Review: What is the Mission of the Church?

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, Crossway, 2011, 283 pages

missionI enjoyed this book. Here’s a whirlwind summary of the ten chapters. (1) The mission of the church is the Great Commission (i.e. making disciples, preaching the gospel). “Mission” is hard to define because it is not a biblical word and it is so broad. Don’t use “ought” for so many kinds of ministries. (2) Several of the most common social justice texts (e.g. Lk. 4:16-21) don’t stand up to scrutiny. The Great Commission is so important because it is a command, the NT has more weight than the OT, it contains Jesus’ final words and it sums up the gospel. “Missions” takes “mission” one step further.

(3) The gospel. (4) Wide and narrow focus on the gospel. (5) An already, not yet, George Ladd-like explanation of the kingdom. (6) A lengthy discussion on the 12 most common social justice passages: Lev. 19:9-18 (love and be generous but oppression doesn’t equal inequality), Year of Jubilee (this was given to a Jewish, agrarian society under the Mosaic covenant), Isaiah 1 (oppression is sinful, not inequality), Isaiah 58 (we should help the poor), Jeremiah 22 (kings should judge fairly and not exploit), Amos 5 (do not excessively tax), Micah 6:8 (don’t steal, bribe or cheat), Matt. 25:31-46 (care for God’s messengers and you’ll be caring for Christ), Luke 10 (don’t love according to race or gender), Luke 16 (don’t love money more than Jesus), 2 Cor. 8-9 (voluntarily be generous with the poor), James 1,2,5 (don’t show favoritism but treat the poor with dignity.

(7) Seven modest proposals on social justice. Help the poor but focus on Christians. A theology of money is complex. “Social justice” is nebulous. The closer the need the greater moral obligation. Capitalism is good. (8) Shalom. (9) There are many good reasons for doing good, such as love, obedience, the gospel and character. (10) The mission of the church is the Great Commission. The worst thing in the world is not poverty, contrary to common belief.

DeYoung is relentlessly biblical—something somewhat unexpected from a young evangelical. If nothing else they successfully hammer home the point that social ministry is secondary because if the church does not plant, nurture and establish new churches, no one else will.

Some of their assertions made me pause and consider and nod and shake. These would be good discussion points around the kitchen table.

  1. Is it true that the “poor in Scripture are usually pious poor”? (175)
  2. Is it true that “we are not told that the Kingdom grows” and that Jesus is not teaching (Mark 4:26-29; 4:30-32) about the growth of the kingdom but that though unimpressive now it will have a glorious end? (133)
  3. Is it true that Christians, regarding God’s good gifts, should “enjoy them the most, need them the least, and give them away most freely”? (179)
  4. Is it true that “supporting AIDS relief in Africa is a wonderful thing to do” (186)
  5. Is it true that “poor nations are not poor because they are less industrious or less capable than workers in the West [but because they live in a corrupt society]”? (189)
  6. Is it true that we must be on guard against the counterfeit gospels of affluence and asceticism? (264).

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