Teaching Theology from a Great Commission Perspective

Recently, President Akin challenged the faculty of Southeastern Seminary to make every classroom a “Great Commission classroom.” This challenge may seem to be easily met in courses on missions or evangelism, but what about courses in theology, philosophy, or church history? What could it possibly mean for a theology course to be a “Great Commission course”? Should the professor wear a Mao shirt or some lederhosen to class, in order to demonstrate his cross-cultural awareness? Or perhaps carry an urungu on his belt? Should he subliminally whisper the names of unreached people groups every time he teaches on the Trinity, the Incarnation, or on building a revelational epistemology? (If you are left wondering, the answer to these last few questions is “no, not so much.”) In light of the President’s challenge, I have jotted down a few thoughts on teaching theology from a Great Commission perspective.

During the upcoming three semesters, I will be teaching Theology I, II, and III at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and therefore have the opportunity to reflect on teaching theology missionally. The thread of mission is woven deeply into the plot of the biblical narrative. It begins with the nature of God, continues with his call for Israel to be a blessing to the nations, and culminates in his sending of the Messiah, whose incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection provide for the salvation of the nations who will dwell with him forever on a new creation. Since Christian Scripture has the concept of mission at its heart, Christian theology will also position the concept of mission centrally.

But in addition to the “central location” of this notion within the biblical narrative and therefore within Christian theology, the theology classroom can also be a “Great Commission classroom” in its pedagogical strategy. For each of the loci of doctrine (God, Christ, Spirit, revelation, man, salvation, church, and end times), we will begin by treating the doctrine exegetically, historically, and systematically. After having shown the coherence of the doctrine as well as its relation to other doctrines, we will also discuss the doctrine in relation to other worldviews, religions, and philosophies. We will try to show how each doctrine subverts its counterpart in the New Atheism, postmodern Perspectivalism, Eastern religions, Islam, and even Southern Fried Religion.

Further, we will discuss how each doctrine affects ministry and mission. Christian Scripture and its attendant evangelical doctrine provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for our ministry models, strategies, and methods. Indeed, for the past three decades the churches of the SBC have declared that the Scriptures are ipsissima verba Dei, the very words of God. What we have declared, however, is not always consistent with what we have done. Therefore, we want to be careful not to (unintentionally or unconsciously) ignore the centrality of Scripture even in “practical” matters of ministry and mission.

Finally, we emphasize that the Great Commission is not concerned merely or exclusively with international missions. From the Great Commission, we learn that our Lord commands us to make disciples (discipleship is far-ranging, including teaching, modeling, rebuking, exhorting etc.) of all the nations (including this nation, the USA), baptizing them in the name of the Triune God (and immersing them in the life of the redeemed community), teaching them all things that he has commanded us (the entirety of Christian Scripture), and trusting that he will be with us always (it is he who is the organizer, energizer, and director of our commission).

In a nutshell, every classroom at SEBTS should be a Great Commission classroom because every page of Scripture and every locus of doctrine relates in some way to the charge given to us above. Christian Theology is the most exciting thing that a person could possibly study, and one of the exciting things about it is that it not only drives us to ministry and mission, but shapes the same ministry and mission. At its heart, theology is missional.

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  1. Jonathan McLain   •  

    Are you teaching at Southeastern?

  2. Michael Davis   •  

    As a new student in the ADiv program who is taking your Christian Theology 1 course this semester I am looking forward to learning within the context of the Great Commission. The focus SEBTS has on the Great Commission within the classrooms is exactly why I am here. Look forward to meeting you.

  3. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Jonathan, yes I have been teaching here at SEBTS for 8 years now. I love this place!

  4. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Michael, thank you for your kind words. I look forward to having you in class.

  5. Alan Cross   •  

    Christopher Wright’s “The Mission of God” seems to tackle this very well when he puts forward a missional basis for the Bible instead of a biblical basis for mission. I am sure that you are familiar with it, but it is the best that I have seen on this perspective.

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