Where do we go in the post-resurgence Southern Baptist Convention? It is a question of no small import to America’s largest Protestant denomination. After the cataclysmic (relatively speaking, of course) events of “The Controversy”, the Convention now finds itself looking for direction. Various groups within the Convention seem to be pointing this way, that, or the other. Yet the most intriguing call, and the call that would seem to have the greatest possibility of uniting the Convention, is the call for a “Great Commission Resurgence.”
To this end, LifeWay has published an interesting manifesto (of sorts) with an introduction by Thom Rainer (President, LifeWay Christian Resources), an essay entitled “Answering the Call to a Great Commission Resurgence” by Daniel Akin (President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), an essay entitled “The Great Commission and the Local Church” by Chuck Lawless (Dean, Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism & Church Growth, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), an essay entitled “Accelerating the Great Commission in North America” by Jeff Iorg (President, Golden Gate Seminary), and an essay entitled “The Great Commission and International Missions” by Jerry Rankin (President, International Mission Board). Together, these pieces constitute a clarion call for Southern Baptists to return to the Great Commission heartbeat that drove the Convention in her greatest moments and needs to drive her again today.
In Thom Rainer’s Introduction, he bemoans the current direction of too many of our churches:
“Instead of sin being an affront to a holy God, it has become a term to describe falling short of reaching one’s potential; instead of the cross being a place where God graciously bridged the gap to save sinners, it is being belittled as evidence of divine child abuse; instead of receiving salvation through unmerited grace, grace has become a term to describe God’s rewarding of individuals for reaching personal growth milestones; instead of Christ being THE way to peace with God, we hear too often tha all roads lead to God” (p.8).
Rainer’s response to this sad condition? Realize that “people are open to the gospel” (p.10), appreciate the gains achieved through the Conservative Resurgence, but understand that “total biblical fidelity requires more than a cognitive agreement on the parts and the sum of the Bible. True fidelity requires obedience as well” (p.12). When we are obedient to God’s Great Commission call “the resurgence will have taken its full course” (p.12).
Danny Akin next dilineates seven areas of agreement among the different Convention sub-groups: (1) agreement as to a common confession of faith (BF&M 2000), (2) agreement on the inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible, (3) agreement on the necessity of a regenerate church, (4) agreement on the exclusivity of the gospel, (5) agreement on the sinfulness and lostness of humanity apart from Christ, (6) agreement that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and (7) agreement that the Great Commission is a divinely mandated assignment given to the church by the Lord Jesus.
One does wonder what the three-year struggle for the adoption of a resolution on integrity in church membership means for number 3, but, yes, it too is now, at least on paper, a point of agreement once again for Southern Baptists.
Akin then goes on to articulate five “needs” for coming together in a Great Commission resurgence: (1) a sound theology, (2) letting biblical theology drive and determine our systematic theology, (3) a revival of authentic expository preaching, (4) the balance of a Great Commission theology, and (5) love and respect for each other (pp.19-23).
After describing some common truths that arise from studying Great Comission churches, Chuck Lawless offers some proposed “steps in reigniting a Great Commission passion in the local church” (p.31). These include: (1) Leaders, take the lead, (2) Select a Great Commission prayer team, (3) Honestly evaluate the numbers, (4) Teach again the truths of the gospel, (5) Invest first in a few believers, (6) Get ready to disciple new believers, (7) Teach children and students about the Great Commission, (8) Commission your church members to be missionaries, (9) Learn to celebrate God’s work, and (10) Do not give up on the local church.
Jeff Iorg offers two “theological foundations” for future success: (1) affirm the gospel, without equivocation and (2) celebrate the church, without hesitation (pp.38-39). He then encourages us to humble ourselves and seek God’s power, deploy believers through infiltration strategies, learn to communicate with secular people, and affirm methodological pluralism.
Finally, Jerry Rankin wants us to have an accurate understanding of the immensity of the task before us. There are countless unreached people in the world and our mission successes as a whole are not enough. “Southern Baptists have taken pride in now having more than 5,000 international missionaries,” he tells us. “But that number represents less than three-tenths of one percent of our church membership” (p.61).
Taken as a whole, this powerful little collection of essays is impressive for the amount of content, motivational force, biblical exegesis, and practical suggestions that are actually contained therein. The writing is tinged with genuine passion (most evidently seen, I think, in the essays by Akin, Iorg, and Rankin) and common sense practicalities (Rainer and Lawless). All of the contributors are genuinely concerned about our undeniable drift from Great Commission conviction and yearn to see a wholesale return to a biblical, balanced, and stalwart enactment of our Lord’s clear instructions.
And so we must finally ask the crucial question: are they right? Is the way forward for the Convention a “Great Commisssion Resurgence”? As for myself, I would like to register a resounding “Yes!”
We are in danger of becoming inwardly fixated and self-absorbed. And yet, Great Commission faithfulness must not merely be seen as a denominational corrective. It rests in the very heart of God Himself, and so our faithfulness to His commands are truly faithful to God.
So let us have a “Great Commission Resurgence.” Let us pray for it, labor it, and model it in our own lives. Only then will we truly become all that God has called us to be.