Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Missional Priority: To Seek and Save the Lost

This post is a much belated entry in the Prologue to Missional Discussion Synchroblog.

I think I am three weeks late answering this question, but the powers that be have not emailed any since then, so maybe I'm golden. :-)

Here are the questions for this round of the synchroblog: Is there a "primary" concern in the mission of God? Is that evangelism, making disciples, societal transformation, or something else? Or, are they of equal value?

I believe there is a primary concern in God's mission, and that is for persons to know him relationally, to be personally forgiven of their sins and be reconciled to him. The question behind the question is really this: Which is more primary, the gospel of personal salvation or the gospel of the kingdom? This sort of presupposes these are separate concepts. I do believe they are not the same thing, but disagree (with qualifications) that they are separate. Clear as mud, I know.

I believe the gospel, as Tim Keller says, is both one and more than that. But you cannot properly receive and enjoy the "more than that" without the "one." This is to say that the gospel of the kingdom (which some try to say was Jesus' gospel) and the gospel of justification by faith (which some say is Paul's gospel, as if ne'er the twain shall meet) are degrees of magnification of the whole. This is something I explore a bit more fully in my current book in progress, so I don't want to steal its thunder. :-) But suffice it to say, I would say the kingdom gospel presupposes and succeeds justification by faith.

I don't think the church enacting "social justice" is the gospel. It is an implication of the gospel, our living as if the gospel is true. But I do think God restoring all things is the gospel. The big hinge difference is that none of the works of our hands can be gospel, but they can be means of proclaiming the gospel. Yet not the primary means. The gospel is news to be articulated, and its implications are to be demonstrated. This is of course, in some strong sense, "proclamation" as well, but it cannot replace or even take precedent over verbal proclamation.

So, again: I would say the priority of God's mission is evangelism/discipleship, but this is not to say that acts of mercy, societal transformation, or whatever you want to call it are optional. The best means of pinpointing this distinction comes from Scripture's strong words about faith and works. Faith alone justifies but faith is not alone. You cannot separate works from it or it is not faith. In the same way, I do not see how we can urge evangelism as the whole of mission, given all we see just in the synoptic gospels. In Acts, we see the personal gospel taking hold of individuals, which grew the counter-culture of the church, which resulted in all sorts of cultural and social fallout, from care of the poor to the bankruptcy of idol-makers.

But the priority is there from God's creation of Adam and Eve for relational closeness, of which subduing the earth was the outflow. And in his carving out Abraham to himself (through Abraham's faith) in covenant, of which the building of a people, a nation, that is like the sands on the beach or stars in heaven was the outflow. And in the prophets calling Israel to repentance of sins, of which the prosperity of the covenant people was the outflow. (At the heart of all the covenant people did throughout the Old Testament beat the blood of the sacrificial system, atonement for sins and reconciliation with YHWH.) And in Christ calling the twelve to him, of which the kingdom ministry was the outflow. And in Christ proclaiming riches for those spiritually poor, of which the kingdom blueprint of the Sermon on the Mount was the outflow. And in Christ commissioning the disciples to make disciples and baptize, of which the explosion of the kingdom-witness of the church was the outflow.

He has come to seek and save the lost.

Acts of mercy, caring for the poor, bringing God's justice to bear, ministering to widows and orphans, and all other good works are integral ways to seek and demonstrate God's saving purposes, but none of them save somebody's soul, which Jesus seems fairly preoccupied with in Mark 8:36.

I am uneasy with the implicit reductionism in Vance Havner's famous statement, "If social gospel had been around in the prodigal son's day, he would have gotten a bed and a meal but never returned home," but I affirm the spirit behind it. I would perhaps reframe it to ask, "What would it profit the prodigal son to receive a bed and a sandwich but lose his soul?"

I am on board the mission to live and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. I am only concerned that many who want to do this do so as if this kingdom has a King behind the curtain, that embracing the yoke of God's sovereignty in the gospel of Christ's cross and resurrection is a minor note. It at least sounds that way.

To return to the question, "Are [evangelism/discipleship and social transformation] of equal value?" I would say, no, they are not of equal value. But neither is either of them optional.

I am not a fan of an individualistic gospel. But there is no gospel without the first importance of a personal gospel for individuals. God's plan for "Creation/Fall/Redemption" in fact encompasses and is contingent upon the working of "God/Man/Christ/Response."

Here are a couple of angles on this subject I have found helpful . . .

The first is this recent blog post from Ken Prater of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan on Preaching the Cross to Its Fullest Dimensions.

The second is this video interview of Mark Dever by Ed Stetzer on the gospel and social transformation.

I agree with both of them. :-)


Others participating in the conversation:

Ed Stetzer
Rick Meigs: The Blind Beggar
Bill Kinnon: kinnon.tv
Brother Maynard: Subversive Influence
David Fitch: Reclaiming the Mission
Tiffany Smith: Missional Mayhem
Jared Wilson: The Gospel-Driven Church
Jonathan Dodson: Creation Project

Feel free to explore and read their takes on the question. So for the sake of conversation, leave a comment with your own answer to the questions, "Is there a "primary" concern in the mission of God? Is that evangelism, making disciples, societal transformation, or something else? Or, are they of equal value?"


nhe said...

Fascinating stuff Jared......to answer the question - I'm with you (and Keller) it's both and they're inseparable.

I'm going to over-simplify, but I think Eph 2:8-10 is the whole picture - "saved by grace" (personal salvation v. 9) and "His masterpiece/workmanship" (kingdom v. 10)......we're God's "5th symphony" - when our tune is played throughout the world, people are saved AND the kingdom expands, and the landscape fills with more masterpieces.

I also think that the bigger Biblical conundrum is between Matthew 25 (feeding His sheep) and Matthew 28 (making disciples)......For me, Matthew 25 is the context for Matthew 28 and Acts 1:8 for that matter.

When we take our eyes off of ourselves and get out and mix it up with non-Christians (or better said - the "one" as opposed to the "99") we need to do it with the intent of relentlessly feeding His sheep........I'm rambling, but suffice it to say - kingdom building AND evangelism both happen when we relentlessly pursue "the least of these".

As an aside, I think Dever misunderstands Keller. Keller's "redeem the culture" mantra is really better said as "bring the gospel to bear on the culture" - such that the "shalom peace of God" is a fragrant aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place - and then let God decide what he wants do to with it.

Also is it me?, or does Dever seem to see a pretty clear separation between the sacred and the secular......maybe I'm inferring too much, but I'm not down with that.

Jared said...

I don't think he's separating secular and sacred; I think he's separating moralism with kingdom work.

In other words, he's saying there's something different between, for instance, what Angelina Jolie does in Uganda and what Blood Water Mission does, even though there is much overlap in the "behavior."

Would you agree with that?

Josh Cranston said...

I agree.

They are both "good" acts - as the world sees them. Which is saying that helping people out is better than not helping people out.

The difference is the focus of, or reason for, or whatever the act itself.

The boy who helps the old lady cross the street vs. the "Christian" boy who helps the old lady cross the street.

One does it, maybe, to "be a good person" or to "help the old lady". The other does it to serve the King, or to help the "least of these."
The focus of "boy" is on the person, either way. The focus of "Christian boy" is on Jesus. Obedience to - and honoring Jesus is the point.

nhe said...

Hmmm, that's a good question Jared........I think the missionary sees their mission as the context for their evangelism (meeting the phyical needs opens the door for their proclamation). Angelina Jolie obviously doesn't have that motivation.

However, I wouldn't (necessarily) dismiss her motivation as merely moralistic. That's where I don't think we can separate the secular and the sacred.....I think she might genuinely have a heart for the "least of these" and she has that because (maybe) she has tapped a little into the image bearer inside of her.

Obviously, that doesn't save her (at all) but if she follows her heart to the source of that motivation (something she may not be able to do because of other truth's she has suppressed per Romans 1) it could lead her straight to Christ.

I do think God honors the acts of the image bearer who is acting like an image bearer (and not just moralistically).

I'm sure I've made that all as clear as mud.....it is just that I do have a problem with dismissing the Habitat for Humanity motivation as just moralism simply because their isn't an intent to do evangelism.....I think it's more nuanced than that.

Roberta said...

Primary concern in the mission of God--loving Jesus.

B said...

In the Anglican CHurch, there is a model called the five marks of Mission that is bieng used as a lens for evaluating and planning ministry. The discussion I have seen is usually adopting the latter three marks- good works, justice andn care for creation, over the first two marks- evangelism and discipleship.

It's a pick and choose system of mission- to the detriment of church growth.

I am so encouraged by this entry. Thank you for clarifying some of the discussion around the competing values of compassion and conversion...

zach hoag said...

Sorry for the late weigh-in, but I wonder:

Do you think it would help to clear things up with the difficult dichotomies and tensions - gospel of repentance/gospel of kingdom, mission/justice, etc. - if we didn't just try to find where Jesus speaks like Paul, but rather to understand how Paul is (always) speaking like Jesus?

What I mean is, Would it be solved if we understood Paul as speaking more of ecclessiology and kingdom than we ordinarily think he is?

I know this has been the thrust of Tom Wright's work, but I wasn't sure if you'd factored that in, especially as you're writing your book.