Below is a copy of a memo that I sent out to all of our students and faculty here in the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Thelogical Seminary about our Theology Bleeds Great Commission emphasis. Next week I will be posting a five-part series on a theology of the Great Commission.
I’m concerned about something, and I’d like to ask you to join me in prayer and action about it.
It seems to me that too many of our churches–and too many of us–think of the Great Commission as little more than Jesus’ way of promoting a Christmas offering or of marketing an evangelistic video series.
Too many theologians–even pastor-theologians–tend sometimes to ignore the Great Commission. After all, isn’t it a “practical” exhortation, better left to denominational bureaucrats and women’s missionary auxiliary leaders? At the same time, too many missionaries and evangelists tend to ignore theology. After all, what does abstract theorizing have to do with Jesus’ ultimate church-wide missions emphasis–the Great Commission?
As a result, we are left with theologians who lust more for recognition by the American Academy of Religion than for the global expansion of the gospel. And far too many missionaries, evangelists, and church planters see themselves as the ecclesial equivalent of the civil service–organizing initiatives and promoting programs.
The problem, whenever the Great Commission is taken for granted, is the eclipse of Jesus.
We in the School of Theology talk tirelessly about the Great Commission. Our students and faculty share the gospel, plant churches, and disciple new believers. But I wonder if we grasp the vision of the Great Commission we find in Scripture. When Jesus announced the commission to his disciples (Matt 28:16-20), he was not launching a global public relations campaign.
The Great Commission points to faith in Christ and the forgiveness of sins as the vehicle for cosmic restoration and the salvation of the world. Those reconciled to God through Christ are receiving more than personal freedom from guilt–they are becoming “sons of God” who share with Jesus in an inheritance that includes the entire created order (Ps 89; Rom 4:13, 8:15-17; Gal 3:27-4:7).
The Great Commission is a theology of cosmic warfare–a theology centering on the unveiling of the long-hidden mystery of Christ and his church. It means the overthrow of the ancient powers that have long held the creation captive through sin and death. It means the triumph of a resurrected Messiah over every principality and power hostile to the reign of the Creator. It means that God is keeping his promises to his anointed King.
It means war.
In the end, demonic powers don’t tremble before denominational programs or bureaucratic public relations campaigns. What they fear is something more ancient, more mysterious, and more personal. What they fear is not a program, but a person–with a name, an authority, and an inheritance. Since the church bears the Spirit of the Anointed One (1 Pet 4:14), the satanic powers lash out violently against it (John 15:25-16:11).
Their question to the missionary advance of the church is the same question they once voiced to the church’s King in his hometown synagogue: “Have you come to destroy us?” When the church is faithful to the commission of its Warrior-King, the answer is heard by an expectant creation even when it is not voiced–“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20). And that is what Jesus would call “good news.”
In the year 2008, I am challenging all of us in the School of Theology–faculty and students–to reinvigorate our place in this cosmic warfare by renewing our efforts at evangelism and missions.
Here on this page you can download a card to help you join with me in prayer and action. I am asking all of you to commit to pray for the lost–specific lost people that you know. I am asking all of you to share the gospel with at least one lost person at least once a week. And I am asking us to do this not just as individuals but also as a community of scholar-preachers.
Take a look at the card. Pray about it. And enlist in this battle. Let me know of your commitment to renew your efforts at Great Commission warfare. Join with a small group of other students–a Great Commission Group–to hold one another accountable, and to pray with one another about sharing the gospel.
These Great Commission groups will not meet at a formal time assigned by me. You decide with the people you enlist to join with you when and how often to pray together and to talk together.
Go door-to-door witnessing together. Organize an evangelistic block party. The possibilities are endless. Let me know how it is going in your battalion, and let me know of ways we can be even more effective in equipping Great Commission warriors.
Additionally, check the School of Theology webpage for local evangelistic opportunities for School of Theology students, www.sbts.edu/theology/evangelism. There are spiritual skirmishes all over the streets right around us.
Above all, let your affections be broken for the lost. And let’s join with our God in pleading with sinners to be reconciled to God’s Kingdom through the shed blood and the empty tomb of Jesus. Let’s join in the unseen battle with our tears, our feet, our voices, and our hearts.
And remember, theology means a word about God. Scripture tells us that the definitive Logos about our Theos is not a systematic theology text or a Hebrew grammar, as important as these are. He is not a “what,” but a “Who.” He is our brother, and our Lord. He cries for sinners, loves them, warns them of the wrath to come, and promises them the ends of the universe if they turn to him.
Theology doesn’t just think. Theology walks. Theology weeps. Theology bleeds.