on November 15, 2012
I'm not sure whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars... The central thesis is true, but I found this book highly frustrating. I simply don't think it lives up to the praise given by those who endorsed it.
First, I should clarify that I listened to the audio version, so have not been able to read footnotes, of which there apparently are many.
That said, a few comments:
* I agree with the main thesis, that the mission of the church is first and foremost the Great Commission. I'm not sure whether I would limit it to only that however,--surely the mission of the church can have a wide angle as well as a zoom perspective, just as the authors note regarding the word "gospel" in Scripture. That said, it is very important to say that only in Christ can one enter the kingdom of God, find shalom, etc.
* There are many good observations about the Kingdom of God, the biblical use of the word "gospel," etc.
* The authors attempt some meaningful exegesis, sometimes helpfully.
* There is a good warning against expecting too much success in establishing shalom here and now, while still in the "not-yet" stage of redemption history.
* The text alone (minus the footnotes I couldn't hear) leaves one thinking that John Stott and especially Christoper Wright must be some evil liberal heretics. I didn't notice anything positive said about either man. Wright in particular gets picked on as an example of someone who is confused about the mission of the church. Someone who had never read him (as I have) would get the impression from this book that he believes things that I am sure he does not.
* On the other hand, Tim Keller is quoted positively several times. This is good (in my mind), but curious... for the authors argue hard for a definition of "justice" that is much narrower than Keller's... but they never acknowledge that fact. (The authors argue that justice is procedural--fair application of fair laws. Keller argues justice includes striving for equal opportunity, giving as an example of injustice a child born into poverty without access to the good schools that his own children enjoy.) In fact, the authors appear to clearly fall into the picture painted by Keller when he (in Center Church, etc.) notes that, while liberals tend to do social good primarily motivated by justice, conservatives do it primarily based on mercy. These authors narrow down justice so much that their main remaining motivation is love. Keller affirms that both justice and mercy are essential, valid motivations. I agree.
* I'm not convinced that the narrow definition of "justice" is sufficient. Especially not when it is accompanied by the statement that an increasing gap between the rich and the poor doesn't matter in and of itself. I find Craig Blomberg's conclusion (in his superb book Neither Poverty Nor Riches, a comprehensive biblical theology of wealth and possessions) more convincing: "There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable.... Such hoarding or accumulation is sin, and if left unchecked proves damning (Luke 12:13-21; 16:19-31)."
* As others have noted, the authors have an unsubstantiated faith in the "wisdom" of the free market, which they personify as much wiser than any human. Their examples given in this regard are horribly one-sided, without even acknowledging such basic and common free-market problems as monopolies, political lobbying by big business, and the way big businesses are controlling large swaths of the American government (FDA, food production, military, etc.).
* They note (correctly, I believe) that the last decades have seen a general world-wide reduction in how many people are living in abject poverty. However, as they listed statistics to prove this assertion, I noted that they did not mention the situation here in America, where the number of people living in poverty is actually increasing, with average incomes of the poor dropping. (I believe I am right.)
* It is too long and too repetitious. It could be 3/4 long without missing anything crucial.
* It is written in a tone that many will find off-putting--especially those who most need to be convinced by their arguments. It sounds like the kind of preaching that Keller says won't fly in the city--like a typical suburban evangelical middle class sermon--fine for that audience, but too preachy and full of pathos for most urbanite, blue-state persons. The choir will like the book; those who most need to hear the main thesis probably will be turned off, which is too bad.
* When evaluating what the Bible says about social justice, the authors seem less to be listening impartially to the texts at hand (although some very good exegesis is included) than to be gleaning evidence for their preformed opinions. In particular, their evident dislike for the concept of "redistribution" skewed their exegesis, especially of Jubilee laws. They use some poor logic as they limit what applications can be drawn from these laws. For instance, they seem very happy to base the legitimacy of private property on the Mosaic Law, but quickly limit what implications we should draw from the Jubilee laws--since they are part of that Mosaic Law given the nation of Israel, not to us. Why does private property carry over from the Mosaic Law (I agree) but not some form of even limited redistribution? For another example, they argue that equal distribution of property could not happen now, because in America wealth is not tied to land as it was in ancient Israel--as if non-property forms of wealth cannot be redistributed. Yet again, they argue that because God did not appoint land holdings when America began as a nation, we therefore should not attempt any form of redistribution. I don't see how that logically follows. I don't think they'd make the same argument about the Ten Commandments, for instance! God didn't give them to the U.S. at its birth, yet we consider them relevant.
* Frankly, while I in no way want to insinuate that the authors condone slavery, their arguments against redistribution ("It isn't commanded by Scripture," "The poor will always be with you," "No one possesses enough wisdom to oversee such redistribution perfectly," etc.) sound plenty much like the kind of arguments that have been raised against the emancipation of slaves. That isn't explicitly commanded in Scripture, either, and history shows there have always been some slaves, but neither point is a valid argument against emancipation, however. I would have been happy to hear less proof-texting against socialism (such as the suggestion that Paul's concern for the poor was limited to one brief famine in Jerusalem) and more consideration of implications the spirit of God's Word regarding caring for the poor.
* Sometimes the logic is simply poor. For example, at one point the authors are trying to show that the institutional church is different than merely a group of Christians. True enough, but the way they try to prove it is by saying that the command for the individual Christian to "love your wife" would not work if given to the whole church. Thus their one category slips from "a group of Christians" to "an individual Christian" without notice, making their argument invalid.
I am glad (I think?) that I listened to this book--mostly because it helps me sense the pulse of the authors and those in their camp. All in all, however, this book does not represent the best of fair, calm, even-handed evangelical research and exegesis. I would highly recommend Blomberg's Neither Poverty Nor Riches as a better foundation for starting to think about money and possessions, and I suspect Keller's Generous Justice would also be better regarding deed ministries and the church. (I have read Center Church and listened to Keller lectures.)
That said, the core thesis is true: the church must prioritize the Great Commission. Thanks to DeYoung and Gilbert for reminding us of this.
on September 20, 2011
As a pastor for over twenty years you see a lot of fads come and go in the way churches seek to make an impact in our communities and culture. I have never met a pastor (worth his salt) who didn't want to be pleasing to God and make a difference for the sake of Christ in his community and culture. However, I have become more and more concerned as I see pastors watering down the message of the gospel; focusing more on programs than on the message of the gospel; and being influenced more by the culture, than influencing culture with the message of the Bible. Therefore, I wholeheartedly endorse and applaud this latest offering on the "mission" of the church because I think it is an excellent treatment of the relevant biblical passages and how they bear on the issues we are facing in the 21st century on what the mission/purpose of the church should be. It is missional and Biblical; truthful and loving without compromise; theologically profound and culturally relevant.
Without giving away the mission of the church as defined and defended in this book, I can say that DeYoung and Gilbert do a fantastic job of discussing issues like helping the poor, economics and social justice, the Kingdom, the gospel, and how a church can make an impact on the world without sacrificing the truth and absolutes.
The strengths of this book lie in its simplicity and clarity, exposition and insightful interpretation of the Scriptures, and it's very clear explanation and application of the gospel as revealed in the 66 books of the Bible. I recommend this book especially for pastor's young and old, leadership teams of churches, missionaries, and Christians who want to know how they can be purposefully a part of the only organization of which the "gates of hell will not prevail."
At the end of the day - this book is highly recommended because the author's build a great case for how to be biblically focused, God-centered, and culturally penetrating without sacrificing the most important truths and main story line of the Bible - the centrality of Jesus Christ as Lord and King to whom is all praise, glory and honor forever.
on September 22, 2011
DeYoung and Gilbert have given us a biblically sound, clearly presented, well researched, and relevantly desired book on the "Mission of the Church." There are three particular strengths that set this book apart from other books on this very topic of the Church's relation to mission, culture, and the world.
First, the points made in this book are built on Scripture explanation and Scripture application. The authors aim to clarify the misunderstanding and misapplication of various Scripture passages. For example, take the topic of Social Justice and the Poor; the authors aren't merely citing various passages of Scripture to make their point. Instead, they carefully take every commonly used passage of Scripture concerning Social Justice and the Poor, and proceed to explain each individual passage in its own context. At the conclusion of each chapter, the reader walks away with a better understanding of God's Word, rather than a fistful of arguments.
Second, this book is well researched. If you desire to read one book on the mission of the church, then DeYoung and Gilbert have read and consulted most if not all of the classic and recent books on this topic. Earlier this year I read a handful of books on the topic of Church and Culture. A few of the more helpful reads were: Tim Keller's Generous Justice, David VanDrunen's Living in God's Two Kingdoms, and James Davison Hunter's To Change the World. In this book, DeYoung and Gilbert pull from some of the key points made by Keller, VanDrunen, Hunter, as well as other authors. Therefore, if time is of essence, I would recommend reading just this one.
Thirdly, DeYoung and Gilbert wrote with a pastoral approach. This book did not read like an academic monograph. Nor did it sound like two angry men attacking hotbed issues. This book was clearly written with the Church in mind and they managed to address controversial issues with a great deal of humility.
**Spoiler Alert** Beyond this point is my attempt to summarize the broad strokes of the central argument of the book without ruining it for you.
As stated in the subtitle of the book, the authors seek to make sense of social justice, shalom, and the Great Commission. They rightly define the mission of the church as the Great Commission to make disciples by declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father - "to win people to Christ and build them up in Christ" (63). The authors carefully explain the fine line that often gets blurred between the responsibilities given to the Church and the responsibilities reserved for God alone. In other words, what was the mission Jesus gave to His church, verses the work that God alone can accomplish such as: building the kingdom, renewing the world, making atonement for our sins, eliminating injustice, and establishing a righteous rule over society. The authors do not discourage or deny the importance of practicing good deeds, caring for the poor, engaging the culture, or visiting orphans and widows. Instead they rightly explain these endeavors as the fruit or blessings of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself. The broader blessings of the Gospel are attained only by means of forgiveness through the cross... (109). It was extremely helpful to see the Scriptural argument for why the Church must uphold the proclamation of Christ as her central mission.
In regards to social justice and shalom, the authors would agree with James Davison Hunter (To Change the World), that the Church can't and shouldn't endeavor to change or fix the social, cultural, or biological problems that plague the world. God created this world, cursed it, is renewing it through Christ. He alone will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Instead, the Church is called to be a "faithful presence" in this fallen and corrupt world - salt and light to our communities. The Church's good deeds are a mere foretaste of heaven, not heaven itself.
I echo one of the previous reviewers that the epilogue is well worth the purchase of this book. It contains a fictitious story of a conversation between a young, motivated, missional church planter and an older seasoned pastor. The conversation displays the type of discipleship relationship that is desperately needed among church leaders today. There is much wisdom to be found in this conversation for both old and young. I highly recommend this book.
on October 15, 2011
Having read Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung, I was somewhat familiar with DeYoung's main message and points concerning the church and social justice. Yet, this new work by DeYoung and Greg Gilbert entitled What is the Mission of the Church was a welcome addition to the discussion regarding the church's mission, message, and goal. Both authors locate the mission of the church early on in the book as, "..the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations" (26). This substantial yet clear defintion undergirds their whole book as pinpointing mission, social jusitice and the church under the central focus of proclamation, discipleship, and bearing witness to Jesus. This definition might seem oddly enough a too simplistic aim. Yet, as Gilbert and DeYoung indicate, this definition of the church has been missed by many in the church seeking to replace other avenues of thought and action such as building the kingdom, serving the poor as the axis upon which the mission of the church stands upon.
One of the refreshing aspects of the this book was the authors intention to do justice to the key missiological texts that are purported as being of seminal importance for the mission of the church. When I first read through their handling of Genesis 12, I was not convinced of their exegesis as I delved into the passage I realized their point. "Even if Abraham is told, "Go be a blessing," the entire story of the patriarchs demonstrates that God is the one doing the blessing, quite apart from any blessing strategy on the part of Abraham" (32). Why is this important? Well, for one, if we take the passage to mean that Abraham is the bearer of the blessings upon the nation (insert you and I now) then we fail to do justice to the blessing of God from the very beginning of Genesis on thru the Bible. They go onto point out, "The emphasis in Genesis is on the chosen family as recipients of God's blessing, not as the immediate purveyors of it" (33). We find this all the more clear at the end of the Genesis narrative in the life of Joseph where we find the hopes of Israel being set upon the continuation of God's promises through Joseph and forward. Gilbert and DeYoung outline three main reasons why we should place our weight upon the Great Commission for the mission of the church (1. grounding mission in Scripture's explicit commands, 2. of primary importance is the New Testament in basing mission, 3. grounding mission in Jesus and his directives (41-45). These admonitions are wise and combine to give a link by link argument for the importance of the Great Commission and its directives. Why? If we ground our mission of the church in explicit commands, then there is less confusion about what the mission is and how to carry it out. Secondly, since the church is primarily focused upon the ministry and work of Jesus, we would do well to focus on the NT for guidance. Lastly, the whole Bible culminates and finds its crescendo in Jesus, for he is the one we worship and the one we should look to for mission directives.
After giving as a short overview of the biblical theology of the Bible, the authors make the claim that the entire storyline can be summed up by seeing it in question form as "How can hopelessly rebellious, sinful people live in the presence of a perfectly just and righteous God?" (89). We certainly see this theme throughout the Bible coming out clear in books like Leviticus and Hebrews, Romans and Micah. One critical note here, they seem to take to task N.T. Wright here by saying "The story is not about us working with God to make the world right again" (89). I do think that Wright's views do not fully engage the idea of sinful people and a holy God in ways that certain evangelicals do. Yet, what I was hoping for in this question posed by Gilbert and DeYoung was some emphasis on the whole of creation being rescued by God. This is the point where I think Wright tends to see Jesus' ministry, death, resurrection and ascension as an activity in rescuing God's fallen creation. I was pleased to find, however, a whole chapter dedicated to the new heavens and new earth in their book. Their discussion regarding the kingdom was very helpful (reminiscent of Richard Pratt's work on the kingdom)in order that Christians don't get a faulty understanding that they are building the kingdom or see it in a spatial way.
Lastly, I was greatly encouraged by the whole tenor of the book, regarding the poor and serving the needs of society in light of the gospel message and discipleship. For all the wonderful articulate discussion of mission and social justice, I thought the epilogue story of a pastor and a new church planter was dynamite! For one, the pastor carefully handles questions of guilt, congregational goals, and the individual gifts in a rather startling and effective manner. At one point, the seasoned pastor writes, "Your job is the equip them for ministry, but don't make a church program for every good deed Christians might do in Christ's name" (258-259). The pastor's goal isn't to guilt his parishioners into everything that he has a passion for but to be general about the church's goal and not too specific in application. This part was just spot on because it took the pressure off of the church planter to spearhead the congregations full ministry activities. I do think that many people partnering with other.s in the church and in their community is a much better way to help the community than to bring the guilt train in sermons, all the while failing to live up to these expectations as a pastor.
Overall, I thought that this book was an excellent book about the mission of the church, the kingdom, and social justice. The authors get into a nuanced understanding of everything from the meaning of specific mission texts, social justice options, and the role of the church. This book will go a long way in forwarding the discussion concerning the proper role between proclamation, discipleship, and social justice issues.
Thanks to Crossway for the complimentary copy to review.
Let me start by saying that, when DeYoung and Gilbert are right, they're really, really right. They want American Christians to reclaim the goal of evangelism and witness to which many white Protestants have grown averse. While an emerging generation of Christian leaders embraces Christianity as a call to engage with the powers of this earth, we lose sight of Christ's commission to speak His truth with boldness.
That said, I absolutely have to take exception to where the authors run with that thesis. They extol individual salvation, an otherwise noble goal, at the expense of any other Christian goal. They seek to actively demolish the theology that Christians have a responsibility to those who lack in this world. Indeed, at places, they seem outright hostile to Christianity as possessing a social mission or political message.
Using Emerson and Smith's analysis, DeYoung and Gilbert clearly come from the privileged side of American Christianity. Their diminishment of Christ's "good news to the poor" and "release [to] the oppressed" only makes sense to anyone who has never been poor or oppressed. Of course Christ meant the literally poor and oppressed! Centuries of Christians, from Augustine and Francis to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, would agree.
Yet DeYoung and Gilbert don't just say we've overemphasized this goal. They say we've flatly made it up. While Christianity does, for them, involve outreach to the poor and the marginal, they see that as the mission of the chosen few. The church as a body has only one goal, in their view: witness and evangelism. In other words, they say this life matters little to the church; our only ecumenical goal is getting people to heaven when they die.
I want to be clear: I agree that we overlook the importance of witness in our time. Jesus and the apostles preached vigorously, far and wide. But they did not talk about pie in the sky when you die, they said the Kingdom of God is at hand, and we must live for that Kingdom right now. These authors' flat dismissal of that witness leaves a lopsided and unsatisfying status quo theology that will disappoint those who most need the message.
on May 12, 2015
I agree with some pretty major beginning principles laid forth in the book, yet, I also strongly disagree with some pretty major conclusions, interpretations, and implications the authors make. In some cases I was deeply troubled by some of the conclusions. I could not recommend this book.
To their credit, I also see the church at large stumbling around, holding classic car rallies and doing “service projects” that have little aim to what we as followers of Jesus are here to do-- make disciples. As a director of a local organization that helps mobilize the church to transform lives in Jesus Name by meeting needs, I see both the good on a county-wide (and sometimes even larger) level, as well as the stuff I see that makes my head explode. I do also heartily agree that there is some pretty sloppy, over-inclusive language and strategy when talking about the work of the church.
So here are the specifics:
Mission, Teaching, Discipleship:
The authors’ main point is that the mission of the church is to “proclaim the gospel and make disciples,” and do mention that making disciples is made up of “baptizing” them and “teaching” all that Christ commanded. We’d be hard pressed to disagree with that.
First, I am in disagreement with the way in which they handle the term “church.” The authors spend, for example, a significant amount of time distinguishing between the church organic (individuals) and the church institutional (p. 232), This distinction is largely used to hold up their thesis that not everything that Jesus commands individual Christians to do is required of the church, and they therefore disconnect some of Christ’s commands from the church institutional. A major part of the book is based on this argument, which is unfortunate.
The hard distinction they make is simply not there. The church is made up of individual believers, and without individual believers, we have no church. Furthermore, in a grammatico-historico reading of scripture, what we call “church institutional” today, at least in America, simply did not exist. Organizational principles did exist, (such as appointing elders,) and became more necessary as the believers parted ways from being a sect within Judaism to becoming a more clearly defined community outside of it, but it’s hard to find clean examples of heavy distinction.
In fact, I would contend that we don’t really see much addressed to an individual Christian at all in the Bible. Biblical thinking almost always occurs in terms of community and groups, and the commands follow this line. “Individual” Christianity is largely an American invention!
Further, the logic and twisting around this whole examination of individual Christians vs. the Church Institutional is incredible and confusing. A simple reading of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” is simply that: the job of the “church” however you define it is to “to teach..to obey...everything I have commanded you” regardless of whether it is a command to an individual or the group as a whole. The ridiculous example given as a test is that a man should give his wife conjugal rights better not be tried by the church institutional (wink, wink) is illogical (p 233). As a group of men we all obey this command in our particular situation, and it is the mission of the church to teach to obey this command, just like every other command of Jesus, whether it is applicable to individuals or something that can be practiced as a group.
In this, I also noticed a trend to locate most all the work of the church in this mission of discipleship as verbal. This is as dangerous a trend as saying that our work is to preach the gospel “without words.” If we are hearers only, and not doers of the word, then we deceive ourselves (James 1:22) into believing we are disciples. Is “teaching to obey” a verbal activity only as a church or can and should it be more? We had better, as an “institutional” church, learn together by doing together not just talking about it. Is the mission of the church to only to verbally tell people to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) or do we teach others to go and do likewise by going and doing it together as well. The near middle eastern concept of discipleship involved much more than sitting in a classroom together. In fact, it was living and doing (obeying) together, with of verbal teaching mixed in. The inclusion of both verbal and action is necessary, and going to one side or the other exclusively is unbiblical.
Further concerning the issue of teaching and the church, I found the interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 a bit disingenuous (p 162). They turn the whole teaching on the use of the word “brothers” to make it only apply to helping believers. If we turn the whole teaching on the use of the word “stranger” in this teaching, we would come with an entirely different interpretation. And even if their interpretation is correct, no such assumption can be made about the very next teaching of Jesus they examine, the Good Samaritan, where the one being helped is clearly outside the community (p 165).
Lastly, I don’t think anyone is saying that the church should and ought to do everything possible, and writing a book to rebut such a thesis would be a waste. Each church is going to niche down their ministry via geography, talents/skills in the church, and by God’s leading.
Physical vs. Spiritual Needs
The authors spread over a good number of pages a separating physical and spiritual needs (pp. 28 - 80, 228, et al), and that builds a foundation for many of their applications and approaches to ministry.
As I look at scripture as a whole, I see a subtle but profound difference: Physical needs are not disconnected from spiritual needs; physical needs flow from and are rooted in spiritual needs. One needs to look no further than Genesis to see that so called “physical” consequences and brokeness (ground and work being cursed, man’s alienation from work, from wife, etc.) are the direct result of man’s alienation from God (“spiritual”). A platonic view of the world, where spiritual and physical are separated, where spiritual is somehow better than or a higher form than the physical, is simply an unbiblical framework.
On Incarnational Ministry:
I find that some of the Reformed guys have a very hard time coming to terms with a very significant New Testament theology of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27.) We sometimes hear much from them about Christ dying for us and and the work of the cross for us and being ambassadors for Christ and proclaiming about Christ, which are all true but not the only part of that story:
Paul put it pretty plainly: On an individual level: “Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). We are individually, and collectively, a dwelling place for God’s Spirit (1 Cor 6:19, 1 Peter 2:5) The church is called “the body of Christ” Paul even said “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh [body] I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24) Christ lives in us and uses our bodies (mouth, minds, hands, etc) to do His work through us. Theologians call this "participation" in Christ, and its all over the New Testament.
Briefly put, there is at least as much talk in the New Testament about Christ in us (and specifically, in us bodily) as His work for us. There may be even more, but it’s beyond the scope of what I want to get into reviewing this book. Suffice it to say, the authors seem to wholeheartedly and unfortunately dismiss a significant piece of the New Testament in trying to back away from anything “incarnational.”
On the Kingdom of God / Heaven:
I do agree generally with Ladd’s statement of “already but not yet” and the authors description of the Kingdom as an “inaugurated eschatology” and that the kingdom is made up of people who are responding to the Kingship of Jesus, and the kingdom is “breaking in.”
(Side note: I do think Jesus himself spends more time talking about the present aspects of the kingdom, and only when discussing his final return using “Son of Man” language is He more discussing the consummation of the kingdom. Most of the time for Jesus the emphasis is on the present priority of the kingdom: “seek first the kingdom of God”)
But, as seems the case with this book, I agree with the authors on the surface, major statement, but disagree on the specific interpretation and application.
The authors spend a long time talking about whether or not the kingdom expands and conclude no, it does not (page 134). Yet, quizzically, they do say it *extends* when another sinner renounces sin and bows to King Jesus (p 121). And they seem to have no trouble quoting verses that say the gospel and the word of God “increase” (pages 50-51, and 122). If the kingdom extends when a sinner turns to Jesus, and if the gospel “increases”, then we are saying the kingdom does, in fact, increase, in this way.
Furthermore, I am absolutely stunned at the cavalier handling of the parables of the mustard seed and leaven (p 133). They claim that the parables exclusively teach that a “kingdom of small beginnings, will at the close of the age, be a kingdom of cosmic significance.” This is almost laughable, wishful exegesis, and reading their own agenda into the text. There is no textual evidence for reading eschatology and consummation exclusively into these parables, either in the words themselves or in the surrounding context.
They also deal with the disciple’s prayer in much the same way, saying that the prayer for “your kingdom come” is a prayer for the consummation of the kingdom, but we know the fulfillment of the prayer from the Hebrew parallelism that immediately follows, “your will be done” and that is accomplished “on earth, as it is in Heaven.” In short, when we see in new ways, God’s will done, in our lives, or the lives of others, the kingdom has broken in, in a expanded way.
The teaching on page 129 is a bit misleading. In one sense, yes, the kingdom will only ever be fully consummated when Jesus comes. And I have no argument with the truth that, ultimately, the world will be the same, or worse, until Jesus consummates His Kingdom by His return. But I believe they wrongly dampen the enthusiasm to transform communities. We have seen, and know, that not only individuals are transformed, but also families, neighborhoods, communities, yes, even cities have been transformed by the gospel in times of unique revival. What I think the authors miss is that when this happens, the transformations as a whole are temporary just as lives and people are temporary; new generations rise up and must again choose for themselves whether they will be reconciled to God and receive His Kingship. So lives and communities are made “better” but the complete betterment of the world as a whole only comes with Jesus’ return.
In the sun illustration (p 134), the authors confuse God’s sovereignty, which is always there, with God’s Kingdom, which only present when breaking in and people are responding willingly to Him.
Are we agents of the Kingdom? Do we somehow cause the Kingdom to break in more and more? Yes, in the same sense that Christ works in us and through us to reach others for that kingdom.
I get where the authors are going here. They are avoiding the “hey, I just picked up a gum wrapper off the pavement, the kingdom is expanded!” mentality. But their presentation of kingdom concepts and exegesis of kingdom passages is, at times shameful.
And therein lie my biggest problems with the book. They start with some good concepts, but in an effort to support their particular interpretation and framing, they make selections of scripture that suit their own viewpoint while ignoring other scripture, or worse yet, deliberately reinterpret scripture to fit their own paradigms (as in the mustard seed parable interpretation.) This is dangerous territory.
I also worry some at categorical statements like these:
“But with all the buzz and energy around social justice, there have been few efforts to look at actual texts” ( p. 142 )
Do the authors really believe *they* are one of the few genuinely wrestling with these issues in a textual way, let alone providing significant answers? Is it guaranteed that if others made honest “efforts to look at actual texts” others would come to the same conclusion as themselves?
Two books, one commended by them and one they stand in disagreement with seem to suggest otherwise:
When Helping Hurts, by Corbett and Fikert, commended by the authors (p. 194 and 240) as excellent, is probably the best book I know on this issue of helping with needs, centered both in the good news about Jesus, His Kingdom and the best of practice and research out of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development. I am actually surprised that they commend this book, being familiar with both books.
They stand in disagreement with John Stott in his book Christian Mission in the Modern World, but I don’t think we would accuse him of being a slouch when it comes to efforts to look at the actual text.
This book ultimately fails to adequately integrate the whole counsel of God, spends too much time chasing and repudiating various error, and thereby falls short in its purpose of explaining the mission of the church and the important implications.
on January 12, 2016
Summary of Contents of the Book
The book is broken down into 3 parts: Understanding our Mission; Understanding our Categories; Understanding what we do and why we do it. Part 1 might have been the most helpful for understanding for what is the current consensus within evangelicalism. Quoting from well-respected guys as Christopher Wright and Tim Keller. Since there are differences of opinion there is need for clarity. Deyoung and Gilbert are guys I’ve come to respect and was most interested to hear from them based on their reformed convictions and their sensitivity to church history and the Bible. They carefully lay out the options of the mission of the church. They look at all the passages that could imply our mission and show how probably not. Gen. 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; and Luke 4:16-21 are closely examined. They show that the point of the passage is not a commissioning of the church but rather a description of God’s plan to bless the world with Salvation through his appointed Messiah. They use thorough exegesis and make their case well. The reason why we call the great commission 'Great' is because of the priority it should receive. Not only is need most crucial but also the means by which people receive the blessings of Salvation come through the gospel. They then take a close look at the great commissions in the Bible: Luke 24:44-49; Matt: 28:19,20; Mark 13:10 and Mark 14:9; Acts 1:8 and John 20:21 (Deyoung 51). To be honest I hadn’t yet laid all the commissions for an in-depth comparison, to my shame. This was fruitful as the showed at the heart of the commission is to take the message of what God has done in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This means that although as Christians we need to be full of Good works our mission must have proclamation of the gospel as our central focus. Jesus Mission serves as the model (Deyoung, 54). Some say the mission of the church is service because Christ didn’t come to be served but to serve and in John 20:31 he sees the main focus of the disciples being sent is to serve. This reading has been extremely influential. Deyoung and Gilbert carefully offer a corrective, “It’s not Jesus driving ambition to heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor, as much as he cared fro them. He was sent into the world to save people from condemnation (John 3:17)” (Deyoung, p. 55). They say there is not a single example of Jesus going into a town with the stated purpose of healing or casting out demons. Summing it all up. The mission consists of preaching and teaching, announcing and testifying, making disciples and bearing witness. The mission focuses on the initial and continuing verbal declaration of the gospel, the announcement of Christ’s death and resurrection and the life found in him when we repent and believe (DeYoung 59). Part 2 I found to be the most engaging of the book. The story line of the Bible is so compelling and a wonderful way to understand the parts of the whole and the whole to the parts. When the Bible is read canonically or as they say ‘from the Top of Golgotha’ you get God’s driving passion to be glorified through the giving up his Son for rebels and the to be the universal King of a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Then they do a helpful corrective the pendulum swinging from one side to the next in our gospel understandings and presentations. Is there a bifurcation between the cross and the kingdom of God? How does it fit in? They answer satisfyingly that the Kingdom comes through the Cross. Christ was crowned king on the cross. The Kingdom has been inaugurated with his coming and now we invite all people to enter into it: To bow the knee to the King of Kings and serve the Creator as Citizens under his rule. Then they have two sections on social justice and one on seeking shalom. Social Justice is extremely popular in my generation and rightfully so as long as we understand it’s place in the mission. Social Justice comes as the people are made knew and start to apply the commands of Christ. It is an outflow of our discipleship as we obey all that Christ has commanded. But we always lead with the gospel as the church for that it man’s biggest need. We don’t only do good works when we can share the gospel but we don’t spread the church so thin with Non profit organizations or renew al ministries devoid of gospel proclamation. It is our mission to make and train disciples and as disciples will do good works, and meet needs. Part 3 seeks to put it all together: What we do and why we do it. So what are the purpose of Good works then? Their answer is compelling: to obey God, because we love our neighbors, to show the world God’s Character and God’s Work, the fruit of the Spirits work in us, to win a hearing for the Gospel. Deyoung and Gilbert explain “Moral Proximity” and how that governs what they do as stewards of time. There are a million needs in the world. How do keep from being overwhelmed and neglecting some of the other things we are called to do. We are called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ, Make disciples, be good spouses, parents, etc. I’m thankful Christ made it explicit as to what gets greatest priority for the church: Make and Train disciples who make and train disciples. So what should we do as Churches? They claim that it wouldn’t illegitimate to do things that have do with the mission even though they are not the direct mission of the church. So would it be ok for a church to have a celebration for their pastor or missionaries’ home on furlough? Of course! This is part of encouraging and honoring God’s workers so that they can continue on in the mission of the church. So they don’t make the case that all we should do is evangelism, discipleship, church planting and leadership development but that these things get the priority.
Evaluation of the Book
The strengths of this book are the clarity and the content. They interacted with all the relevant books and sought from sound exegesis to formulate their arguments. Although their argument seems nuanced and only slightly different then some it makes a big difference of what your church prioritizes. The authors experience as pastors shines through, as they have had to wrestle through countless questions regarding this subject from congregants, pastors, conferences, and others. It was a wise undertaking to complete this project and the church is better for it. One weakness might be the little interaction with Tim Keller who might differ then both Deyoung and Gilbert. They only quoted Keller favorably from Generous Justice but they were hesitant to show the strong importance he gives to justice. If I’m not mistaken his church’s mission statement would include just and mercy.
Personal Reflection on the Implications of the Book for Future Ministry
This book has already been instrumental for our church in clarifying what we are to prioritize and from it we made our mission statement: We aim to make and train disciples who will make and train disciples. At our core is multiplication and rooted in our evangelism and discipleship is training new believers to share the gospel, support the mission of the church through serving and giving, and praying towards the fulfillment of the great commission. This will be a book a give away, come back to, use in developing leaders for years to come.
Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung, in their book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission have chosen to contribute their voice to the intense discuss of missiology, raising important questions about the exact nature and scope of the work of the church in the world. In what has been a developing and important discourse for church leaders, Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert set out to examine the important biblical texts and the theological claims that have been made by the strongest proponents of mission and Kingdom as a key and controlling concept for articulating the gospel and directing the ministry of the church.
The intent of this book is to bring clarity to an important question, and one that has been burning hot for some time. Missiology has become an important topic for pastors and theologians. What is the mission of the church? What is the church charged with doing in the world? And how can we know if we are successfully carrying out that mission? As DeYoung and Gilbert state:
"What is the mission of the church? . . . what do we even mean by mission? And if that can be settled, we then face more difficult questions. Is the mission of the church discipleship or good deeds or both? Is the mission of the church the same as the mission of God? Is the mission of the church distinct from the responsibilities of individual Christians? Is the mission of the church a continuation of the mission of Jesus? If so, what was his mission anyway?"
The answer, in essence, boils down to a declaration that "the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nation." This leaves Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert with the task of defining proclamation, gospel, and disciple making, in contradistinction to other definitions on offer.
The definition of mission that Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert offer is simple, though it does entail a great deal of unpacking. And the definition itself is not universally agreed upon, and thus the need for this book. The authors are on a mission not only to exegete the biblical texts that support their articulation of the mission of the church, but to critique other treatments of those same texts, and to show where other Christian leaders may be getting the mission of the church wrong. Texts of critical importance include Genesis 12 (God's call of Abram), Luke 4 (Jesus's reading from Isaiah at Nazareth), and Matthew 28 (The Great Commission), Matthew 22 (The Great Commandment), and John 20 ("As the Father has sent e, so I send you.").
Both the constructive and critical exegesis offered by Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert is helpful. Foremost is their point that the gospel, and therefore the foundation of our mission, is something that is primarily announced as true, rather than declaratively embodied. The authors state:
"We cannot re-embody Christ's incarnational ministry any more than we can repeat his atonement. Our role is to bear witness to what Christ has already done. We are not new incarnations of Christ but his representatives offering life in his name, proclaiming his gospel, imploring others to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). This is how the exalted Christ carries out his mission through us."
This is most certainly right, with an additional, careful nuance. Christ, as our pattern (Luther's terminology), invites us to take up our cross and follow him, and, as C.S. Lewis wrote so lucidly in Mere Christianity, put his life in to ours. In addition to this, we too are to lead a cruciform life, and though we cannot repeat his atonement, we too lay our lives down for the world, as he did, not to the same effect in the cosmic scope, but as an act of witness to the ultimate act of God's love on the cross.
In my analysis, Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert have offered us a book that is filled with strong engagement with the biblical text, diverse citations from those across the missional movement, and some interesting critiques. For those pondering the nature and mission of the church, there are some helpful points, both critiques and affirmations, that I would strongly agree with. But the book is not without its weaknesses. There are articulations of the scope of Christ's salvific work that I find partial, and a softening of the imperatives surrounding obedience to justice related commands that I find detractive from the overall mission of the church. Rather than propelling us into the world, there are elements in Mr. Gilbert and Mr. DeYoung's presentations that I believe keep us nailed to the pews, listening again and again to a singular articulation of the gospel of Christ's atoning death. And while we do need to hear this message again and again, allowing it to humble and fuel us, there is work in the world that must be done. That work, the work of justice and mercy, is a logical outcome that flows from the nature of Christ's work to save individual souls, and our preaching should reflect this. The resulting fruit should be not only individual who care about justice and mercy, but churches who actively take up that work.
Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert may object, saying this is most definitely not their intent, and that the closing chapters of their book do continue to stress the importance of engagement and advocacy for justice causes in the world. But their claims fall victim, I believe, to "death by a thousand paper cuts". With so many qualifications about the nature of the gospel and the narrow scope of what discipleship entails, in an effort not to add works to the good news of grace, I believe they weaken their thrust in an unnecessary manner.
Though a helpful book, it is not without weaknesses. Polemical in nature and in tone, yet constructively critical, read What is the Mission of the Church? if you are working diligently to nail down an articulation of God's mission that is biblically faithful and theologically sound.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for a review.
on November 27, 2011
Mission, social justice, shalom, and the great commission. If there was a contest this year to see who could fit the most current Christian buzzwords on the cover of their book, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert would probably win with What Is the Mission of the Church? Fortunately for all of us, DeYoung and Gilbert are bringing some needed balance to these ideas rather than just riding the wave of popularity behind these hot topics.
Regarding these trending themes in Christianity:
"We are concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city or tackling social problems, we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission Christian: namely making disciples of Jesus Christ . . . We want to help Christians articulate and live out their views on the mission of the church in ways that are more theologically faithful, exegetically careful, and personally sustainable."
I can't say this book is for everyone but for the pastor or church leader who feels torn a hundred different
directions with good things the church could be doing, this book brings
the focus back to "the main thing". After an introductory chapter, the bulk of the book is spent doing one condensed biblical theology after another regarding the Great Commission, the biblical meta-narrative, the gospel, the kingdom of God, social justice, and shalom. While none of these chapters are comprehensive treatments on such themes, the authors give sufficient time to each to make their case:
"In the end, the Great Commission must be the mission of the church for two very basic reasons: there is something worse than death, and there is something better than human flourishing . . . Universal shalom will come, but personal redemtion comes first . . . We are not called to bring a broken planet back to its created glory. But we are to call broken people back to their Creator."
If I may make two observations not directly regarding the content of the book: (1) This is now the fifth book I've read authored or co-authored by DeYoung, and it is certainly the driest. There is no fluff, personal anecdotes, or humorous illustrations. This is DeYoung at his most mature, perhaps because he feels the ideas are most dire. (2) This is one of the most seamlessly co-authored books I've ever read. Most of the books I've read written by two or more authors suffer from a choppy train of thought, awkward self-references, and painful transitions between authors that all serve to break up the flow of the book. Not so with this book.
What Is the Mission of the Church? is at the same time an important corrective and an impassioned plea for the church to rightly prioritize among all the good things we can be about doing.
on September 17, 2011
DeYoung and Gilbert have authored a thoughtful look at the mission of the church. The first task they undertook was to sort through the different ideas and definitions of mission. They do arrive at what seems a reasonable definition, which means I generally agree with it. Much of the book is devoted to developing their theme that mission and ministries can be distinctly different, even to the place of losing sight of one another altogether.
Another point they make later is that the church, a Christian, and a bunch of Christians do not necessarily have the same focus, mission, or ministry. That is a very important point and I think needs to revisited and expanded. The confusion that these authors see about the mission of the church is based in that area, I think.
But, as well written as this book is, the crowning glory for it is the epilogue, a fictitious conversation between a young church starter and a mature pastor. If for no other reason than this epilogue, this book needs to be on the required reading list for pastors and church starters/planters.
There's isn't too much to say on the down side about this work. I do feel that one thing that will hurt this book is the title. It will be one of several on the shelf with the word mission in the title.
That said, I do want to say this book is definitely worth the read. It is thought provoking, and well written. It helped me sort through some areas related to mission versus ministry.
This book was provided by Crossway via netGalley for review.