I, along with many others, have been giving considerable thought with the desire to see a great commission resurgence in my generation. I am fully on board with the vision and look forward to being a foot soldier in the cause of participating in the mission of God through the advancement of the gospel in the local church with God’s Spirit-empowered people set apart for the glory of Christ.
It has been nearly four years since the idea of a “Great Commission Resurgence” was coined by Dr. Thom Rainer upon LifeWay’s research which revealed that post-conservative resurgence Southern Baptists are no more evangelistic than pre-conservative resurgence Southern Baptists. There has been a disconnect between the recovery of the inerrancy of the Bible and the resurgence of mission that should have resulted from submission to the Lordship of Christ along with the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. While the formal principle may not be in question, the material principle has yet to make it beyond campaign slogans and traveling bus tours.
So this leaves me with thinking about four fundamental issues regarding a Great Commission Resurgence, namely the gospel, the mission, the church, and the culture. The diversity of thought in Southern Baptist life is revealed in the various camps or streams that have existed for decades around these issues, and Southern Baptists would be naive to think that we are in agreement on any one of these four key areas, including the gospel.
While it would seem elementary to some to focus on the gospel, one would not have to look far to see how truncated the gospel has become today and how much we accept as alternatives to a biblical response to the message. Moreover, the gospel by and large has not been central in the life of the church or Christians in faith and practice. For the sake of forwarding the movement of a GCR, I would like to suggest three aspects of the gospel whereby cooperation and commission can and should be shaped.
First, what is the gospel? To the degree that we can definitively articulate and demonstrably adorn the gospel I think will determine the synergy of the GCR movement. Are we all saying the same thing? Can we confess who Christ is, what He has done, and why that matters in a way that, whether you are a Calvinist or non-Calvinist, we can find common ground? It is around this question that we find cooperation on the mission. If we are unclear or at odds on the message, there will be paralyzing implications on the mission for a true GCR movement.
Second, what is the biblical response to the gospel? Allow me to quote from Paul Helm, in his book The Beginnings: Word and Spirit in Conversion:
“Terms such as ‘regeneration’, ‘conversion’ and ‘effectual calling’, with precise meanings and clear biblical support, have been eclipsed by ‘Take Jesus into your life,’ ‘Know Jesus as your own personal Savior’, ‘Give your heart to Jesus.’ It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this change is not merely verbal and therefore of no real importance. Such is the close relationship between language, thought and experience that vague and indefinite language is invariably accompanied by vague and indefinite experience.”
If Southern Baptists are not together on the definition of the gospel, they are even further apart from how one rightly responds to the gospel in repentance and faith due to a multitude of such “vague and indefinite” expressions of experience. There needs to be a consensus not only on the theological message of the gospel but also the theological method of the gospel–how a church or Christian counsels/leads one to Christ.
Third, what are the implications on the gospel in the life of the local church and individual Christian? This question gets at the heart of gospel-centered churches and gospel-saturated living. Is the great work of the gospel merely to get lost people saved, or is the gospel for the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life? Is the gospel the hermeneutic and common currency for all of life–including relationships, work, money, etc.? How does the gospel relate to social action, cultural engagement, and community involvement? In what ways does the gospel determine the systems and structure of a local church, including her priorities and passions? The implications of the gospel are far reaching, and we have not begun to grasp the centrality and sufficiency of the gospel as it relates to all of life in both the church as well as the individual Christian.
The other areas of mission, church, and culture are also important, and thus charting a course for cooperation and commission along these contours is both a necessity and a catalyst for a Great Commission Resurgence. But on the issue of the gospel–how it is defined, the way in which one responds, and the implications on all of life–together serve as a foundational consensus on which to launch a resurgence we so desperately need. Nothing can be assumed.
I have been greatly encouraged over the course of recent months to see the interest level and conversation heightened with the desire to see a GCR movement. There’s a Savior to treasure, a mission to embrace, and a gospel to proclaim. May God grant us to know a few things, to know them well, and to devote our lives to them. We’ve got a cooperative program; now it is time to have a cooperative mission that is gospel-driven.