Aspect 5(a): A Mission Driven by Biblical Theology (Revelation, God)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

For three decades now, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have united over their belief in the inspiration, inerrancy and sufficiency of Holy Scripture.[1] Unlike those (such as Schleiermacher or Freud) who see Scripture as a human construction void of any revelation, and unlike those (such as Barth or Lindbeck) who see Scripture merely as a witness to divine revelation, we confess that the Christian Scriptures are the very words of God. This we have made very clear. What we have not made clear, however, is whether we are committed to allowing our high view of Scripture, and the concomitant doctrines of historic Christianity, to determine and shape our ministry methodology.

Because the Christian Scriptures are indeed the very words of God, we want to mold our strategies and methods according to those words.[2] And while this might seem to be a yawningly obvious observation, we must pay careful attention in light of the fact that often we do not allow the Scriptures to drive our methods of evangelism, discipleship, church growth, and church planting. We find ourselves speaking loudly about inerrancy, while undermining that same conviction by our practices.

One of the significant challenges in upcoming years, therefore, is ensuring that we build a theologically-driven missiology in which Scripture and sound doctrine provide the starting point, the parameters, and the trajectory for our method and practice. “It has become apparent,” David Dockery writes, “that a firm theological foundation is important for faithful Gospel proclamation. Pastors, theologians, evangelists, and lay people must work harder at closing the gap between theology and the work of evangelism so that our theology is done for the church and our proclamation is grounded in biblically based theology.”[3] We must consciously, carefully, and consistently seek to understand the biblical narrative and its implications for church practice, and in particular for our missiological method. Building a theologically-driven missiology is hard work because (1) as our global, national, and cultural contexts change from era to era our missiology must be re-worked and re-written afresh; and (2) proof-texting does not suffice to handle such complexities faithfully. Many of the particular challenges that we face are not addressed explicitly by Scripture. Rather, we must call forth the deep-level principles in the Bible and allow them to speak with propriety and prescience to the issue at hand.

This is not to say that we may not learn from extra-biblical sources. Arthur Holmes is right: All truth is God’s truth! We benefit from reading widely in history, current affairs, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, marketing, and other disciplines. It is God who has given mankind the capacities to develop such disciplines and who allows us the great privilege and responsibility of using those for his glory. While Scripture alone provided knowledge of special doctrines (e.g. the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation by grace through faith alone), through our human faculties God has provided knowledge of other aspects of his good creation. God is the giver both of Scripture and of the created order, and the two are not in conflict with one another. When properly interpreted, they agree.[4] Therefore we do not ignore what we learn from extra-biblical sources, but we also must not allow anything other than biblical doctrine to have the driver’s seat in forming our method and practice.

Take, for example, the biblical doctrine of God, which is absolutely central to the life of the church but in some ways is overlooked in the mission of the church. The Scriptures describe how God does all that he does for the sake of his name, for his renown, for his glory. He created man for his glory (Is 43:7) and chose Israel for his glory (Is 49:3). He sent our Lord Jesus Christ so that the Gentiles would give him glory (Ro 15:8-9) and then vindicated his glory by making propitiation through his Son (Rom 3:23-26). He sent the Spirit to glorify the Son (Jn 16:14) and tells us to do all things for his glory (1 Cor 10:31). He will send his Son again to receive glory (2 Thess 1:9-10) and will fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory (Hab 2:14; Is 6:1-3). Indeed, all of this is so, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10).

God in all of his blazing glory stands at the center of the universe. He is the fountainhead of all truth, all goodness, and all beauty. And it is the increase of his glory that is God’s ultimate goal and man’s ultimate purpose.[5] An implication of this doctrine is that if our ultimate goal is to glorify God, we are set free from unbridled pragmatism. Ultimately, we seek to please God rather than to manipulate or coerce professions of faith, church growth, or church multiplication. We are directed away from the temptation to engage in evangelism and discipleship that subverts the gospel or the health of the church, and are free to proclaim the gospel God’s way and leave the results to God.

[1] Of course, not all Southern Baptist churches would affirm the inerrancy of the Scriptures. However, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do, and this is reflected in confessional statements such as the Baptist Faith & Message (2000).

[2] Thom Rainer makes this point in The Book of Church Growth in which he devotes one-third of the book to an exposition of the classical loci of systematic theology, explaining how those doctrines should drive our church growth strategies. The Book of Church Growth: History, Theology, and Principles (Nashville: B&H, 1993).

[3] David Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, 94.

[4] This is not to say that theologians and (natural or social) scientists never disagree. Often they do, but the disagreement is not found in any inherent conflict between Scripture and the natural world, but rather in theologians’ and scientists’ interpretations of the two. Either group might err and either group is therefore subject to correction. Because of our idolatry and the effects of the Fall, God’s special revelation provides “the lenses” through which we study the created order. See David K. Clark, To Know and Love God: Method for Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 259-94.

[5] Jonathan Edwards, in his The End for Which God Created the World, gives the most well-known and extended reflection upon this doctrine. Technically, The End is the first part of a two-part book by Edwards entitled Two Dissertations. See Two Dissertations, Ethical Writings, ed. Paul Ramsey, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 8 (New Haven: Yale University, 1989). It should be noted, however, that although Edwards was a Calvinist, this doctrine is not one that should be trumpeted primarily or exclusively by those who are Calvinists.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Scott Carter   •  

    Great post!
    “One of the significant challenges in upcoming years, therefore, is ensuring that we build a theologically-driven missiology in which Scripture and sound doctrine provide the starting point, the parameters, and the trajectory for our method and practice.”

    AND, a missiologically driven theology, in our churches, as well as in our Seminaries where tomorrow’s pastors, church planters, theologians, professors, and missionaries are being trained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *