Great Commission Resurgence: the good, the bad

June 16, 2010

I watched the report of the GCR committee given yesterday at the Southern Baptist Convention. The GCR passed, which is probably a good thing if it will result in some necessary fiscal and structural changes. As for the motives and rhetoric surrounding the GCR, I remain unimpressed.

The Good

Unlike the mainline denominations, the SBC is at least preoccupied with something worthwhile. I much prefer a committee report on evangelism over yet another committee report on human sexuality. The SBC can be thankful for that! The issues that currently dominate SBC energies are a far cry from those that are dividing the mainline and weakening the mainline’s unity with the worldwide Church.

The Bad

As I suspected would be the case, the urgency surrounding missions was heightened by explicit statements on the certain damnation of those who do not hear the Gospel. This urgency was then supplemented by an appeal to the conscience of those Christians who fail to evangelize or fail to fiscally support such efforts. The statistics are, of course, duly presented. The general rhetorical force intends to place the blame of pervasive “lostness” on those without a “heart” for missions. As such, salvation is contingent upon the work of those who bring the Gospel to the lost, both personally (e.g., witnessing to a co-worker) and through organizations (church plants, mission boards, etc.). Here, the operative doctrine of God implies a God who depends upon the initiative of his heralds. The salvation or damnation of any particular person or “people group” depends upon the resolve of those in the pews and those in the field. On this scheme, God’s electing purposes are limited by the reach of the visible Church.

My objection is that God could very well limit himself as such, but Scripture says nothing of the sort — because Scripture does not deal with the “how” of God’s call and regeneration of persons outside the Church. Scripture does not deal with this “how” because Scripture is concerned with the immediate situation of the Church where God has made covenant and the Gospel is being proclaimed. The lack of knowing “how,” apart from this explicit proclamation, does not entail a certain denial of the possibility. The internal work of the Holy Spirit, combined with the outer witness of a fallen but ordered creation, can very well be the means by which God reveals his promises to those outside the Church. That’s one possible understanding among others. We have to tread carefully here and perhaps not at all, but we cannot make the opposite error of treading confidently where God’s works and ways are not wholly revealed.

[By the way, you’ll have to forgive the picture. It was too funny not to use!]

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6 Responses to “Great Commission Resurgence: the good, the bad”

  1. As you say, it’s important to recognize that the “bad” in this scenario isn’t superbad. I had the luxury of having lunch with Ed Stetzer today, and, while speaking of different matters, made the same general point you did in the first paragraph (being preoccupied with worthwhile things).

    Now, how do you take Rom 10:14–15: “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?”

    From where do you suppose these messengers with beautiful feet are being sent?

    • Jonathan said

      Of course the messengers must be sent, but who was sent to Paul? We must not ever forget that while the church, excuse my Barthian language, is a major channel through which the flood of God’s Revelation flows, God can cut a new channel in an instantaneous flash flood! And the channel of a chuch may be dried up and emptied.

      So the “bad” is that they are essentially putting limits on how their supposedly big God can operate, revealing him to be increasingly a projection of their church.

      • In all fairness though, you must conceded that Saul’s conversion was not complete without Ananias!

        I’m not trying to be hostile, but I feel that all this language of projection and limiting is uncharitable carp.

        Mission establishes the need for the church. When the church loses sight of this, she ceases to be the church.

        The SBC is not putting “limits” on how God can operate, merely projecting themselves onto God (certainly not in any Feuerbachian sense like Barth had in mind).

        I know these people, they have genuine hearts for the lost (they believe such people exist and indeed go to hell without confessing Christ). They are operating on the assumption that God’s chosen means are the church, and therefore the church has a responsibility it must carry out in obedience to and worship of God. This doesn’t mean that God won’t bring people their way, but it does mean they believe that salvation does not come apart from the proclamation of the gospel.

        Now, if one has substantive disagreement with them on this point, then fine; debate that point. But it wouldn’t be fair to fault them for not being consistent with a position that is not theirs.

        I hope that makes some sense. I certainly might have misunderstood you.

  2. Okay, I promise to respond to the comments, but I’ve been a wee bit pre-occupied with the World Cup…actually, more like obsessed with the World Cup…watching matches in the morning and recording the matches I miss. I’m not really a sports junkie, except for tennis and soccer — yeah, I know, stereotypical white postgrad.

  3. Fully justified excuse, brother!!

    The greatest injustice of this entire tournament (other than those abominable vuvuzelas) was the match that was STOLEN from the U.S.A. yesterday!

  4. Yippee! After two horrendous referee calls, USA manages to win their group and advance! FIFA should realize, from today’s game and the game against Slovenia, their utter stupidity for not implementing a fixed number of challenges (e.g., 3 for each coach) in order to review, and possibly overturn, a referee’s call. Or, the more likely case, FIFA will insist on living in the 1930’s and perhaps ruin a team’s World Cup career because the referee is blind or prejudiced.

    As for more important matters, I can’t do much better than Jonathan’s comment. The freedom of God certainly includes his freedom to delimit himself according to an exclusiveness paradigm, but the biblical paradigm emphasizes God’s freedom to call a people (or person) unto himself — to call she who was not beloved, “beloved.” This is the fundamental dogmatic claim that must be made in regard to the doctrine of election. The passage cited by Chris is, in my opinion, the only real challenge to the extra-ecclesiam position. However, the series of “how” questions given by Paul is precisely as much as can be said. We do not know “how” or even “if” — we only know the pattern of Gospel proclamation of the finished work of Christ. Yet, if the freedom of God includes freely electing a person unto himself, even in defiance of normative or rational patterns (e.g., Jacob over Esau), then we must leave open the possibility that this occurs apart from explicit faith in Christ (and perhaps in a manner analogous to the implicit faith of the OT saints). Thus, we must be careful with what can and cannot be claimed in our dogmatics; we must respect the boundaries of what can be said according to what God and his designated emissaries have said in Scripture.

    By the way, Tyler is surely correct about the genuineness of so many in the SBC. I know from experience, and I owe my own Christian upbringing because a young Christian couple invited my parents (before I was born) to their Baptist church, where they were eventually saved.

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