Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 19: Why a Great Commission Resurgence? Because of the Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence comes from the heart of God who gave the Great Commission. God’s people know of God’s mission for His world because God has revealed it to them through His Word. God has ultimately revealed Himself in the incarnate Word, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He also reveals Himself by His written Word, which is the Bible, the Word given by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles. A Great Commission Resurgence will not truly be a resurgence of God’s mission unless it is rooted in and governed by the Word given by the God of mission.

A GCR will never be authentically pursued or sustained without a commitment to and preservation of “the faith” or the “teachings” of Christianity. Those teachings, which are called “doctrines”, are revealed by God to us in the Bible. It is, of course, fundamental to the nature of the Great Commission that disciple-making is rooted in baptism and teaching. Baptism signals an identification with the crucified, resurrected Christ and entrance into His church, while teaching indicates the formation of a life consistent with Christian baptism through the authoritative teaching of Holy Scripture.

As it is true that a GCR cannot be pursued or sustained apart from such a commitment to “the faith”, it is equally true that “the faith” cannot be known apart from the Bible. Christian “doctrine” is not merely human musings about God, nor is it a set metaphysical abstractions. Doctrine, in its most fundamental sense, is the teaching of Scripture itself. The “doctrine of Christ,” for example, is what the Scriptures teach about Christ. While our expressions and explanations of biblical doctrine necessarily involve language and concepts that lie outside the Bible, the doctrines themselves, in the primary sense of the word, are the teachings of God’s Word.

The Bible is truly the “Word of God.” Repeatedly the prophets claim “God said,” and “thus says the Lord.” The words of Scripture are perfect, sure, and trustworthy (Psalm 19). These texts are, as the apostle Peter puts it, “a word more sure,” by which he means that the Bible supercedes any other claim to revelation, including Peter’s own experience with Christ (2 Pet 2:16-21). In these words, and through His Son, God indeed has spoken (Heb 1:1-2).

Christians have long confessed what the Scriptures claim, that the Bible is inspired and authoritative. Paul instructs us that the very text of the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and Peter informs us that the writers of the Scriptures were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they wrote (2 Pet 1:21), explaining that “men spoke from God” as the Bible was composed. So, we believe, both the text and the authors are inspired by God. Because of this, we hold that the Bible is a divine book.

The authority of Scripture is rooted in a variety of claims. The prophets of the Old Testament claim that they were proclaiming the word of God. The apostles claim that they too were penning divine words as they composed what we call the New Testament (e.g., 2 Pet 3:16). And, of course, Jesus taught from the Scriptures as from a book with God’s authority. There was no question in his His mind – these are the very words of God. Because they are God’s words, they are by their very nature authoritative for the people God created.

A whole set of doctrines accompany the doctrines (the biblical “teachings”) of inspiration and authority. We will consider a few of these, and then trace some of the implications of the inspiration and authority of Scripture for a GCR.

Because the Scriptures are inspired by God, because they are in fact God’s words, we affirm several corollary doctrines in our doctrine of Scripture. For example, because the Bible is God’s Word, we expect the Scriptures to be consistent with the nature of God. We, therefore, affirm that the Scriptures are “perfect” (Psa 19:7), that they are given to us without any error or impurity. The term “inerrancy” has long been used to express this biblical affirmation. Jesus himself expected that the Scriptures “could not be broken” (John 10:10) and that not even the smallest part of the Word would pass away (Matt 5:17).

Likewise, because the Scriptures are inspired by God, we affirm the teaching that the Bible is sufficient for life and doctrine (2 Tim 3:16-17). The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is the affirmation that the Bible itself is sufficient revelation for God to bring sinners to salvation and for God’s people to live as God desires. Put another way, the doctrine of sufficiency affirms that no man needs any further revelation from God in order to be redeemed and sanctified. While the Bible does not teach us everything about everything, it is sufficient in such a way that we need no further divinely inspired revelation from God in order to know God and obey Him.

Finally, the doctrine of the supremacy of Scripture affirms that no other source of knowledge is sovereign over divine revelation itself. The Lord is Lord of knowledge; all our thinking, and all our claims must be subjected to the Lordship that God exercises through His word. To set human wisdom above the wisdom of God, or to allow other sources of knowledge to gain supremacy over the “knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5) is demonic. While I may obtain certain useful information for life from a source other than the Bible, no other source may have a magisterial role over the Scriptures;, instead, other sources of knowledge and ways of knowing must function in a ministerial capacity. That is, Scripture rules while other sources of knowledge serve. And the Lord, by His Word, stands in judgment over knowledge itself.

Let me suggest a few areas in which the necessity of a commitment to biblical inspiration and authority matters for a GCR. First, a GCR is about making -disciples, followers or learners of Jesus. The questions arises, then, about what constitutes the “teaching” that is to be given to Christ’s followers. Paul tells us about the matters of “first importance” that are handed down to the church (1 Cor 15:3-5), and Jude urges the defense of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3). Without the Scriptures the church has no sure knowledge of what constitutes “teaching”, or matters of “first importance,” or “the faith” that is worthy of defense. Disciple-making is the goal of the Great Commission, and no real disciples are to made apart from biblical teaching. Thus a commitment to the authority of Scripture is vital to a GCR.

Another facet of a GCR is the need for the reproduction of healthy churches around the world. This blog series features a number of entries that speak about some vital components of church health. We have to consider what our source of knowledge is for prescribing what constitutes the nature of the church, church health, church polity and governance, and all manner of church practices. There is no shortage of ideas about what constitutes the nature and function of a church, but a GCR that neglects the central biblical teachings about the church will not be a Great Commission Resurgence, but a resurgence of human novelties, which will have no eternal benefit.

Also, we must consider the ways in which the authority of Scripture matters for missional strategies that are crucial to a GCR. Christians determine certain ways of fulfilling the task we call the Great Commission. We employ evangelistic methods, church planting methods, and strategic initiatives. But what is to prevent such strategies and methods from being mere human inventions, and what is to keep us from using strategies and methods that are inconsistent with or contrary to the very teachings of Scripture? Unless we submit to the reality that the Bible is God’s divine word, and that it is authoritative, sufficient, and supreme, we will always be susceptible to the whims of theories and movements that amount to little more than the strongholds of 2 Corinthians 10, which set themselves up against the knowledge of God.

We have said before that a GCR is the natural producte of the Conservative Resurgence of the past 25 years. In no way is this more true than the way that the GCR is rooted in fidelity to the inspired, authoritative Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, which tell of the love and life of God revealed and promised to the nations.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 2: The Theological Foundation for a GCR

This past week began a series of posts on the call for a Great Commission Resurgence with the post of Danny Akin’s “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 1: Continuity with the Conservative Resurgence.” The series will continue over the next months, typically with a new post on the topic each week. Our aim is to discuss the contours of a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the Southern Baptist Convention. Others in the SBC have used the language of GCR to call the convention to renewed focus on the gospel and the kingdom among our churches and entities. We hope to offer some definition of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life.

In Part 1 of this series, Danny Akin noted that at the heart of the call for a Great Commission Resurgence in SBC life is “a renewed passion for the pursuit and fulfillment of Matthew 28:16-20.” In this post I want to address the foundation upon which such a passion and pursuit rests. We must consider the theological foundation for a GCR because a GCR rests on God himself.

The triune God is the Lord who is life and love. He is Yahweh, the name by which God revealed himself to Moses, which indicates that the Creator who made covenant with Abraham and who delivered Israel from Egypt is the self-existent One. He is the “I AM”, and he is not only the “one true living God,” he is life itself. This life is shared in eternity among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Before the creation of this world, God existed perfectly in his triunity; God’s life is not dependent on anyone or anything.

“God is love” is one of the first confessions Christians teach their children. The eternal nature of divine love is exhibited in the prayer of Jesus: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (Jn 17:24). It is in God’s nature to love, and divine love existed before the creation of the world within the love shared between the Father, Son, and Spirit. This love is not dependent on anyone or anything. God is the God who is not simply living, but who is life itself; God is the God who is not simply loving, but who is love itself.

God chose to share his life and love by creating a world. God did not need a world, since he exists perfectly within himself. That he chose to share life by creating the cosmos is a witness to his love. He created the world to share life and to create a people for himself, creatures made in his own image and likeness, so that they would follow the Great Commandment, to love the God who first loved them, and to give God the glory due his name.

Thus, Moses records in Gen 2:7 that Yahweh breathed life into Adam, and God put at the center of the land he prepared for man a tree called the Tree of Life (Gen 2:9). God created a woman as a companion for Adam, and they were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” God’s creatures, including the one made in his image, are to reproduce life. Man, given life by God, was made to love God and to glorify him. All creation is called to join with God himself in loving the triune God.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the life of those made in God’s image is placed in jeopardy, because sin destroys life. God, therefore, sets into motion his mission to redeem a people for himself, a people who will worship God for all eternity. The missio Dei, the “mission of God” includes the Great Commission, but it is rooted in the very being of God himself. God created a world so that his creatures could share both life and love. But in the face of the death and enmity bred by sin, it is the mission of God to restore life and love. God’s mission proceeds from God’s very essence. The church’s mission is rooted in the mission of God. The church pursues its mission because it is Christ’s church. We are being conformed to Christ’s image and we reflect his glory as we participate in the missio Dei.

The foundation upon which a Great Commission Resurgence rests is God himself. We are called by God to this mission and empowered by the Spirit of God to engage in it. As God’s redeemed, we are a people who passionately pursue the Great Commandment by fulfilling the Great Commission. When God finally restores all things, the new heavens and the new earth are centered once again on life with God – the New Jerusalem has a “river of life” (Rev 22:1) and a “tree of life” (Rev 22:19), which recall the original creation. This new heavens and new earth is the place in which God’s people will gladly fulfill the Great Commandment, adoring and worshiping the triune God for all eternity, all to the glory of God. Our call for a Great Commission Resurgence is rooted in these truths about our triune Lord.

What’s Right With the Southern Baptist Convention

Several years ago I gave my parents a gift that I think they enjoyed as much or more than anything I ever gave them. I wrote each of them a letter thanking them for what they did right as my Mom and Dad. In a world where it is commonplace for people to talk about everything their parents did wrong, I wanted my parents to know how much they got right. I recall how very much they appreciated those letters. In fact, shortly after my father passed away last year, I found that letter among my Dad’s possessions in the briefcase where he had placed all his significant documents we were to need upon his death. Of all the things he possessed, most of the things he treasured were in that briefcase, and among them was a simply letter of thanksgiving from a grateful son.

There continues to be considerable talk about what is wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention. I think that is the case for the simple reason that there are many things wrong with the SBC. I know that some would like to attribute blame for this state of affairs to one group or another, suggesting that there really are no serious problems with the Convention, except that there are critical people who keep stirring the proverbial pot with their critical attitudes. But there are many of us who talk seriously these days about the difficulties facing our beloved Convention, precisely because we love the SBC and we care deeply about her future.

I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, one of my most vivid memories is the last occasion that I spoke to Adrian Rogers, a man whose love for the SBC is unquestioned, and a man for whom I have the deepest respect. On that occasion he and Mrs. Rogers asked me and my wife Kathleen to join them at their breakfast table. We were not far into conversation when he looked at me across the table and said, “David, you spend all your time with our seminarians. Is the Southern Baptist Convention really going to be okay in the future? Are there going to be good leaders in the generation to come?”

His question was born not out of criticism, but out of love for the convention. I think that most who ask such questions today do so with the same motivation. And I think we are foolish not to ask and seek honest answers to such questions. In two future blogs I plan to do just that – to reflect on what I think are two serious matters facing the SBC. But before I do that, I want to reflect on the answer I gave to Dr. and Mrs. Rogers that morning. I offer the same answer today that I gave then, and I am even more convinced today than I was on that Spring morning that there is much about which to be hopeful in the SBC. In a way, this blog is like the letter I sent to my Dad. It isn’t that there aren’t concerns to be raised about the SBC. There are, and I will consider those at a later date. But for now, I want to remember what is right with the SBC.

It is my great joy to serve at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention. In my role at Southeastern I have the unique opportunity to meet the men and women sent by our SBC churches for training to serve our Lord in ministry around the globe. These men and women come to Southeastern from varied backgrounds, they are from diverse age groups, and they are preparing for many different kinds of ministry. What gives me such hope for our convention is the consistent quality of these people. They are committed to Christ, they are humble and teachable, and they understand the realities of God’s mission in His world, His Kingdom, and His desire to see the nations worship Him.

These disciples of Jesus who study at Southeastern are willing to go anywhere, to go at any time, and to do anything for the sake of the gospel. When I speak in these terms I am not saying that we have a few or even some students of this caliber. I am saying that this is typical of the students who come to us. Over the past decade I have watched these students study, learn, and mature, and I have been at this long enough to see many of them enter fields of service in many different places.

I think of men like Dan Main and Jerry Lewis who faithfully pastor Great Commission churches that take seriously the call to make disciples in their fields of service. I think of a young lady like Bethany Hadaway who invests her life in making disciples through her gifts in counseling. These young leaders are helping to grow healthy Southern Baptist churches, and for this we should give thanks.

There are church planters leading Great Commission churches in places like New England, Montana, and the great cities of our nation. These men, and many others throughout North America, are committed to leading churches to reach not only more people, but to reach more people by forming churches that produce reproducing churches. We see more and more students who are interested in pursuing this kind of work, and for this we should give thanks as well.

Then there are those who serve in international fields. Their names cannot be mentioned, but their faithfulness must not go unnoticed. They serve in hard fields, some in places where until now there has been no gospel witness. These families labor in difficult circumstances, not only due to the underdeveloped places in which they live, but often due to the open hostility to the gospel itself. And yet they carry on day after day, faithfully serving Christ. We should also be grateful for these faithful servants.

I am under no illusion that this phenomena is occurring only at Southeastern. It is because I know of similar movements at other institutions, including our Baptist colleges, that I am so optimistic about the SBC. Likewise, I see movements among Southern Baptist students on public university campuses, where our young people are answering the call to bring the gospel to their campuses and display a passion for the mission of God around the world that is inspiring. I am encouraged also by Southern Baptists who in their later years of life take seriously the call to spend whatever days God gives them in ministry literally around the globe.

In reply to Dr. Rogers’ question at breakfast that morning, I said I didn’t think the SBC would be just okay in the future; I stated that I was completely optimistic about the future of the SBC for the simple fact that God is raising up so many men and women who are faithfully committed to Christ and His Kingdom. I believe I was right to give that answer at that time, and I remain convinced that the future of the SBC is bright. This is not to say that there are not clear and present dangers facing our convention. But it is to say that I believe we can avoid those dangers, and watch God work powerfully through the laborers He is sending to fields of harvest.

That we have faithful leaders serving in established churches to mature them and see them carry on faithful gospel ministry is part of what’s right with the SBC. That there are faithful leaders pursuing the work of church planting throughout North America to produce reproducing churches is part of what’s right with the SBC. That there are faithful leaders going to the ends of the earth with the gospel so that the nations can worship the Lamb of God is part of what’s right with the SBC. In this we see the beginning of what some have called a “Great Commission Resurgence” in our midst, and that is part of what is right with the SBC.

Our Convention has its share of problems, and we must not fail to address those matters wisely. At the same time, we will do well to remember what is right, and to thank God for what He has done in our past and what He is doing today. That He is calling out so many faithful laborers is an occasion for praise, and it is fitting for us to have a genuine, reasoned optimism about our future. Whatever concerns we have about our Convention must be set within the context of the reality of what is right with the SBC.