Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Two Starkly Different Views of the Church's Mission

What Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung articulate in the embedded video is strikingly different from what Russell Moore tweets:
The mission of Jesus was to whole people, body and soul. If your mission is more limited, don't blame it on Jesus.

It's difficult for me to grasp precisely what Moore means by this in a 140-characters-or-less tweet. I assume he does NOT mean that we should attempt to replicate the full mission of Jesus. IOW, I doubt that Moore will be attempting to offer a substitutionary atonement anytime soon or, as Gilbert notes, to kill all the wicked.

The problem is that unqualified identification of our mission with the mission of Jesus invariably introduces ambiguity and confusion. Unless this ambiguity is clarified biblically, I suspect we're looking at the fault line that will form a crevasse, dividing evangelicals—even conservative, reformed evangelicals.

I look forward to thinking about this via Gilbert and DeYoung's in-progress book, and the audio from MACP later this month.


d4v34x said...

Moore might be echoing something I read by Francis Scheaffer just last night-- That redemption is as much for the physical part of man as it is for the spiritual, and to reduce the scope of that redemption to what many ministers reduce it to [so Scheaffer would say] results in grossly incomplete ministry/christian living. While this particular writing was on "the arts", it reminds me of the other Schaeffer quote, Christ didn't come to make us Christians, but to make us fully human.

I can't see the video, so not sure if this really makes the contrast you suspect.

Ben said...

I don't think I have any quarrel with what you're regurgitating from Schaeffer. "Saving souls" is an unhelpfully reductionistic expression of the work of the gospel.

But I think Gilbert's right that our message is essentially proclamation, not accomplishment. We proclaim the good news of the gospel—all of it—which encompasses all we are and ultimately all creation. But Jesus accomplishes it. He does things we're not called to do and are not capable of doing. In fact, if a given action is something we're capable of doing, I'm not sure how it's something the gospel does.

d4v34x said...

I don't necessarily support Schaeffer's or Moore's conclusions. Just providing possible context.

Let's assume neither of these folks would argue that God produces converts, growth, and fruit. They may be asking us to consider, since Jesus's ministry to both believers and unbelievers included aspects of physical relief, that our part in discipleship is more than "merely" proclaiming.

Again, I'm not asserting anything, just feeling my way through the limited info I have.

I'll watch the video tonight.

Larry said...

My guess is that Moore is tweeting about the idea that the gospel is not merely spiritual salvation but also meets the physical needs of people, that those who have been genuinely transformed by the gospel will have a social justice/ministries of mercy focus in their lives. That is a pretty typical "missional" idea, and it is one that KDY took on on his blog a while back I think.

It in some pages is a page out of McLaren's book, though Moore would probably be closer to Keller. But all these have in common that the gospel/gospel work is bigger than merely individual spiritual salvation. IMO, McLaren goes so far as to minimize personal spiritual salvation in favor a more horizontal aspect of restoring broken societal structures. Keller does not minimize personal spiritual salvation, but he would heavily emphasize the cultural aspect of social justice issues.

Ben said...

Larry, that may well be what Moore has in his head. Here's how I'd counter it.

1. I don't know how he can argue that our mission is to meet justice/physical needs without arguing that our mission is to provide atonement. I don't know how you can argue for one and not the other.

2. Even if you're right, I think my point stands that what GG/KDY are saying is starkly different.

3. If Moore replaced the second "mission" with "message," I'd have no quarrel with it whatsoever.

Bruce said...

I’d like to offer an interpretation of Moore’s statement. I have no idea if it’s what he means or not by it, but I’ll just say it’s what I would mean if I had said it.

When Jesus was on mission (and when wasn’t he?), he was dealing with both the suffering and sin of people. He healed physical diseases and addressed spiritual sickness. He dealt with physical hunger and thirst and spiritual hunger and thirst. And while the former pointed to the latter, he didn’t just use metaphors. He really healed people. He really fed them.

Were the healing and the teaching both his mission? No, not if Mark 1:38 is taken as normative. It’s a key verse in understanding his priorities, but I think one can press it too far. If he’s all about preaching, why didn’t he just send DVDs of his preaching? [Oops--that’s another thread.]

We wouldn’t say Jesus was failing to remain focused on his true mission when he was healing people, would we? And yet, he seemed concerned not to let these other works of compassion crowd out the proclamation.

All those miracles were not just spectacle to draw arena-sized crowds to his preaching, nor were they distractions from his true calling. They gave witness to his messianic rule (aka, “the kingdom”), which was what he kept talking about. He even gave his followers both the message and the power to heal (Matt. 10:1).

We are not Jesus. We cannot do all that he did. And yet, we can do things that point to the reality of his message as we proclaim it. If we say the kingdom of Christ will bring peace among men, are we peacemakers within the church and in our wider community? If we say the kingdom of God will bring no more sickness, hunger, or pain, are we willing to enter into the suffering of our neighbors because we have a greater hope?

“So are you saying that the church is obligated to feed everybody?” No, even Jesus did not eradicate hunger. But he did give people a taste of more than bread and fish. He showed them that when Jesus rules, nobody goes hungry. That kind of kingdom is coming, and you better get on the right side of the king. Repent of your rebellion. Appeal to his mercy. He will welcome you with open arms.

The kingdom is not ethereal or abstract, but tangible and concrete; it is not yet so, because it is not yet here. But it does relate to tangible, concrete things like physical bodies and the rest of the physical creation.

That means that while the message of the kingdom is rational and verbal, mission (our activity in reaching the world) is not merely so. “The mission” is to make disciples, but the work of mission is not merely cognitive, because we are not merely speaking to minds, but summoning human beings—heart, soul, mind, and strength—to bow the knee to Christ, receive his amnesty by grace, and begin to live under his kingship while anticipating his kingdom.

Jesus showed us the way.

John Calvin Hall said...

The mission of Jesus was already stated,
Luke 19:10 - For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

The mission of the church was also given,
Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you
: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Doesn't take a theologian to know this. You don't need to read a lot of books to understand this. It just takes an obedient Christian who reads their Bible.

Ben said...

Bruce, two preliminary comments:

1. I have no quarrel with understanding Jesus' mission to be something broader than preaching the gospel and dying a substitutionary death. He also came to fulfill everything the OT said about him and to fulfill all righteousness. I'm sure we could go on.

2. In no way am I denying that churches are obligated to teach believers to love their neighbors.

3. Even if your interpretation of Moore is right, and you and Moore are right on the matter of the issue, my basic point that there is a stark difference between the two views still stands.

Now, to the material point, how should Christians physically point to the reality of Jesus' message of judgment—that he's going to kill all the wicked? Or to his mission to abolish profiteering under the guise of worship? Or substitutionary atonement?

brian said...

Ben, here goes my stab at some of your questions through meditations from a specific text: 1 Peter 2-4.

1. We are specifically commanded to live holy and good lives before a watching world, that God will be glorified in the last day (2:12). It's interesting that the salvation of the lost is not even in view here, but rather the glory of God; in other words, these aren't simply good deeds to corroborate our message, per se.

2. Our good works put to silence our opponents (2:15) as a kind of apologetic. Granted, some might say that the good deeds in view here are passive (honoring authority) and not active (feeding the hungry). But we would all agree that even honoring authority plays out in active good in the community, like paying taxes.

3. We are commanded to "bless" others (3:9) presumably including the world as those who are seeking evil. Sure, that's very vauge, but in the least it involves good works (3:13) and righteousness (3:14), not simply blessing them through our message.

4. When we do good and suffer for it, it causes a watching world to ask questions, giving us greater opportunity to witness of the hope within (3:15).

5. Good behavior and a good conscience on the part of a believer should shame those who slander us in their wickedness (3:16).

6. The substitutionary atonement (just for the unjust) of Christ is actually the foundation for our good deeds in the midst of a ridiculing, persecuting world (3:18). In a way, our doing good and suffering mirrors Jesus work on the cross, without of course being itself an atoning work (4:13).

7. Love, hospitality, and service of one another is for the glory of God (4:8-11). Granted, these are "one-another" commands for the church, but the fact remains that our love for the body is a clear message to the love of Christ for the sinners.

8. When the household of God shares in the sufferings of Christ despite doing good, it's a foreshadowing of the judgment that's to come for those who do not obey the gospel (4:12-19).

Of course, this list of thoughts doesn't win any arguments, much less answer all of my own questions about our mission and message. However, I think it might show that we can not conceive of a life of proclaiming the message artificially separated from a life of good deeds which intentionally seek to bless the world.

As for how we can physically display the reality of the substitutionary atonement and future judgment of the wicked by Christ: Peter seems to say we do that by living a godly life of doing good works. And as is promised, all who would live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted.

Bruce said...


Re: #3
I wouldn’t argue with you on that-- Moore seems to present a different perspective than that of Gilbert and DeYoung. I would like to think that they could see their way to common ground. While there are differences within the neo-Reformed on this issue, I hope that Gilbert and DeYoung can see the difference between those who advocate social justice apart from a robust theology of Christ’s cross and crown, and those who see it as having an essential place within that theology.

Re: your final comments
It seems your questions all are really asking whether some physical demonstration is necessary for every truth claim we make or doctrine we teach. The simple answer is, No.

Why the distinction then between helping the poor and slaying the wicked? Well, for one thing, Jesus made that distinction in his ministry. He cared for the poor, weak, and despised, and gave them the good/bad news of the kingdom (Good, the kingdom you’ve been waiting for is coming; Bad, if you don’t repent, you’ll miss out).

We will have a proclamation, not demonstration, ministry that warns people of coming judgment. Having said that, I think there are at least a couple of ways that we could point to the reality of coming judgment, one within the church, and the other within the community.

Within the church, we do church discipline. That is consistent with everything from the banishment of Adam and Eve from Eden to the stoning of Achan, though, of course, with some significant NT differences (no stones, for one). A holy God always demands a holy people. There is a consistent pattern of rebels and unfaithful subjects being cast out of the covenant community. It should also be said that there is also a track record of grace that allows the repentant and humble alien to be included by faith.

Within the wider community, we encourage just laws and submit to all legal systems. This is a testimony to the reality that there are authorities over us to whom we must answer. I’m not saying that it’s the mission of the church to develop legal societies, but that it would be appropriate for a congregation to speak out on justice issues in its community. Do we not think abortion is a justice issue? Then what about some other clear-cut issues?

A major part of my position on this on this whole topic boils down to the fact that I believe we can and should be involved in practical ways in our communities as congregations, but not to the degree that those complementary works become primary. Please note that I did not describe them as secondary, but complementary. Our theology points to a more integrated approach than mere ranking of ministry activities.

I believe this is consistent with Christ’s approach and serves as a corporate witness to the reality of the new community of the church, which is itself a foretaste of the kingdom. We cannot “build the kingdom” or “bring the kingdom” or “redeem the culture,” but I believe some measure of Christ’s kingship should be present wherever his people are.

Anonymous said...

"Sit! Until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
For "Thou preparest a table before Me in the presence of mine enemies."
This table sits right down front center of every contemporary "Christian" church house in existence.
Theodore A. Jones