Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence

In about 90 minutes Eastern Standard Time, Dr. Akin will preach a chapel message titled “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence.” Many of our readers have known for a couple of weeks that this message was forthcoming, and the SEBTS community and other friends have been praying for this morning for days. Later today, Dr. Akin’s complete manuscript will be posted at BtT. In anticipation of that, however, we have chosen to go ahead and post the twelve axioms that Dr. Akin will be fleshing out in his message today. We want to urge you to watch our site closely today. Also, be sure to watch the chapel message on the SEBTS website once it is available later today.

Axioms For A Great Commission Resurgence
Acts 1:4-8
By: Daniel L. Akin, President
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC
April 16, 2009

I. We must commit ourselves to the total and absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives (Col 3:16, 17, 23-24).

II. We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God (Rom 1:16).

III. We must take our stand on the firm foundation of the inerrant and infallible Word of God affirming it’s sufficiency in all matters (Matt 5:17-18; John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

IV. We must devote ourselves to a radical pursuit of the Great Commission in the context of obeying the Great Commandments (Matt 28:16-20; 22:37-40).

V. We must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission (1 Tim 6:3-4).

VI. We must dedicate ourselves to a passionate pursuit of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus across our nation and to all nations answering the call to go, disciple, baptize and teach all that the Lord commanded (Matt 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; Rom 1:5; 15:20).

VII. We must covenant to build gospel saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field (Deut 6:1-9; Psalm 127; 128; Eph 6:4).

VIII. We must recognize the need to rethink our Convention structure and identity so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission (1 Cor 10:31).

IX. We must see the necessity for pastors to be faithful Bible preachers who teach us both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures (2 Tim 4:1-5).

X. We must encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency who will lead the way in calling out the called for international assignments but also equip and train all their people to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus regardless of where they live (Eph 4:11-16).

XI. We must pledge ourselves to a renewed cooperation that is gospel centered and built around a biblical and theological core and not methodological consensus or agreement (Phil 2:1-5; 4:2-9).

XII. We must accept our constant need to humble ourselves and repent of pride, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, contentions, lying, selfish ambitions, laziness, complacency, idolatries and other sins of the flesh; pleading with our Lord to do what only He can do in us and through us and all for His glory (Gal 5:22-26; James 4:1-10).

Calvinism and the SBC: The Case for Consensus, Part 2

Calvinism and the SBC: The Case for Consensus, Part 2

By Alvin Reid and Nathan A. Finn

Several weeks ago we began a little “exercise in bridge-building” by writing two different “open letters” to Southern Baptists. After an introductory article, Alvin wrote an open letter to his Calvinist friends in the SBC. The next day Nathan wrote an open letter to his non-Calvinist friends in the SBC. The issues we raised in those letters animate our own conversations with each other. In a follow-up article, we began making a case for consensus within the SBC among those on all sides of the Calvinism debate. With this article, we conclude our thoughts on bridge-building, at least for the time being.

We believe there are four planks around which virtually all contemporary Southern Baptists can unite in a common platform. None of these priorities are new; all of them have characterized the SBC during our better moments. But there are tensions within each commitment, and navigating those tensions is the key to building a healthy consensus among our churches. We are convinced both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can unite around the following.

Plank 1: a commitment to a confessional center of cooperation. In 2000 Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly to adopt a revised version of the Baptist Faith and Message. That statement is the confessional fruit of the Conservative Resurgence. It articulates the full truthfulness and sufficiency of Christian Scripture. It affirms our foundational doctrines and most cherished priorities, some of which we will discuss below. It guides the selection of our elected, appointed, and employed denominational servants.

We think most Southern Baptists are comfortable with the BF&M, even if they have minor quibbles with terminology, emphasis, etc. This is to be expected with any confessional statement in a network of autonomous churches. Like all confessions, ours is an imperfect document that summarizes particular biblical teachings. But we believe it faithfully represents a confessional center around which both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can cooperate, even if some churches opt to embrace different confessions for their personal use and/or choose to enunciate some secondary or tertiary doctrines differently than the BF&M.

Plank 2: a commitment to a basically evangelical understanding of the gospel. We agree with David Dockery that there is a gospel center among Southern Baptists that is non-negotiable, even as we debate second and third order matters that flow from that center. All Southern Baptists need to be committed to such truths as humanity’s utter sinfulness, the sinless law-keeping of Jesus Christ, his penal substitutionary atonement, justification by grace through faith, the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the necessity of repentance and faith as the proper response to the gospel. We believe the BF&M clearly communicates these doctrines, despite its neutrality on election and silence on the extent of the atonement.

We think the vast majority of Southern Baptists believe these truths, though at times we could stand to make them clearer in our evangelism and discipleship. (The theological jargon isn’t as important as the truths communicated, especially in an evangelistic context.) The Calvinism debate isn’t a debate about the gospel qua gospel, but is rather a debate about the best way to further define and articulate aspects of the gospel. We can debate which view of election and the atonement is more consistent with the gospel than others, but these debates shouldn’t preclude our cooperation as Southern Baptists.

Plank 3: a commitment to a basically Baptist ecclesiology. We believe that the Baptist vision of the church closely follows New Testament teaching and example and best represents the consistent application of the gospel to ecclesiological matters. Because we are a Convention of Baptist churches, we need to be united in our advocacy of regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion alone, congregational church government, local church autonomy, and liberty of conscience. We believe all of these principles, when applied in a biblical manner under the lordship of Christ, are non-negotiables for Southern Baptists. The BF&M speaks with clarity about the Baptist view of the church.

We also think almost all Southern Baptists affirm these core Baptist convictions in principle, though there are threats to each of them (that’s for another time). We also think, however, that there is room for debate about how to best apply some of these ecclesiological distinctives. For example, should a church follow a single-elder or a plural elder form of congregationalism? What is the most biblical understanding of liberty of conscience? At what age should an apparently believing child be baptized? Which immersions are alien to biblical faith and practice? These are all worthwhile questions, but differences of opinions on these points that are not addressed in the BF&M shouldn’t hinder our cooperation.

Plank 4: a commitment to evangelism and missions, both in North America and abroad. While this cannot be said of all Baptists, Southern Baptists have always championed the spread of the gospel and the planting of healthy local Baptist churches. The SBC was organized as a network of “missionary” Baptist churches in the South. This was to distinguish them from the “antimission” Baptists who rejected cooperative missions (and sometimes any missions).

We think that almost all Southern Baptists still care about evangelism and missions, though there are clearly differences in strategies. Some churches knock on doors and host tent crusades, while others emphasize servant evangelism. Some churches use evangelism programs like FAITH or GROW, while others forego formal programs. Some churches think about contextualization, while others choose not to. The list could go on, and these are of course generalizations.

We appreciate these differences, but we believe they reflect style more than substance. Virtually all Southern Baptists want to see their cities evangelized, unchurched areas in North America reached, and the gospel preached and churches planted to the ends of the earth. That central conviction matters infinitely more than particular strategies. We believe that methodological diversity in evangelism and missions is a good thing rather than a bad thing in a Convention that prizes local church autonomy. As long as the gospel is not compromised, our shared confessional commitments are not scuttled, and the churches we plant are Baptist in practice (though not necessarily in name), we would suggest our methods can vary as much as Scripture allows.

There are of course other secondary planks around which we can unite. Theological education has long been a priority (we’re all for it!). So has Christian engagement of the public square. Ministries like disaster relief are crucial. So is providing sound curricula and other materials to local SBC churches. But while we believe these ministries are important, they should be driven by the four consensus-building commitments of confessional cooperation, gospel faithfulness, healthy ecclesiology, and bold witness.

As we conclude our thoughts, we want to offer some practical suggestions concerning how Calvinists and non-Calvinists in particular, and different types of Southern Baptists in general, can better facilitate cooperation, especially at the personal and local church levels.

First, we should pray for one another. We should pray that our fellow Southern Baptists would enjoy blessed ministries and enjoy much gospel fruit, even if they have a different view of the doctrines of grace. We should pray that our sister churches would reach their communities with the gospel, even if their strategies vary somewhat from ours. Our prayers are infinitely more beneficial to the kingdom than our criticisms.

Second, we should seek out friends with whom we differ. Our friendship began in a doctoral seminar where it was clear we disagreed about Calvinism but shared a common vision for the Convention’s future. After two years of conversations, we are convinced that our agreements vastly outnumber our differences. Alvin recently wrote a book with a Calvinist colleague. Nathan is currently reading the draft of a book (on the doctrine of salvation!) written by a non-Calvinist friend. We have to get out of our theological ghettos and make some friends who will challenge us and sharpen our thinking.

Third, we should avoid all caricature and misrepresentation. Nathan has often written and spoken about erroneous understandings of SBC Calvinists. Alvin has been misunderstood by more than one “cage-stage” seminarian or rabidly Reformed pastor. We cannot be truth-defenders if we are not truth-tellers. Too many Calvinists arrogantly dismiss many non-Calvinists as Arminians at best and Pelagians at worst. Too many non-Calvinists inappropriately brand Calvinism as hyper-Calvinism, “extreme” Calvinism, etc. This will not build a consensus, but it may destroy the Convention.

Finally, we should commit to disagree agreeably. We still have differing views of Calvinism, and that may be the case until we pass into the next life. But we genuinely appreciate each other and have each benefitted from our friendship. We do not think the other is a threat to the gospel or the Convention. We look forward to the day when both of our respective theological errors are forever left behind, but until that day we labor together despite our differences over secondary and tertiary issues.

We do not have to agree about Calvinism. But we also do not have to divide over Calvinism. Our prayer is that Southern Baptists will not become distracted by our differences, but rather will cooperate in our shared priorities: the gospel lived out in Baptist churches that share common core theological convictions and a passion for the Great Commission.racer mobile game

The Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence

The Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence

By Nathan A. Finn

The past couple of years have witnessed increasing calls for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the Southern Baptist Convention. We at BtT are unabashedly committed to this vision for the Convention. Danny Akin was one of the first SBC leaders to embrace the GCR terminology and has addressed the topic in multiple sermons, conference addresses, and book chapters. All of us have contributed to an ongoing BtT series titled “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence.” Bruce Ashford and I are currently editing a collection of essays advocating a GCR. This is our hope for the Convention’s future.

One reason that we are such advocates of a GCR is because we are such strong believers in the Conservative Resurgence (CR). Each of us are second or third generation products of the CR. We firmly believe the SBC is a fundamentally healthier denomination in 2009 than it was in 1979. We are pleased with the overall direction our Convention has taken over the course of the last generation. We do not want to see a return to the pre-CR status quo, which we believe was characterized by an atheological, pragmatic commitment to cooperation that tolerated a variety of unbiblical convictions. We sincerely believe that a GCR is nothing more or less than the next step in the reformation of the SBC that began thirty years ago.

We believe the CR was a theologically motivated grassroots movement to gain control of SBC leadership for the purpose of facilitating theological renewal within the denomination. Conservative success came in several stages. First, the Convention elected a string of conservative presidents who used their appointive powers to secure conservative trustees for each of our entities. Second, with the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991, moderates began to disengage from the Convention in increasing numbers, a trend that actually began during the mid-1980s. Third, the Covenant for a New Century was approved in 1995 and implemented in 1997, leading to a needed bureaucratic restructuring of the denomination. Fourth, the Baptist Faith and Message was amended in 1998 so as to reflect biblical gender and family views. Finally, the Convention adopted a substantial revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000 (BF&M), resulting in the codification of the conservative theological convictions that inspired the CR.

Our agencies, boards, and seminaries are now led by conservative administrators who are accountable to conservative trustees. We affirm a thoroughly conservative confession of faith. LifeWay is producing conservative curricula and developing conservative programs for use in our churches. Our future pastors and missionaries are being taught conservative theology in our seminaries and a growing number of state Baptist colleges. Our professors are pursuing conservative scholarship that is often relevant to what happens in local churches. Our missionaries are planting conservative churches all over North America and to the ends of the earth. This is the fruit of the CR, and Lord willing, it will be the root of a GCR.

Perhaps the best terms to explain our perception of the relationship between the two resurgences are foundation and permeation. The CR is the foundation of the GCR. We agree with Paige Patterson’s contention that a high view of Scripture is the epistemological starting place from which to resolve every issue in the SBC. Simply put, Southern Baptists are now in a better position to pursue kingdom priorities because of our unswerving commitment to the inerrancy of Christian Scripture and its full sufficiency in all matters of faith and practice. Furthermore, the theology articulated in the BF&M provides us with a basic theological consensus from which we can cooperate together in accomplishing all that God would have for us as a Convention.

While the CR has bequeathed to us a healthy foundation from which to pursue a GCR, it must be more than our launching pad. Biblical theology must permeate everything we do, lest we see a gradual return to the pragmatism of the older consensus. To say it a different way, our theological renewal must lead to methodological renewal as our churches strive to be biblical, covenantal, and missional communities that are shaped by the gospel and spread that good news to all people. As a Convention of churches, our thinking rightly about God needs to issue forth in a living rightly before God. And living rightly before God will mean embracing His missional priorities as they are articulated in Christ’s Great Commission to his people.

Our Convention now stands at a crossroads. We can choose to rest on past victories and turn them into half victories. As Timothy George observed over a decade ago, “The exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another doth not a reformation make.” It we allow the CR to become an end unto itself, we will become increasingly self-satisfied, arrogant, and insular. We will continue to shoot at each other over secondary and tertiary matters, try to out-Baptist one another, and pursue our own little intradenominational fiefdoms. Most important, we will not honor Christ.

Or we can choose the better way and work towards a new consensus. We can allow our love for God and His gospel, our love for one another, and our love of Scripture to ignite in us a renewed burden for the lost and a heart for the nations. We can contend for the faith, including biblical authority and sufficiency, without fracturing over matters not addressed in the BF&M. We can embody the best of our historic theological identity as a missional network of Baptist churches in our 21st century context. If we choose this latter path, we believe that by God’s grace the Conservative Resurgence will blossom into a Great Commission Resurgence. And God will get all the glory.

The time is now. The choice is ours. Join us in praying that we choose wisely by laboring together on behalf of a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist angry racer free