I loved the structure of Godspeed. Merrick starts off with a passage of Scripture and then unpacks that passage working in stories, teaching, and more Scripture. It helped in tracking his argument and kept it interesting.
I also appreciate his strong emphasis on Christian living. Godspeed will encourage Christians to live their faith out instead of falling into the trap of seclusion. These strengths cannot be underestimated when the majority of Americans claim Christianity as their default religion but their lives look anything but Christian. We must admonish, correct, and lovingly guide the church in living like Christ. The question is Is a Christian’s daily living and loving the ultimate mission of the church?
Two Reoccurring Themes
Two main threads were interwoven through out Godspeed. First, the church has “turned grace into condemnation, relationship into rules, and truth into judgement” (p. 11; also, see pp. 58, 62, 83, etc). Second, “For years the church has said, ‘Let’s go on mission in the name of Jesus.’ What we should be saying is, ‘Let’s be on mission with Jesus’” (p. 12). I’m not sure he sold me on either distinction. It seem en vogue now to critique the church based on the world’s perception of the church. That may or may not be helpful but we must not forget Jesus words that the world hates us, will lie and persecute us, and we should rejoice because of this. Just as an example, look at what the unbelievers of Jesus’s day thought about him. He was healing people, loving people, and feeding people and they hated him and thought he was a blasphemer. If he can’t win over the unbelievers then I’m not sure we can expect to either.
Finally, the distinction between mission in Jesus’s name and with Jesus seems unnecessary. I understand his main point that we often don’t live out the truths that we proclaim in a tangible way. I give that a hearty amen but biblically it seems we more frequently hear the Apostles and early Christians speaking of going forth in the name of Jesus than we do them talking in the latter terms.
In connection with this second emphasis, Merrick spends a chapter developing what he calls incarnational mission. He argues that just like Christ had two natures, the church has two natures (p. 84) and then also says logically our most fruitful Christian encounters should occur outside of the church building (p. 86). I’m gonna be honest. I don’t see this at all. Jesus was fully God and fully man but biblically I cannot think of a single passage of Scripture which connects that to the church. The argument that we are fully in the world but being fully set apart may be biblical but I don’t see that as connecting us to Christ’s incarnation which was a singularly unique moment in history.
He also spends time contrasting the emphasis of holiness and humanity. He uses the ever popular “too heavenly minded” to label people who are too concerned with personal holiness and purity. The Pharisees he explains were too committed to holiness (pp. 85-86). Biblical I again don’t know if this contrast is helpful. As if someone could be too concerned with holiness, when holiness appears to be God’s major concern. There is a type of religiosity which seeks self-justification and self-salvation but that’s not biblical holiness by any means. That was the Pharisees. I fear contrasting personal holiness with missional living is potentially very harmful. That’s an either/or we cannot afford to make. Our holiness must be the impetus behind our Christian living.
Matthew 28: The Gospel Mission
Finally, any book that seeks to discuss the mission of the church must have an honest and thorough discussion of Matthew 28:18-20 as its foundation which then allows the church to springboard into talking about issues of social justice, loving neighbor, and the like. If Matthew 28 isn’t the foundation than a lot of what you have is just “religious” philanthropy. Merrick did discuss Matthew 28 but I didn’t come across as foundational. I appreciate the missional resurgence but I also am concerned with some of its disjointed emphasis which are exemplified in Godspeed. If you are already sold on missional theology (particularly everything as mission focus) then Godspeed is red meat; otherwise, you may find some of the categories and distinctions unhelpful.