The annual Southern Baptist Convention starts tomorrow and will be viewable via webcast from the SBC website. I cannot say that I’m very excited about it. The big issue for the past couple years has been the Great Commission Resurgence, and everything that I’ve read from promoters of the GCR has been dull and predictable.
Basically, Southern Baptists aren’t evangelizing as much as they used to — membership has dropped (slightly, relative to other large denominations) — so they need to start evangelizing. How do you get the people to start evangelizing or, at least, give more financially to domestic and foreign missions? Tell them that they’ve become complacent and deluded by postmodern cultural messages — oh, and remind them that, in regard to foreign missions, millions of people are dying and going to hell because they are ignorant of the Gospel. So, that’s what I’ve read over and over. Certainly there is much to commend in the GCR statements and reports. Surely we evangelicals are complacent and lack conviction, and surely we need to have a heart for those who have never heard the Gospel. (Although, I don’t buy into the “going to hell by ignorance” understanding of God’s works and ways; God’s electing purposes are bigger than the visible Church.) However, attacking complacency and blaming postmodernism is not a sufficient means for building a church culture that values personal evangelism and missions. Rather, Christians who delight in God, amidst all the secular forms that obscure his glory, will evangelize by transforming the secular, revealing its true telos in Christ, and telling others of this hope.
In other words, pinpointing the symptoms, such as complacency, is not enough, when the causes are rooted deep in the Southern Baptist psyche. The problem with the SBC’s emphasis on evangelism is that this has always and only been the distinct emphasis of the SBC. Southern Baptists have proven that they can do evangelism, but have they proven much else? Where is the catholic vision of an ecclesiology that reaches outward to include all forms of human life? Where is the discipleship that is sustained and secured, not by an intellectual sectarianism and emotional escapism, but by a disciplining of the entire scope of the human personality: reason, volition, and aesthetic? Where is the confidence, not in oneself but in the Lord’s work of a new creation, where we humbly attend to all of life (including the secular forms)?
Once these issues are addressed, the SBC may or may not have increased statistics, but she will have vibrant churches under the Lordship of Christ. She will have authentic witnesses to this Lordship.