordship. Christ is Lord over our personal, social, and cultural lives; Sovereign over our spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical lives; King over our families, churches, workplaces, and communities.

2. At SEBTS, we will make disciple-making the focal point of our mission. Just as the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sent them to others. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21). His directive is missiological, extending beyond Jerusalem and the people of Israel to the uttermost reaches of the earth—to all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations. It is proclamatory and prophetic, in that believer’s baptism by immersion serves as a proclamation and a picture of the gospel, and a preview of the coming Kingdom, when Christ the King will resurrect not only his anthropos but also his cosmos. It is ecclesiological, as baptism precedes and leads to fellowship with a local church. It is personal and spiritual, as baptism signifies one’s personal profession of allegiance to the Triune God.  Finally, it is deeply pedagogical and theological as it involves teaching everything that Christ commanded, a charge that ultimately involves us in teaching the entirety of the Christian Scripture, in whom Christ is the towering actor and of whom Christ is the ultimate author. A Great Commission seminary, therefore, is one in which students learn to study and to teach the Scriptures in their entirety; one which encourages personal and spiritual renewal and corporate spiritual vitality; one which understands its mission as arising from the church and in turn serving the church; one which pulses with the heartbeat of world mission, recognizing that we live in a time—between the times—when God is searching for servants who will say “Here I am” in willingness to take the gospel to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

3. At SEBTS we will engender trust in Christ, who alone can empower our mission. In our mission to make disciples, the Lord will always be with us. He undergirds the mission with his presence and power, and will do so until the end. Because of his resurrection, the world has a deeply joyful ending, one in which the Lord redeems for himself worshipers from among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and he dwells with them forever in a renewed heaven and earth. A Great Commission seminary, therefore, is one which engenders confidence in God, the gospel, and our mission. The task is daunting, considering that opposition to the gospel has never been more formidable than in the twenty-first century. The magnitude of our task, however, is matched and exceeded by the magnitude of our biblical convictions: that God is a missionary God; that a central theme in the Scriptures is God’s desire to win the nations unto himself; that God will do so through the gospel of his incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Son; that the church’s task in each generation is to proclaim the gospel, make disciples of the nations, and bring God glory in every conceivable manner; and that God has promised and will secure the final triumph of his gospel, even to the ends of the earth.

A Missiology for the Academy (2): Five Reasons the Universities Matter

1. The Universal Nature of Christ’s Lordship

Jesus Christ is Lord over the academy, just as he is Lord over everything else, and this Lordship is best understood in relation to three great truths. First, God created us as the type of beings who teach and learn. He endowed us with the spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical capacities necessary for education. Repeatedly Scripture emphasizes teaching and learning (e.g., Deut. 6:4-6; Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:11-12).

Second, academic activity is marked by a great antithesis. After the fall, humans have lived in the midst of a great struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and Satan, and between truth and error. These invisible realities, represented by certain principalities and powers, are manifested in visible, tangible cultural realities such as relativism in ethics, Darwinism in biology, or Marxism in economics. This great struggle between light and darkness cuts across the entire creation and every human culture. Christians should resist this comprehensive assault on our shared cultural life. We should fight it tooth and nail, not only from the pulpit, but also from the lectern.

Third, academic activity takes place within ordered realms which have their own creational design. Human cultures can be divided into a variety of realms—such as art, science, business, politics, and education—which have their own creational design and God-given integrity. These realms correspond to the various disciplines within the university. Because we live in a fallen world comprised of sinners, these academic disciplines (and their corresponding cultural counterparts) will be to some extent corrupted and directed toward wrong ends. In each academic discipline, we should ask three questions: What is God’s creational design for this realm? In what ways has this realm been corrupted and misdirected toward wrong ends? How can I bring healing to this realm by redirecting it toward God’s creational design in Christ? To the extent we engage our academic disciplines with those questions in mind, we glorify God and provide our neighbors a preview of God’s future rule over a renewed and restored creation.

In other words, academic activity should take place under the absolute Lordship of Christ. Christ is the creator and King over all things, and one day will restore all things. He is not merely the Lord over my quiet times; he is Lord over my work, my leisure, and my civil life. He is not merely sovereign over local church gatherings; he is the Lord over artistic, scientific, political, entrepreneurial, and scholarly endeavors. No piece of our (“secular”) life is to be sealed off from Christ’s lordship. Every square inch of it belongs to Christ and ought to be made to honor him. Missional Christians not only proclaim the gospel with words, they promote it in their academic and cultural lives.

2. The Powerful Influence of the University

In the United States and in many other countries, the university serves as the environment in which many or most of the country’s leaders are shaped. These future scientists, filmmakers, Supreme Court justices, journalists, and billionaire entrepreneurs often receive their most formative “worldview moments” as they are students on a college campus. In many countries, including our own, these 18-year-olds are taught by faculty members who seek consciously, carefully, and consistently to undermine everything that Christians hold true and dear.

3. The Readily Receptive Mind-Set of University Students

The third point overlaps with the second. Universities are full of students in their late teens and early twenties who are waiting to be instructed and inspired. Very likely, the path they choose in college is the path they’ll remain upon for the rest of their lives. Osama bin Laden embraced jihadism largely because he found himself mesmerized by Professor Abdullah Azzam when bin Laden was a young student at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. Friedrich Nietzsche forsook Christ during studies at the University of Bonn. Hundreds of thousands of students continue to reject Christianity, or never encounter the Christian faith, precisely because the professors who capture their imaginations and who shape their worldviews are unbelievers.

4. The Breadth of Christ’s Atonement

Evangelicals sometimes embrace a sort of reverse snobbery directed towards the cultural elite, especially against professors and students in Ivy League schools and top-tier major state institutions. Because we’re not included in their “club,” we say in effect “to hell with ‘em.” But Christ died on behalf of the cultural elite, just as he died for the middle and lower classes. In fact, when we take an anti-elitist mentality—and Baptists often have adopted this mentality—we’re being quintessentially American, but not quintessentially Christian.

5. The Danger of Split-Level Christianity

At the university, young impressionable students study under opinionated and brilliant professors. These professors shape their students’ worldviews in ways the students don’t even notice. Even if these students are believers, or if they later become believers, they may unconsciously hold a non-Christian worldview while at the same time professing Christ as Savior. When talking about “spiritual” matters, they will sound like Christians, but when talking about anything “cultural” they’ll likely sound like their professors. This sort of split-level Christianity is exactly what we must avoid. If Christ is Lord, then he is Lord over everything; he is not just Lord over our prayer time and church attendance, but also our university studies and future vocations.online mobi

A Missiology for the Academy (1): The University as an Unreached People Group

Located in the heart of modern Germany is a small town called Fritzlar, which was called Geismar during the middle ages. In the middle of Fritzlar stands an ancient stone cathedral, and at the front of the cathedral is a statue of a monk standing upon a tree stump, wielding a large axe. The statue depicts a Christian missionary monk Boniface, and the stump depicts the remains of the “Oak of Thor” which served as the spiritual power-center of the pagan religion of that day.

When Boniface arrived in Geismar in the early 8th century, he found that most Germans were pagans, and the few German Christians retained their involvement in spirit worship and magical arts even after they professed Christianity. He was convinced that if he were to “fell the tree of paganism” he would need to cut out its roots.

One day he traveled to the Oak of Thor with his axe in tow, surrounded by a crowd of pagans who mocked him, cursed him, and prayed for the pagan gods to intervene and destroy him as he sought to fell the tree. As the crowd looked on in horror, Boniface began chopping down the tree. According to some commentators, a strong wind helped Boniface finish the job. After he felled the oak, many local pagans converted to Christ. The word spread and soon thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of Germans turned to Christ.

As I’ve reflected on this story over the years, I’ve come to see an analogy between Boniface’s task in his day and our task in the 21st century. Just as Boniface “took the battle to the front lines” by striking a blow to the Oak of Thor, so we must take the battle to the front lines by striking blows to the most deeply ingrained idols in our current contexts.

Boniface served as a missionary to an unreached people group—the Hessian Germans—and had the nerve to chop down their central idol as a way of showing that Christ is Lord. In like manner, we have an opportunity to reach an unreached people group—the Academy—and chop down many of the idols that flourish in its environment.[1] The University is a teeming ecosystem of idolatry, providing a lush environment in which students may cultivate an inordinate love for sex, money, power, success, and the approval of man. These types of idols exist in a co-dependent relationship and foster the “isms” that dishonor God and disable human flourishing—isms such as consumerism, relativism, eroticism, naturalism, and scientism.

During the 20th century, the evangelical world at large abdicated its responsibility to the Academy. Although we started some fine Christian institutions, we mostly ignored the need to shape the professorate and the curriculum at major state universities and private colleges. As a result, we have little hand in shaping what is perhaps the most influential sector of American society and of many global societies. While state universities and influential private universities are busy shaping the minds and hearts of young people across the globe, evangelicals have been largely absent.

If evangelicals wish to be faithful to our Lord in the 21st century, we must find ways to proclaim him with our lips and promote him with our lives in university contexts, both here in the West and around the globe. Why do the universities matter for the Christian mission? Over the course of the next two installments, I will argue that they should matter because of (1) the universality of Christ’s Lordship; (2) the powerful influence of the university; (3) the readily receptive mindset of university students; (4) the breadth of Christ’s atonement; and (5) the danger of “split-level Christianity.” Finally, (6) I will provide three suggestions for action.


[1] The university is not a “people group” in the social scientific sense of the world, or in the normal missiological sense of the word. For this present blogpost, I use the phrase as a simile and a metaphor, taking the phrase out of its normal context and applying it in a new context (the university) in order to draw attention to our need to build a missiology for the academy.