In What is the Mission of the Church?, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert contend that determining the mission of the church “is the most confusing, most discussed, most energizing, and most potentially divisive issue in the evangelical church today” (p. 25). Scot McKnight claims that recent interest in social justice, or what he calls missional, “represents the biggest shift in evangelicalism in the last century” (p. 142). I believe these men are correct. Much ink has been spilled of late promoting the social agenda and a good book challenging missional thinking—drawing us back to Scripture to carefully analyze such thinking—was needed. This is that book. It is well done, carefully researched, scripturally based, and extremely practical. It is also written by the right men. Both DeYoung and Gilbert are highly respected by the young, Reformed, and restless crowd that is most likely to swallow the missional agenda without much reflection. If nothing else, What Is the Mission of the Church? should give evangelical Christians reasons to pause and reconsider where they are headed.
Specifically, the authors are addressing whether the “mission of the church is discipleship or good deeds or both” (p. 16). They also want to consider the role of the church in pursuing social justice and building the kingdom of God on earth (p. 16). Their thesis, stated and defended throughout, is that the church’s mission “is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey His commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father” (p. 62; see also pp. 231-239; 241-242; 245-247). They do not want to be misunderstood to say that Christians should be indifferent to suffering in the world (pp. 22-23), just that alleviation of suffering is not the mandate for the church—making disciples is.
Having said this, DeYoung and Gilbert know they are swimming against the current of recent popular evangelical thinking. Discounting emergent leaders such as Brian McLaren who frame the church’s mission in purely social terms, mainstream evangelicals are adopting much the same program. The difference so far is that thinkers such as Scot McKnight and Christopher Wright are not abandoning the Great Commission, they are merely adding the social schema and elevating it to equal status with the Great Commission. John R. W. Stott, an early leader in this approach wrote, “Evangelism and social action, therefore, are full partners in Christian mission” (p. 54). Although not mentioned in the book, authors from Francis Chan to David Platt would define the mission of the church as including environmental stewardship, poverty relief, digging wells, working for social justice, and medical attention to the needy. In other words, the mission of the church is being broadened far beyond the Great Commission. DeYoung and Gilbert argue that the believer will involve himself in social issues by virtue of his love for his neighbors, but there is nothing particularly Christian about humanitarian work (pp. 231-239). Christians can lock arms with non-Christians over social concerns, and they should, but they should not confuse this action with the unique mission of the church—to proclaim the gospel and make disciples (pp. 224-229). “We are not called,” they write, “to bring a broken planet back to its created glory. But we are to call broken people back to the Creator” (p. 248).
DeYoung and Gilbert spend much of their book examining and challenging the missional (a term they use but never really define, p. 25) mindset in light of Scripture. For example, they critique Christopher Wright’s teaching on Genesis 12 (pp. 30-34) and the Exodus (pp. 34-36), missional views of Luke 4:16-21, false uses of “Shalom” (pp. 52-53,195-203) and incarnationism (pp. 54-58), and the erroneous idea that our actions will bring in the kingdom (pp. 27-35; 197). Specifically they analyze favorite biblical texts missional leaders lean on:
Of a more positive nature, the authors provide biblical understanding concerning dealing with the poor (pp. 175-177; 186-192), owning possessions (pp. 177-179), rejecting guilt motivations that are often used (pp. 192-193), the Cultural Mandate (pp. 208-213), continuity issues between the present and new heavens and earth (pp. 213-219), the importance of hell in our understanding of mission (pp. 244-245), and the value of the church realizing that it is a “holy huddle” (p. 264). They also trace God’s commands for social involvement through the Scriptures and determine that the focus of such concern is on the covenantal people not society at large (pp. 184-186). In the book of Acts, for instance, we find no examples of societal renewal on the part of the disciples (p. 49).
What Is the Mission of the Church? is a valuable book. I hope many well-meaning, missional-leaning believers will read it and consider its thesis. In light of the popularity of the social agenda and a present confusion over the mission of the church, I would encourage all pastors and Christian leaders to read this work. – Gary Gilley, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Christians today define mission more broadly and variably than ever before. Are we, as the body of Christ, headed in the same direction or are we on divergent missions?
Some argue that the mission of the Church is to confront injustice and alleviate suffering, doing more to express God’s love for the world. Others are concerned that the church is in danger of losing its God-centeredness and thereby emphasize the proclamation of the gospel. It appears as though misunderstanding of mission persists.
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert believe there is a lot that evangelicals can agree on if only we employ the right categories and build our theology of mission from the same biblical building blocks. Explaining key concepts like kingdom, gospel, and social justice, DeYoung and Gilbert help us to get on the same page—united by a common cause—and launch us forward into the true mission of the church.