Book Review: What is the Mission of the Church
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have set out to settle a question that has been very relevant to the church, especially in the last decade. Since the culture war divisions of the twentieth century, churches have usually fallen simply into one of two categories. Churches that emphasize evangelism and churches that emphasize social action. While there are exceptions, most churches fit into each of these categories. Around the turn of the twenty-first century, the awakening of young men and women renewed this question. Many of these young people, and their young pastors and churches, struggled with what they saw as a false dichotomy between these two ideas.
Enter DeYoung and Gilbert. The stated goal of this book is to settle that question. The match of authors seemed ripe to do just that. DeYoung is a pastor in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) a denomination representing the Dutch Reformed tradition (which if you are not aware, I am a big fan of) and Gilbert is the pastor of a Baptist church in that Mecca of Reformed Baptist, Louisville, KY. The differences in these two men promised to be balanced, and by and large it was.
DeYoung and Gilbert set the scene, showing the history that lead up to the need for this book. They show the trickyness of defining mission concluding with their take on the Mission of the church. They suggest,
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.
It is hard to disagree with sentences like that. If you say that you are against it, it seems like you are being nit-picky or attacking something as sacred as motherhood and apple pie. Additionally, I don’t think I could disagree with them. DeYoung and Gilbert then tease out this idea and add in explanations of what the “kingdom” is, what is social justice and what is it’s place.
One great point the authors bring out is the language scripture uses regarding the kingdom. They point out that the kingdom isn’t something to be built or expanded, it is something to be received. They also do a great job pointing to the cross as the location for our motivation and mission.
There was, however, one flaw in the book. I feel like the authors used a sort of ultra-liberal strawman to hang their arguments on. They use the language popularized by men like Rob Bell and Stanley Hauerwas. The difficulty is that most of the people who read this book hold less to Bell’s view of the kingdom than they do to the view of, say, Tim Keller. In doing this, they miss some of the great “both-and” theology. Some many pages of my copy of What is the Mission of the Church are marked with the words “why not both?”. This lack of an “Already-not yet” distinction is rooted in simple reading of Genesis 3 which focuses on the effects of the curse on humans. And yet the curse (caused completely by the earth’s federal head) includes the very created order. “Cursed is the ground because of you[Adam]” says the Lord as he hands out curses. In the same way, the people of Israel were promised not just spiritual blessings, but dirt. God promised Abraham a seed, blessing, and land. This theme comes to a head when Paul says in Romans 8 that the creation itself groans, eagerly awaiting the final reversal of the curse. The land ultimately promised to the Messiah wasn’t a small piece of the Fertile Crescent, it was the whole earth.
DeYoung and Gilbert alude to this when they quote Bavinck in a footnote (who puts Bavinck in small type at the bottom of a page!? Honestly). Bavinck draws a comparison to our destiny as new creations in Christ and the earths destiny as the New Earth of the Apocolypse of John. What they fail to see is the full implications of Bavinck’s words (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 4, 715ff). In the same way that we have been redeemed by the finish work of Christ, so has the creation. In the same way that our salvation now is a down payment for our final redemption, something changed at the resurrection for the earth too. It is groaning just like us. After all, isn’t this how Paul gets to this analogy? Our struggle with sin in Romans 7 and our sanctification in Romans 8?
This doesn’t mean we need to some how effect this cosmic sanctification. It does however seem to be a part of what God is doing, right now, though his body on earth.
About futonreformerI am a pastor in the PCA serving in Myrtle Beach, SC. I am a sixth generation Tampa native and I love the Rays and Bucs!
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