A while back Ed Stetzer invited a group of us to read and review a book he helped co-edit called Missionshift (David J. Hesselgrave was the other editor). If you aren't familiar with Ed, he works for Lifeway Research and he is one of the leading experts on missiology. Ed is crazy smart, hates germs, and loves Jesus very deeply.
Having never heard of Missionshift, but knowing Ed, I said I was willing to join in and see where the book may take me. I was given a free copy of the book, but am not paid or influenced in any way.
The book is based in 3 main essays with responses from some of the "big hitter" thinkers in evangelical missions. The first essay was written by Charles Van Engen, and he was tasked with defining and describing "mission". I found his history and thoughts about how the definition of "mission" to be helpful. I'm one of those guys who is supportive of missions without having put a lot of thought into what that means. Probably the ideal reader for the chapter. It challenged me to evaluate what my thinking on "missions" really is, and caused me to wonder (and see) where some of the underlying assumptions I have, but haven't thought about, came from, and where they are leading me today.
Along with Van Engen's essay, we were given a separate set of thoughts on Van Engen's essay written by David J. Hesselgrave. Hesselgrave's thoughts are available to view on Ed Stezter's blog if you'd like to reference them at any time. Suffice it to say that I agree with Hesselgrave and his assessment of Van Engen's essay. Because of that, I'll interact more with Van Engren's essay below.
One highlight for me was the reminder that our view of missions HAS to be grounded in our theology, and never the other way around. Having heard Dr. Stezter present on similar material, and having his concerns as to whether my specific denomination understands this been a point of discussion with him, I felt coming into this section like I had the cheat sheets. But Van Engen's thoughts were refreshing nonetheless.
Along with the reminder that our view of mission has to come out of our theology he gave some real life examples of when it does not. Van Engen brought up the problems faced by the World Council of Churches and how their initial vision ground to a standstill because they abandoned all discussion on doctrine. Without boundaries the box becomes so big that either anything goes, or nothing goes, and in this case it appears as if it might have been a bit of both.
Van Engen shares a few other key influential things in the evolving definition of mission like how it came to be redefined in Constantinian times as the church moved from being persecuted, to tolerated, to outright endorsed by the rulers of the time (early to mid-300's AD). Van Engen also shared on the impact of William Carrey on the definition of mission, the impact of indigineous churches on the definition of mission, and the more modern movement within evangelicalism and its impact on the definition of mission.
At the end of the readings, I was left with a couple of thoughts/questions. First is simply what is my definition of mission? As I have thought about this the past week or so, I keep returning to the simple answers found in Scripture - the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
The Great Commission
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Mission - Love God, love neighbors and love others through the Holy Spirit for the glory and fame of Jesus.
The other thing I was left pondering was the failure of the World Council of Churches at Edinburgh. My question from that was beyond simply not repeating their mistakes, what can we learn from them then when we are interacting with people with differing views within the realm of Christianity? Fundamentalists generally hold views that nearly everything is a deal breaker making it all but impossible to work together on things. Liberals often employ the opposite letting nearly anything go. How to find a good middle of the road that can draw in as many as possible to move forward the cause of Christ? I'm not a fan of ecumenism because rarely have I seen it done well, and even rarer have I seen it done with great success on things of lasting impact and of large scale. Is there a way to move beyond our divisions and move forward for Christ together?