Ed Stetzer gave me (and a number of others) a copy of Missionshift to work through a series of Monday posts. Beyond that, I am free to critique it as I please…so let’s begin.
Missionshift is essentially a series of three essays with several responses to each essay. Not all of the responses are favorable so there is definitely a “give and take” within each section. Today I want to look at Charles Van Engen’s “Mission” Defined and Described, which attempts a very quick survey of how people have viewed mission and ends with Van Engen’s own tentative definition.
First let me say I appreciated Van Engen’s essay and the concerns it raised, as various of the responders pointed out Van Engen does paint with a wide brush (putting quite a lot of centuries of mission into the mold of Post-Constantine), but given the length of the essay one can easily look beyond that.
Its unclear to me if this essay was original for this book or if it was taken from somewhere else. The survey of mission history stops at 2000 which might hint at the original date of the essay. That is unfortunate, since I would have enjoyed his interaction with Christopher Wright’s book The Mission of God. and Eckhard Schnabel two volume work Early Christian Mission.
One of the debates that Van Engen’s essay brings to the foreground is just what is “Mission” and who has the right to define it. In fact, some of the responders are definitely a little jumpy about the exact definition especially concerning the relationship between “word and deed.” It is especially here that I think interaction with Christopher Wright’s book would have been most welcome. Van Engen’s definition of mission at the end allows for both “word and deed” but the rest of the essay seems to focus on the verbal proclamation to which Hesselgrave is in substantial agreement.
However, as Wright argues, sin has implications in the physical, mental, social and spiritual realms (Luke 2:52) and our Gospel had better have good news for each of those areas, not just the last one if we are to have a comprehensive answer to the problems people face. Mathew 4:23 and 9:35 form an inclusio concerning Jesus’ ministry…in summary it states that Jesus went about preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every disease. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the 12 to do the exact same thing.
I understand the concern of those who say “if everything is mission, than nothing is mission.” However, reducing mission to “preaching to the lost” is far too reductionistic. Nor is it just a problem faced in lecture halls. When I was raising support (I am writing this from a Muslim country in North Africa) some churches made it quite clear to me that they were happy to support me since I was involved in church planting. Moreover, some even had a specific policy to not support ancillary personnel. The funny thing is…as a Bible translator and church planter I have certainly used guesthouse services, financial accountants, pilots and mechanics, computer support (thus the wifi), etc. Moreover, though I am not medically trained, one cannot turn the other way when wounds need to be bound, medications given, resources shared, etc.
If our model of mission is dependent on Jesus who is the one who sends us (as Van Engen points out) then what we do had better look at least a little like what he did. Proclamation is clearly important (if for no other reason what we proclaim does have implications for the physical, mental, social and spiritual realms), but it is certainly not all that God had in mind.
Perhaps instead of seeking a bounded-set (taking a clue from Hiebert) definition of mission, we should realize that a centered-set definition will be far more applicable. Yes it will certainly be messy at times, but then…I’ve often found “mission” to be messy.