Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: What is the Mission of the Church?

Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission
By Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
266 pages, Crossway

This book is not quite what I expected. The first two chapters were released online by the publisher, so I read those before I ordered the book. The first two chapters were riveting. I quickly devoured them and ordered the book, hungry for more of this book about the Great Commission. The book arrived, and I read the next chapter. I wasn't impressed or unimpressed. Maybe it was waiting the few days for the book to arrive in the mail. And maybe it was that I had never given much thought to those who are 'missional.' Any rate, I didn't enjoy the middle 4 or 5 chapters as much as I did the beginning. But I figured I would plug away and finish the book before I got bored with it.

Don't get me wrong, I liked this book. It just didn't hold my attention through the whole thing. As it turns out, the middle chapters (Part 2 in the book) weren't as interesting to me as the first part. Then the end of the book (Part 3) got my attention like the first part did. Then, after finishing the book, I see the value of the middle chapters.

So what is this book about? Well, Part 1 sought to define some terms and give a general overview of what the mission of the church actually is. If you are going to get this book, and want to be surprised by it, skip to the next paragraph. For those of you who will never read this book, here is the one-sentence summary of the book: "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 the Lord and obey His commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father." 

That is a great sentence! DeYoung and Gilbert have put in the time necessary to establish such a well-written statement of mission for the church. Part 1 culminates in this sentence. The first two chapters are dedicated to explaining what this sentence means, and why it is the mission of the church.

Part 2 begins by taking a look at what the gospel actually is. DeYoung and Gilbert go a long ways towards defining terms in a way that both the conservatives and missionals will understand. It is a revealing section that seeks to understand exactly what it is conservatives mean by the term 'gospel' and what the missionals mean by it. DeYoung and Gilbert also spend quite some time explaining what the connection is between social justice and the responsibility of believers. They do a great job explaining vast portions of Scripture in just a few pages.

Part 3 does a great job wrapping things up. Christians must be motivated by the mission of the church. Without the mission, we might as well not exist. Christianity is not just a 'holy huddle', but it is a 'holy huddle' that is supposed to break to go out into the world to fulfill the mandate.

I was surprised by the epilogue of this book. The title of the epilogue is 'So You're Thinking of Starting a New Kind of Church? Advice for the Young, Motivated, and Missional.' I seriously considered putting the book down and not reading it. But I wanted to finish the whole book, so I began to read. This chapter is in the form of a short narrative about a young, passionate pastor looking to start a church (Missio Dei) in an urban area. The young pastor happens to make an appointment with an older pastor in the area. They both sit down and have a discussion about this young pastor's vision for his church. The older pastor seeks to give him some advice for the future as he begins this journey. It was an extremely encouraging few pages for me. I am young, and passionate about ministry, but I also know that I have lots to learn. So I found myself identifying with the young pastor in the chapter.

This book is balanced and useful, especially if you have never really given much thought about mission. I have given some serious thought to the making disciples side of mission, but have not thought to much about the 'missional' side of things. I like what D. A. Carson says in his endorsement of the book:

"Among the many books that have recently appeared on mission, this is the best one if you are looking for sensible definitions, clear thinking, readable writing, and the ability to handle the Bible."

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