Disciple Making and the Great Commission Resurgence

At the recent Southern Baptist Convention held in Louisville, the SBC voted to appoint a task force charged with examining if and how the axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence (Dr. Danny Akin) should be implemented in the denomination.

It seems that a primary concern of Dr. Akin and others is that the prior Conservative Resurgence in the denomination has not translated to an appropriate increase in emphasis on and success in evangelism and missions.

For Southern Baptist Christ-followers holding to the Bible as God’s revelation to man, it should go without saying that we should “content earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3) as historically understood by Baptists, an idea represented by the Conservative Resurgence. It should further come as no surprise that we should be concerned to understand and obey Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), an intent expressed in Dr. Akin’s Axioms and the Resolution passed by the SBC.

In many efforts to counter error or address inadequacies, however, there is a tendency in those efforts to distort the overall teaching of which the particular emphasis is a subset. For instance, efforts to counter teachings of works-salvation sometimes give the appearance of antinomianism. Efforts to counter cheap grace sometimes give the appearance of legalism.

While I do not suggest that Dr. Akin and other proponents of a Great Commission Resurgence have contributed to such a distortion – or that such a thing exists, at all – some of the language appearing in commentary surrounding this issue could lead to an unfortunate misunderstanding of the Great Commission (or serve to reveal that such a misunderstanding already exists).

Because the Conservative Resurgence was aimed at securing Southern Baptist doctrinal foundations, some characterize its focus as “inward.” And, because the Great Commission Resurgence aims to re-examine our denomination in terms of missions and evangelism, some characterize its focus, in contrast, as “outward.” Similarly, some denominational focus is characterized as being “local”, while the focus of the GCR is characterized as “missional” – addressing evangelism and missions across the globe.

Yet the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18-20 doesn’t seem to draw those distinctions, and certainly doesn’t support the inward-outward/local-missional dichotomy that seems to be presumed in these discussions.

Jesus commissions his church to “make disciples.” These disciples are made in the local church, and disciples made in the local church are ones who make other disciples. Truly, when disciples are taught to “observe all that I [Jesus] commanded you” they will behave as disciples, making other disciples, both near and far. Biblical doctrine leads to a desire for biblical obedience. Orthodoxy produces orthopraxy.

Some have suggested that when we are too “inward”, “missions” is neglected. This may be true, but not because there is such a distinction inherent in disciple making. And what is sometimes forgotten is that if we play into this supposed dichotomy and focus only on the “outward”, disciple-making is neglected.

The reason, perhaps, that we see either the “inward” or the “outward” being neglected at various times is that we act on a false dichotomy. “Disciple making” requires both inward-outward and local-missional in balance. Let us not forget that Jesus does not divide the Great Commission task into “inward” and “outward” elements, but simply commands us to “make disciples.”

The interest shown in a Great Commission Resurgence is encouraging, but my hope is that the SBC’s exploration of the matter will address this perspective.

After all, if we were truly making disciples, lamentations over the lack of evangelism should be moot.

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