The vote was narrow. In 1979, in Houston, messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention elected Adrian Rodgers as president. Thus began what is called the Conservative Resurgence in SBC life. It was a response to the moderate and liberal movement that was sweeping through the convention. What followed was a succession of unbroken conservative presidents. In 2000 the SBC adopted a new edition of The Baptist Faith and Message which reflected the conservative theological consensus of the convention. But statistics show that the SBC is now in decline. So, in 2009 president Johnny Hunt appointed a Great Commission Task Force which would examine how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.
The Great Commission Resurgence, edited by Chuck Lawless, the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Adam Greenway, assistant professor of Evangelism and Applied Apologetics at the same school, is a book by Southern Baptists exploring the decline of the SBC and proposing solutions. Contributors include the following: Albert Mohler, Johnny Hunt, J.D. Greer, David Platt, Thom Rainer, Russell Moore, Tom Ascol, David Allen, Ed Stetzer and many others.
The book is divided in five sections. The first section considers the current state of the SBC. Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer give statistics to show that the SBC is in decline. Nathan Finn gives a history of the SBC through Great Commission lenses “articulating some historical and present threats to cooperation” (p. 51). Mohler eyes the future, acknowledging that the SBC is at a crossroads and in need of change.
Theology is the topic of section two. Russell Moore writes that theology has feet and will be put into action. David Platt urges Southern Baptists to go outside the camp. Al Gilbert looks at God’s big picture for the world and Thomas Ascol wrestles with the issue of sovereignty and human responsibility.
Section Three is called “For the World.” Bruce Ashford explains how sound doctrine must be the driving force behind missiology. Jerry Rankin looks at the biblical teachings about the great commission focusing on the nations. Jeff Iorg gives theological affirmations and tactics that will help with reaching America with the gospel. Al Jackson argues that the American Dream is the biggest deterrent to fulfilling the Great Commission.
The church is the subject of section four. William Henard looks to the pastor as the catalyst of the GCR. David Allen argues that preaching is the apex of fulfilling the GCR. Troy Bush urges Southern Baptists to minister in the city and J.D. Greer argues that the preaching of word is central, but should be accompanied by acts of compassion.
The last section is about the way forward. Danny Aken gives axioms for the GCR and ED Stetzer and Philip Nation claim that a new SBC is coming and we need to be ready for change. David Dockery warns that the SBC must be convictional yet also cooperative.
The first strength was the centrality on the local church. Every proposal revolved around local congregations and their witness to the world. Lawless begins the book by addressing local congregations, challenging them to admit their apathy and confess their sins. An entire chapter is devoted to the pastor as an evangelist and another to preaching. These authors understand that the church is central to God’s cosmic plan.
The second strength was the emphasis upon theology, specifically the gospel. Most, if not all of the authors alluded to the fact that our theology must drive our methodology and missiology. Jeff Iorg began with theological foundations which include an affirmation of the gospel and a celebration of the church. Akin’s axioms all had theological concerns at their center. An entire section was devoted to theological concerns, driven from the text of Scripture.
Third, it goes without saying that these authors are concerned about evangelism. There was an urgency to their writings and a love for the lost. Ultimately they all wanted God to be glorified through the salvation of many. Jesus’ command to go into all nations making disciples does not rest lightly upon these men.
Fourth, there was a humility in acknowledging that there is need of change. Mohler indirectly challenged the SBC to stop looking at themselves as a business. Rather than bureaucratic, it needs to be missiological. Rather than tribal, it needs to be theological. Rather than boring, it needs to be bold. Stetzer encouraged mentoring young leaders rather than ostracizing them.
Finally, the authors of this book did not shy away from direct bold statements. Platt urged Southern Baptist’s to get outside the comfort zone. Al Jackson warned of the danger of falling in love with the American dream. And Moore challenged participation in the great cosmic battle.
The most significant weakness of the book was the unspoken theme that the SBC is all in all. Surely, the book was written by Southern Baptists, and about Southern Baptists. But the tone was one of if the SBC fails, God’s kingdom fails. Now surely none of the authors think this. However I would have liked to see an acknowledgment of this. The gates of Hades will not prevail over the church, universally, no matter what happens in the SBC. I realize that the goal of this book was not to cover the Great Commission in general, but maybe there should have been a chapter on cooperation with other denominations.
Second, some of the proposed solutions did not seem to fit with the theological thrust of the book. Specifically, some of them still sounded methodological. At times the book felt like the authors would disagree with each other on how to go forward with the Great Commission. This is natural with various authors, but the book sometimes seemed to lack coherence.
Third, a friend pointed out to me that the book focused too much on the “idea” of a Great Commission Resurgence, and not on the one who gave this command. In other words, the way to continue to spur on a Great Commission Resurgence is to have people be transformed by looking at the glorious face of Christ. Urging greater effort does not last, but having people fall more in love with Jesus causes them to follow his commands.
Finally, because of the various authors, some will have minor theological quibbles with some sections. Five point Calvinists will not like David Allen’s chapter in which he attacks limited atonement. Arminians will not like Tom Ascol’s chapter on God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. I would have liked to see a different view on the decline in numbers. Jesus did not seem concerned when many left him in John 6:66. Maybe the decline is because the SBC went too wide and not deep enough, and now are cleaning up membership roles or easy believism is being taken more seriously.
The Great Commission Resurgence is a call for Southern Baptists to wake up. These authors are on the right track. They emphasize the local church, the gospel, theological convictions, and boldness. They recognize the need for change and are willing to be catalysts in the turbulent seas. There could have been a more outspoken trust in the sovereignty of God, and less cheerleading for the GCR itself. However the book was about the SBC, and it proposed changes that need to take place. May the SBC turn to God, for with him “we shall do valiantly” (Ps. 60:12).