Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: What is the Mission of the Church?

DeYoung, Kevin and Greg Gilbert. What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton, Ill. Crossway, 2011, 288pp. Review by Matthew Kratz*.

"Mission creep" is a topic primarily discussed in military operations, but very applicable for the battle that the Church is called to undertake (1 Tim. 1:18). There are many things that the Church can do. There are many things that the Church should do. For centuries, often heated debates have dealt with doctrines like the Gospel, Kingdom, Church, Mission and a myriad of other topics applied to a such diverse fields as evangelism, discipleship, community, politics, and requests for assistance.

In the midst of a debate that has often generated more heat than light, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have done some careful examination of the central mission of the Church with remarkable Biblical clarity in their new book, What Is the Mission of the Church?

The book is divided into three parts: “Understanding Our Mission,” “Understanding Our Categories,” and “Understanding What We Do And Why We Do It,” with part two being the bulk of the book.

Understanding Our Mission

DeYoung and Gilbert make the reasonable assumption that their present audience is primarily Christian (p. 15) and begin with the central question of: “What is the mission of the church?” Acknowledging that this is not strictly a biblical word as a noun (p. 17), yet a verb of dealing with one being sent. It implies that one is specifically sent to do something and therefore, not everything. That this is a particular assignment is an important distinction for it frames the terms of reference in the arguments to come. With a prayer for humility, understanding and pastoral approach, the authors present their thesis at the end of chapter one, stating, “We will argue that the mission of the church is summarized in the Great Commission passages…We believe the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations” (26).

In chapter two, the authors begin their exegetical treatment of various biblical texts dealing with commission. In this examination they critique other views that take certain passages as paradigmatic for our understanding of the church’s mission, which certain other authors have taken above all others and unnaturally limited the mission. Putting it all together with questions of who, why, what, where, how, when and to whom? (p.. 59), DeYoung and Gilbert show how we must ask these important questions of biblical texts in order to understand exactly what the mission is.

Understanding Our Categories

Section two begins with chapter three showing how the topics of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation  relate to mission. Chapter four highlights how those who take either a too "narrow" or too "wide" consideration of Gospel, have muddied the understanding of mission (p.93) through either dilution or reduction (p.111). Chapter five discusses how the kingdom of God relates to mission. Periodically, DeYoung and Gilbert summarize their argument combining their various examinations. Here they summarize what they examined in this section by saying that the kingdom of God is "God's redemptive reign, in the person of his Son, Jesus Messiah, which has broken into the present evil age and is now visible in the church" (p. 127).  They explain how the kingdom will be finally and fully established, and how one gets into the kingdom. Section two concludes with an discussion of social justice, dealing with various passages that touch on loving one's neighbour, sin, responsibility, justice, kindness, humility, generosity, and faith shown through works. Always applying what is discussed, chapter seven ties all these complexities of determining a biblical theology of wealth, poverty, and material possession to what the authors admit they have yet to specifically define in "social justice" to such obvious yet political incorrect moral obligations of proximity priority (p. 183). Chapter eight concludes with a discussion of the New Heavens and the New Earth with the "cultural Mandate" (p. 208). The terms of reference are brilliant in any discussion of continuity/discontinuity.

Understanding What We Do and Why We Do It

Part three sums up the book as the authors helpfully discuss important distinctions such as duties of individual Christians versus duties of the institutional church looking at why and how we do good.  What then is our responsibility? DeYoung and Gilbert present a quote from Gilbert J. Gresham Machen:

"The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life—no, all the length of human history—is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth—no, all the wonders of the starry heavens—are as the dust of the street. An unpopular message it is—an impractical message, we are told. But it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life." (p.248). 

DeYoung and Gilbert follow-up Machen's quote with these words: "It is not the church’s responsibility to right every wrong or to meet every need, though we have biblical motivation to do some of both. It is our responsibility, however—our unique mission and plain priority—that this unpopular, impractical gospel message gets told, that neighbors and nations may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, they may have life in his name." (p. 249).

This summary and the epilogue are worth the price of the book itself. When the "floodgates open" in a dialogue between a seasoned Pastor and typical "missional" concerns, DeYoung and Gilbert effectively wrap up their previous theological considerations in helpful pastoral concerns. If all this was not helpful enough, the general and scriptural index enable this work to be a reference that will bode well in any consideration of mission.

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert provide a careful, practical, biblical exegetical treatment of social justice, peace and the great commission in a consideration of what is the mission of the church.

*A copy of this book has been graciously provided by Crossway to enable this review.

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