Sunday I returned from ten days in China meeting some profound workers for the Gospel in some very difficult places. The whole experience reminds of IHOP in 2004.
One day in my first semester as a seminary professor, I was eating breakfast with a student who asked to be mentored. He made a statement that still reverberates in my mind across these last ten years. Speaking of the fight for the inerrancy of Scripture in the SBC, he said, “If the major players in SBC would have just left things alone, it would have all worked itself out.” I knew the statement was naive at best and dangerous at worst. I also knew that this was not original with him. Perhaps many people thought this. My retort was a fumbling attempt to to correct him. However, after being on the field for a few days I see it more clearly now than ever before. Crystal clear, really. Huddled in his Christian/Baptist ghetto, what he could not see was the reach of history.
Thirty years ago, SBC leadership supported the idea that people in the pews should pay the salary of professors who did not trust Scripture. The righting of this is history and historical lore. However, the events were not so much about academic license. It had to do with the Gospel generally and missions specifically. A Scripture that is questioned does not produce a Gospel worth giving your life for.
When you see a guy take his family, move to one of the most difficult places on earth, give up any ambition to personnel comfort, and lead his family to make the same sacrifices, you realize that he does not feel moderately about the Gospel. When we reflect on the price that was paid to sustain the integrity of Scripture in the classrooms, we need to remember the tip of the spear on the field. A tip that would be severely blunted without the thrust of evangelistic fervor that comes from a life passionate about the Gospel. What does inerrancy have to do with missions? Everything.
In the heat of the battle, I remember my father reflecting to me the oddity of the word “moderate.” He said, “Imagine this in any other context. So how do you love your wife, moderately? How do you feel about the Gospel, moderately?” What he was saying, very sarcastically, of course, has a ring of truth. A moderate love of Scripture does not produce a relentless love for Jesus or for the lost. This is for theological reasons. We love the lost because we love Jesus. We love Jesus because we know Him in His Word. By knowing Him in His Word we know the Father (II Cor. 4:4,6). Compromise a love for Scripture and the missionary enterprise is compromised.
I wish those who think that the Conservative Resurgence was about a power grab could have been with me in that over-crowded apartment where my newly met brother was raising his family in a very difficult place, antagonistic to the Gospel. This is not to suggest that those without the same doctrinal commitments could not make the same sacrifice. It’s just that if the Word is not true, then you don’t have to. If you are going to go across the world, and live and die in anonymity for the Gospel, I can’t imagine doing so for a Bible that may or may not be true. How do you go through the work to learn an obscure dialect of an unknown people group, and then translate the Scripture into their language, when all the while you are not sure that what you are translating is totally true and trustworthy? Not every missionary is an inerrantist, but every inerrantist should be a missionary. The fight for doctrinal fidelity in the classroom is the fight for missionary fervor on the field. With all that I learned this last week, this historical lesson seemed to resonate with me more than any other.
Strangely perhaps, being with so many missionaries did not make me want to be a missionary. It made me want to get as many of my students to fall in love more deeply with the words of the Word so that when they are called to the field the love for God’s word will be the fuel that sustains a fiery love for Jesus, and a fiery love for those for whom He died. This is what my student in IHOP could not see: how a difficult but necessary scrap for the nature of Scripture in our seminaries was a fight for the souls of the Chinese, and for hundreds of other UUPGs.
So I express gratitude for those who fought for doctrinal fidelity within the SBC. The fight was fought imperfectly and with all the malaise of corporate change. Yet, if the believers with whom I huddled in a clandestine house church in Asia knew whom to thank, they would as well. However self aware the conservative resurgent’s were of their actions, the tip of their spear is penetrating dark places even now; further illustrating that theological fidelity in the classroom is the incubator for Gospel witness on the field.