Dispelling Myths Related to the Great Commission Resurgence

In June at the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, messengers authorized President Johnny Hunt (by a 95% vote) to appoint a Task Force to study our Convention and bring back a report and recommendations on how we can more effectively and efficiently fulfill the Great Commission. Enthusiasm for the Task Force and expectations for the future were and continue to be high. The Task Force feels the weight of this.

Since the Southern Baptist Convention our Task Force has met twice. We have been hard at work gathering data, analyzing facts, discussing ideas and doing a lot of listening. We have worked tirelessly, but we realize we still have a mammoth amount of work ahead of us. We indeed need the fervent prayers of our brothers and sisters across our Convention of churches.

Meeting as a Task Force has been rewarding and a blessing. It has also been frustrating and disappointing. The latter is due to the number of false rumors and misrepresentations that have been attributed to the Task Force and its members. Some of this behavior is simply sad. Some of it, however, is sinful because it is pure rumor-mongering plain and simple.

The Task Force has determined to conduct its business in a private and confidential manner. I think this was a wise and necessary decision. I know this has disappointed some, but I assure you there is nothing sinister about this. However, this has left us vulnerable to all sorts of false rumors and accusation.

Therefore, without violating the confidentiality of our meetings, I am going to do a series of blogs that will hopefully help in putting to rest a number of untruths that are being bantered about. The list of “myths about the GCR” will not be in any particular order. I hope these blogs will be helpful in setting the record straight. There is too much mistrust that unfortunately characterizes Convention life at this time. We must be better than this. Jesus deserves better than this.

On The GCR Declaration, Part 1

Lord willing, over the next few days I will be blogging through the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the first article in what I hope will be a series. As you read, please remember that while Between the Time is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.

I apologize in advance: most of my articles will not be this long. But I wanted to begin with some preliminary thoughts, some presuppositions, if you will, that inform my thoughts about the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). First, you need to know that I was in favor of and blogging about the ideas associated with the GCR back when few were using GCR language. Although my old personal blog has been defunct for nearly a year, anyone who has been reading my writings since June 2006 will know that I have, at one time or other, addressed nearly every topic covered in the GCR Declaration. So my articles this week are not “off-the-cuff”, but rather represent issues I have given substantial thought to over the past three years.

Second, you need to know that I was using GCR language for months before last year’s SBC, when that language (and the presidential candidate who owned it) electrified most of the messengers. Following the Convention, it seemed everybody was for a GCR, especially in the blogosphere. Some folks even made not-so-subtle attempts to co-opt and define a movement that they had either ignored or opposed just the day before yesterday. I know for a fact that a fellow blogger has extensive documentation that this took place, and I hope he decides to post his findings in the near future (you know who you are-hint, hint).

Third, you need to know that I participated in helping to define the GCR movement by contributing to the BtT blog series “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence”. That series is pretty much obsolete now that there is a GCR Declaration, but the Declaration clearly reflects the same ideas that were articulated in the “Contours” series (as it should, considering the role that Danny Akin played in both the series and the sermon that inspired the Declaration).

Fourth, you need to know that I was present in Binkley Chapel when Akin preached his “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence,” which of course provided a blueprint for much (though not all) of the GCR Declaration. I had never been more excited to be a part of the SEBTS family. Our students are still talking about that sermon.

Fifth, you need to know that I was one of the first dozen or so people to sign the GCR Declaration, and I did so without any caveats. While I respect the opinions of those who have signed the document with caveats (after all, no such statement is infallible), I am in agreement with the Declaration and was so before any of the language was softened (though I understand why the language was altered).

Sixth, you need to know that, though I have not been blogging much about this topic, my absence should not be confused with ignorance about the issues. I have read others’ blogs. I have read lots and lots of editorials in state papers and articles in Baptist press. I have listened to numerous podcasts. I think I have a handle on what’s going on, who the players are, and what tactics are being used to attempt to distract from the GCR agenda.

Finally, you need to know that I personally believe the GCR vision is the best way forward for Southern Baptists, period. That will be true even if the messengers to the SBC Annual Meeting next week refuse to embrace the Declaration. Let me say it another way: I am 100% convinced that the GCR is right, even if it doesn’t “win” in terms of denominational politics. The fact is the healthiest churches in the SBC are already characterized by the values embodied in the Declaration. So is my seminary (and I’m pretty partial to my seminary). So are some of the other parachurch ministries within our denominational family (within every “layer” of our polity). So as much as I hope and pray the GCR is “owned” by the Convention next week, to be perfectly candid at one level I don’t give a rip how the vote goes. When the dust settles, I will still be me, my church will still be my church, and SEBTS will still be SEBTS. It’s that simple.

So now that you know exactly where I am coming from, let me talk through some of the articles in the GCR Declaration. I hope you’ll understand if they don’t all get equal treatment in terms of space.

The Preamble

The Preamble does a fine job of speaking to the SBC’s historic Great Commission identity and tying the GCR to the Conservative Resurgence. I think few would argue that the proclamation of the gospel at home and abroad and the planting of healthy baptistic churches all over the globe have been the twin fundamental priorities that have led our myriad autonomous churches to voluntarily cooperate with each other. Everything else we do together (including theological education) ultimately comes back to the Great Commission.

(Please note my use of the word “baptistic” in the above paragraph is deliberate. The doctrines a church holds to are infinitely more important than the name on the church’s sign or in its bylaws. Nobody wants to plant churches that do not hold to our vision of what a local church ought to be. And in North America in particular, nobody is arguing we should plant new churches that do not cooperate with our Convention. But whether a church self-identifies as “Baptist” or not is of little significance. Doctrine is what matters.)

As for the ties between the two “resurgences”, make no mistake about it: most of the GCR proponents I talk to believe the GCR represents the logical successor to the Conservative Resurgence (building upon, of course, not replacing-lest I be misunderstood). That Conservative Resurgence, though a particular manifestation of the ongoing “Battle for the Bible” was, at its core, a battle for mission. You don’t believe me? Read Paige Patterson’s “Anatomy of a Reformation” (esp. p. 8.) or about half the chapters in Paul Pressler’s A Hill on Which to Die. Those two brothers argued that the Conservative Resurgence was ultimately about spreading the name of Christ to all nations (and they would know).

This is the short of it: the GCR agenda is nothing new; only the nomenclature is recent. If you want to read a couple of fine articles that articulate the GCR vision and were written almost two decades ago, see Paige Patterson’s “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC” (Review and Expositor 88 [1991]: 37-52) and Timothy George’s “Toward an Evangelical Future” (Southern Baptists Observed, ed. Nancy Tatom Ammerman [University of Tennessee Press, 1993], 276-300). Several of the essays in David Dockery’s forthcoming Southern Baptist Identity: The Future of an Evangelical Denomination (Crossway) also articulate a GCR-like vision and were written before that language was common. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that my essay was written with a GCR in mind, as will be evident if you read it.)

Article I: A Commitment to Christ’s Lordship

Some have wondered why this particular article is included in the GCR Declaration. Others have wondered if this is a revisiting of the whole “Lordship Salvation” controversy. Still others have claimed that arguing for Christ’s lordship is an exercise in the obvious.

First of all, you should know that a commitment to Christ’s lordship-including (especially?) in ecclesiological matters-has always been a driving force among Baptist churches. We have a long history of using this terminology (sometimes in unhelpful ways, as when some progressive Baptists have argued for following “Christ’s” leadership, even when he allegedly leads in ways that contradict his Scripture). Simply put, Baptists have always argued that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, so we ought to consciously submit to his lordship in every area of our lives and churches. Insofar as we do so, it is a “foretaste of glory divine”.

This is my perspective: though few would deny Christ’s lordship, we obviously aren’t getting it or we wouldn’t need any type of resurgence (which implies, of course, that a crucial thing has been neglected). Attempting to follow the Jesus we claim to love is at the heart of this movement. The GCR Declarations says it well: “Christ’s Lordship must be first and foremost in a Great Commission Resurgence or we will miss our most important priority and fail in all of our other pursuits.” This is about our people, churches, and yes, our denominational parachurch ministries, taking up their crosses and following Jesus. If we do that, you can bet we’ll experience a Great Commission Resurgence.

So whatever you do, don’t buy the red herrings that keep getting thrown out there. I’ve seen plenty. For example, this movement is not a “Trojan Horse” to hide the real agenda: a denominational restructuring (much more on that in a later post). This movement is not some whipper-snapper rebellion against our elder statesmen. (This claim is pure blog malarkey-I don’t hear any “young leaders” griping about “seasoned leaders”. I do hear complaints about things of substance-from people of all ages. And I hear responses to those complaints, also from people of all ages.)

This movement is not about improving on all our statistics (baptisms, number of churches, CP giving, etc.). Most of the GCR guys I know don’t care about our statistics; they care that too few of our churches are having a meaningful gospel impact on our culture-which includes baptizing new converts. This movement is not about a Calvinist takeover of the SBC (though it most assuredly rejects any attempts to block Calvinists-or any other conservative Baptists who care about the gospel and the Great Commission-from meaningful Convention participation). This movement is not about squandering our Baptist identity-you will notice there is a clear section on Baptist distinctives, meaning attempts to argue the GCR is not “Baptist” enough are absurd.

So you may be wondering what exactly, in my opinion, the GCR is about. Please stay tuned for future posts.