The Desiring God website has a series of answers that John Piper gives to questions that people send in. Today, Dr. Piper answers the question - 'Why is differentiating between evangelism and missions important?' You can read or listen or watch the answer here.
A friend of mine asked what me (and others) what we thought about Piper's answer. Here's my response:
What I appreciate about John is his concern that the mission of God
extend to unreached people groups. He has been banging that drum since
a lot of us were wearing diapers and I thank God for that.
He has also stood firm in insisting that evangelism is a word – a
declaration about what has done in time and space through Jesus Christ.
This is critical in a church world that increasingly resonates with the
pseudographical word attributed to St. Francis – ‘preach the gospel,
use words if necessary.’
Here’s where the problem begins to creep in for me (and no, I don’t
think his distinctions hold up across the course of the Scriptures). I
remain concerned that the brothers in T4G (particularly Dever and
Piper) are taking what is of first importance in the gospel (‘Jesus
died for our sins’) and extrapolating that as the full weight of the
gospel, as though God’s complete mission can be summarized in the
justification/sanctification/glorification of individuals (to the glory
of God) with less attention given to the biblical emphases placed on the
renewal and redemption of cultures and creation (they don’t ignore them
but see them as implications of the gospel).
You see the effect of this in the answer Piper gives to the
distinction between evangelism and missions. If he had said, ‘Yes,
there is a difference between evangelism and mission(s). The mission of
God is a holistic blessing of the nations that includes what we call
evangelism but it’s more than just the words we say – it involves every
aspect of our lives. There is no mission of God apart from the story of
God’s work in and through the cross but God’s mission is bigger than
evangelism’, he would still uphold the necessity of declaring the
gospel word – whenever, wherever – without creating what I encounter
with Piper fan-boys who think the only thing that matters in life is
evangelism and bonus points if you do it across an ocean.
I see two particular opportunities to get all of us back on the same page:
- Clarity on the mission of God. Is the mission of God more than a declaration of the gospel?
- Clarity on what constitutes a culture. Is cross-cultural ministry something that can only take place on foreign soil?
So as a guy whose very first interaction on the internet back in ‘95
was to print off every John Piper sermon available from 1980 to 1995, I
would say that yes, there are distinctions between evangelism and
mission(s) but in this case I don’t believe Dr. Piper’s distinctions
hold up against the Scriptures and I don’t find them particularly
What do you think about Piper's distinction between evangelism and missions? Does this fit the shape and scope of the Scriptures? How would you answer the question?
...we need to be asking whether the church, in its life and witness, is truly engaging in its biblical mission of bringing blessing to the nations. God runs the world for the sake of the church; God calls the church for the sake of the world. We need to fix our theology and our mission to both poles of this biblical dynamic.
Yesterday, I preached on discipleship from Matthew 28:18-20 as a reminder that discipleship is the holistic mission of the local church (pulled from the words 'all', 'baptize' and 'go' - which summarize the teaching of the entire Scriptures about what it looks like to follow Jesus or to 'walk in the way of the Lord').
My main point was this - God's mission in the world is to set things right...to put broken things back together. Created in his image for his glory, that mission must become our mission as the Church. Discipleship is teaching and equipping people to join God in his mission of fixing the broken things in their world.
From an Old Testament perspective, discipleship is learning 'the way of the Lord' (ex. Deuteronomy 10:12-19) - doing righteousness and justice for the sake of the oppressed and against the oppressor. This means that in the context of our particular communities, we must do what needs to be done in a given situation ('justice') if people and circumstances are to be restored to conformity with righteousness. That might help us understand how we shape our discipleship in the suburban church - we must teach actions (there is something we must do) because there is something God intends to achieve.
From the perspective of Reformed theology and our penchant to do cognitive discipleship that struggles to connect to affections and behavior, this biblical focus on action-driven discipleship is a needed counterbalance. Theology is critically important - but it has little value apart from its connection to our mission of righteousness and justice in the world around us.
So let's be about a discipleship that weaves together doctrine, ethics and mission. God has chosen and created a community of people who live in such a way that God's purposes to bless the nations actually happens. Mission shapes what we believe about the church - we exist to put broken things together. Mission shapes what we believe about election and predestination - 'God's choosing is not an end in itself but a means to the greater end of the ingathering of the nations. Election must be missiological, not merely soteriological.' (Wright, 369).
Jesus himself provided the [interpretive focus] within which all disciples must read these texts, that is, in the light of the story that leads up to Christ (messianic reading) and the story that leads on from Christ (missional reading). That is the story that flows from the mind and purpose of God in all the Scriptures for all the nations. That is a missional hermeneutic of the whole Bible. (41)
Check out this article about the uproar caused by the abduction of 22 S. Korean missionaries in Afghanistan. Of note is that the uproar is coming from those in Korea who can't fathom anyone doing something so harmful. So my question is, were these brothers and sisters being courageous or foolish, or is there a category for both?
Hey kids- Good to see you again. I'm in a Panera Bread in Birmingham, losing my masculinity and eavesdropping on a conversation by the leadership of an 'eclectic spiritual community' planning their Christmas Eve service.
Life's been a bit nutty - we're in a pretty major creative construction phase at Christ Church - connecting our leadership structure to our long-range plan, continuing discussions about other future plans, hunting for the $100K + that God is hiding to kickstart us as a church, etc.
I'm also studying for, praying through, thinking about, writing down two sermons (or one and a half - the sermon for the evening gathering is around 15-20 minutes...yeah, I know you don't believe that, but it's pretty much done and actually going to happen I think).
To catch you up with notes of interest from around Al Gore's interweb (BTM has informed me that he, in fact did not invent this contraption), here's a hodgepodge of stuff, most of it pertaining to Christmas. As I've said before, getting the meaning of Christmas is harder than it looks. I hope something here will help you get your hands around that this year.
These are in no particular order, other than where they are on my Firefox tabs:
1. Al Mohler comes close to giving a thumbs up to CNN's recent exploration of historic Christianity. His overview is worth the read. On a side note, it appears that Liam Neeson and Kiefer Sutherland are battling to replace James Earl Jones and Charlton Heston for the title of Guy Whose Voice You Want Selling Your Product.
2. Speaking of Kiefer, he turns 40 today (and Samuel L. Jackson turns 58 - is there another day in the calendar year that has produced two guys more effective at looking like the baddest men on the planet?). And the trailer for the new season of 24 is up here - start up the Jack Bauer as Jesus debate again.
4. Mark Taylor, a religion and humanities professor at Williams College, writes about the need for uncertainty in religious thinking. Here's a blurb: For years, I have begun my classes by telling students that if they are
not more confused and uncertain at the end of the course than they were
at the beginning, I will have failed. A growing number of religiously
correct students consider this challenge a direct assault on their
faith. Yet the task of thinking and teaching, especially in an age of
emergent fundamentalisms, is to cultivate a faith in doubt that calls
into question every certainty. You know, I'm all for questions and doubt - my concern with stuff like this is that it seems that there's an obsession with uncertainty with little desire to come to any conviction or conclusion about anything other than the enlightened status of uncertainty. I think this severely limits our ability to connect people to the kingdom of Christ. I'd prefer to see us connect certainty to a gospel-created humility that includes the ability to patiently listen to others. Those of us who have been met by Christ have the one thing that provides for the needs of those around us - our mistake is far too often a failure to listen and connect Christ to the details of people's real lives.
5. Okay, on to the Christmas stuff. Here's an article by Eugene Peterson on 'Christmas shame' - a great story about his parents' decision to not have a Christmas tree in their home when he was 8 years old. Great writing, vintage Peterson.
6. John Piper takes another visit to Barnes and Noble and walks away resolved to give the rest of his life to the truth of Christ. He ends with this: We know no truth aright, if we do not know and love Christ himself
as the ground of it and the goal of it and the way it looks in true
life. So we exist to spread a passion for Christ, not just ideas about
Christ. That’s more, not less. He was born to bear witness to the truth. Let’s resolve this Christmas that we will live for this.
7. Bob Kauflin shares some thoughts on Christmas, gleaned from Mark Dever's excellent work on the New Testament - this time from a sermon Dever preached on I Timothy on December 19, 1999. If you don't have Dever's works on the Old Testament and New Testament, you need to take some of that Christmas money you get and go here and here and buy them both.
8. Joe Thorn writes about the connection between Christmas and the American spirit in a good, brief article at the Relevant Magazine website. I loved this at the end: I do not feel the need to fight with the
world about the true meaning of Christmas. Instead, I can find common
ground from which we can talk, really talk, about Jesus. Sure,
Christmas is about the best in humanity—the need to be compassionate,
restorative, kind, generous and selfless. The stories we tell at this
time of year ought to be held up, because all of this, in one way or
another, points to Jesus. Who else more perfectly demonstrates love for
the poor, compassion on the broken, the forgiveness of sinners and
redemption to all. Who has sacrificed more? Who has given more? Who has
loved more? Who has shown us a better picture of all that we celebrate
at this time of year? Who else can make the holiday hope of humanity’s
restoration a reality?
9. Almost forgot this one - Anthony Carter posted on the partnership between a prominent Atlanta minister and leaders of the Nation of Islam for the purpose of community renewal. Carter questions the legitimacy of such a partnership on the basis of its impact on the uniqueness of Christ. A good reminder for those of us committed to leveraging relationships with others for the sake of kingdom redemption and renewal.
An article in this morning's NY Times points out the obsession that some of our fellow 'conservative Evangelicals' like John Hagee have with supporting the nation of Israel in their fight against Lebanon and Hezbollah, as well as our concern with Iran's nuclear threats.
Does this strike anyone else as being a bit odd? Granted, John Hagee's eschatology demands a very obvious 'bad guy', but do we really believe that the state of Israel, formed less than 100 years ago, is above criticism and deserves our unwavering support simply because they call themselves Israel? I'm all for fighting social injustice, but this seems to be alot more complicated than guys like Hagee make it out to be.
Maybe you've been too busy watching premiere week on TV (you know who you are with your countdown clock to the Grey's Anatomy season opener tonight) to notice that the Islamic world is a bit cheesed off at Pope Benedict. Here's a great summary of the situation and a thoughtful construction of a Christian response by John Piper to the anger expressed by many Muslims around the world.
"Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body." (Hebrews 13:3)
As you read this, 200 million Christians across the world are suffering because they trust and treasure Jesus in all of life. As the church grows throughout the non-western world, that world is responding with hatred and violence. Our post-9/11 world is seeing a resurgence of classical, militant Islam in places like Saudi Arabia. The impact of Christianity on lands and families that are culturally Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Orthodox Christian has caused an ugly backlash that has taken its toll on the property and lives of Christians. In places like the Sudan where tribalism grows stronger and hostilities run deeper, Christians are often punished because they are seen as a manifestation of Western civilization.
No fewer than 40 nations are represented on this year's list of places where persecutions for Christians is very much a reality. From Afghanistan to Yemen, from Mexico to Belarus, men, women, and children live under a shadow that none of us face in the United States. The stories to be found at places like www.persecution.org remind you that you and I woke up this morning in Disneyland. Stories like this one in Christianity Today are sobering and heart-wrenching. It reminds us that as a church, we are facing issues of comfort and convenience and prosperity, while our brothers and sisters face losing their homes, their property, their family, their life.
I'm thankful for the mysterious reality of God's intimate care and concern over every detail of every part of every person's life. God has placed our persecuted brothers in harm's way so that they might become more like Jesus and more dependent upon him. Even imprisonment, maiming, torture, and death exist for their good (Romans 8:28). I can't explain why God has chosen such horrors as the means for the persecuted church to enjoy and glorify God (Romans 5:3); but I do know that he has designed their circumstances for such a purpose.
I also know that God has placed us in a place of relative ease and comfort. We should not question, nor should we be ashamed of the fact that God has seen fit to cause us to live in great wealth (which is both a biblical and global reality - if you have stuff, the Bible calls you 'rich' (I Timothy 6:17) and compared to the rest of the world, those in poverty in the United States have more wealth than 95% of the rest of the world). The primary question for us at a time like this as we face issues like this is simple: what will we do with the resources God has given us? Has God provided us the life that we live for the pursuit of the American dream, or in order to spread and strengthen his glory and Kingdom by helping others find their joy in him?
This Sunday, we have an opportunity to be reminded of the connection we have with all Christians down through history and throughout our world today. We will be joining with millions of other Christians around the world to pray for the persecuted church. It will come out in our sermon from Hebrews 2:14-18 and following the service, we'll have a time of corporate and small group prayer, focusing on the very real needs of those in our family in country after country who are suffering because of Jesus.
I'm praying that this time together might create a spark in your heart to make this situation of suffering around the world a point of attention year-round. Would you begin praying now that God might show you clearly what your role might be in the days, weeks, and months ahead? Dear God, as individuals, families, and as a community, how can we help?