Great Commission Resurgence panel discussion: SBTS live blog

Communications Staff — October 22, 2009

Moderator:

  • R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Panelists:

  • Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary.
  • Chuck Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School at Southern Seminary.
  • Jonathan Akin, lead pastor of Highview Baptist Church’s Valley Station campus.
  • Nick Moore, lead pastor of Highview’s Spencer County Campus.

Update: video and audio of the panel discussion are also available.

Mohler asked all of the questions, as the moderator.

Q. Where did the GCR language come from?

Akin: The nomenclature came from the term Conservative Resurgence, which began in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979. The Great Commission Resurgence is meant to build on the Conservative Resurgence.

Q. Is the GCR a movement?

Russell D. Moore: The Conservative Resurgence was a matter of an already conservative denomination recovering at the institutional level what was already the case at the local church level. There is a difference with the GCR, in that we are calling for a resurgence at both the institutional and local church level. In that way, I think the GCR is something bigger and broader than the Conservative Resurgence.

Q. What is the generational component to the GCR? Is this a season in which the next generation of SBC pastors is deciding whether or not to buy in to the SBC?

Nick Moore: I think this is a critical hour, where young men are making that decision. We, young pastors, if we are called to reach the nations for Christ – and we are – how are going to do that? Are we going to do that by cooperating together in the Southern Baptist Convention? I think we should and that is the decision people are making.

Q. The conservative leadership of the SBC promised that if the convention recovered biblical inerrancy and confessional identity then a Great Commission intensity would result. Moderates say that this hasn’t happened. Are they correct?

Russell D. Moore: To some degree it is. In one way it is not. Thom Rainer showed in a study several years ago that the Conservative Resurgence did not do what was promised in terms of the Great Commission, but he also showed that if the SBC had not been turned around it would be much, much worse.

It is fair in the sense that the Conservative Resurgence did not cultivate the following generations. In many ways, our churches and institutions became ego-driven and it became very difficult to pass on the baton. You have had the older generation almost seeing the generations that come behind as rivals. This is one of the reasons that younger people say you have the same cast of characters at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting each year.

Also, the kind of rivalry and bitterness toward one another that you see not just as the national level in the SBC, but also in local churches, a lack of the fruit of the Spirit that is necessary for carrying out the Great Commission. Sometimes, when I used to go to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meetings, I would want to say, “you are wrong about the Bible and about Jesus, but you are right about us in many ways.”

In order to have a fire for the Great Commission, you must first have a love for one another.

Q. Is it fair to say that the Conservative Resurgence gave us the opportunity for the GCR?

Akin: I would say yes. First, theology must drive missions. Theology must drive method and missions. The Conservative Resurgence represented a stand for sound theology. Second, I would agree that we have the opportunity to carry out the GCR, but we are not there yet.

One thing I would say is we have established a sound theology in the SBC, but we have not changed our structure one bit. Our theology should drive our practice, but it has not changed our practice one bit. We have just exchanged one bureaucracy for another. Our practice has not matched up with our theology. We still have, by and large, two-thirds of every dollar staying in states that are saturated with churches rather than going to a foreign mission field.

Here in the state of Kentucky, which has 4 million people, 63 cents of every dollar that is given to the Cooperative Program stays in the state of Kentucky. My brother serves in a country overseas, in which there are 70 million people, and that has less believers than there are in the state of Kentucky and we still have 63 cents of every dollar staying in Kentucky. We are not living up to our theology.

Q. Do Southern Baptists believe people are lost?

Lawless: The evidence of our actions would say no. Churches become a place to retreat from a world that needs Jesus rather than a place to come to rearm for the battle.

Mohler: The Great Commission is predicated upon a theological structure that is easy to understand. The world is made up of people who are dead in sin. The way that they are saved is to believe in their hearts and confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. The logic of Romans 10 is that these lost people will never believe if they never hear the Gospel and they will never hear if someone does not take the Gospel to them. This is what drove the establishment of the SBC. What we have suffered in the SBC is a complete theological transformation in people in the pew, not because they are being taught heresy, but because they are drinking deeply from a secular worldview around them that treats the exclusivity of the Gospel as an unthinkable thought.

Q. How has this happened?

Nick Moore: I think a lot of pastors have assumed that people know what the Gospel is. Because we assume this, we preach a series of practical helps and lifestyles (in our sermons) The next generation thus simply assumes what Christianity is is this practical way of living it out, instead of seeing all of life as being summed up in that story of God sending His Son to rescue us from our sins, and that Jesus coming to redeem the world should impact everything we do, from everything that we preach, to the way that we live, to how see our resources, to the way that we approach methodology. So, making the Gospel the center is essential.

Q. If we are facing a theological crisis and the window is short for recovering this, then what should Southern Baptists have on the forefront of their minds?

Russell D. Moore: We must start with repentance. We must have pastors who are willing to cast another vision for what life in Christ can be like that many people in their congregations have never seen in their lives. We must turn this around internally, so that we can turn it around externally together.

Then it means having a different way of thinking about missions. All of us have seen the missions conferences before in which we see a missionary saying something in the language of his people and says “You really ought to give more to the Cooperative Program.” What this sounds like to the congregation is “You really ought to be more involved in the PTA.”

There has to be a different way to see what is going on in missions. We have a new, young generation of missionaries that we need to see more of in our local churches, who can connect with people back in the United States.

Q. Jonathan, you have two brothers and their families on the mission field. Why don’t we see what the cry of the nations really means?

Akin: Part of it is exposure. People in congregations aren’t exposed to the lostness of the world. Some churches are starting to do more short term missions trips, which is good. Some of it does come back to the presentations in churches that Dr. Moore mentioned. I also don’t think pastors have educated their people about how the money they give is divided up. So, exposure and education is how you must communicate the cry of the nations. Also, we are not sacrificing individually, or as local churches, as we need to. Missions at all levels in the SBC needs to be driven more by the local churches of the convention.

Q. One of the issues we are facing is the success of the International Mission Board. The IMB has established and, in recent days, updated their missiology. They have a defined structure. Because the IMB has done well, Southern Baptists seem to think they have bought a good missions structure, a good program. Have Southern Baptists decided that as long as they keep giving to this program, then they are fulfilling the Great Commission?

Lawless: I think Southern Baptists have equated missionary success with giving to the IMB, to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. And we need to keep giving and give more. But we have defaulted to giving as carrying out the Great Commission.

Akin: I think we need to redefine what it means to be missions-minded. We need to define missions-minded by how many people we send to the missions field, not just by how much we send.

Q. Are we trying to save the SBC? Is that what the GCR is about? Or is the GCR about capturing the energies of a generation for the Great Commission?

Russell D. Moore: Well, I don’t think it is an either/or situation. If the SBC were to collapse right now, it would have a huge impact on all of evangelical Christianity and would be put it in a very difficult situation because they way that the IMB works … it is an incredibly effective way to accomplish the Great Commission. I’m not saying that it is the only way to do it or that there won’t ever be something that is better, but so far in church history this is a remarkably good way to do it. So, simply giving up on that and walking away from 5,000 missionaries across the world would be a tragic thing to do.

Having said that, simply assuming that generation after generation after generation is going to pick up the status quo and do things exactly like the generation before is a false understanding of how this thing is going to work.

So, I see this as a rebuking call generationally in both directions. To the generation ahead, it is saying “get over yourself. Stop being so ego-oriented and invest yourself in something bigger.” And the same thing to the younger generation: “get over yourself. Stop sulking, poking your lip out and saying ‘I’m just going to go do something else.'” Both generations must come together in a spirit of repentance, realize that God has given us this opportunity to reach the world and go out and figure out how to do it.

Akin: I am a product of the SBC. I love the SBC. My mom was raised in a Georgia Baptist Children’s Home. Through the IMB, we have the largest Protestant force in the history of the church. Having said that, I hope the GCR is not about the saving the SBC. I hope it is about the GCR focusing on what the SBC was created to do, which is: local churches coming together in cooperation to do more than they could apart. I want to see a return to the primacy of the local church in which the local church is the body ordained by Christ to carry out His Great Commission in the world.

My concern is that the generation that has gone before us is tightening their grip on the SBC, saying we can’t lose it, and that is causing it to slip away even more. And the current generation, my generation, is responding by saying, “I’ll just go do something else” and that something else is doing something on their own. That is not helpful either.

Lawless: How do we individually and corporately reinvest in my going my neighbor, my city, my state, this nation and ultimately the ends of the earth to taking the Gospel to people? Second, how do we recapture the energy of this current generation and future generations? How do we make sure that those who come behind us have what they need? How do we capture their energy so they can continue to do the work behind us?

Nick Moore: If you mean, by saving the SBC, a series of organizations and buildings, then I hope not. If you mean, by saving the SBC, as Jonathan said, an effort to help local churches cooperate for the sake of fulfilling the Great Commission, I hope so.

Mohler: I think it is a both/and, rather than an either/or. But the SBC has to be seen as the answer to a question. It has to be seen as the answer to something that helps us carry out a passion to fulfill the Great Commission and take the Gospel to the nations. Yes, there is a better way of doing what we do. We can see all kinds of things we look back on and say, “We can do better.” We aren’t starting with a blank slate

I think the average Southern Baptist would be shocked to learn that of each dollar put in the offering plate, less than a penny of it will go to fund international missions. Each local church is probably keeping, on average, 94 cents of every dollar. Of the 6 cents that go to the state convention, 2 cents go on out of the state. And of the 2 cents that goes on the SBC, 1 penny goes on the IMB and the other penny pays for seminaries and everything else the SBC does.

So, we have to go back and say, why are we here and what are we doing? I believe each local church organizes itself by its passions. We are not talking about profoundly anti-missions people or an anti-missions sentiment. We are talking about a localism that is choking a global understanding of the Gospel.

Russell D. Moore: If you fix structurally some of the issue, you are going to be able to show people where money goes. Ultimately, though, it is not a structural issue, it is a spiritual issue, which means you have to have pastors thinking how do I lead people to be on mission? You have to have pastors who are shepherding and saying, remember the people in this congregation, our local context and an international context. Maintaining that balance is hard, but ministry is hard.

Q. What are the structural issues that the GCR task force has to put on the table?

Akin: Does the Cooperative Program reflect our priorities? If people have confidence in the giving program, I think they will give more. Analyzing the giving program needs to be on the table.

I also think we need a viable church planting network. The number one answer that I hear from young pastors on why they are in the SBC is: the IMB. Another entity is not named, ever. The reason they love the IMB is because it has a singular focus on planting churches. And when I talk to guys who are planting churches around the country they are doing it through other means and through other networks. Why do they love other networks? The same answer comes up. Because they have a singular focus: church planting.

Lawless: We have to look at the effectiveness and purpose of state conventions. If we are keeping the majority of dollars in the state, we have to show that there is a reason for doing that.

Nick Moore: There is a generation of pastors asking not only themselves and their churches, but the convention, to streamline, sacrifice, simplify and do the things that are the most effective, and not necessarily the most comfortable. The things that are most honoring to Jesus and effective to reach the nations.

Russell D. Moore: The North American Mission Board doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work is because the IMB does a very good job of filtering people out. NAMB does not have that kind of track record. Guys looking to plant churches are looking for a network that will be honest with them to say, either you don’t have what it takes to be a church planter, but if you do we are going to put through a boot camp, literally and metaphorically, until you are able to plant a church.

Mohler: What we are facing is a sense of urgency. I think that is a healthy thing. I think that if there is a reason to hit the reboot button in denominational life we are looking at it. I think there is a real stewardship issue of opportunity here. I can tell you that my greatest fear is we will be given an opportunity here and we will not ask the questions we need to ask or say what we know we need to say.

The expectations for the GCR task force are enormous. The hope of this task force is that we can start the process. There is no way we are going to be able to leave the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando and say, “we accomplished the Great Commission Resurgence. We have a Great Commission Resurgence.” The Conservative Resurgence didn’t happen in 1979, it wasn’t concluded in 1990. It took years to happen and I have to ask if it was completed if we don’t have in our churches a resurgence of piety and passion and belief and doctrine. When it comes to the GCR there are enormous hopes.

We are experiencing a lot of the pains, challenges and groans of asking the right questions. It is going to be up to a generation of younger and younger adults to answer whether or not there is a Great Commission in the SBC if Jesus tarries.

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