“Mission is the loving service which God sends his people into the world to render” —John Stott
Christian Mission in the Modern World provides “an ecumenical understanding from an evangelical source” (10) for the term mission. Stott carefully defines five key terms in this pursuit: mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation, and conversion.
Stott starts with an excellent introduction on authorial intent and Scriptural authority. He says, “We evangelicals think we have [learned to live under the authority of Scripture]—and there is no doubt we sincerely want to—but at some times we are very selective in our submission and at others the traditions of evangelical elders seem to owe more to culture than to Scripture” (14). Submission to the authority of Scripture then is paramount in even approaching the topic of mission. Great launching pad for the coming definitions.
Stott makes three important points in the first chapter when defining mission. First, mission can’t mean everything God does. He also acts in “providence and common grace” in all cultures (21). Second, God by his very nature is a sending God (24). He sends prophets, Jesus, Spirit, and the Church—to act in the world. Third, Stott notes social justice isn’t just part of all of Jesus’ command in the Great Commission. It’s the second greatest commandment—love your neighbor (25-26, 32-33). This last point is a discussion I haven’t heard a lot of chatter about in the continued discussed about the Church and mission.
In the next chapter, he emphatically states that evangelism doesn’t equal making converts. That takes the responsibility of conversion out of God’s hands and places it into ours. “For the good news concerns neither just what Jesus once did (he died and rose again), not just what he now is (exalted to God’s right hand as Lord and Savior) but also what he now offers as a result” (55) and shortly after, “Some speak of ‘persuasion’ as if the outcome could be secured by human effort, almost as if it were another word for ‘coercion.’ But no. Our responsibility is to be faithful; the results are in the hand of the Almighty God” (60). These two elements: a robust offer of the gospel with a proper understanding of our role in heralding it would stop many of the evangelical shenanigans and charades when presenting the gospel. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need our help converting people; only our faithfulness in heralding the gospel.
Last, I was encouraged by Stott’s full bodied defense against the health and wealth gospel and liberation theology (100-101). In his section on the health and wealth gospel, he points out the purpose of Jesus’ healing of the sick, the importance for compassion toward the sick, and the role of hope in driving our hearts and minds to the future new creation. One quip, Stott gives too much ground when he states, “I would go further and say that a greater measure of health often follows an experience of salvation” (90). My experience must be vastly different than Stott’s because the Christians I know experience just as much sorrow, sickness, and hurt as their unbelieving counterparts. Also, Scripture seems to indicate as much as the New Testament regularly indicates Christians will experience suffering and the Spirit encourages steadfastness.
I found myself encouraged by Stott’s Scriptural advance on defining the five terms carefully and also by his winsome interaction with his opponents (see the critique sections mentioned above for a good example). He never fell into name calling or bluster. And he was willing to be firm in his convictions. That’s a harmony often missing from evangelical dialogue today. Stott still has much to offer Christians today and may be an engine for the Spirit to mature the Church.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.