In Ralph Winter’s essay, “The Future of Evangelicals in Mission.”, Winter looks back before looking forwards. Winter is not a professional historian and, as some have pointed out, his survey of Evangelical history can be a bit simplistic at times. However, ignoring points that one can quibble over, the point of the essay is to call Evangelicals to an holistic mission. The question still remains…will the Evangelical community answer the call.
If Christopher Little and David Hesselgrave are any indication…it won’t be the answer that Winter was hoping for. In Hesselgrave’s own words, Winter’s kingdom mission encourages Evangelicals to “fight evil; to aid the poor; to free the oppressed; and to promote justice and peace.” On the other hand, Hesselgrave’s vision for mission is simply, “the proclamation of the gospel, the conversion of unbelievers…and the gathering and discipling of converts in local churches.”
Winter’s vision is the most comprehensive…Hesselgrave’s is the most focused…the question remains…which is the most Biblical?
Hesselgrave seems to be fond of Matthew’s Great Commission. I tend to admire it as well, but it must be understood in context…and it must be quoted correctly. For one thing…it doesn’t (despite the number of sermons) say you need to go and make disciples…it does say you must go and disciple the nations. What does it look like to disciple a nation? In the context of Matthew, I would argue that discipling a nation looks a lot like Matthew 10.
In Matthew 10 the disciples are commissioned to go and proclaim the gospel to the towns and villages of Galilee. That proclamation was not to be done merely with words however, (despite Hesselgrave’s understanding of it) it was to include deeds as well…specifically: healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. In other words…they were to announce that the Kingdom of God was near…both in words and in deeds. I (and Winter) would argue that that is precisely what we are still called to do.
Ultimately, the question of our mission is based on our understanding of God’s mission and of our situation. Is God’s plan merely to solve everything by taking people to heaven some day? Is our situation merely a spiritual problem? Luke 2:52 shows Jesus developing in four key domains…physical, mental, social and spiritual. We need to be sure that we proclaim Good News in each of those areas, or else we will be proclaiming a truncated gospel that works on Sundays, but is impotent the rest of the week. To suggest that the Church has no responsibility nor anything to add to the injustice and structural sin that the vast majority of humanity finds itself mired in…seems to suggest that we have a very impotent Gospel.
So the question seems to be…after giving them the Gospel…should we now send them away without food? (Like the disciples wanted to do)…or should we feed them? (As Jesus did) (Matthew 14:13-21). Keep in mind…the answer is included in the Great Commission’s obligation to “teach them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded you.”
Or to borrow an allusion from James…proclamation without perspiration isn’t worth listening to.