What Is the Mission of the Church?

Posted: November 9, 2011 in books, evangelism, gospel, justice, missions, theology

Trevin Wax recently posted an extremely insightful “critique” (softened through the use of questions) of Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s new book, What is the Mission of the Church.  I think all of his comments are spot on and are an important counter-balance to a Gospel-only missional mindset.

Here are his most compelling questions:

1. Can we reduce “making disciples” and “teaching Christ’s commands” to the delivery of information?

It seems to me that DeYoung and Gilbert tend to reduce “disciple-making” to teaching and then reduce “teaching” to the transferring of information. I agree that teaching is a central part of discipleship (which is one reason I am dedicating the next few years to the development of solid biblical curriculum). At the same time, we need to recognize that teaching also takes place in mentoring, in modeling, and in collaboration with others…

3. Isn’t there a sense in which worship is expressed through our life in the world, not just our corporate worship services?

At the corporate level, it’s clear that worship takes place within the church’s gathering. Yet the biblical story line begins with Adam and Eve worshiping God by obeying His commands in the gardenIt was their cultivation of the garden that reflected their love and praise for their Maker. So when DeYoung and Gilbert claim that worship is integral to the mission of the church and yet want to separate worship from our deeds of justice, I worry that we are failing to remember that our good work in the world is part of our obedient worship to God…

5. Is our representation of Christ not part of the mission?

DeYoung and Gilbert believe we must represent Christ, but it seems like they connect this representation so tightly to verbal proclamation of the gospel that little room is left for representing Christ through love and good deeds…

It is too easy to oversimplify and be reductionistic in our approach to theology.  The Bible is a complex book with a lot of nuanced teaching.  Our calling – as Christians – is multifaceted and can take many shapes.  That’s not to say that the proclamation of the good news about Jesus the Messiah is only one among many “good” objectives the church is called to pursue.

Rather, we need to be reminded to read the Bible carefully, allowing it to speak its message with the force and clarity it seeks to convey.  It is not sufficient for us to proof-text our way into cut-and-dry, black-and-white theological positions.  Clever, quippy theological phrases can be powerful communicators, but they often strip out the nuance of the Bible’s teaching leading to misunderstanding and misapplication.  In relation to the mission of the church, it seems that fear of losing what is central (the Gospel) leads some to deny what is peripheral (good deeds).  Yet, this is not the way the biblical writers talk – you don’t see the stark contrast.

We must remain faithful to the Bible, despite the (very real) danger of losing the center.

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