Three months ago, I took the time to collect the digital paper trail regarding the development of a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) that has dominated denominational news in Southern Baptist life.  For many Southern Baptists, the talk of GCR has just hit their ears, and yet the impetus for the GCR began nearly five years ago.  Let me explain.

I. Dr. Thom Rainer (May 2005)

In 2004, Dr. Thom Rainer, then Dean of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions & Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, conducted a study to examine the evangelistic effectiveness of Southern Baptists since the Conservative Resurgence.  The results revealed that although evangelism would have been much worse without the CR, Southern Baptists since 1979 were failing in evangelism.  The analysis of Dr. Rainer was eventually published in the Spring 2005 edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology in an article entitled “A Resurgence Not Yet Realized: Evangelistic Effectiveness in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979.”  It was in this article that Dr. Rainer argued,

“When we are passionately obedient about Christ’s commission to share the Gospel in all that we do, then the resurgence will have taken its full course.”

Through the sober realization and honest analysis of our current state, the battle cry for a Great Commission Resurgence sounded forth from a leading voice in the SBC.  For more background info, check out the following articles:

II. Baptist Identity II Conference (February 2007)

The next significant moment came during the Baptist Identity II Conference held at Union University where various speakers addressed various issues in Southern Baptist life (Crossway has recently published these presentations in a book edited by Dr. David Dockery entitled Southern Baptist Identity: A Denomination Faces the Future).  Dr. Rainer continued his call for a resurgence of the Great Commission, Dr. Timothy George addressed “retrieval for the sake of renewal” and an “ecumenism by conviction,” and Mike Day presented an illumining vision for future of associations and state conventions (which is still relevant to the discussion of GCR, especially Article IX).  Interestingly enough, Dr. Paige Patterson took the opportunity to present a paper on what we can learn from Anabaptists–a narrative soon to be replaced with the Baptist Identity movement.

III. Building Bridges Conference (November 2007)

The third significant moment occurred at the Building Bridges Conference sponsored by SEBTS, Founders Ministries, and LifeWay.  It was at this conference when Dr. Danny Akin, president of SEBTS, picked up the baton of the GCR with his message, “Answering the Call to a Great Commission Resurgence” (MP3 | PDF).  Joining in the same spirit of Dr. Akin, Dr. Tom Ascol followed up with his message, “Working Together to Make Christ Known” by Tom Ascol (MP3).  The stage had been set for the embrace of a GCR that transcended the deepest doctrinal divides.

Or so we thought.

IV. Baptist Identity Narrative Takes Full Swing (Fall 2007-Spring 2008)

Just about the same time the GCR call was spreading among informed Southern Baptists, a competing vision emerged, largely from SWBTS voices (Drs. Patterson, Yarnell, Barber) and those affiliated with the group blog, SBCToday.  I don’t want to delve into the details of the BI vision (that’s for another post) but simply want to make the point that the two competing visions (GCR vs. BI) surfaced between Fall 2007 and Spring 2008.  To give you an idea of how aggressive the alternative BI vision was, here’s a sampling of their blogposts:

V. SBC Presidential Election of 2008 (Frank Cox vs. Johnny Hunt)

The two competing visions came to showdown of sorts at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the SBC (Indianapolis) with the Presidential nominees–Frank Cox for Baptist Identity and Johnny Hunt for Great Commission Resurgence.  Prior to the election and partly due to the sheer blogging volume, it appeared that Cox and the BI constituency would clearly win the vote.  At least that is how they perceived it. Consider their comments (most of them within one week of the convention):

Of course, the outcome was quite a surprise with Hunt winning on the first vote with over 50% affirmation (contrasted to Cox’s 24%), even with five nominees in the running.  With all the talk about Baptist Identity and the stumping on the SBC blogposhere, the loss of Cox dealt a severe blow to the BI vision, and it was reflected in the changing of their narrative.  I should mention also that LifeWay published and distributed at the convention an important little book called Great Commission Resurgence (2008) with articles by Thom Rainer, Danny Akin, Chuck Lawless, Jeff Iorg, and Jerry Rankin.

VI. Post Annual Meeting Narrative Change (from BI to GCR)

Immediately following the Convention, the BI bloggers turned their attention to the GCR, writing numerous articles as seen below:

It seemed at this point everyone was behind the GCR, or at least willing to talk about it as they ride the tidal wave that came from Indy.  From the Fall 2008 to Spring 2009, the discourse became relatively quiet with the exception of a new group blog from SEBTS called Between the Times (BtT).  For the next year, it was here at BtT that the GCR nuts and bolts would be regularly explained (e.g., the 22-part “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence”).  One particular moment during this period which perhaps encapsulates the difference between BI and GCR was Reformation Day (actually October 30, 2008) chapel sermons respectively preached at SWBTS and SEBTS. Dr. Yarnell preached on “The Essentials of Christianity” (MP3) while Dr. Ascol preached on “Living on the Gospel” (MP3). Juxtaposition through listening to these two sermons preached on the same day (and at the headquarters of the competing visions) reveals just how stark the divide had become.

VII. Great Commission Resurgence Campaign

Fast forward to April 16, 2009 where Dr. Akin preaches in chapel at SEBTS a messaged entitled, “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence.”  Shortly thereafter (April 27 to be exact), BtT announces the GCR website and posts the declarations for Southern Baptists to read, and, should they agree, join the movement by signing the GCR document (in full disclosure, I’ve signed the document).  Since that time, over 3,600 Southern Baptists have signed in agreement, though not all have done so with as much fanfare as those who signed “with caveats.”  Some of the more significant articles of late in favor of a GCR include:

VIII. Counter-GCR Campaign

I know, I know. No Southern Baptist is against the Great Commission.  But there are Southern Baptists against a Great Commission Resurgence–in particular one that is not envisioned by their own leaders.  The greatest handle of the counter-GCR crowd of course has been Article IX which speaks to the restructuring of the SBC bureaucracy (something which Bart Barber recently called “a great blunder”).  To the critics, the tone is just not politically correct.  Most notable among the dissenters has been Morris Chapman, President and CEO of the Executive Committee, who has publicly expressed his differing opinions from that of President Johnny Hunt (others include David Tolliver from Missouri Baptist Convention, John Sullivan from Florida Baptist Convention, and Will Hall, managing executive editor of Baptist Press–the official paper of the Executive Committee which Chapman oversees).

Article IX is not the only tool in the counter-GCR tool belt.  Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines have signed the document “with caveats” – in essence including a disclaimer while signing.  In addition to more attention given to caveats than the document itself, counter-GCR Texans (most from the BI spokesmen) have argued that “our resolution on GCR is better than your GCR document.”  Most recently, the counter-arguments have simply to play down the GCR just a political move or take an ambivalent stance on it.  Perhaps the enthusiasm expressed by the BI bloggers prior to Indy was a lesson that playing safe is to stay indifferent – except when criticisms, caveats, and concerns are raised.  In any case, the use of caveats, the alternative resolution, the downplaying of GCR’s importance all play a role in concert with Article IX in the counter-GCR agenda.

IX. Louisville

I suppose it is fitting that my last point be my ninth point.  I guess you could say here’s my article IX. 🙂 But seriously, many are speculating what will come of the GCR initiative.  Will there be a task force to examine the structures of the SBC so that IMB missionaries won’t be held back from the mission field due to mismanagement of the Cooperative Program?  Will some of the restructuring include a possible merger of NAMB with the IMB?  Will there be significant momentum to take the GCR beyond a campaign and into genuine resurgence of the local church as well as significant reformation of the SBC bureaucracy?  These are questions that remain to be answered.  But mark it down.  We Southern Baptists will always find something controversial, even the Great Commission.  There will always be critics just like there will always be politics.

But hey, at least you know the backstory to the Great Commission Resurgence. 🙂