Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I signed the Great Commission Resurgence declaration

Danny Akin, Johnny Hunt and others have released a manifesto entitled, "Toward a Great Commission Resurgence." It is a document aimed at Southern Baptists with implications far beyond the SBC. In some respects this call is the culmination of a growing concern among many Southern Baptists over the last several years. The essence of the concern, as I see it, is that having won the battle for the authority of Scripture in the SBC, we are in danger of losing the peace through infighting, political power struggles and neglecting the "weightier matters of the law" while championing other things.

I am sure that some would not articulate this exactly as I have, but from ongoing conversations that I am having with brothers and sisters across the SBC, I don't think my way of stating it would be contradicted by those leading the charge in calling for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). One of the most encouraging dimensions of this growing movement is that those who are joining it come from diverse sectors of the SBC. Calvinists as well as non-Calvinists, elders (older boomers) and youngsters (Gen Xers) as wells as "in-betweensters" (I am sure that there is a name for us, but I didn't read the newspaper the day it was announced) all all signing on. Denominational workers, pastors and laymen are on board.

What unites us in this movement is not some naive notion that we are all the same or that we all agree on every doctrinal or practical issue that confronts us. Rather, we agree that the gospel is central to any and every Christian effort and that we must not allow anything, no matter how good and noble it might be, to detract from proclamation of that gospel around the world.

Let me try to explain a bit. Everyone whom I regard as a fellow-laborer in the gospel would fully affirm the the first of the GCR's 10 points, which has to do with the Lordship of Christ:
We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels. (Col. 1:18; 3:16-17, 23-24)
Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Therefore, Jesus Christ must be our passion and priority and we should aspire to both know Him and love Him more fully. We must long to see Him have preeminence in all things. We desire to see a Convention of Christ-centered, "Jesus-intoxicated" people who pursue all that we do by God's grace and for His glory. We believe we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new and fresh intimacy and communion with the Lord Jesus that results in greater obedience to all that He commands. 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 a great statement. I may want to call attention to our Lord's commandment to exercise church discipline (Matt. 18:15-18) while others in the movement may be zeroed in on His commandments to love or to evangelize or to care for the poor and needy. The great hope of joining with brothers who are clearly committed to the statement above is that we can genuinely help each other by pressing each other to take seriously all that Christ commands and perhaps even expose our respective blind spots or weaknesses. I need that and want that and even invite it from those who are pre-committed with me to the type of vision articulated in the GCR.

Or take another example. The second point addresses the centrality of the gospel:
We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our denominational ministries. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-21)

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done on behalf of sinners through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. As individual Southern Baptists, we must be gospel-centered from first to last. Gospel-centered living will promote a grace-filled salvation from beginning to end by putting on display the beauty of the gospel in every aspect of our lives. It will remind us that we do not obey in order to be accepted, but rather we obey because we are accepted by God in Christ. Gospel-centered living will help ensure that the bloody cross of a crucified King is the offense to non-believers rather than our styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes.

The gospel must also guide and saturate our local churches and denominational ministries. Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the pure proclamation of the gospel, which has resulted in many of our people losing the full meaning and wonder of the gospel. Too often our denominational programs and agendas have been crafted without a close tethering to the gospel. If we assume the gospel, we will lose the gospel. We must get the gospel right and proclaim it with clarity and boldness if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence.
This statement reflects, perhaps more noteably than any of the others, the fresh winds that are blowing across many of our churches. The gospel is not only for unbelievers. It is for Christians, too. It is not simply the means for the beginning of new life in Christ. It is the way and essence of that life. I might want to argue (as I have repeatedly over the years), perhaps more than some others who affirm this statement, that in many respects we already have lost the gospel and need to work for its recovery. And as this statement recognizes by way of warning, I believe that one of the main ways we have lost it is by assumption.

Though others who buy into this movement may not agree fully with me on this point, by expressing our agreement on this statement we have established clear grounds to have meaningful conversations about it. The statement recognizes that without the true evangel, there cannot be true evangelism, and I am delighted by such a declaration.

No doubt many in the SBC will not want to sign on to the GCR movement. Some of these are men with whom I share much in common and for whom I have great respect. Bart Barber fits into that category and his recent explanation of why he cannot sign the GCR document is worth reading though, obviously, I did not find it convincing.

Others are opposed the the GCR for reasons that appear to me to be primarily political--they fear losing control of the SBC or at least their (or their elders') sense of legacy in having fought for the conservative resurgence (CR) of the last 30 years. I have no sympathy with this mindset and hope that it will have no influence on those calling for a GCR. While I worked for the CR from the time I first cast a vote for Adrian Rogers in 1979 it is time for Southern Baptist inerrantists to recognize that inerrancy is not enough. Timothy George was prophetic when he warned decades ago that "the exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another does not a reformation make." We must keep pressing forward for the sake of the gospel.

Others seem to be afraid that embedded in the gospel-centeredness of the GCR is an inevitable loss of Baptist identity--that to speak of Christian essentials as being more important than Baptist distinctives somehow diminishes the latter. While I don't know anyone in this group to whom I would have to take a backseat regarding Baptist credentials (and I know several whose calls for Baptist distinctives--such as regenerate church membership--are more theoretical than practical when their church life is examined), I simply do not share their fear and believe that it is unwarranted. The call for a GCR is made by convinced Baptists and is directed primarily to Baptists. To claim that the substitutionary death of Jesus is a "weightier" matter of biblical doctrine than believers' baptism is no slight to baptism. Any view that disagrees with this will ultimately devalue both doctrines of atonement and baptism.

All of this to say, I am encouraged by this call for a Great Commission Resurgence. I am under no delusion that issuing a manifesto and gathering thousands of signatures will bring about the reformation that we need. But such actions may further that effort by clarifying lines of demarkation regarding what we must be and do, and what we must not be and do if we are going to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is why I am grateful to Drs Akin, Hunt and others who are boldly leading the way in this effort.

Our God will receive the glory that is His due when His work is engaged in His way; when His message is received and passed on without any editorial adjustments by well-intentioned messengers; and when His Son is seen and honored and delighted in as the all-surpassing treasure of His people.

The GCR could well be an instrument that helps further this cause. For that reason, I support it and want to stand with others who are committed to the vision that it casts for the future of the SBC.

15 comments:

Bart Barber said...

Tom,

Thank you for disagreeing with my post agreeably.

Tom said...

Bart:

Even a blind hog gets an acorn every once in a while! :-)

ta

god-at-the-center said...

I, for one, was surprised that Johnny Hunt had signed it, but good for him. Maybe this will be a wakeup call to the Trustees of the IMB.

Tom Bryant said...

Tom,
Thanks for posting your view of this. Although I have not yet signed it, I am hoping because of the "variety" of people who have signed on that it will be more than just another statement that gets approved and we break our arms slapping ourselves on the back.

The GCR also helps deal with the concern that I have about maintaining a baptist distinctive.

So I appreciate your take on this.

Debbie Kaufman said...

The gospel is not only for unbelievers. It is for Christians, tooExactly. Finally someone has said it clearly. This is the message we as Christians and Southern Baptists have forgotten in my opinion.

I have not signed this manifesto for the same reason Tom Bryant has given. I have signed manifestos in the past that I have sincerely believed in, even implementing them into my life, just to see them forgotten less than a year later. It's as if they never existed. I am not sure the same thing will happen here. Will this manifesto be remembered after this years Convention? I'm not so sure.

I don't want this manifesto to simply be this year's Convention theme. I want it to be remembered and lived out for years to come.

Brent Hobbs said...

I like the statement overall but was still on the fence as to whether or not to sign it. After reading your post, I decided to go ahead. Keep up the good work, Tom!

David McCrory said...

Though not in the SBC, I am in favor of anyone who desires to see the pure preaching of the Gospel restored to Christ's church. And I am particularly grateful to see this desire for resurgence within the broader Baptist community. May the Lord's hand be upon this effort.

Pastor Bob Farmer said...

My concern is a definition of "Great Commission." In the past Southern Baptist's have been very good at making converts but I think sometimes we have failed in making disciples. I am convinced that our Convention is in a big numbers game that is often disconnected from reality or for that matter good theology. Can this "Great Commission Resurgence declaration" help? ...

Tom said...

First, evidently Blogger is having difficulty and not all of the comments are being posted. If yours is one of those, I apologize and can only hope that Blogger will this corrected soon.

Second, Tom and Debbie, I can understand your hesitancy to sign another document. I am not much of a "signer-on" either. From conversations I have had and am having with various folks, however, I believe that this effort will result in substantive attempts to address real problems in the SBC. If that doesn't happen, then I will be surprised and disappointed.

goac: I am convinced that Johnny Hunt is the real deal. The more communication I have with him the deeper my respect for him grows. Obviously, he and I do not agree on all things theological. What is not so obvious but which I hope will become more and more apparent, is that we agree on far more things than we disagree on and have many God-honoring reasons to work together. I think God has raised him up in the SBC for such a time as this.

Stephen said...

First, let me say, Tom, love the ministry that the Lord has directed you to have. As a Calvinist styled reformer, who came to the SBC only due to views on baptism (would have gone PCA), it is wonderful to see that there are others like me out there.

I want to say, as a student at one of our fine SBC seminaries, it warms my heart to see the denomination go in this direction with a call to affirm the Great Commission. Although I have only been with the SBC for just under 3 years now, seeing this step is great. I also agree with you Tom about some of the errors in logic and reasoning people have in choosing not to sign this. However, I have an additional issue that I dont think you addressed and I would be interested in hearing your (and others) views on this, and maybe help me come to make a decision on if this GC is something I want to fully support, or just slightly agree with as it is now.

My concern, is that some of the language is to exclusive, in that it diminishes the need for SBC churches to work WITH other denominations to reach out and spread the word of Christ Jesus. Specifically I am referring to point VI of the Statement. I of course would not presume to tell SBC churches to give up what makes them Baptist. But as it is SBC churches as a whole, are too resistant to work with others, outside of the denomination, to further the work of Christ Jesus. Take for instance Assemblies of God Churches. The traditional AoG churches (not the ones deep in Word of Faith movement theology) are very similar to traditional Baptist Churches, to the point where the average person on the pews would not be able to tell the difference. Both believe in believers baptism, both believe in inerrancy of the scriptures, both are solidly conservative in their historical theology. Yet Lord forbid we as Baptists work with them. Or how about the PCA, who are in many respects more theologically conservative than we are in the SBC. Just because they hold to infant baptism means we cant go out into the world together to reach the lost for them?

My point is, I am concerned that this statement, while a great first step, may not have gone far enough in stressing the point that CHRISTIANS, not just Baptists, must work together to bring the Lost to Christ. Groups like T4G get this, and I am not saying that the SBC should model itself after T4G or other groups like that, but I do think we should be more able and willing to work with other denominations, even if they do not share our "baptist distinctives".

Thank you for your time, and I hope my rant was not out of place.

Stephen M.
Student MBTS

Tom said...

Stephen:

Thanks for your comment, and I don't consider it a rant at all (compared to some of the comments that have appeared here over the years, yours comes across like a whisper!). I appreciate the concern that you have raised. There is a proper ecumenism to which Christians ought to aspire. Our International Mission Board recognizes this with their efforts to partner with other Great Commission Christians (GCC).

I don't think this is at all what Article VI has in mind when it warns against "naive ecumenism." In fact, the burden of that article is to call for our Baptist churches to take our confessional, ecclesiological commitments seriously. We are a convention of Baptist churches and should not hedge on all that is bound up in that historic designation.

That does not mean that we should write off those who are not Baptist, or regard all other groups as unworthy of our fellowship or cooperative efforts in appropriate enterprises. Rather, it means that when a Baptist church links arms with other GCCs we do so a unapologetic *Baptists.*

That is the same spirit that I see modeled at T4G. None of the leaders give up their separate distinctives, they simply celebrate their unity in essentials. Obviously, a conference is not a convention of churches. We are a convention of Baptist churches. That does not mean, however, that we cannot or should not work together with other evangelical groups in a variety of gospel enterprises. If I thought the GCR statement suggested otherwise, I would not have signed it.

Blessings,
tom

hottubreligion said...

Tom,
I may be wrong,but probably you and Johnny Hunt disagree on:
Total depravity.What can a dead man do?
Irristable grace.
Limited atonement.
If this is so,these are major,big time disagreements.Whatever else you agree on only diminishes and down grades the major doctrinal issues.This is a sad day,in my opinion,for many pastors who have respected you and held you in high esteem as a spokesman for those of us who hold dear the docrtines of grace.

Tom said...

Hot Tub:

You are right in that you may be wrong. Furthermore, Johnny Hunt and I agree on the deity & exclusivity of Christ, necessity of new birth, repentance and faith, substitutionary atonement, authority of Scripture, the great commandment and the great commission, to name just a few things on which the Bible puts a premium.

No doubt we do disagree on some things as well, as I am sure would be true of you and me. I have not given up one doctrinal conviction by supporting the GCR, nor have I been asked to do so. One of the great encouragements of what is happening is that brothers are beginning to realize that we can genuinely act like brothers without having to agree on everything and without having to demonize one another for our differences.

I am sorry if that attitude disappoints you but I come to it not because of compromise but because of exegesis.

Blessings,
tom

Kris said...

Tom,
I appreciate your leadership. I agree that Johnny Hunt is serving the SBC well in bringing us together. Your willingness to work with him also shows that those of us who hold to the Doctrines of Grace care more about the carrying out of the Great Commission than the doctrines alone. It may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but working with non-calvinists CAN be a good thing. Keep leading the way,

Kris

RichardS said...

Quote from Tom: "Johnny Hunt and I agree on the deity & exclusivity of Christ, necessity of new birth, repentance and faith, substitutionary atonement, authority of Scripture, the great commandment and the great commission."

RS: Without trying to be disagreeable, I believe the official Roman Catholic position would aree with all of those things as well. It is not enough to believe those things in words, but one must believe in them with a specific content. One can have vast disagreements hidden by agreements with the words. If there is a disagreement over the Gospel, then how can there be an agreement on the Great Commission? If there is a true disagreement over the Doctrines of Grace, can there be any real agreement over repentance and faith?

Quoting Tom: "I have not given up one doctrinal conviction by supporting the GCR, nor have I been asked to do so."

RS: There is a difference between not giving up doctrinal convictions and yet stating the truth of the character of God and of the Gospel. It is easy to get people to agree to words when the content is not spelled out.

We are quick to condemn those who are quick to judge others as unbelievers, but surely we must be at least as careful in assuming that others are brothers. But this all leads back to some very important issues. Just how important are the Doctrines of Grace? Are these doctrines necessary to the Gospel of grace and the God of grace? Are they vital or simply an addendum to other things? This is a very important issue.