Dr. Danny Akin recently preached a very engaging sermon on the axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence. I found myself, even sitting in an empty office with nobody to hear them, belching out a chorus of amens to so much of what he said. In the aftermath of the sermon, which he from the beginning stipulated to have been something he coordinated with others among the grandees of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Akin has launched a web site seeking endorsements and affirmations for a statement along similar lines of his sermon.
As someone who loves the Lord, loves the Great Commission, and loves the Southern Baptist Convention, I would also love to sign on as a proponent of a resurgence of the Great Commission among Southern Baptists. As someone encouraged and enthused by so much of what Dr. Akin preached, I would further love to have some way to affirm the good truths to which he has directed our attention.
But, as someone who reads such documents carefully and who takes very seriously the act of affixing my name to something, I am genuinely disappointed and saddened that I cannot add my name to those affirming this particular plan for a Great Commission Resurgence. I cannot do so because this particular plan for bringing about a Great Commission Resurgence is, in my opinion, a flawed plan that will not bring to the Southern Baptist Convention any substantial resurgence of the Great Commission.
I elaborate my thoughts "axiom" by axiom:
Dr. Akin has called us first to an affirmation of the Lordship of Christ. Amen and Hallelujah, Dr. Akin. This is not only the right idea, but it is also listed in the right position—first place. Certainly we must indeed put Christ's lordship first, and Dr. Akin rightly notes that none else will succeed apart from it.
Would to God that the website provided a means to sign axiom one without having to sign each and every remaining axiom!
Dr. Akin has also rightly called us to a central affirmation of the gospel. And I agree. I would gladly affirm axiom two were we simply to receive some specific clarification as to what are the "styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes" that we are exhorted by this second axiom to abandon in favor of the simple gospel. Given the differences of opinion among Southern Baptists evidenced in just the past few days over such topics as homosexual civil unions or decriminalization of marijuana, it would be important to me to have some clarification on that point before going on the record in favor of that language. The simple gospel does, after all, have something to do with morality, unless our recent lurching as Southern Baptists toward Antinomianism has progressed further than I have realized.
I have every reason to hope and expect that Dr. Akin would mean by the "styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes" precisely what I would mean were I to use such language—that one can never become moral enough to earn salvation. By extension, I'm certain that we would both affirm that it is our initial effort as proclaimers of the gospel to call people to come to Christ "Just As I Am." We are not in the business of making people presentable to God through moral reform so that they may then receive the gospel. We are in the business of calling immoral people to receive the gospel first, but we are confident that this is a gospel with a profound effect upon one's morality. Thus it is entirely appropriate for Southern Baptists to talk about morality, to talk about morality in pointed specifics, and to talk about morality a great deal. On these principles I have every reason to believe that Dr. Akin and I are in agreement.
But the public record of Southern Baptist discourse demonstrates plainly that not all Southern Baptists share that agreement. I would be uncomfortable in affirming this second axiom, therefore, not so much because of what it says as because of how it could and will be construed by some who will affirm it.
The third axiom calls us to affirm and live the Great Commandments of loving God and loving people. This axiom I gladly affirm. It is a loving thing to rebuke error and to call the lost away from destruction. Our love for God and for people should stand behind all that we do, and when the world will not acknowledge that love, we should make certain that they do not see it because they do not wish to see it, not because it is not there.
The fourth axiom calls us to the inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture. My next post this week will indicate why this remains an important and timely topic for us WITHIN the Southern Baptist Convention, for there are people who currently hold positions of high influence within denominational structures that are a part of the Southern Baptist family, but who are explicitly opposed to inerrancy. Dr. Akin's language on this subject in the sermon was even more explicit than the text of the website. I not only affirm this axiom; I cheer its inclusion.
The fifth axiom calls upon Southern Baptists to "look to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel."
Here again, I think that I can affirm this axiom. In its wording I have no disagreement. But I note that it is nearly the precise wording of the ill-fated Garner Motion that, in the end, amounted to little more than a Rorschach test dealing with what role the Baptist Faith & Message should have in the governance of our entities. If Dr. Akin means by this axiom that the Baptist Faith & Message is the minimal doctrinal floor for our Southern Baptist entities, then I agree with him. If he instead means what Rick Garner apparently meant to say—that our Southern Baptist entities should have no "narrowing" of theological "parameters" beyond the explicit text of the Baptist Faith & Message, then two problems have emerged. One is Bart Barber's problem, and it is not all that important: I would not be able to affirm this axiom. The other is Dr. Akin's problem, and it is a much more grave one: He would not be able to affirm the Abstract of Principles as an additional theological governing document for his SBC entity beyond the Baptist Faith & Message.
So, he cannot mean what some have construed the Garner Motion to mean, and he and I are in probable agreement. But especially since this particular wording has been so contentious among Southern Baptists in the immediate past, to think that the bald assertion of such a consensus-destroying phraseology would lead to the building of consensus among Southern Baptists is unwise.
The sixth axiom is a Baptist Identity affirmation. I gladly endorse it. Since we are talking about ecclesiology, I would acknowledge the fact that Southern Baptists do still at this moment affirm two ordinances rather than one, but I'm in no mood to quibble. I'm enthusiastic about this axiom.
And my enthusiasm is not entirely a matter of arcane discussions of the nuances of ecclesiology. I'm enthused about this one because it rises above the plane of jingoistic national denominational programs. We've had so many (Bold Mission Thrust, A Million More in '54, Encouraging Kingdom Growth, Great Commission Resurgence), and we've seen so little from them (except for the "Million More" campaign). The reason for the impotence of these endeavors, I believe, is that they have tended to arise from the employees of our para-church organization known as the Southern Baptist Convention and have seemed to presume that re-jiggering the mechanics of the para-church organization will somehow hold the key to some great advance for Christ.
In contrast, I believe that it is when we throw up the hood of the local church (founded by God rather than by W. B. Johnson) and begin to tighten and adjust whatever in the local church is out of alignment with clear surrender to the scriptures—it is at that moment that we start to do something that really matters. I'm greatly enthusiastic about the Great Commission Resurgence's inclusion of good Baptist Identity ecclesiology as necessary to any advance whatsoever in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is, after all, a Commission given to and for the churches.
The seventh axiom calls us to sound biblical preaching, and I affirm this article entirely.
The eighth axiom calls us to biblically informed methodological diversity. Who can disagree with that? Certainly I do not. Being biblically informed will keep us from foul language and asserting specific sex acts as the commandment of Christ and convening in taverns and bars to hold church. Methodological diversity will only strengthen our efforts to win the lost. I'm in complete agreement with this axiom and affirm it.
The ninth axiom is one of the primary reasons why I cannot sign this document. That's the stuff of an entirely separate post, which I'll have to submit sometime. Suffice it to say two things at this point:
First, for reasons I'll detail later, I think that some of the ideas being bandied about under this heading have the very real potential to be the most disastrous mistakes that the Southern Baptist Convention has ever made to eviscerate our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.
Second, and most to the point of this post, why would one require the affirmation of organizational reshuffling to determine who is or who is not in favor of the SBC growing in faithfulness to the Great Commission? I disagree entirely with axiom nine. Does that mean that I am anti-Great Commission? Will that be the branding and ostracism applied to any who do not toe the line on these axioms? Yes. Absolutely it will be. Perhaps not by Dr. Akin, but by some. Mark my words.
Indeed, it may begin in this comment stream.
Therefore, count me as one who sees it as a mistake to include matters of tactical and organizational bureaucracy in a document that should stick to the highest ideals—that should trade in goals rather than objectives. It is a mistake if for no other reason than the fact that those who might otherwise embrace the heart of the movement will be held outside the gate merely because they have different ideas about how to accomplish it.
Before leaving this axiom, I should mention that there are aspects of it that I strongly affirm personally. For example, I believe with Dr. Akin that the apportionment of Cooperative Program funds by some of our state conventions is no less than shameful. And I do believe that this phenomenon is related to the Great Commission and our attempts to obey it. Nevertheless, I still do not affirm that the redrawing of organizational charts will do anything substantive either to bring about or to hinder a Great Commission Resurgence.
The tenth axiom calls us to distinctively Christian families. I affirm this axiom in its entirety.
So, I will let each reader judge how much real distance exists between myself and the Great Commission Resurgence. Because integrity precludes me from the dishonest and specious practice of affirming things with "caveats," I will not place my name on the web site as a signatory of this document (not that my signature will matter much in either its inclusion or exclusion from the list). But perhaps my willingness to offer my perspective in detail will occasion a move from drum-beating to a thoughtful discussion of the contents of this important document.