Friday, June 29, 2007

Thinking Cooperatively About Missional Christianity

The Purpose of My Blog, Part 3: A Cooperative Conversation

A third purpose of this blog focuses on how Bible believing Christians generally, and Baptists particularly, might work together to fulfill the Great Commission.

Evangelicals for the last few generations have generally been drawn toward a responsible ecumenism. Christians have held a sentiment that all who believe the gospel are brothers and sisters in Christ and should do all they can to build this unity despite differences on peripheral doctrines.[1] While some have held to a kind of liberal ecumenism marked by religious relativism and a “broad tent” mentality, others have sought for a more evangelical type of unity that allows for fellowship among true believers and, when appropriate, working together in Great Commission work.

In recent years, Southern Baptists have renewed their sense of the importance for cooperation. Seven years ago, messengers (myself included) adopted the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message forming the capstone for the conservative resurgence. Since that time, there has been a renewed effort toward working cooperatively in Great Commission work. The executive committee, led by Morris Chapman, has called for increased cooperation among churches challenging messengers in its annual reports, introducing the theme “Empowering Kingdom Growth,” and a leading in a renewed commitment to the Cooperative Program. The International Mission Board has led in developing ways churches can partner in the global effort. At the same time, the board has renewed guidelines that both allow cooperation with other groups and set parameters for how it could be done appropriately. Many other things could be mentioned that demonstrate this trend toward cooperation, but suffice it to say that Southern Baptists continue to think both about how we might promote partnership in missions and evangelism and how we might do so appropriately.

The purpose of this blog begins at the next level. Once determining the appropriate boundaries for responsible partnership, how can we best cooperate as missional Christians and churches? What are the ways in which we can do so? Southern Baptists are perhaps most familiar with financial cooperation through the Cooperative Program. But beyond joint funding of mission efforts, Christians ought to think through ways we can partner together for kingdom purposes (through prayer, mutual encouragement, sharing of ideas, and appropriate joint efforts). It will be the purpose of this blog to explore ways in which Baptists and other evangelicals can work together toward His Kingdom purposes.

[1] For a great assessment about doctrinal differences and their relative importance, see Dr. Albert Mohler’s recent blog entry, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thinking Effectively About Missional Christianity

The Purpose of My Blog, Part 2: A Practical Conversation

If my last blog entry leaned toward the academic, this one “gets down to the nitty-gritty.” That is, once I discover what I must do biblically, there remains the question: How can I do it practically? The big problem is that evangelism is the one thing that every Baptist knows they ought to do but is also the thing that few do well. Some respond by clinging to methods that are outdated and ineffective, some go off the deep end and do whatever works in an uncritical pragmatism (see previous post), while a large number simply give up in their frustration.

This blog will seek, under the biblical guideline laid out in the last post, to have a practical conversation about being missional Christians and churches. Specifically, it will seek to discover and share how we can fulfill the Great Commission in real life – at this time, in this place, to this culture. I hope through this discussion to present genuine problems faced by those who wish to be missional, and work together to find workable solutions. Again, this is not a place where I will engage in ministry-bashing of others’ honest (though often misguided and inappropriate) attempts to reach people with the gospel. Nor will I join the gossipy “culture of criticism” (title of a future post?) in which I rail against other churches perceived inactivity (whether or not I know anything about their ministry situation). Rather it will be a place to address real problems and find actual solutions that are both practical/effective and biblical. It will be a place to lift up one another as we seek ways to best serve Christ. If no one ever reads this blog, this will at least allow me to lay out in writing the continuing questions for which I seek answers. If I am blessed to become part of an online community, then I hope this second purpose of this blog to be the most beneficial one – one that finds a mutual edification and encouragement in this great mission task.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thinking Biblically about Missional Christianity

The Purpose of My Blog, Part 1: A Theological Conversation

As I seek to be a missional Christian in obedience to Christ, I want to be sure I am thinking and acting biblically. If the Bible is indeed God’s word, I must make every effort to conform my thought and practice to Scripture. Whether speaking of church planting models, ecclesiology, contextualization, evangelism, or theology, I must be faithful to the revelation of God revealed in the Old and New Testaments. If the error of the past generation was a lack of commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture, the error of the present one is a lack of commitment to sound biblical exegesis. In the preface to his recent two volume work, Early Christian Mission, Erkhard Schnabel acknowledges this problem. He states,

Missiologists, missionaries and representatives of missionary societies seek to promote interest in crosscultural dialogue and witness and to encourage and develop the involvement of Christians, young and old, in active outreach to non-Christians. As laudable as these endeavors are, their proponents have not always sought to provide exegetical explanations or to engage in theological discussion when presenting models for missionary work and paradigms for effective evangelism.[1]

The Scripture is the basis of our Christian faith. When acting missionally, then, my practice must be biblically sound. Where the Bible commands I must be obedient. Where it gives examples I must learn from them. Where my methodology appeals to biblical precedent, it must do so on the basis of sound exegesis rather than a hermeneutic of convenience. In no case may the methods I use violate the Scriptures.

Current questions in for missional Christianity will need to be resolved with biblically appropriate answers. Application of biblical principles to missional practice must be done through a sound hermeneutic. We must discover the original meaning of the text, bridge between the biblical context and the present one, and make application in line with the intent of Scripture. I must not go to the Scripture to validate my preconceived ideas or preferences whatever they may be. I must allow my ministry and method to be shaped by Scripture itself. Köstenberger contends,

The descriptive nature of New Testament theology entails that we set aside for the time being our concern for the contemporary application of the biblical message. At the proper time, this will, of course, be very important, and, truth be told, this is also what fuels our interest in the present subject in the first place. But unless we are willing to let the New Testament speak to us on its own terms, we only deceive ourselves. We will merely find in the pages of the Bible what we have already determined to find there on other grounds. If we thus domesticate Scripture, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to be instructed by, and even transformed by, Scripture, and we rob Scripture of its authority and preeminence.[2]

I must then take this approach to Scripture when dealing with the “hot button” issues of our day. Not only must I be “critical” in my contextualization,[3] but also in my church planting models, ecclesiology, soteriology, evangelism, worship, discipleship, and every other thing I do.

One of the purposes of this blog will be to seek biblical solutions to the problems faced by those who wish to be missional Christians. My purpose is not to criticize others or examine how everyone else is doing it wrong. Rather, I am striving in my own life and ministry to do things in ways that are consistent with the teaching of Scripture. I hope through conversations with others committed to the same ends to be able to think biblically about fulfilling our mission.

[1] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2 vols. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004), xxiii.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger, "The Place of Mission in New Testament Theology: An Attempt to Determine the Significance of Mission Within the Scope of the New Testament's Message as a Whole," Missiology 27 (1999): 349.

[3] See Paul G. Hiebert, "Critical Contextualization," Missiology 12 (1984): 287-96.