A Humble Response to the GCR Document and a Dialog with Dr. Reid

Recently, Dr. Alvin Reid responded to a post I wrote after last year’s convention. We have since exchanged very affirming emails and I was truly honored by his generous and kind response. In the post last year, I had some questions concerning what the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) was all about because it seemed to be a new buzz term that everyone was excited over, but could not exactly explain on what it all entailed. Since that time several items have been written concerning the GCR and I am happy that Dr. Akin, Dr. Hunt and others were able to put together the new GCR 10 point document. There are several items that I affirm in this document: Lordship of Christ, Baptist Identity, gospel-centeredness, faithful Biblical preaching, and Biblical inerrancy just to name a few. But, I do have some issues in which I either desire further clarification or additional information that are discussed below.

Concerning the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), There is not a clear statement that discusses its role in the life of the convention. Recent history has proven that there are two branches of thought. One branch is that it is a maximal statement (The only items trustees can deal with in their responsibility of overseeing their particular agencies are those items specifically addressed in the BF&M. If anything arises outside the parameters of the BF&M, it must be ignored). The other branch views the document as a minimal statement (Trustees, in their responsibility of overseeing their particular agencies, are entrusted by the convention to deal with various issues outside the BF&M the way God leads them for His glory). I realize that Dr. Akin has never seen the BF&M as a maximal statement, but this GCR doc is not about Dr. Akin, it is about a philosophical understanding of vision about where and how the Convention needs to progress. I believe that either branch (maximal or minimal) has major ramifications on the trustee system in place. I also believe for a GCR to be implemented in our convention, a stand must take place with a specific statement articulated on how the BF&M guides the Convention’s trustees in their oversight of the specific agencies entrusted to them.

In relation to reorganizing and streamlining the Convention, what is particularly broke? I am not saying that everything is running smoothly, but I would like to know what the framers of this GCR document believe is not working and how will a streamline reorganization fix the problem? Will NAMB be absorbed into the IMB? Will the Executive Committee be reorganized and mission redefined? Will all six seminaries come under one main centrally located administrative framework removing the current administrations of each seminary causing them to loose their own distinctiveness and autonomy? I understand the size of our convention can use some trimming to cut down on unnecessary costs and inefficient systems, but I would like to know where the inefficiencies are before I sign the document. I would like to know how reorganization would benefit the local churches of the SBC in accomplishing the Great Commission. The SBC is not responsible for accomplishing the Great Commission. It is the local church that has been given that mandate. So, how will reorganization benefit the local church in accomplishing the Great Commission?

One thing I did not discuss with Dr. Reid, but has been gnawing away at my mind is the GCR doc’s understanding of Christ having “preeminence in all things … that results in greater obedience to all that He commands” yet later the document states, “We believe that by God’s grace the BF&M 2000 will guide us in our cooperation as we attempt to discern the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary issues, an endeavor that lies at the heart of many of our present tensions.” This is a tension in my mind. I can affirm both statements individually, yet I struggle when putting them together.

Here is the tension for me: If Christ is to have preeminence in all things, why are we classifying His commands as to what is essential and what isn’t? What about moral issues? The convention spoke out about alcohol with a resolution in 2006. What about the national debate about same-sex marriage/unions? Will these be “tertiary” issues for the GCR allowing cooperation with non-Southern Baptist mission agencies that do not agree with us in those matters? These are good questions that are in need of clarification, and while the two aforementioned statements concerning Christ’s preeminence and discernment could seem to be opposed to one another, I also understand that we will not agree down to the minutiae. There needs to be a framework by which we can cooperate.

Yet, allow me to bring up one point of doctrine and practice we treat like the uncle at family reunions that no one talks about. Communion is the second ordinance of the church commanded by Christ to be followed by His believers. While the GCR document affirms believer’s baptism by immersion, it is silent in the matter of communion. Some might think that having a statement on communion would be divisive, yet as the Great Commission states we are to, “teach them to observe all that I [Jesus] commanded.” The Lord’s Supper is the second ordinance of Christ given to His church. As I stated in this post, the BF&M has a statement concerning communion that allows a wide variety of church practices on this ordinance. For example, churches who are closed (those who teach only church members may participate), strict (those who teach only church members and transient believers from churches of like faith and order may participate), and close (those who teach that anyone who has trusted Christ for salvation and has participated in believer’s baptism by immersion may participate) can all work together according to the BF&M. Those who open the table to any believer regardless of baptism are not affirmed in our confessional statement.

To say it differently, the confessional statement of Southern Baptists does not affirm partaking of the Lord’s Supper with those who have been baptized as an infant, participated in a baptism believed to have regenerative effects, or have been sprinkled. From what I understand, communion is a hotly debated item. But, if the standard becomes how badly a church doctrine or practice creates division for deciding what is primary, secondary, or tertiary, have we not then become judges of what Christ commanded? These are only thoughts in my head that cause me to be cautious in signing the document in light of the tension I see in the Lordship of Christ and classification of His commands. In no way do I consider the framers of the GCR doc to be weak on theology or practice. Nor do I know how they feel about the debate-surrounding communion.

As I have said repeatedly in the past, I am all behind a GCR. For example, another document that I found many areas I was in agreement with was the recent resolution adopted by the SBTC that centered on the GCR. Jeremy Green authored that resolution that the SBTC adopted. In fact, I think it is the only official statement adopted by any Southern Baptist affiliated entity that deals with the GCR. I also believe that Bart Barber has put forth some great ideas in his Fifth Century Initiative that would be worthy of dialog.

In Dr. Reid’s response, he brought up the issue of trust. As I have said again and again, people like Drs. Akin, Mohler, and Hunt have been heroes in the faith for me. I was thrilled to interview Akin and Mohler a couple of years ago for our site. I especially became a fan of Dr. Akin when I heard him speak at SWBTS a couple of years ago concerning Expository Preaching. My disagreements with the GCR doc are not because of some distrust I have in these men. It is because I have legitimate questions on what is specifically meant in the document. I am not claiming Dr. Reid said I have a distrust of these men; it is only my desire to explain what I think of these men in light of the questions I have about the document.

But I also believe that trust in this situation will have to be given by all. Bart Barber, while not signing the document, has put forth some great ideas in his Fifth Century Initiative. It would be a shame to not invite him in working out the particulars of the new GCR movement. He is not only a scholar of good standing; he also takes what he teaches in the classroom and lives it out in the pastorate. He is one of the best of both worlds. Jeremy Green, who signed the document and produced the GCR document of the SBTC, would also be a person worthy of partnership in taking the GCR in practical ways to the churches. Ultimately, I believe and hope those leaders of the GCR will work with and trust men like Bart who has some questions about the document in its current form and Jeremy, who signed it.

I thank Dr. Reid for dropping by and I pray that open communication will continue. In a later email he stated that we are not enemies. AMEN!!!!! We have posted many positive posts concerning the GCR on SBC Today. I hope those who framed the GCR doc will find that I want to work with them and others who are like us in desiring to see God glorified in the churches of the SBC. My caution in not signing at this moment is not a statement of non-cooperation, but one of tensions within my own understanding of the document.

Below I am posting an email from Dr. Reid (with permission) in which he responded to some of my earlier emails. I have expanded my thoughts since that time, so he has not addressed everything. I am still in prayer over this matter and hope that with this honest and open dialog, we can glorify God in ways greater than has been seen in the past. Here is Dr. Reid’s response:

Robin:

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss these matters. Let me say at the outset
that Dr. Akin and others working on this did not want to be so bold as to try
and speak too specifically on recommendations on behalf of the convention. I
guess the catch 22 is to try and cast a vision for the future without being
so specific as to speak out of turn for the SBC, given our polity. Let me say
clearly I am not speaking for Dr. Akin, but I know him well and know him to
be a man of great humility and one who trusts the SBC system to bring about
changes. He is simply trying to speak about changes many have been
discussing.

On the BFM2000, Dr. Akin has spoken in a forum some time back (I love the
fact that each semester he does a forum to answer questions from students)
that the trustees certainly have a right to make policies specific to their
institution. So I do not perceive his comments to refer to a maximal
statement. There may be issues for a given institutional for which the BFM
does not speak specifically. But his point is that as a convention, we should
be able to allow people at the table who affirm the BFM, even if on some
issues we would disagree.

I am more comfortable speaking on the next issue, that of reorganizing. That
is the most tenuous one. Can I say that having been a Home Missionary, a
state worker in Indiana, a trustee at one institution, a Baptist University
employee, and a seminary employee, that I have seen SO much time in our
convention spent on justifying one’s denominational position than effectively
serving the Kingdom. If we became so evangelistic that we no longer needed
evangelism professors, I would not spend my life trying to hold on to my job!
As one has well said, in the CR we did not like CP funds going to pay liberal
profs (I went to Samford and had some of them, I was convinced of this!);
now, many do not like CP funds going for ineffective ministry. Now in a
convention as large as ours we will always have waste. Understood. But when
our students have to jump through NAMB, state, church, and associational
hoops, often with various criteria that do not match and without much
communication, one can at least understand why other networks would be
tempting? Years ago when serving in Indiana our WMU director bemoaned the rise of Awanas. Our Exec said perhaps we should at least ask the question why people are switching to it? We can become more efficient.

That being said, this is the one where I think a GRCD must be open ended. The convention, not a declaration, must decide this. But in his Axioms address
Dr. Akin made it clear that even if it meant SEBTS had to be reorganized, for
the Great Commission it is worth it. So once again I defer to President
Hunt’s BP release where he spoke of appointing a group to study this further,
one that would take time to listen to various constituencies. So signing the
declaration is in my opinion saying I agree we need change, for the sake of
the gospel. I respect those who do not sign it as brothers. But for those
who say we are doing just fine, let’s just keep doing what we are doing, I
could not disagree more. I think Tim Roger’s stated reasons for signing the
document make a lot of sense, for example.

I really like what you said about the churches, not the SBC, fulfilling the
GC. But of course it is not one or the other. If you search J.D. Greear’s
blog for his article on “good parachurchism vs bad parachurchism” you will
see what I mean. The SBC at the association, state, and national levels makes
HUGE decisions that effect how churches fulfill the GC. I had a student in
my office this morning who is going to Portland to help a church develop a
college ministry to 40k students. It is a NAMB funded position. That
definitely relates to how churches fulfill the GC as it relates to allocating
resources. I have conversations like this almost every day. I guess I am so
passionate about it because these students are like my children. I so yearn
for them to do well in the gospel fields. But so many of them depend on
decisions made by our entities as they go about their service to God.

But regardless, my prayer is we would come together for truth, for the
gospel. I have no doubt, I am doubly convinced, that if we do not find a way
to refocus on a biblical call to evangelism our neighbors and the nations, we
will see a much smaller SBC in a decade or two. I have spent my entire adult
life studying spiritual movements, awakenings, etc. Things do not “just
happen,” when change comes men of God take action. When they do not, decline continues. There is an inertia either way.

I am not sure this helps one bit. So sorry if it does not. But know that I
can say with a clear conscience before my God that the folks involved in this
have a love and commitment to the CR and a motive simply to fulfill the Great
Commission effectively.

Alvin L. Reid, PhD
alvinreid.com
Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry
Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
P.O. Box 1889
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587