Book Review: The Great Commission Resurgence, ed. Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenway
The Great Commission Resurgence is a collection of essays written by a “Who’s Who” of prominent Southern Baptists, compiled and edited by Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenway. Chapter contributors include the editors, as well as Johnny Hunt, Ed Stetzer, Thom Rainer, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, David Platt, Tom Ascol, Jerry Rankin, J. D. Greear, Daniel Akin, David Dockery, and a host of pastors and professors from large and influential churches and institutions across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The book was the result of the recent discussions surrounding a potential “Great Commission Resurgence” within the SBC, wherein Southern Baptists have voted en masse to redouble their missionary efforts, even going so far as to consider a significant denominational name change from “Southern Baptists” (a distinctively colloquial, traditional North American designation) to “Great Commission Baptists” (a title which bears more global significance and cross-cultural appeal).
The unifying theme of this book is an effort by the various authors to contribute to a missionary work which achieves as much global success as the SBC’s “Conservative Resurgence” accomplished denominationally. Many of the architects of that resurgence were contributors to this book as well, seeking to discern and apply the proper methods to attain a greater missionary zeal across the denomination.
The first section of the book discusses “Where We Are” for the SBC as a denomination. Ed Stetzer’s initial chapter outlines and surveys the denominational decline and demographic changes across the SBC, along with some helpful interpretive notes regarding the most likely reasons behind the dwindling numbers in memberships, baptisms, and effective evangelistic churches. The second chapter is Thom Rainer’s evaluation of similar demographic and survey data accompanied by his proposed rationales for the decline in evangelistic effectiveness of SBC churches, as well as his brief suggestions for reversing the downward trends within the denomination.
Nathan Finn follows the current demographic chapters with a history of the SBC, maintaining a close eye on details pertinent to the ways in which missionary zeal has waxed and waned over time, as well as the various social, political, and theological conditions which played a role in the denominational evangelistic developments under discussion. Albert Mohler follows Finn with a historical analysis of his own, but for the purpose of considering and evaluating the future of the SBC, discussing how its past and present trajectories could mean the denomination is at a significant tipping point for future faithfulness or failure.
The second section of the book is entitled “From The Word” and surveys the biblical and theological vision and motivation for global evangelization. Russell Moore casts a theological vision which demonstrates the reciprocal relationship between faithful theology and the Great Commission. David Platt gives an exegetical chapter on the motivations for enduring suffering for the sake of missions as an emulation and participation in union with Christ. Al Gilbert also outlines the broad scope of biblical theology pointing to the Great Commission.
The third section, “For The World,” is a missiological continuation of the theological discussions from section two. Bruce Ashford’s chapter contributes a missiologically-focused theology (complementing Moore’s theologically-focused missiology). Jerry Rankin provides a perspective on the global Christian movement from his view as President of the International Missions Board (IMB). Jeff Iorg gives a continental perspective on North America as a missions field, a chapter which will be challenging to the fundamentalist leanings of many traditional Southern Baptists’ in their relationship to contemporary culture. This section is rounded out by Al Jackson’s call to consider the antithesis between pursuing the “American dream” and the necessary practical steps in promoting a Great Commission Resurgence.
The fourth section, called “Via The Church,” gives ecclesiological and pastoral considerations for a Great Commission Resurgence. In many ways this section presents where the “rubber meets the road,” beginning with a chapter on the need for pastors to function, not merely as pulpiteers, but as personal evangelists—for the sake of the church as an evangelistic organization. This is followed by David Allen’s chapter on the pulpit as a place for evangelism and as a great opportunity to preach zealously for the Great Commission. Troy Bush discusses the effects of urbanization on our culture and the needs peculiar to reaching people living in that context. J. D. Greear completes this section with a chapter on church planting and community as the mediums for the multiplication necessary to a surge in evangelism and missions.
Finally, the last section provides “The Way Forward” with some methodological considerations. Daniel Akin provides his principled vision in one of his trademark lists, giving necessary axioms for fulfilling the Great Commission. Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation issue a warning order to many of the “old guard” Southern Baptists regarding the need for generational cooperation if the SBC is to succeed in matching the vision being cast for a Great Commission Resurgence. David Dockery gives insights on the nature of maintaining theological distinctives while still cooperating in missions with those with whom we disagree on non-essentials. Finally, Adam Greenway completes the work with a summary and some concluding remarks.
In evaluating The Great Commission Resurgence two strengths and two weaknesses will be surveyed and discussed, respectively. This evaluation will be followed by some brief concluding remarks which discuss the overall effectiveness of this text.
This book provides a series of chapters which are a variation on the theme of seeking to inspire greater missionary zeal across the SBC. Two strengths of this book include: the variety of authors employed in collaborating on this work and the authorial and editorial dove-tailing of various chapters.
Variety of authors employed in collaborating on this work. The perspectives represented in this text incorporate many influential leaders in the Conservative Resurgence of the late twentieth century, such as Al Mohler or Tom Ascol, as well as fresh perspectives from budding young pastor-theologians, like David Platt and J. D. Greear. Pastors, professors, researchers, and denominational leaders each present their own helpful and distinctive perspectives on the historical, denominational, global and theological realities associated with the desired outcome of a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC.
There are some authors who would disagree with one another about various points of theology or philosophy of ministry or academic practice. Despite these disagreements in what most Baptists view as non-essentials, these authors have collaborated to produce a thorough and provocative text on what the future may hold for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Authorial and editorial dove-tailing of various chapters. Several of the chapters fit neatly together, each chapter reciprocally illuminating the other. One example would be the unanimity of purpose but difference of emphasis between Russell Moore’s theology-centered view of the Great Commission and Bruce Ashford’s missiologically-centered view of theology as the driver behind a Great Commission Resurgence. A further example was David Platt’s radically motivating chapter on suffering and sacrificing like Christ for the sake of missions which dove-tailed cleanly with Al Jackson’s evaluation of the unique difficulties associated with following a lifestyle of support for a Great Commission Resurgence or chasing the classical “American dream” of prosperity and comfort.
Despite providing many thought-provoking and exciting perspectives on the proposed Great Commission Resurgence, this book also had some noteworthy drawbacks. Two weaknesses of this book were the presence of significant overlap in content between certain chapters and the absence of any female contributors.
Significant overlap in content between certain chapters. In a compiled, edited work such as The Great Commission Resurgence, there is always the possibility that two non-collaborating authors will write two separate chapters which overlap significantly with each other, especially when writing on a distinctly specific topic such as the current evangelistic and missionary efforts within the Southern Baptist Convention. In that event, rigorous editorial work would require a re-write from one (or both) authors or the removal of the overlapping content.
Specifically, Al Mohler’s historical section of his chapter follows immediately on the heels of Nathan Finn’s chapter on the pertinent history of the Southern Baptist Convention as it pertains to the Great Commission Resurgence. While it is Mohler’s common practice to provide a valuable historical context for his cultural and denominational analyses, in this instance much of the initial section of his chapter was a mere rehearsal of material already outlined and discussed in Finn’s preceding chapter. In a four hundred page compilation on a fairly narrow topic, some greater editorial concision would be greatly appreciated by many readers.
No female contributors. Sometimes it can be a mistake to criticize a book for certain omissions which are not directly germane to the subject of the text; however, when one considers the increasing number of wives and single women serving in the IMB as well as the role of the Women’s Missionary Union in the SBC, it clearly would be valuable to hear from a female perspective on the future of the denomination as it pertains to a Great Commission Resurgence.
This book provides a valuable collection of evaluations and prescriptions for seeing the Lord work a Great Commission Resurgence in, through, or possibly even in spite of the Southern Baptist Convention. The overall effect of the book upon the reader is the production of a prayerful hope that the Lord will work his will on earth as He does in heaven until every tribe, language, people, and nation has bowed the knee before King Jesus.