SBC needs 'Great Commission Resurgence'
"Building on the 'Conservative Resurgence' that was initiated in 1979, we believe the time has come for us to focus on the great task the Lord Jesus left us as He ascended back into heaven," said Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. "Fulfilling the task will in no way leave behind or neglect an equal commitment to a faithful biblical theology."
Akin delivered the closing address at the Nov. 26-28 "Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism" conference co-sponsored by Founders Ministries and Southeastern Seminary at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. Founders Ministries formed in 1982 to advance Reformed theology in SBC churches.
As Akin presented his vision for a Great Commission Resurgence, he invoked the memory of key conservative leaders like W.A. Criswell and Adrian Rogers. In praising those men for their devotion to turning Southern Baptists back toward the inerrancy of Scripture, Akin noted that the convention is now faced with a "generational transition that is exciting, but also uncertain."
"We need godly men who can move us forward in concert for the glory of God, the building of the church and the evangelization of the nations," Akin said. "We need men of character and substance, vision and wisdom, humility and conviction. We desperately need leaders who can guide us and challenge us."
In pursuing this vision, Akin noted several reasons why such a resurgence can happen. Like many other speakers during the three-day conference, Akin emphasized that the common confession of the Baptist Faith and Message and its stance on the inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible leaves room in Southern Baptist life for Calvinists and non-Calvinists, but does not allow for petty infighting and arguments that detract from a Great Commission focus.
"Some would say the battle for the Bible has been won and it is time to move on," Akin said. "I would sound a word of warning. The battle over the Word of God did not begin in 1979, it started in the Garden of Eden. The battle for biblical authority will never be completely and finally won until Christ returns in power and glory."
Akin noted the agreement among Southern Baptists on such key doctrinal distinctives such as regenerate church membership, the exclusivity of the Gospel, the sinfulness of man and salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. And Southern Baptist are in agreement that the Great Commission is a divine mandate, Akin said, and that Christians are to give themselves to this task until Christ returns. To affirm anything less, he said, puts one "outside the camp" of Southern Baptists.
"[To deny the Great Commission] is to deny our heritage and misunderstand our identity," Akin said. "It is to neglect Christ's command, disobey His last words and miss the promised blessing that attends all who take up this holy assignment."
Akin then offered several ways Southern Baptists, who differ on a number of theological issues, can still work together for a Great Commission Resurgence.
First, he said, Southern Baptists need a sound theology based on Scripture alone that is neither too soft nor too restrictive. He noted that such a theology would rule out aberrant doctrines like open theism, universalism or works salvation and would not be wishy-washy on key issues like gender roles and homosexuality.
On the other hand, a sound theology allows for various views on several points, Akin said.
"The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is well-constructed canopy under which varying perspectives on the issue of Calvinism can peacefully and helpfully co-exist," he said. "Is there a place for differing positions on the issue of election, the extent of the atonement and calling, as well as the details of how we do missions, evangelism and give the invitation? I am convinced the answer is yes."
Akin also cited the need for a revival of genuine biblical exposition in preaching. Despite the success of the Conservative Resurgence, Akin lamented that many Southern Baptist pastors still do not understand how to use the pulpit as anything other than a "self-help seminar."
"In the days ahead we must pursue what I call 'engaging theological exposition,'" Akin said. "We must wed substance and style, content and delivery. We must teach the whole counsel of Scripture book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse and word by word.
"Authentic exposition will bring biblical balance to our theology and force us to engage the tough doctrines of Scripture. It will also cultivate a pastoral perspective that results in a love for the Savior's sheep and the lost."
And Akin encouraged the pursuit of a Great Commission theology that shows love and respect for Southern Baptists who are not in complete agreement on every point of theology.
"One of our problems has been semi-Arminians with an attitude and Calvinists with a chip on their shoulder," he said. "The shrill rhetoric, sloppy history and theology, and unchristian words and actions on both sides of this issue have resulted in a number of unnecessary misfortunes. Misrepresentations of positions on this issue have prevented healthy and honest conversations. Hidden agendas have divided churches and fractured fellowships. False caricatures have made for cute sound bites, but they lack Christian charity and integrity. All in all, the cause of Christ and the well-being of His body has been damaged.
"We may not agree on everything, but we agree on more than enough to work together for our Lord Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission," Akin said. "So, will we live or will we die? Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life."
Tom Ascol, Founders Ministries executive director, in comments preceding Akin, noted, "This has been a historic gathering.
"I pray, as I know you do, that good will continue to ripple out from this over the months and years ahead. One of the things I am so encouraged about ... is the way we have been able to come together and talk about these kind of substantive issues, even where we disagree strongly, and to do it in a kind way that doesn't water down convictions ... and isn't acrimonious."
Ascol said Southern Baptists face numerous challenges to their cooperative unity in working together to make Jesus Christ known to an unbelieving world.
"Mere denominational affiliation can no longer sustain such cooperation, if indeed it ever could," he said. "If Southern Baptists are going to work together in any kind of meaningful way, we must find common ground on which we can stand so we can link arms legitimately, and with integrity, for the sake of making Jesus Christ known."
Jason Hall is director of communications for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mark Kelly, a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn., contributed to this article. Audio podcast downloads of all the presenters at the "Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism" conference are available at www.lifeway.com/insidelifeway.