In this helpful book, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert offer insight into the distinction between the primary aspect of the Great Commission (which is making disciples) and its peripheral responsibility of social justice. Throughout its pages the reader is repeatedly charged to "keep the main thing the main thing." Yes, the Christian is instructed to care for "the least" in society and to safeguard this planet, but that is not the most essential part of the task Christ left for us to fulfill. Although this book appears to have been written with pastors and other church leaders in mind, the terminology is neither academic nor technical. Although believers--individually and collectively--should be zealous for good works, the communication of the Gospel must be done through words. Good deeds by believers, without the clear proclamation of the cross, are no more effective in reaching the lost than those motivated by humanitarian concerns. The authors bring this fact to the surface time and again, which makes this book well worth reading and assimilating. The final chapter, "The Great Commission Mission," provides an excellent summary of the book's thesis; and the epilogue (an imagined conversation between a seasoned pastor and one just beginning his ministry) allows the reader to "listen in" and see best where he needs to adjust his own understanding of our Lord's mandate.
Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert's new book What is the Mission of the Church is part of a series of books that have come out over the last couple years on this very issue. After the release of Scott Vandrunen's book Living in God's Two Kingdoms there has been a revival in examining the two main arguments for the church's mission. With the people that I have spoken to, most do not feel comfortable with the Redemptive/Restorative or the Vandrunen Two Kingdom approach to the mission of the church. Most people find Vandrunen's approach to be too radical and missing the mark on several points. Those who disagree with Redemptive/Restorative view generally say that this approach distorts the gospel. The R/R approach is often caricatured as distorting the line between our works and the gospel. Most people who use this as an argument and/or use this argument alongside the slippery slope fallacy fall short of explaining scriptures connection of good works and mission of the church. I think Deyoung and Gilbert do a great job of taking some of the bite out of Two Kingdom theology and make it more palatable. In the end, I don't feel as if they have truly offered a middle position, which it seems that was their purpose of the book. Deyoung and Gilbert promote a two kingdom theology, but do not use Vandrunen's covenantal framework to do so. I think when confronted about this they may deny this, but that is exactly what it is. The fact that Michael Horton would blurb on the back of your book, confirms that you hold a Two-Kingdom approach (Joking). I wish D & G would address passages such as Ephesians 1:9-10, which seems to the thesis for book. Ephesians 1:9-10 explain how God is summing up all things under the headship of Christ.
Chapter two then explains how he is doing this, through the gospel. Chapter 3 and 4 are implications/ what a life looks like that has been changed by the gospel. Likewise I wish Deyoung and Girbert would have either addressed or better addressed more passages pertaining to the argument (e.g. Matthew 13:31- 33, Mark 4:26-28, 1 Cor 3:5-9, Psalm 90:17, Amos 5:21-4, Isaiah 1:11-17, Matthew 10:7-8, Galatians 6:10,and almost the entire book of Titus). I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I want to wrestle with the issue a little more. I think their argument that the R/R view of culture brings confusion as to exactly what the mission of the church is does not stand. Following this line of thought one could also say that good works by believers may cause confusion as to what the gospel truly is. No one is making that claim that these things are the gospel. Only those who are attacking the position argue that it brings confusion to exactly what the gospel is. I think Piper's illustration from T4G is helpful in bringing clarity here, "Good works are the fruit and not the root of salvation." Likewise, Social Justice, helping the poor, ect are fruits of a gospel transformed life and not the root. Calling Christians to take part in these things is simply calling them to take part in the fulfillment of Eph 1:10. So, participation in the mission of the church, is participating in declaring the gospel and living a gospel transformed life, which includes social justice. So, is helping the poor and doing acts of social justice a part of the mission of the church? Yes! Are these works the gospel? No! Matthew 28:16-20 call for us to make disciples teaching them to obey Christ's commands and this is an aspect of obeying those commands. I thoroughly enjoyed the book! The book offers a unique perspective to the conversation going on. I do not agree with everything both authors said, but I do appreciate their devotion to examining this issue exegetically. Additionally, I thought that the book's chapter on social justice was very helpful.
"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 lifeâ€”no, all the length of human historyâ€”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 earthâ€”no, all the wonders of the starry heavensâ€”are as the dust of the street. An unpopular message it isâ€”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, howeverâ€”our unique mission and plain priorityâ€”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.
Any industry asks the question, "what is our mission?" That is the driving concept that businesses build their product line, service department and advertising around. Those companies that understand their mission and develop well grow. Those companies that don't understand their mission and don't develop it well do not succeed and eventually close their doors. Hallmark understands the greeting card business, McDonald's understands the fast food hamburger business and they have been successful.
So, why is it that the church doesn't seem to understand it's mission? Why is it that the church doesn't plan and develop their ministries to articulate and pursue it's mission? Why do we often get sidetracked into other areas of business that are not our true mission? If McDonald's started selling computers at their same site as fast food we would wonder what they are thinking. it's not necessarily wrong for them to diversify, but it would seem that they should stay in the food business not go into technology.
So, with the church, What is our Mission? Is it to just Shepherd the people that we already have? Is it go provide social services to the poor? Is it to stand up for Justice for the poor? Is it to stand up for immigration rights for those seeking a better lifestyle?
All those things are good and not necessarily bad for the church to be involved in, but they are not the main mission of the church. So, what is the main mission of the church. On page 69 DeYoung and Gilbert give their capsule summary, "then it should not surprise us in the least that Jesus would end his earthly ministry by telling his disciples, 'You will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8). It shouldn't be surprising that he would launch them into history with the command, 'Go . . . and make disciples' (Matt. 28:19). After all, that's exactly how the great riddle is solved: sinful people are brought into God's presence by becoming disciples of Jesus through faith and repentance, and they can do that only through the witness of the apostles as they proclaim the good news about who Jesus is, what he has done, and how we should respond as a result."
The mission of the church is found through our study of the Bible. "It is a fourfold story that we find in the Bible. 1) Creation, 2) Fall, 3) Redemption and 4) Consummation." (see page 68 DeYoung and Gilbert are going to develop their summation and their concept of the fourfold story of the Bible throughout this book. Their desire is for the layman as well as the paid profession pastor to understand that the mission of the church is to be witnesses of Jesus and Jesus crucified. We need to teach the Bible strongly and not water down the principles and applications that we find. We are not to become just a social service agency, we are to stay a people committed to passionately declare the Glory of God through the story of the Bible and help people find their way to God through understanding the ministry of Jesus.
The author's will also be careful to remind us that as we get our mission correct and preach the Gospel correctly that people will come to know the Lord, join the Church universal and then change their lifestyles to conform to Christ. That change of lifestyle will mean that people will want to do community service, they will want to give to the poor, they will want to stand up for social justice and other issues, but they will do it as an offshoot of their main mission which is to preach Christ and preach Him crucified. To explain to people the mission of the Gospel as told through the Bible.
I appreciated the fact that DeYoung and Gilbert make it clear up front (page 25) that, "this is not a book by and for biblical or theological scholars," instead it is written clearly enough for laypeople as well as the theologically astute. Their goal was further stated on page 23 as, "we want Christians to understand the story line of the Bible and think more critically about specific texts within this story." I think that is well done in their book. They have not written this as Theological tome but they have written it clearly enough for all to understand but they still want us to THINK CRITICALLY about what we read and what the Bible has to say.
So, tackle this book with the desire to delve into your Bible and think through all that is stated. You might not agree with all they say, but if you think critically you will grow, you will learn and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you as to what you should be learning.
I want to be honest and disclose some information before I start this review. I have been waiting for a book just like this for some time. You see I love the Gospel. It is what drives me, and it is what motivates me. I also have to admit that there was a brief time in my life that I got really into the whole social gospel/social justice movement. Quickly though I began to see it as empty and shallow and lacking the meat of Christianity. I should also go on to say that as a preaching pastor I have said from the pulpit that the social gospel has led us to send many people well fed and warm further along the road to hell, because social gospel - the real gospel is no gospel at all. There is a reason that Peter says to the beggar at the gate beautiful that "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" Acts 3:6. Instead of giving alms and giving what this man thought he needed, John and Peter give this man the hope that is only found in Christ. That is the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ came and redeemed us from our sinful state through the Cross.
The Gospel is what this remarkable book by DeYoung & Gilbert is all about as well. The church in America and really worldwide is in the middle of a loud cacophony as to what is our mission. There are so many voices and so many ideas. It is sometimes hard to decipher what is the best, what is the right mission for us. That is where these two pastors faithfully speak truth and clarity into that dissonance. I was excited to read this book, and then several days before it arrived in the mail my excitement grew as I read through several negative reviews of the book and wondered why it was stirring such passion.
The book stirred passion in me as well, but positive passion. It seemed most of the negative reviews centered around the idea that DeYoung & Gilbert were deemphasizing social justice and the need for it. I never saw that in the book. In fact I saw the opposite. I saw the two authors say there is a need for more justice, or love as they prefer to call it, and I do like that term better as well. They point out the Biblical evidence for this need. They do nothing to lessen its importance in the lives of individual Christians.
What they do though is to bring more clarity to what the church should be about, and that is the Gospel. Our mission as a church is to go and seek the lost (Luke 19:10), to make disciples (Matthew 28:20), be witnesses to Jesus (Acts 1:8), and that means testifying to the crucifixion and resurrection. As the church our mission is the Gospel and anything that sidetracks us from that is not right.
I would hate to think what these negative reviews would do to some of my sermons where I have stated that anything taking us away from the Gospel message of the Cross is a sin. DeYoung & Gilbert never go that strongly with their language, rather they faithfully and humbly point out what we should be about as a church. In doing so they remove the need for a lot of the guilt inducing campaigns we are subjected to as believers. Give money here, go here to build a house, serve in this mission or ministry, only buy this product and not other brands. Many of those campaigns are good and can bring glory to God. However, as the authors point out, we should serve and give as God leads, not as others coerce.
I know this book will continue to stir debate, however I pray it stirs more dialogue and discussion and that it brings us back to the center of what is the main thing. I urge you to read this book and to do so with an open mind. You might not agree with the authors but listen to their Biblical proofs and be persuaded by the God of the Gospel.