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Comprehensive, Prophetic, Helpful
on May 31, 2007
When he wrote this book, Darrell Guder was Peachtree Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Columbia Thoelogical Seminary, Decatur, GA. He is now Princeton Theological Seminary's Dean of Academic Affairs and the Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology.
Originally planned as a revision of his "Be My Witnesses," this book is instead its sequel. His thesis is that "the only way that evangelization can truly be the heart of ministry will be through the continuing conversion of the church," which can only take place through authentic interaction with the very gospel it professes, communicates and embodies.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part I, "The Church's Calling to Evangelistic Ministry," Guder examines in Chapter One the twentieth century debate about the church's mission against the background of a survey of church history and the prevalence of "diffusionist mission." This is Lamin Sanneh's term for Christendom's wedding of mission with colonialism, spreading the "cultural advantages" and culture patterns of the West in the guise of spreading the gospel. World War I and World War II overturned Christian self-confidence, while exposing westerners to the sophistication of other cultures they had formerly imagined as being pagan, uncomplicated, and monolithically needy. This encounter resulted in the Church reconsidering the nature of mission in a post-colonial world, finding its center in the Missio Dei (Mission of God), a theme highlighted in Karl Barth's address at the 1932 Brandenburg Missionary Conference. The chapter provides a concise and comprehensive overview of key terms, including mission, mission theology, missiology, explores the distinction between evangelism and evangelization, and the relationship between evangelism/evangelization and mission.
In Chapter Two he defines the gospel as fundamentally "the good news of God" as revealed in his saving acts in Christ in pursuit of the Mission of God and in proleptic revelation of the coming reign of God. Here, as throughout the volume, Guder portrays Jesus as both messenger and message of the gospel.
Chapter Three highlights "witness" as Guder's preferred master metaphor for the mission of the church, exploring the roots, contours and implications of the term.
Part II, "Challenges: The Church's Need for Conversion," begins, in Chapter Four by exploring "translation" as the task of evangelization. This includes not only linguistic translation, but translating the gospel into the culture of the receptors, whereby both the missionary and the receptors gain new insight into the meaning and impact of the gospel Chapters Five and Six explore reductionism, a major theme of the book, and how in every age, the church has exercised and maintained, domesticating the gospel. This has inevitably resulted in a truncated and distorted gospel which ill serves both missionary and receptor.
Part III, "Implications: The Conversion of the Church," examines the continual conversion of the local congregation, what, why, its how it is possible and to what end (Chapter Seven), and explores means toward the ongoing conversion of the institutional structures of the Church. The Book concludes with a final exhortatory postlude.
This book is the work of a seasoned scholar. It is comprehensive, tightly organized, well-researched and boldly prophetic, calling today's church to missional faithfulness. It calls the conservative Church to broaden its definition of mission and mainstream churches to explore more deeply what it means to be witnesses of Him in the varied contexts of life. Guder writes clearly and passionately, providing not only the rationale but also a blueprint for first steps toward authenticity for those troubled by the church's missional ambivalence on the one hand, or dissatisfied with bumper-sticker caricatures of the gospel, on the other. The book serves both the liberal and conservative side of the Protestant religious spectrum and deserves to be read by church too inclined to say "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing," while not knowing that they are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17).
For Messianic Jews seeking to identify and implement a missiology suited to the times, to the Jewish people, and to a post-misisonary Messianic Judaism, this work is valuable for the scope of the information it provides, and also for the gaps one finds throughout. These gaps are due to the supersessonist assumptions which have characterized the church since the second century. With the birth of the modern State of Israel, the mood of reflection that has come upon post-Holocaust Christianity, and the current emergence of a self-aware Messianic Jewish remnant, what is called for, yet totally missing from Guder's treatment and from almost the entire missiological community, is a post-supersessionist missiology sensitive to the unique and enduring covenant status of the Jewish people. Such a missiology can only have revolutionary implications for the contours of the gospel preached to the Jews, and how Yeshua-believing Jews ought to live out their faithfulness to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God of Sinai.
This revolution is no mere contextualization of the gospel message for the Jewish context. Rather, it requires the convulsive realization that the Church has for two millennia reserved for itself alone the category "people of God," not reckoning with the persistence and implications of God's consummating plans for the descendants of Jacob. The church's question should not be merely the evangelistic question, "What should we do with regard to Jewish people?", but rather, "How do the descendants of Jacob fit in with the Missio Dei and what does that mean for us and our mission in the world?"
The church and the Jewish mission world have yet to grapple with these challenges. This demonstrates the need for a Messianic Jewish missiological voice to serve as a point of reference for a church and missions world which which must recalibrate their understandings if they would serve the will of God in these transitional and momentous times.
Dr Guder cannot be blamed for the supersessionism underlying his work, as he is a product of his context. Happily, he is also a courageous prophet to a church that needs to hear what he has to say.