A Great Commission Resurgence?

May 29, 2009

For the last several months, Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been advocating a “Great Commission Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention. In his chapel address on April 16th (audio), Dr Akin laid out twelve axioms required for such a resurgence. Since then, SBC President Johnny Hunt has embraced this message, and modified the axioms somewhat, reducing them to ten, as available here.

In many ways, I am impressed with the Great Commission Resurgence document, and believe the SBC should move in the direction it lays out. Here are some of the axioms that clearly resonate with our theology, vision, and values:

1: We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels.

2: We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our convention ministries.

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Vintage Ralph Winter

May 22, 2009

Here are some favorite Ralph Winter quotes, to supplement this post on his life well-lived:

Jesus, today, might have put it, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and your career will take care of itself.” . . . God may indeed reward you with a startling career – but you will probably not know the details in advance. . . . Lots of people would be glad to follow God if He would only tell them in advance exactly all the wonderful things He would do for them and what high sounding job titles they might one day hold. But, remember Genesis 12:1? It is characteristic of the Christian life that God asks us to go without telling us where! . . . When we walk in the little light we have, and keep going on and on taking steps in faith, the ways in which He leads us are almost always, as we look back, something we could have never been told in advance! Untold marvels lie beyond each step of faith. You don’t really have to know what is beyond the next step. And you can’t find out without taking the next step. (“Join the World Christian Movement,” p. 722-23 in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Third Edition, edited by Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, William Carey Library, 1999.)

Make no mistake. God honors those who seek His work above their worries. One of our staff members once said, “Now I think I understand what faith is; it is not the confidence that God will do what we want Him to do for us, but the conviction that we can do what He wants done for Him and let Him take care of the consequences.” (same article, p. 722)

You can’t be any kind of a solid Christian if you are unwilling to do anything He asks. (same article, p. 723)

A famous missionary wrote back to fellow students and pled with them: “Give up your small ambitions and come East to proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ.” For me to give “My utmost for His highest” is no guarantee of health, wealth, or happiness . . . but that kind of crucial choice is, in the experience of thousands who have tried it, the most exhilarating and demanding path of all callings. You don’t lose if you go with God. But you have to be willing to lose or you can’t stick close to God. (same article, p. 723)

The shattering truth is that four out of five non-Christians in the world today are beyond the reach of any Christian’s [normal] evangelism. Why is this fact not more widely known? I’m afraid that all our exultation about the fact that every country of the world has been penetrated has allowed many to suppose that every culture has by now been penetrated. This misunderstanding is a malady so widespread that it deserves a special name. Let us call it “people blindness” – that is, blindness to the existence of separate peoples within countries. . . . In the Great Commission . . . the phrase “make disciples of all ethne (peoples)” does not let us off the hook once we have a church in every country – God wants a strong church within every people! (“The New Macedonia,” Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, 1974; reprinted in Perspectives cited above, p. 346.)

The essential missionary task is to establish a viable indigenous church planting movement that carries the potential to renew whole extended families and transform whole societies. It is viable in that it can grow on its own, indigenous meaning that it is not seen as foreign, and a church planting movement that continues to reproduce intergenerational fellowships that are able to evangelize the rest of the people group. . . .  God will reveal the glory of His kingdom among all peoples. We are within range of finishing the task, with more momentum than ever before in history. Be a part of it–”Declare His glory among the nations!” (“Finishing the Task,” by Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch, Perspectives as cited above, p. 517 and 524.)

Obedience to the Great Commission has more consistently been poisoned by affluence than by anything else. The antidote for affluence is reconsecration. Consecration is by definition the “setting apart of things for holy use.” (“Consecration to a Wartime, Not a Peacetime, Lifestyle”, Perspectives as cited above, p. 705.)

We must learn that Jesus meant it when He said, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). I believe that God cannot expect less from us as our Christian duty to save other nations than our own nation in wartime conventionally requires of us to save our own nation. (same article, p. 707. Emphasis in original.)

A Life Lived to God’s Glory Among the Nations: Ralph Winter, 1925-2009

May 22, 2009

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, see this link).

Ralph Winter died on Wednesday night, at the age of 84. I am confident that the Lord Jesus welcomed Dr Winter into His presence, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!” In the new heavens and the new earth, when we recount the history of the greatest accomplishment of all time – God bringing all the nations to Himself – Dr Winter will be among the most prominent figures who by God’s power worked to fill the earth with His glory as the waters cover the sea.

I only met Dr Winter once. When he was about 80, after being diagnosed with an incurable cancer, during a period of remission, he came to Columbia to teach. He flew into Charlotte, and met with several of us that evening. Our conversation showed him to be what I already knew – an academic in the best sense of the word. Dr Winter was a man of ideas – and he was always looking for people to challenge those ideas, to engage him in debate over those ideas, to sharpen his thinking and to stretch him further. So when I thanked him for his profound impact on me and on the worldwide church, he brushed it off, and immediately began asking me questions. In short order, he discovered an area of disagreement: He believed each local church should be focused on one small slice of the demographic pie, in order to most effectively reach unbelievers like them; I believe God is most glorified when the local church transcends the cultural boundaries that so often separate believers. He wanted to debate the issue, and I gave him that pleasure, uncomfortable as I was – despite being a former academic myself, I was there that evening to honor him!

But that interaction displays the character of Dr Ralph D Winter: He was an incredibly creative man of ideas. He was always searching, always thinking. In my view, he propagated a few wrong ideas. But in God’s providence, he was the man most responsible for pushing the worldwide church to embrace a whole series of right ideas – biblical truths that had been overlooked, or not widely known. Here is a list of some of Dr Winter’s key ideas. See more of my favorite Ralph Winter quotes at this link.

God’s missionary mandate to the church is a cross-cultural mandate. Dr Winter’s address to the 1974 Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization was perhaps the most important paper presented at any conference in the last century. At that time, almost every mission agency thought of the biblical missionary mandate as a command to reach every nation – that is, country – with the Gospel. Dr Winter argued persuasively that the biblical mandate was to reach every culture with the Gospel, every people group, every ethno-linguistic entity; that’s the biblical definition of “nation.” God’s design is for His church to plant a thriving, evangelizing church in every people group of the world. Thirty-five years later, almost every missions agency agrees with this analysis. This insight led to the founding of the US Center for World Mission and the development of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course.

God’s cross-cultural mandate to His people permeates Scripture. Dr Winter emphasized that our God is a missionary God, calling all the nations to Himself, and that this has been His purpose from the beginning. The calling of Abraham in Genesis 12 is itself part of the cross-cultural mandate. Missions is thus not a mandate resting on a few, isolated verses here and there; it is the central part of the biblical storyline.

God has been working throughout history to fulfill this cross-cultural mandate. In telling the story of missions, many have written as if nothing happened prior to 1792, when William Carey sailed for India. Dr Winter emphasized that God has been at work in fulfilling the missionary mandate throughout time, using different methods in different periods of time. For pedagogical purposes, he broke history down into 400-year eras, and argued that one way of advancing the Gospel was prevalent in each era. I am not alone in rejecting some of those generalizations as too broad and thus unhelpful. But his emphasis was right: God has indeed been at work over the centuries, well prior to 1792.

God’s church needs bands of people focused on missions to assist in the fulfilling of the cross-cultural mandate. Building on the functioning of Paul’s missionary band, Dr Winter argued that such groups of missionaries are a vital part of the church. Indeed, he argued that each missionary band was fully a church in its own right – just a different type of church than the normal within-one-culture church. Here again, in my view Dr Winter took a valuable insight and went too far with it. By all means, mission agencies have a vital role to play in fulfilling the task. But each missionary should be part of a local, home church, living as one extended arm of that local church, as the local church plays its role in obeying the cross-cultural mandate.

Use all that you have, throughout all of your life, for God’s glory among the nations. Dr Winter exhorted others time and again to live this out, and then set a sterling example of what this means. He worked for God’s glory among the nations until the day before he died. He left a safe and secure job to start the US Center. He called all of us to a war-time lifestyle, and then he lived such a lifestyle, never accumulating possessions, always giving away much of what he received. Furthermore, he called the church to prayer for cross-cultural missions, and then prayed diligently himself.

For those of you who have been part of Desiring God Church for some time, these points may seem almost passé. You have heard me say them – as well as variations on these themes – time and again. That’s the impact of a man mightily used by God – His profound insights and ideas become so widely taught that we begin to take them for granted.

So let us thank God for this man:

I praise you, Lord God, for the gift of Ralph Winter to your church, and to me in particular. May you raise up many more like him because of his faithfulness to Your calling. And may we fulfill your cross-cultural mandate to the church in this generation – in part because of the faithfulness of Ralph D Winter. All glory and praise is Yours, O Lord.

(For more on Ralph Winter, see key quotes; John Piper’s tribute; another online tribute; and his autobiography. Best of all, take the Perspectives course!)

Responding to Conflict – When You are at Fault

May 8, 2009

How do you react when your wrong decisions cause pain and trouble for yourself and others? What do you do when others then bitterly blame you and accuse you?

We all make mistakes in judgment. And we all sin. There are consequences to these mistakes and sins. Surely we must take responsibility for those consequences.

But every mistake, every sin, and every conflict is an opportunity for God to display His sovereign goodness. And thus every error and sin of ours provides us with the opportunity to trust in Him, and thus to glorify Him.

Consider present conflict in your family, among your friends, or in your workplace. Limit your thoughts to those conflicts for which you are in large measure responsible: Your sin, or your error of judgment, has led to this dispute. How should you respond biblically? How can these problems lead to God’s glory?

This is the situation David finds himself in at the beginning of 1 Samuel 30. Read more