Aspect 2: A Mission Based Upon God’s Mission

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

Scripture and mission go hand in hand. Baptists have missional convictions because they are a people of the Book.[1] Our network of churches possesses a missional DNA. History informs us that the majority of the early Baptist networks arose from a need for interchurch cooperation in missional endeavors and that the SBC is no exception since cooperation in missions has been her raison d’etre from the very beginning.

In the following blogposts, the reader will notice three golden threads. The first thread is the mission of God, revealed in the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. The biblical narrative reveals that the uncreated Triune God created this world from nothing. God created and fills a good world with his image bearers from whom he will make a kingdom of priests. This world reflects God’s glory and points continually to him. God’s first image-bearers, however, sinned against him, setting themselves up as autonomous, and in so doing, they alienated themselves from God, each other, and the rest of the created order. As a result, we are dead in our trespasses, and the good world God created is marred by the ugliness of sin, the consequences of which are far more pervasive than we might typically imagine.

In the aftermath of man’s rebellion, God immediately promised to send a Savior, one born of a woman, one who would redeem the nations and restore God’s good world. Indeed, from the third chapter of Genesis onwards, the Scriptures bear witness to the triumphant march of God who accomplishes the redemption he promised through the Savior He sends. The Savior came, was crucified to cancel the debt that we could not pay, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Further, he will return again, bringing with him a new heavens and earth, where the redeemed of the nations will worship him forever and ever.

The second thread is the church’s mission, which is set firmly in the context of God’s mission. The church finds itself between the third and fourth plot movements in redemptive history, between the time when he sent his Son to purchase redemption and the time when he will have gathered the redeemed of the nations and created the heavens and earth anew. We bear witness to the Sent One, to glorify him in both word and deed. Just as he will return one day to receive the worship of the redeemed and to restore his good creation, so the church’s mission includes both redemptive and creational aspects.[2] In its redemptive aspect, the church bears witness to the gospel in word and deed so that she may be an agent of grace to a lost and dying world. In its creational aspect, the church works out the implications of the gospel in every dimension of society and culture, and in so doing is a sign of the kingdom that has been inaugurated and is to come.

The third thread is the church’s cross-cultural and cross-linguistic mission. Throughout the Scriptures, God makes clear that he will glorify himself among the nations. In Solomon’s prayer, for example, we learn that God will make known to the nations his great name, his strong hand, and his outstretched arm. In Psalm 67, we learn of a God who will make his salvation known among all the nations and to whom all the peoples of the earth will give their praise. In Matthew’s gospel we find our Lord commanding us to take the gospel to the nations, while in Luke’s we find him promising that his name will be preached to all nations. Finally, in Revelation, we are given a glimpse of those redeemed worshippers from among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Mt 28:16-20; Lk 24:46-49; Rev 5, 7). These passages and numerous others make clear God’s mission to redeem worshippers from every people and nation in his good creation.

God has woven these golden threads deeply into the tapestry of the biblical narrative. To remove any of the three threads is to distort the mission: God’s mission-to win the nations and to restore his creation-frames the church’s mission. The church’s mission, in both its redemptive and cultural aspects, frames the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic aspects of her mission[3]. Mission, therefore, begins with God. He organizes, energizes, and directs it. The danger is that we lose sight of this, thereby divorcing missiology from theology, and thence making the church’s mission in our own image.

[1] We use the word “missional” in a particular manner, to denote a certain posture or impulse among Christians and churches. A person who lives missionally, as we use this term, is one who sees all of life as an arena for God’s glory, who sees himself as “sent,” whether he lives in Mumbai, Moscow, Memphis, or Milan. The word “missionary” carries connotations of professional overseas service, but to call a person “missional,” in our usage, implies that he takes a missionary posture no matter what his geographic context. We recognize that many whose use this term do not share our theological convictions. This is the central concern of Keith Eitel’s article, “Shifting to the First Person: On Being Missional,” Occasional Bulletin of the EMQ, 22:1, 1-4. Eitel warns that many who use words such as “missional” reject absolute truth in general, and absolute biblical revelation in particular. We share his concern, and hope that this blog series in its entirety will help to provide sufficient context for our use of this word.

[2] It is fitting that the book of Revelation encapsulates both the redemptive and creational aspects. Revelation 5 speaks to the redemption of men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, while Revelation 21-22 speaks to the restoration of God’s good creation, as he provides a new heavens and earth.

[3] By this, we do not mean that our international missionaries will pay the same attention to the cultural mandate that they will to their evangelistic mandate. It is our opinion that Southern Baptist missionaries should focus their energies on church planting, and in particular on church planting among unreached people groups. However, the churches that we plant should seek to glorify God in every conceivable manner among their people group. These churches’ efforts, therefore, would optimally include efforts to work out the implications of the gospel in every dimension of their respective cultures.

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.