The Mission of the Church

Over the next several days I plan to engage the new book by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church?

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a notice about this book.  I was initially eager to see a good biblical and theological treatment of the topic from these authors.  When I read the book’s description and an excerpt, however, my heart sank.  I reacted with disappointment for two reasons.

First, I’m not happy to see the developing division among evangelicals between the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” crowd and those who might identify themselves as “missional.”  I’m with folks like Kevin Vanhoozer (“Pentecostal Pluralism” – what a great term!) and John Franke, among many others, who envision the great variety of Christian communities as potentially wonderful.  We ought to see one another as siblings in God’s global family who are given to one another as gifts.  There are so many ways in which we can bless each other, and partner together to love and serve the world, giving them opportunities to see our good deeds and glorify our Father who is in heaven.

I hope I’m wrong, but this growing divide seems like an increasingly destructive tribalism, pitting Christians against one another.  The tone of the book suggested that it would contribute to this emerging scenario.  That’s discouraging.

Second, I think that it’s one of the most encouraging and exciting developments in evangelicalism that we have begun looking outward, grasping God’s call to do good in the world.  This is wonderful because it gets people in touch with the life-giving activity of practically embodying the love of Jesus in and for the world. 

Jesus said that when we love others in his name, we are powered by his own joy.  He floods our lives with his own love and life as we do the things he did—loving outcasts and extending his grace to the marginalized.  Evangelicals have been experiencing the joy of obeying Jesus’ commands to love in action and not just in word.

Just as wonderful, if not more, we’ve seen people who are lonely, broken, and in need being reached with the love of God in Christ.  Again, this has taken place not only in proclamation, but with clothing, food, and the renewal of people who have been neglected.  People in need have been loved and treated with dignity in the name of Jesus.

Here’s my point: I’ve discovered that the biggest obstacles to practical and life-giving obedience in the name of Jesus is complacency, fear, and the failure of Jesus-shaped imagination among Christians.  When I saw this book, I worried that it might just be enough to endorse the reluctance of evangelical Christians to leave places of comfort to love others practically in the name of Jesus.

I took up and read the book in hope that this would not be the case.  I hoped that it would indeed help to clarify issues in the contemporary discussion and focus the mission of the church.  I wanted to honor the authors by seriously taking on board what they have to say.

I’ll engage their presentation in a series of posts.  I’ll first summarize their case and then analyze their biblical, theological, and ideological arguments in support of their vision for the mission of God’s people.

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11 responses to “The Mission of the Church

  • Luke

    It saddens me to see the increasing division between the YRR & the “missional” crowd as well. I can’t tell you how many straw men I’ve heard about the “missional” crowd from the YRR crowd (e.g. they don’t care about doctrine; they don’t care about sacraments; they’re anti-academic; they believe in the social gospel; they leave orthodoxy at the front door; etc.).

    Looking forward to this….

    • timgombis

      We’re all prone to that sort of mis-representation of others and playing along with the tribalizing tendencies of our cultures. But isn’t that a way that the corrupted patterns of the world work to shape the church? Sadly, I don’t think these authors resisted this temptation too well. Lots of straw men running around in its pages.

  • Aslan Cheng

    Eager to read your review of this book. I hope you can review a book,The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture,because this book confuse me also.

    • joey

      I recently started reading this one, too. I have agreed with much of his assessment of what biblicism has resulted in. However, I’m not sure where he’s going to end up. I think it’s hard to have a view of scripture that is too high. (Of course, what we DO with scripture, how scripture SHOULD function, and, even, what constitutes scripture are questions that need to be addressed.)

  • Kelly

    It’ll be interesting to see what you have to say about this book. I probably identify with the missional crowd a whole lot more than with the YRR’s but am surrounded by YRR’s. My husband’s a good Baptist boy that saw buzz words like “social justice” and “shalom” in a book title with authors that fit his theology and bought it as a bridge to me, I think. But then I read the description and thought, “Awesome, more neo-Calvinists that are going to make him think that I’m out in left field.” Your views expressed on this blog and in your book on Paul have provided some balance to our conversations lately. In my husband’s mind- as a former C-ville prof you can’t be too crazy (we both went there- I’m a friend of your sister, Leah)- and in mine- nothing I’ve read has screamed arrogant bastard- so we continue to read and discuss. :) All that to say- looking forward to your review.

  • athanasius96

    We are all signs and parables of the Kingdom. Each of us is partial and provisional in our scope and witness. Why are we so desperate to justify ourselves?

  • nateloucks.com » Stuff Happening Around the Internet(s)

    [...] of Jesus is complacency, fear, and the failure of Jesus-shaped imagination among Christians.” Part 1 | Part [...]

  • John Thomson

    Tim,

    ‘Jesus said that when we love others in his name, we are powered by his own joy. He floods our lives with his own love and life as we do the things he did—loving outcasts and extending his grace to the marginalized. Evangelicals have been experiencing the joy of obeying Jesus’ commands to love in action and not just in word.

    Just as wonderful, if not more, we’ve seen people who are lonely, broken, and in need being reached with the love of God in Christ. Again, this has taken place not only in proclamation, but with clothing, food, and the renewal of people who have been neglected. People in need have been loved and treated with dignity in the name of Jesus.’

    I agree wholeheartedly with both paragraphs. I am particularly grateful for the first for it is a point I often try to make;as we love we ‘know’ God’s love in our own souls; as we are merciful we enjoy God’s mercy in our experience (not only by signals of his mercy but by a sense of that mercy flooding our hearts).

    Yet, I suspect De Young and Gilbert would not disagree with you. I suspect too I may be less ‘transformationally’ inclined than you. I will see as I read your further posts. As I see it, eschatology is the real issue. Do we see new creation as simply old creation restored? Do we see the final Kingdom in some variant of postmillennial realization or radically apocalyptic?

    • timgombis

      Frankly, John, this was one of the frustrating elements of reading their book. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were trying to correct or critique. They never state precisely what they’re after nor really what sort of community practices they’re commending. That may have been why Joel Willitts has titled his posts negatively. The book is largely a critique of any and all missional language. I wanted to be fair and not assume I knew what they were going after.

      It does seem, however, that they label all missional impulses as postimillennially-oriented, so that doing good in communities is (1) not part of the mission of the church, and (2) based on the assumption that we’re bring in the kingdom. It’ll take a number of posts, but there are other ways of thinking of all these things.

  • What is the mission of the church? (book review) | Meet Jesus at uni

    […] for example in Ed Stetzer’s review at the Gospel Coalition and the critiques by Tim Gombis and Joel […]

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