Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why I am hopeful about the GCR movement

Over the last several months I have repeatedly been asked why I support the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) and the broader impetus that led to its formation. A full explanation would include some necessary nuances and caveats that transcend the limits of a blog post, but the main reasons can at least be summarized here. These are, quite obviously, my opinions.

I believe:
  1. The SBC is unhealthy to the point that if it does not significantly change, it will become irrelevant beyond recovery within a few years.
  2. There are many who share my concerns--some of whom have already checked out of convention life while others are headed that way if things don't change for the better.
  3. The SBC represents loads of potential for being an instrument of great good in the kingdom of God. It has been such in the past, and still is in some degree at present, but the potential is greater than anything we have seen thus far.
  4. There are some in the SBC whose vision for what the convention should be is theologically naive and missiologically counterproductive.
  5. There are others in the SBC who don't think about theology and missiology at all.
  6. There are still over 6000 unreached people groups in the world--2000 years after our Lord commissioned His church to make disciples of all peoples.
  7. The leaders who are at the helm of the call for a GCR are trustworthy men. I disagree with them on some doctrinal issues. But I do agree with them on the most important points of doctrine and I believe them to be men of integrity who will not kowtow to political pressure, even if it causes them to stand against men they esteem and love.
  8. The GCRTF could--and should--come back with radical, convention-shocking recommendations that are rooted in a vision to marshal our resources to reach the nations.
  9. The call for a GCR could be the greatest hope of this generation to unite churches around the gospel, under the sovereignty of God, to give our utmost energies to making disciples of the nations.
I am 52 years old. I have zero interest in investing one more dime or one more minute in any religious organization that does not serve churches in the mission to reach the nations. Our church is ramping up our efforts and sharpening our focus in this area and we want to partner with other churches that have a similar vision. We want to be challenged, encouraged, strengthened and linked with like-minded churches with whom we share core commitments.

I believe that at least many on the GCRTF share these concerns and believe that the SBC can become a far more effective vehicle than it currently is to assist churches in their efforts to enlarge the kingdom of God. If these concerns are courageously addressed in the GCRTF recommendations, then the SBC will be challenged to pursue a path that could lead to our most useful days.

I have been around long enough to have been adequately disabused of any denominational naivety. Programs come and programs go. Bravado and superlatives seem almost endemic to SBC life. Some may be tempted to speak of the GCR and the GCRTF in such ways. I am not in that number. I am hopeful, but I am not naive. I pray for Ronnie Floyd and his committee every day and I encourage you to do so, as well.

We desperately need what the best declarations coming from those involved in the GCR movement are calling for. So I have been and remain supportive of the effort and praying that the Lord will use this to awaken, empower and unite Southern Baptists for the renewed purpose of "eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the denomination for the propagation of the gospel."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Charles Simeon, Calvinism, Arminianism and Cooperation

Charles Simeon was an Anglican who served Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years. The story of his life and ministry are fascinating and challenging to modern pastors who tend to be soft and too quick to retreat in the face of opposition and trial.

Simeon tells the following story from his early years of a meeting that he had with the venerable John Wesley. A young, largely unproven Calvinist engages an older, much revered Arminian. The conversation--and heart behind it--is instructive for us today as we contemplate how brothers should relate to those with whom we disagree on important doctrinal points. Too often we allow our disagreements to eclipse completely the fundamental beliefs that we hold in common.

Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford have recently addressed the issue of Calvinists and non-Calvinists working together in the Southern Baptist Convention. What they write is helpful and exudes the kind of spirit that should characterize all of us who genuinely want to see spiritual and doctrinal renewal in the SBC, hopefully through efforts to promote a Great Commission Resurgence. Tim Brister has added his reflections to the conversation as well, reminding us that while we should not allow secondary or tertiary concerns unnecessarily divide us in gospel enterprises, we must never lessen our insistence that primary, fundamental issues be firmly and clearly held.

Now let's allow Charles Simeon join the conversation (he writes about his experience in the third person perspective). He has something to teach us. May the Lord grant us a double portion of his spirit today.
A young Minister, about three or four years after he was ordained, had an opportunity of conversing familiarly with the great and venerable leader of the Arminians in this kingdom; and, wishing to improve the occasion to the uttermost, he addressed him nearly in the following words: "Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction." Permission being very readily and kindly granted, the young Minister proceeded to ask, "Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved, that you would never have thought of turning unto God, if God had not first put [it] into your heart?"--"Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed."--"And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by any thing that you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"--"Yes, solely through Christ."--"But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"--"No; I must be saved by Christ from first to last."--"Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"--"No."--"What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?"--"Yes; altogether."--"And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?"--"Yes; I have no hope, but in him."--"Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is, in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."
The Arminian leader was so pleased with the conversation, that he made particular mention of it in his journals; notwithstanding there never afterwards was any connexion between the parties, he retained an unfeigned regard for his young inquirer to the hour of his death.
(Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1: Genesis-Leviticus Preface, pp. xvii-xviii)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

SBTS Panel Discussion on Multi-Site Churches

Al Mohler led a panel discussion hosted by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary two days ago. Greg Gilbert is the lone opponent of the practice among the panel members. Other participants are Kevin, Ezell, the lead pastor of High View Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky--one church meeting in six locations, Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology at SBTS and theological consultant to Sojourn Church, another Louisville church that has recently started multi-site services and whose founding pastor, Daniel Montgomery, also participated on the panel.

The conversation is very helpful. I am grateful for Southern's willingness to address it. I am particularly grateful to Greg Gilbert's insistence that Scriptural justification cannot be assumed. Important questions are raised that demonstrate the necessity of carefully studying New Testament ecclesiology.