Toward a Gospel Consensus for a Great Commission Resurgence

I, along with many others, have been giving considerable thought with the desire to see a great commission resurgence in my generation.  I am fully on board with the vision and look forward to being a foot soldier in the cause of participating in the mission of God through the advancement of the gospel in the local church with God’s Spirit-empowered people set apart for the glory of Christ.

It has been nearly four years since the idea of a “Great Commission Resurgence” was coined by Dr. Thom Rainer upon LifeWay’s research which revealed that post-conservative resurgence Southern Baptists are no more evangelistic than pre-conservative resurgence Southern Baptists.  There has been a disconnect between the recovery of the inerrancy of the Bible and the resurgence of mission that should have resulted from submission to the Lordship of Christ along with the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.  While the formal principle may not be in question, the material principle has yet to make it beyond campaign slogans and traveling bus tours.

So this leaves me with thinking about four fundamental issues regarding a Great Commission Resurgence, namely the gospel, the mission, the church, and the culture.  The diversity of thought in Southern Baptist life is revealed in the various camps or streams that have existed for decades around these issues, and Southern Baptists would be naive to think that we are in agreement on any one of these four key areas, including the gospel.

While it would seem elementary to some to focus on the gospel, one would not have to look far to see how truncated the gospel has become today and how much we accept as alternatives to a biblical response to the message.  Moreover, the gospel by and large has not been central in the life of the church or Christians in faith and practice.  For the sake of forwarding the movement of a GCR, I would like to suggest three aspects of the gospel whereby cooperation and commission can and should be shaped.

First, what is the gospel? To the degree that we can definitively articulate and demonstrably adorn the gospel I think will determine the synergy of the GCR movement.  Are we all saying the same thing?  Can we confess who Christ is, what He has done, and why that matters in a way that, whether you are a Calvinist or non-Calvinist, we can find common ground?  It is around this question that we find cooperation on the mission.  If we are unclear or at odds on the message, there will be paralyzing implications on the mission for a true GCR movement.

Second, what is the biblical response to the gospel? Allow me to quote from Paul Helm, in his book The Beginnings: Word and Spirit in Conversion:

“Terms such as ‘regeneration’, ‘conversion’ and ‘effectual calling’, with precise meanings and clear biblical support, have been eclipsed by ‘Take Jesus into your life,’ ‘Know Jesus as your own personal Savior’, ‘Give your heart to Jesus.’  It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this change is not merely verbal and therefore of no real importance.  Such is the close relationship between language, thought and experience that vague and indefinite language is invariably accompanied by vague and indefinite experience.”

If Southern Baptists are not together on the definition of the gospel, they are even further apart from how one rightly responds to the gospel in repentance and faith due to a multitude of such “vague and indefinite” expressions of experience.  There needs to be a consensus not only on the theological message of the gospel but also the theological method of the gospel–how a church or Christian counsels/leads one to Christ.

Third, what are the implications on the gospel in the life of the local church and individual Christian? This question gets at the heart of gospel-centered churches and gospel-saturated living.  Is the great work of the gospel merely to get lost people saved, or is the gospel for the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life?  Is the gospel the hermeneutic and common currency for  all of life–including relationships, work, money, etc.?  How does the gospel relate to social action, cultural engagement, and community involvement?  In what ways does the gospel determine the systems and structure of a local church, including her priorities and passions? The implications of the gospel are far reaching, and we have not begun to grasp the centrality and sufficiency of the gospel as it relates to all of life in both the church as well as the individual Christian.

The other areas of mission, church, and culture are also important, and thus charting a course for cooperation and commission along these contours is both a necessity and a catalyst for a Great Commission Resurgence.  But on the issue of the gospel–how it is defined, the way in which one responds, and the implications on all of life–together serve as a foundational consensus on which to launch a resurgence we so desperately need.  Nothing can be assumed.

I have been greatly encouraged over the course of recent months to see the interest level and conversation heightened with the desire to see a GCR movement.  There’s a Savior to treasure, a mission to embrace, and a gospel to proclaim.  May God grant us to know a few things, to know them well, and to devote our lives to them.  We’ve got a cooperative program; now it is time to have a cooperative mission that is gospel-driven.

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6 Comments on “Toward a Gospel Consensus for a Great Commission Resurgence”


  1. […] ‘Toward a Gospel Consensus for a Great Commission Resurgence’ Timmy Brister […]

    • iMonk Says:

      >There needs to be a consensus not only on the theological message of the gospel but also the theological method of the gospel–how a church or Christian counsels/leads one to Christ.

      I’m a bit puzzled by this statement. Unity of message AND unity of method? Down to the point of how we counsel?

      Are you saying that we need to determine and agree on methodological matters beyond profession of faith, believer’s baptism and reception into the local church?

      How can we prescribe method without prescribing church government?

      How does unity of method happen with congregational autonomy and voluntary cooperation?

      I’m slow, so forgive me if I’m missing the obvious.

      peace

      Michael Spencer


      • iMonk,

        What I mean by “method” is that God has told how we are to respond to the gospel (repentance and faith), and as such it is the “method” for receiving Christ in salvation. Alternative methods that are used as substitutes (and I know you have written about many of them) should not be given exception in the same way that alternative gospels should not be given exception. Have a right understanding of the method by which sinners are saved should then inform and filter out method-ologies that work contrary to the way God works in salvation.

        An example would be the “nailing it down” terminology that often produces re-baptisms and re-dedications without an understanding of (1) the gospel and (2) bear evidences of true repentance and saving faith. A gospel method for responding to someone would not counsel them to look to a subjective experience or a formulaic prayer but to the finished work of Christ. The fact that our methodologies have presumed to go where God has not gone is evidenced in a form of nominal Christianity where the gospel is conspicuously absent.

        I don’t know if that makes sense or clarifies things a bit. My main point there is to say that we are not at liberty to come up with various responses to the gospel that are not found in Scripture. What we find is that repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ is the prescribed method of converting sinners.

    • Jay Says:

      Amen.
      We all might get through, to more of those people we’re so worried about, if we’d cut out all those fancy words, and tell them like it is. Put a big ole Thesaurus(word list)next to you when you write, and challenge yourself to find simpler words to define your thoughts. i have a 140+ IQ and i have the sense to know that.

      That’s how our President got elected(chosen). That’s how so many bad influences(changes) in our lives came to be. Somebody simplified(made plain) their thoughts, and reached more people.

      Just because Jesus spoke in parables(lessons) doesn’t mean we need to. i got through two lines of this wannabe dissertation(essay) you wrote, and stopped, for want of placing a dictionary(concordance) next to it. Who are you trying to reach, anyway?
      Jesus had access to EVERY word you and i could EVER come up with. Why do you think He DIDN’T use them? Neither He, nor the prophets, nor the Holy Spirit, nor God Himself, spoke, or wrote this way, because WHO would understand(learn from) them? Obviously, not everyone. Are we not trying to reach EVERYONE?
      The Pharisees, and Sadducees, may have spoken, or written, in this manner, to pump up their own chests. Remember that old saying, “If you can’t dazzle them with Brillance, baffle them with b.s.”(big sentences)? That’s what i’m reminded of here.
      Jesus spoke to the children and adults alike, even his parables(lessons) were about things they knew about in everyday life, as a puzzle to be thought about, discussed, and solved in fellowship, by ALL of the children of God.
      Shalom. Peace.


  2. Timmy,

    I for one hope that something substantial comes of this. For quite some time I have been concerned and burdened for the church. The abandonment of Bible exposition by our SBC pastors has contributed to the increase of unregenerate members in our local bodies. And after pastoring two SBC churces where the gospel had been sorely neglected and Biblical preaching was only a memory, I have become almost despondent.

    Reading the article in Newsweek that Dr. Mohler blogged on recently had a strange and powerful effect on me; it excited me. Now, I thought, let’s preach the word, let’s preach the gospel. Let’s strike now while the iron is hot and the field is white for harvest. The news of the decline of Christianity in our nation isn’t depressing or discouraging. It is the call to the church of Jesus Christ to return to its first love and reach the church and the lost with the gospel.

    I want to do the work of the evangelist. I hope and pray that our Father will open doors of ministry for me in my latter years that I may glorify Him and reach the lost and the unregenerate church members with the gospel.

    These are exciting times. I pray that you and all who work with you will be radically blessed by the fullness of the Holy Spirit to take the word to all men.

    In Christ and for His glory,

    Johnny

  3. Ross Says:

    “First, what is the gospel?”

    The gospel today is more often defined in terms of the transformed life of the sinner (subjective) rather than the objective work of Christ on the sinner’s behalf. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard my pastor preach about the righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner through faith. We hear about the cross – the Christ died for our sins as our substitute. This is true and defintely good news. However, we then go on to turn the sinner back on themselves and preach moralism or about the “Christian life”. The good news is so much better. Christ actually lived on our place by keeping the law FOR US.

    From “Imputation: The Sinner’s Only Hope” by Tom Ascol:
    God pardons sinners, He accepts them, puts them into a right relationship with Himself, by imputing righteousness to them. Or, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it: Those whom God calls, He freely justifies “by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith” (WCF 11.1). Answer 33 in the Shorter Catechism reads similarly: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

    Given this understanding it is not too much to say that if justification is the heart of the gospel, then imputation is the heart of justification. So we should be alarmed when we hear statements from respected Christian teachers that are dismissive of imputation or, worse yet, reject it all together. Consider, for example, the words of Mark Seifrid of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
    “It is fair to say that something of the “Christ-centered” understanding of justification which Luther and Calvin grasped was lost in subsequent Protestant thought, where justification came to be defined in terms of the believer and not in terms of Christ. It is worth observing that Paul never speaks of Christ’s righteousness as imputed to believers, as became standard in Protestantism.”

    If Paul is silent on imputed righteousness then generations of Protestant churches and confessions and catechisms and theologians have seriously misrepresented him in their teaching on justification. Robert Gundry is even bolder in his assessment:
    “It is no accident, then, that in New Testament theologians’ recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness. (I have in mind treatments by Mark Seifrid, Tom Wright, James Dunn, Chris Beker, and John Reumann, among others.) The notion is passé, neither because of Roman Catholic influence nor because of theological liberalism, but because of fidelity to the relevant biblical texts. Thus New Testament theologians are now disposed to talk about the righteousness of God in terms of his salvific activity in a covenantal framework, not in terms of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness in a bookkeeping framework. What a pity, then, that in its insistence on an imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the pivot of justification by faith, “Celebration” is deeply flawed at its self-proclaimed core! That doctrine of imputation is not even biblical. Still less is it “essential” to the Gospel. If sola scriptura outweighs all human traditions, including Protestant tradition, the doctrine that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believing sinners needs to be abandoned.”


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