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.