What is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, authors and pastors Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert offer their pastoral experience and biblical insight into the conversation. Their suggestion, and purpose of the book, is that the mission of the book, put succinctly, is the Great Commission. They write:
The mission of the church 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 and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. (241)
This thesis statement (though here quoted from the end) is repeated throughout the book. The authors carefully unpack what the Gospels say about the Great Commission, why it matters, and why they believe it is the mission of the church. The strange thing is that this fundamental thesis is insightful and refreshing, though it should be obvious. The authors go through some strain showing how many of the traditional missional passages (like Genesis 12:1ff and Luke 4) are not the best places to start. Instead, when addressing the mission of the church, the authors prefer (and believe rightly) with the Great Commission like that in Matthew 28:18-20.
To make their case, the authors offer an overview of the biblical story, and its emphasis on how God and man can be reconiled as a result of the bridge burned by sin, a detailed discussion of what the gospel is, and various "missional" issues of what Jesus (and Scripture) means by the Kingdom of God and how we are to think about issues like social justice and shalom.
Perhaps my favorite chapter is the overview of the biblical story offered in chapter 3. The authors argue that the one question that Scripture, at its heart, seeks to answer is How can hopelessly rebellious, sinful people live in the presence of a perfectly just and righteous God (69). This then leads them into a survey of the biblical story divided into four "acts": Creation, Fall (the prime problem that the Bible sets up in its first three chapters is the alienation of man from God ), Redemption, and Consummation. In each act, the authors show how this storyline answers that important question reconciliation between God and man.
The tone of the book is particularly helpful. Instead of writing as gunslingers, the authors seek to honestly look at some of the difficult issues debated today (highlighted by extremes in both liberal and conservative camps). Frequently, the authors show that the two common sides on any given subject continually speak past each other. For example, their discussion on the differences between viewing the gospel through a narrow lens and a wide lens is helpful. Those who view the gospel through a wide lens move beyond the cross and resurrection to issues of creation care, poverty, justice, and politics. On the other hand, those with a more narrow lens, emphasize, almost exclusively, the cross and resurrection of Jesus and how that reconcile sinners.
In this paradigm, I am a proud member of the zoom-lens, or narrow lens, party, but I have felt like the authors in that much of the debates regarding the many issues raised in this book and other missional books reveal how easy it is to talk past one other. The gospel has implications, there's no doubt about that, but when asked what the gospel is in its essence, it is dangerous to go beyond the language of the cross and resurrection. I do believe that the gospel has implications that drastically affects our understanding of everything. After all, we are new creatures are we not? And as new creatures we must think differently about mission, church, discipleship, marriage, justice, and our role in society.
This is not the only example of clarity offered by the authors, but it is one that sticks out the most. I could also add the simple assertion offered by DeYoung and Gilbert that all Christians are for alleviating poverty and for some to assert that narrow-lens Christians are somehow in favor of injustice is simply absurd. Again, refreshing and some real honesty is a high point in this book.
Regarding the challenging issues of social justice, the Kingdom of God, and shalom the authors offer a very robust biblical theology on these issues. The authors genuinely seek to present to the reader more than just soundbites but a more complete understanding of what the Bible says about poverty, alleviating poverty, standing against injustice, etc. To the question of social justice, the authors dedicate two chapters the first focusing on exposition and the other focusing on application. It would do both sides some good to consider these pages as the authors seek to be honest with the biblical text and with how that applies.
More could be said regarding this book, but overall this is by far the best book on the question of the mission of the church I have read. Though one might find some holes here and there (and the authors admit that people on both sides will not like some part of their book), the authors manage to pierce through all of the muddy water that has been stirred in these debates. The authors do not get distracted by politics, policy, or endless and needless fights. Instead, they continually focus on what they believe is the great mission for the church: the Great Commission.
As one who agrees generally with this thesis, let just add that the gospel that is spread as a result of the Great Commission is what truly transforms society. We will never restore Eden. After all, we are the one's who destroyed it in the first place and we never created to begin with. However, where genuine Christianity is present, things change. Society changes and history bears that out. If we want real social change, it will not come from the King down to the peasant, but when the gospel penetrates the heart, establishes a missional (can I use that word now?) community, and through the love and providence of God transforms things. The process is never perfect and rarely pretty. But if the gospel transforms the believer certainly the spread of the gospel has clear implications on everything else.
This book was given to me free of charge for the purpose of this review.
For from Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert:
Reviews - "Why Our Church Switched to the ESV" by Kevin DeYoung
Reviews - "The Good News We Almost Forgot" by Kevin DeYoung
Reviews - "Just Do Something" by Kevin DeYoung
Reviews - "Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be" by Kevin DeYoung
Reviews - "What is the Gospel?" by Greg Gilbert
Reviews - "God's Grand Design" by Sean Michael Lucas
Reviews - "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" by Tullian Tchividjian
Reviews - "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
Reviews - "Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God's Word" by Stephen J Nichols
Reviews - "King Solomon" by Philip Graham Ryken
Reviews - "Am I Really a Christian?" by Mike McKinley
Reviews - The Beginning and End of Wisdom" by Douglas Sean O'Donnell
Reviews - "Thinking. Loving. Doing." by John Piper & David Mathis