In Case You Missed It

1) At Pastors Today, Erik Reed discusses three reasons why people leave your church.

2) Also in the list genre, Southeastern VP of Institutional Advancement, Art Rainer, mentions seven moments when ministry leaders are likely to lose focus.

3) Ed Stetzer provides a very helpful brief history of “missional.” He rightly notes that talking about missional living does not a missional church make.

4) For a good look at the gospel and the church in Mexico–where gospel ministry can be as difficult as in some Middle Eastern countries–read Ivan Mesa’s interview of Carlos Contreras at The Gospel Coalition.

5) Finally, Bruce Ashford, Provost at Southeastern, writes at Canon at Culture about the impact Leslie Newbigin has had on his thinking.

Southeastern Seminary (1): A Mission Framed by the Story of a Great Commission God

Years ago, President Akin challenged the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to make every classroom a “Great Commission classroom.” Since then, our faculty members have put considerable time and energy into doing just that. We have tried to build a Great Commission seminary, curriculum, and faculty. Often, however, we are asked what we mean when we say that SEBTS is a Great Commission seminary. In response to these questions, I recently put together an essay which gives a brief theological rationale for our seminary’s mission, followed by an attempt to show how that mission is fleshed out in our curriculum and in our criteria for hiring, electing, and promoting faculty members. In the blog series of which this post is the first installment, I offer a concise version of that essay, divided into five sections which describe Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s mission as one which is (1) framed by the story of a Great Commission God and (2) centered on our Lord’s Great Commission; further, (3) its curriculum is marked by five core competencies and (4) its faculty members assess themselves by five criteria, while (5) aiming for faithfulness and excellence in their vocation.

Baptist, Confessional, Missional

Before embarking upon an explanation of what it means for Southeastern to be a Great Commission seminary, it is best to start with SEBTS’s denominational identity, doctrinal confessions, and mission statement. The seminary is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention. Its faculty members confess the Bible as the authoritative Word of God and covenant to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith & Message. They further affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Together with the Board of Trustees and the administration, faculty members share a mission in which “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20).” In summary, SEBTS is a confessional seminary in the Southern Baptist stream of historic Christianity whose mission is to be a Great Commission seminary.

A Mission Framed by the Story of a Great Commission God

The seminary’s rationale for its mission is undergirded by theology proper. To speak about mission is to speak, first of all, about the Triune God whose identity, character, and mission are depicted in Christian Scripture. This God—Father, Son, and Spirit—did not create by necessity but freely and from the overflow of inner-Trinitarian love and for the sake of his glory. In the beginning, he called forth something from nothing, shaped the something which he called forth, and called it “good” and even “very good” (Gen 1:31). At the pinnacle of this series of creative acts stand man and woman, whom he created in his image and likeness. To his imagers alone he entrusts the tasks of being fruitful and multiplying, tilling the soil, and being stewards of the created order (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15). To humanity alone he gives the charge to act as vice-regents under God the King, worshiping him and spreading his glory as they fill the earth and till the earth. Indeed, God’s design was for his imagers to flourish under his good reign, living in rightly ordered relationship with God, each other, and the created order. This state of universal flourishing, order, and peace is encapsulated in the biblical concept of shalom.

As the biblical narrative progresses, we learn that the first man and woman—Adam and Eve—forsook their call to vice-regency and chose instead to strive for autonomy, seeking the Regency which is rightfully claimed by God alone. Their rebellion is the first instance of idolatry, of exchanging the truth of God for a lie and worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1). The effect of this sin upon them, and upon humanity, was disastrous (Rom 1:18-32). Humanity no longer lives in a state of shalom, but instead in a world disordered by sin and its deleterious effects. As human beings, we experience these effects in the form of a broken relationship with God, as well as broken relationships with self, with others, and with the rest of the created order. Our relationship with God is broken, as we now stand under his just wrath, with no hope of salvation on our own apart from Christ Jesus (Rom 1:16-32; Acts 4:12). We also find ourselves alienated from others (Rom 1:28-31); rather than loving our neighbors as ourselves, we lie, murder, rape and otherwise demean our fellow imagers. (e.g. Gen 9:6). We further find ourselves alienated from the created order, as our attempts to “work the garden” are full of frustration and pain (Gen 3:17-18). Finally, we find ourselves alienated even from our self, as sin distorts and disorders the human heart, rendering life on this earth vain and meaningless (Ecc 1:1-11).

In response to the first couple’s sin, God responds not only with a curse (Gen 3:14-19), but also a promise of life (Gen 3:15), in which the Seed of the woman would destroy the serpent, thereby eradicating sin and death, and restoring God’s intended shalom. Paul recognizes this promise as a prophecy of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16), God’s Son who is “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). The biblical narrative wends its way through the lives of the patriarchs and of the nation of Israel, finally reaching the point in history when God’s Son was born of a woman. Through the Son’s life, ministry, miracles, death, and resurrection, he fulfilled his ministry as Savior of the world. By his stripes we are healed, and upon his shoulders the sin of the world was borne (Is 52:13-53:12). Through his atonement, our Lord will win for himself worshipers from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Rev 5), and will redeem even the non-human aspects of creation. He will “reconcile all things to Himself, by Him” (Col 1:20) and will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Eph 1:10).

God’s plans for redemption will culminate one day in the renewal of his good creation—a new heaven and earth (Rev 21; 22). While the first two chapters of Scripture depict God’s creating the heavens and the earth, the last two chapters depict his creating a new heaven and earth. This new creation is one “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13) and in which “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21), thus fulfilling God’s good purposes for his world. The mission of God culminates in God the King’s dwelling with redeemed anthropos in a renewed cosmos.

What is the Missional Gospel? Part 7: Concluding Thoughts, Challenge to Define, and Timely Question

What is the Missional Gospel? Part 7: Concluding Thoughts, Challenge to Define, and Timely Question

By Keith Whitfield

(2) Being missional is living a life that is shaped by the Mission of God

With the broadening of the idea of mission, we must have a clear understanding of the relationship between the missio Dei and the mission of God’s people/the church. This is not a new concern. Many have offered proposals on the relationship between the missio Dei and the mission of the church. What I want to propose is that the missio Dei is accomplished in and extended by the church. In this section, I will demonstrate how the missional life is shaped by God’s mission. Under the next heading, we will look at how God’s mission is extended by the church.

The church is the “body of Christ” and the kingdom of God has dawned in the church. The reality of God’s kingdom in the life of the church is captured by Paul when he says the “old age” is gone and “new age” has come for those who are in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). The church is called to live a life that is shaped by the reality of the “new age.” All of this occurs under the authority of Jesus Christ while being led by the Spirit (Eph. 2:13-22, 4:1-4).

If God’s mission is to establish a kingdom where He is known and praised, then the church as a kingdom people are to dwell with God through His Spirit and enjoy His blessings. The kingdom life is a life of blessedness. The blessings of God for His people may be generally characterized in three New Testament words: faith, hope, and love. C. S. Lewis set these aside as “virtues” that only Christians truly know. Ireneaus notes the missional aspects of these virtues, saying:

His disciples, the witnesses of all good deeds, and of His teachings and His suffering and death and resurrection, and of His ascension into heaven after His bodily resurrection-these were the apostles, who after (receiving) the power of the Holy Spirit were sent forth by Him into all the world, and wrought the calling of the Gentiles, showing to mankind the way of life . . . By faith and love and hope they established that which was foretold by the prophets, the calling of the Gentiles, according to the mercy of God which was extended to them; bringing it to the light through the ministration of their service . . .

Through faith, hope, and love; the life of the kingdom in this age is lived. Faith believes the redemptive promises of God. Hope holds onto the eschatological promises of God. Love characterizes the life built upon faith and hope. Love demonstrates joy in God’s redemptive promises as the community of believers fellowship with and serve one another. Love also shares God’s redemption to the world, seeking to reconcile the world to God. People who live by faith, hope, and love form a new type of community, a gospel community, where the church enjoys their redemption in Christ and where the Church is a sign to the world of the redemptive power of God.

Why should these things shape the church’s mission? They should because Christianity is not looking for victory within history. Faith, hope, and love demonstrate that the victory of God transcends history but gives meaning to all history. They are three divinely ordained and powerful ways for the church to subvert their social and cultural context by demonstrating that there is someone outside of their context worthy of our life. These blessings can be used in the arts, sciences, education, and politics. These virtues may be displayed in pursuing social justice and caring for the poor. The church does such things in faith and hope as a testimony that they are part of a perfected kingdom, not of this world. They do so in love as those who know God’s gracious reign and embody it, and seek for others to know God’s gracious reign. The church does so in obedience to their commission to the one who has received authority over the heavens and the earth (Matt. 28:18). This commission calls us to go everywhere Jesus has authority and to work in every sphere of life where he has authority to make disciples from all mankind and to teach them to obey Christ in every sphere of life.

(3) Being Missional is being sent on the Mission of God

There is a danger that exists with connecting the church’s mission and living the kingdom life as I expressed it above. Some people might think that if the church simply embodies the gospel in their culture, then they are doing well to all men, and they need to do nothing more. Our response to this would be that the mission of God is to make Himself known. The only way that He makes Himself known is through conscientious faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ to forgive sins of sinners through His death on the cross (John 14:6).

Therefore, the church cannot be satisfied by simply doing good to all men and seeking to restore justice and order to culture separate from seeking to make God known through the gospel of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). Ultimately, justice and peace only come as a result of right relatedness to God, which come only through personal faith in Jesus. This message must be verbally shared to individuals in order for people to hear it (cf. Rom. 10:14). Being a kingdom community and taking the fruits of the kingdom into one’s culture to be a blessing to the culture does not fulfill the evangelistic calling of the church. The church is sent into the world by their Savior to proclaim that there is forgiveness of sins and redemption.

It is timely: “Missional” is used 21 times in the GCR Interim Report

The GCR Task Force recently articulated a “missional” vision for the Southern Baptist Convention. They proposed:

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 may seem a bit like I am playing a game with semantics, but in truth, the use of “missional” in this report is not directly in step with the way the term is typically used. It seems to me that what we have is a vision of what we seek to accomplish. That is not a critique of this goal, but merely an attempt to clarify the use of the term. “Missional” is a big missiological concept that ties theology, awareness of culture, and strategy together and offers a clear direction as to how we will act as missionaries. The advantage of the term “missional,” and the reason that it has received so much popularity is that it is a big concept that communicates a comprehensive approach to being a missionary.

We have the makings of a robust missional vision for the SBC in the GCR interim report. It begins with the conviction behind the vision they articulate, which is the urgent belief that SBC’s need to pursue the fulfillment of the Great Commission in a more faithful and effective way. A new theologically-driven and missiologically-strategic vision is needed to address this conviction.

The strategic plan for accomplishing this vision began with proposing a set of core values, designed to stimulate a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention. These core values are a great start at creating a missional shift in our convention. We have in these core values a reflection of Kingdom living, so that with the adoption and integration of these, the culture of our convention will in fact be shaped by the very gospel that we are proclaiming. As a body of churches, shaped by these values, we will function as a sign of the power of the gospel. What is needed next from the Task Force is an exposition of each core value to help us see just how these values help us create the type of convention culture that will assist us in engaging Western and global cultures with the gospel. This reflection, I believe, will prevent these from being merely platitudes and leverage them as a part of the “missional” strategy of the GCR.

Following these core values, the report includes five components. These components direct and position the work of our mission agencies in a more strategically focused way in light of changes in western and global cultures, as well propose strategic changes to the allocation of funds in order to get more of our financial resources on the International mission field and to encourage SBC churches in their Cooperative Program and Great Commission giving. This too is a great start.

If we are going to have a truly missional vision for the SBC, we need a vision that expresses not merely what we are seeking to accomplish, but a comprehensive vision that connects the theology of our mission to how we seek to accomplish it-a vision that shows how we are directed, shaped, and sent by the mission of God.