This summer, B&H Academic published an important book titled Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time, edited by Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenway. I contributed an essay to that volume titled “Southern Baptist History: A Great Commission Reading.” What follows is the introduction and conclusion of that essay. I hope if you haven’t done so already, you’ll pick up the book over the holiday season, read the whole essay, and read the other excellent chapters in this helpful book.
Southern Baptists have always been a Great Commission people. The Southern Baptist Convention is comprised of almost 45,000 local churches that voluntarily cooperate in numerous Great Commission endeavors. We are served by two mission boards that appoint, equip, and fund Southern Baptist missionaries who are preaching the gospel and planting churches in unevangelized regions of North America and every corner of the globe. Our six seminaries train present and future pastors, missionaries, and other Christian leaders to model a missional lifestyle in whatever ministry context they find themselves. LifeWay Christian Resources publishes materials that aid Southern Baptists and other Christians in missional living. Our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission defends the freedom of all to preach the gospel and advocates gospel-centered values in our pluralistic culture. Even our annuity ministry, Guidestone Financial Resources, cares for the financial needs of pastors, missionaries, and denominational servants who seek to lead Southern Baptists in being a Great Commission people. The Great Commission has been Southern Baptists’ raison d’être from the very beginning.
From time to time controversies have threatened our Great Commission priorities. This remains true today. This chapter offers a “Great Commission reading” of Southern Baptist history by articulating some historical and present threats to our Great Commission cooperation. It also contends that the time has come for our churches and denomination to move beyond hindrances to our cooperation and renew our commitment to the Great Commission.
This chapter has argued that the Great Commission has always been central to our convention of local churches. Despite our shared missional priorities, there have often been threats to our corporate pursuit of the Great Commission. This was true with the antimission movement of the mid-19th century and the programmatic and progressive status quo of the mid-20th century. It remains true for the contemporary convention as the varieties of Southern Baptist conservatism attempt to live together peacefully and cooperate together faithfully.
As this chapter comes to a conclusion, it bears repeating once again that Southern Baptists must not confuse the ends with the means. If we are content with simply having theological conservatives leading our various ministries, then the Conservative Resurgence was only a half-victory. As Timothy George has quipped on a number of occasions, the mere replacement of one set of bureaucrats with another doth not a reformation make. The Conservative Resurgence must result in a renewed zeal for the Great Commission. This is why so many Southern Baptists have called for a “Great Commission Resurgence” in recent years.
The use of the word resurgence is deliberate. Just as our commitment to conservative theology was interrupted during the generation prior to the Conservative Resurgence, our commitment to the primacy of missions and evangelism was interrupted during and after the Conservative Resurgence, at least in practice. There were important battles being fought within our denomination, battles that conservatives rightly believed would ultimately lead to theological renewal. With the success of the Conservative Resurgence, that theological renewal is underway.
The time has come for a missional renewal that flows from our doctrinal convictions. Zeal for the Great Commission needs to be restored to its place of prominence in Southern Baptist life, not just in theory and rhetoric, but in practice. Although work still needs to be done to bring about further theological renewal in the convention, we cannot lose sight of the “one sacred effort” that has united us since our earliest days. The interruption is over. The distractions must be set aside. God is at work reconciling the world unto himself, and Southern Baptists need to get serious again about making ourselves available to the Lord to use in his great work of bringing salvation to people all over North American and in every corner of the earth. Theology and missions go hand in hand. One without the other is an incomplete agenda. One without the other is destined to fall short of what our Lord intends.
 For example, see Timothy George, “Toward an Evangelical Future,” in Southern Baptists Observed: Multiple Perspectives on a Changing Denomination
, ed. Nancy Tatom Ammerman (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993), 277.
 In addition to this volume, see Daniel L. Akin, “Answering the Call to a Great Commission Resurgence,” in Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialog, 247–60; Idem, Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence (Wake Forest: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009); “SBC President’s Declaration Calls for a Great Commission Resurgence,” Baptist Press (April 28, 2009), available online at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=30387 (accessed July 6, 2009); Thom Rainer, “A Personal Great Commission Resurgence,” in Florida Baptist Witness (June 30, 2009), available online at http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/10439.article (accessed July 6, 2009).
 See Rainer, “A Resurgence Not Yet Realized.”