WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Although the declaration, “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence,” is now the “property” of Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, the statement with more than 1,500 endorsers is the handiwork of Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In an exclusive interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Akin talked about how the statement came about and his partnership with Hunt in launching the effort both hope will result in a renewed passion among Southern Baptists for Jesus’ missionary mandate.
In an April 30 telephone interview from his office in Wake Forest, N.C., Akin said he and Hunt — close friends for many years — have spent a great deal of time together since Hunt was elected SBC president last June talking about what can be done to reverse stagnation within the SBC.
The two strategized on the matter during a two-day visit to Hunt’s Atlanta-area home last fall. Hunt is pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
Then in March, Akin said he shared with Hunt an idea of a sermon he wanted to preach that would outline the themes and issues of concern being discussed among Southern Baptists and offer a way forward for the denomination.
Encouraged by Hunt, Akin said he worked on the sermon, “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence,” which was delivered at the seminary April 16. Prior to that delivery, his sermon was reviewed by Hunt, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. Akin said the men “fully and completely” endorsed the 12-point sermon.
Akin told the Witness that he received “overwhelming” support for the message, and Hunt “in essence commissioned me to put together a more refined kind of document that would take the form of a manifesto or declaration” the SBC president could review, revise and then release to seek endorsement from other likeminded Southern Baptists.
“I would basically give it to him and he would take ownership of it to put before the convention to kind of chart — here’s where many of us think we need to go from here if we’re going to once more capture the zeal and passion for the Great Commission that it seems somehow along the way we’ve lost,” Akin recounted.
So was born “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence,” principally written by Akin, based on his sermon and with some “wordsmith” assistance from seminary colleagues.
Akin said the week before the declaration was officially released April 28, Hunt shared the document with a group of “pastors of strategic churches” who were meeting. The statement “received an overwhelming affirmation” from those pastors.
The declaration was unofficially released April 27 via its website (www.GreatCommissionResurgence.com) and quickly garnered hundreds of endorsers among local, state and national Southern Baptist leaders.
In the day between its unofficial and official release, one significant change was made to the statement, responding to criticism received from state convention leaders who felt Article IX, “A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure,” was “a bit too severe and singled them out for criticism,” Akin said.
The language of the offending article was changed in response to a request from Hunt with the input of several other SBC leaders, including Rainer, Akin said.
The Witness confirmed Rainer’s involvement in the revision.
“It was my prayer that the GCR become a statement of unity, and the original statements related to state conventions in Article IX did not help toward that goal,” Rainer told the Witness. “I am very grateful to Dr. Hunt for allowing me the opportunity to revise Article IX, and I am grateful for his concern for the wonderful relationships we have with state conventions.”
Estimating approximately 500 persons signed the statement before the revision to Article IX, Akin said no one has requested removal of their endorsement in light of the change.
Akin said the language was re-worked to have a “more positive affirmation of the good work done by our state conventions, but also to keep in place the concern and the challenge that [Hunt] wanted to put before [Southern Baptists] to move ahead as a more efficient and more effective Great Commission convention.”
The intent of the controversial article, Akin said, was for every sphere in Southern Baptist life — churches, associations, state convention and national entities — to be “self-critical in asking the question: Are we maximizing the resources entrusted to us by Southern Baptists for the fulfilling of the Great Commission?”
Akin added that he would be “happy” for that burden to first fall on the national entities, later noting that should a future study of the SBC result in the determination that the denomination does not need six seminaries, “I would abide by the wishes of the convention and gladly follow whatever they lead us to do. I sure would.”
Asked if he had any comment about those who believe Southern Baptists’ two mission boards — International Mission Board and North American Mission Board — would be more effective as one entity, Akin told the Witness, “We should be willing to ask any question about any entity in light of, can we do what we do more efficiently?”
Whatever the entity in denominational life, Akin said it is “irresponsible” for anyone to “pretend we’re not in a crisis moment, that we’re not facing some very difficult times, and it would be irresponsible for us not to take a good, hard look” at the denomination.
Akin said he and Hunt have been heartened by the “large number” of pastors who have testified that the declaration has caused them to re-evaluate their church’s effectiveness in using its resources in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Addressing another area of concern about the declaration, Akin strongly rejected claims that Article V, “A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center,” calling the Baptist Faith and Message a “sufficient guide” had any relationship to the so-called “Garner Motion,” heavily debated at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention.
Some have argued the SBC’s adoption of the motion, offered by Ohio messenger Rick Garner, means convention entities are not permitted to create theological requirements beyond the scope of the BF&M.
Akin, who rejects that interpretation of the motion, told the Witness the Garner motion wasn’t “even on the radar screen” during drafting of the declaration.
“Though we see the Baptist Faith and Message as a guiding document that is sufficient, in so many ways it would be irresponsible to see it as an exhaustive document given all of the different kinds of responsibilities and issues that each of our boards and [entities] has to deal with,” Akin said.
“There will be times when an [entity] may need to go beyond the Baptist Faith and Message and we understand that. We would simply ask them — and I think most Southern Baptists would ask them — just be careful and cautious when you feel the necessity to do so. That was the intent of the statement,” he elaborated.
What is Akin’s hope for the declaration?
“I think the declaration is trying to energize, educate and enlist Southern Baptists as a mighty army to move forward in the fulfilling of the Great Commission,” he said. “Will that require us to ask some hard questions and make some tough decisions? Yes. But then that’s what God’s people ought to be willing to do for getting the Gospel to the nations.”
James A. Smith Sr. is editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.floridabaptistwitness.com), newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention.