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Mission and Social Justice

Having read Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung, I was somewhat familiar with DeYoung's main message and points concerning the church and social justice. Yet, this new work by DeYoung and Greg Gilbert entitled What is the Mission of the Church was a welcome addition to the discussion regarding the church's mission, message, and goal. Both authors locate the mission of the church early on in the book as, "..the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations" (26). This substantial yet clear defintion undergirds their whole book as pinpointing mission, social jusitice and the church under the central focus of proclamation, discipleship, and bearing witness to Jesus. This definition might seem oddly enough a too simplistic aim. Yet, as Gilbert and DeYoung indicate, this definition of the church has been missed by many in the church seeking to replace other avenues of thought and action such as building the kingdom, serving the poor as the axis upon which the mission of the church stands upon.

One of the refreshing aspects of the this book was the authors intention to do justice to the key missiological texts that are purported as being of seminal importance for the mission of the church. When I first read through their handling of Genesis 12, I was not convinced of their exegesis as I delved into the passage I realized their point. "Even if Abraham is told, "Go be a blessing," the entire story of the patriarchs demonstrates that God is the one doing the blessing, quite apart from any blessing strategy on the part of Abraham" (32). Why is this important? Well, for one, if we take the passage to mean that Abraham is the bearer of the blessings upon the nation (insert you and I now) then we fail to do justice to the blessing of God from the very beginning of Genesis on thru the Bible. They go onto point out, "The emphasis in Genesis is on the chosen family as recipients of God's blessing, not as the immediate purveyors of it" (33). We find this all the more clear at the end of the Genesis narrative in the life of Joseph where we find the hopes of Israel being set upon the continuation of God's promises through Joseph and forward. Gilbert and DeYoung outline three main reasons why we should place our weight upon the Great Commission for the mission of the church (1. grounding mission in Scripture's explicit commands, 2. of primary importance is the New Testament in basing mission, 3. grounding mission in Jesus and his directives (41-45). These admonitions are wise and combine to give a link by link argument for the importance of the Great Commission and its directives. Why? If we ground our mission of the church in explicit commands, then there is less confusion about what the mission is and how to carry it out. Secondly, since the church is primarily focused upon the ministry and work of Jesus, we would do well to focus on the NT for guidance. Lastly, the whole Bible culminates and finds its crescendo in Jesus, for he is the one we worship and the one we should look to for mission directives.

After giving as a short overview of the biblical theology of the Bible, the authors make the claim that the entire storyline can be summed up by seeing it in question form as "How can hopelessly rebellious, sinful people live in the presence of a perfectly just and righteous God?" (89). We certainly see this theme throughout the Bible coming out clear in books like Leviticus and Hebrews, Romans and Micah. One critical note here, they seem to take to task N.T. Wright here by saying "The story is not about us working with God to make the world right again" (89). I do think that Wright's views do not fully engage the idea of sinful people and a holy God in ways that certain evangelicals do. Yet, what I was hoping for in this question posed by Gilbert and DeYoung was some emphasis on the whole of creation being rescued by God. This is the point where I think Wright tends to see Jesus' ministry, death, resurrection and ascension as an activity in rescuing God's fallen creation. I was pleased to find, however, a whole chapter dedicated to the new heavens and new earth in their book. Their discussion regarding the kingdom was very helpful (reminiscent of Richard Pratt's work on the kingdom)in order that Christians don't get a faulty understanding that they are building the kingdom or see it in a spatial way.

Lastly, I was greatly encouraged by the whole tenor of the book, regarding the poor and serving the needs of society in light of the gospel message and discipleship. For all the wonderful articulate discussion of mission and social justice, I thought the epilogue story of a pastor and a new church planter was dynamite! For one, the pastor carefully handles questions of guilt, congregational goals, and the individual gifts in a rather startling and effective manner. At one point, the seasoned pastor writes, "Your job is the equip them for ministry, but don't make a church program for every good deed Christians might do in Christ's name" (258-259). The pastor's goal isn't to guilt his parishioners into everything that he has a passion for but to be general about the church's goal and not too specific in application. This part was just spot on because it took the pressure off of the church planter to spearhead the congregations full ministry activities. I do think that many people partnering with other.s in the church and in their community is a much better way to help the community than to bring the guilt train in sermons, all the while failing to live up to these expectations as a pastor.

Overall, I thought that this book was an excellent book about the mission of the church, the kingdom, and social justice. The authors get into a nuanced understanding of everything from the meaning of specific mission texts, social justice options, and the role of the church. This book will go a long way in forwarding the discussion concerning the proper role between proclamation, discipleship, and social justice issues.

Thanks to Crossway for the complimentary copy to review.


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