What do you mean by the word “mission”?

Today the term ‘mission’ is in search of definition. It has become quite fluid and vague. In 2016, Jay Matenga and Malcom Gold wrote:

We are in a state of missional (mission-related) anomie in which the forms and structures of the past are in a state of flux and a cohesive and accepted new way has yet to form. – Jay Matenga and Malcom Gold, Mission in Motion, 2016, William Carey Library, Kindle location 1258.

They explain missional anomie:

In other words, we no longer have a reliable roadmap to help us navigate the shifting landscape, at least not one we can all agree on. -Kindle location 1214.

The Norms (expectations, understandings) of the Mission endeavor appear to be in a state of disintegration within which what Bosch refers to as the emerging ecumenical paradigm, leaving the evangelical missions community (particularly in the West) with no clear frame of reference for negotiating the various crisis factors that have arisen. -Kindle location 1224.

Matenga and Gold rely heavily on David J. Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission, 1991, Orbis books. Bosch wrote, “Ultimately, mission remains undefinable … The most we can hope for is to formulate some approximations of what mission is all about.” (Transforming Mission, Kindle location 572). Bosch did not see a unified definition of mission in the Bible. He appears to accept higher critical views of Scripture which diminish biblical authority. When confidence in Scripture as God’s word is lacking, it is no wonder that ‘we no longer have a reliable roadmap’.

It appears that in the wider evangelical missions community, there is an erosion of biblical authority. It is time to reread J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. Machen demonstrated a hundred years ago that Liberalism was not just a form of Christianity but a totally different religion. Pivotal in the distinction was the authority of Scripture.

More recently John M. Hitchen has written,

The place we turn for our final decisions on faith, life, and action controls both our theory and practice in mission. David Evans suggests that when we refer to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as if they are alternative authorities, we are actually embracing a kind of Enlightenment ‘folk religion’. …

Agreement that the Bible is indeed the normative authority for mission is an essential starting point for moving forward on an adequate basis for global mission. -John M. Hitchen, “Evangelism and Mission – What is the Gospel?” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, Spring 2001, 17. accessed online 2/16/17

The loss of confidence in the authority of the Bible (along with other issues) has led to the current state of missional anomie. Contrary to Bosch, I believe the Bible does provide a clear, unified understanding of mission. In future blog posts, I plan to work through Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien.

For now, I will point to the centrality of making disciples of Jesus Christ in defining mission. In the process of making disciples, teaching them to obey everything that Christ commanded (Mt. 28:20) is essential. Social justice, stewardship, and other concerns will manifest themselves in the obedient disciple’s lifestyle. Making disciples of Christ is primary in the mission of the church. Any definition that does not keep disciple-making central is inadequate.

In sum, I concur with Keith Ferdinando:

… if the concept and centrality of mission after the manner of the apostles is to be retained, its distinct identity must be secured through a vocabulary, specific words, that name it. This is what is being lost in the present confusion of definition. The appropriate response may be loudly to reaffirm a disciple-making definition of mission; perhaps more realistically it may be to accept the irreversibility of the process of “lexical entropy” and to develop new expressions –apostolic mission perhaps – to assert the church’s primordial and unconditional responsibility to make disciples. The importance of the issue can scarcely be overstated. The great theme of Scripture is God’s redemptive mission to call a people for his own glory among whom he will dwell; and those he calls are in turn to engage in mission as his co-workers by making disciples of Jesus Christ. Definitional ambiguities must not be allowed to obscure the absolute centrality of that vital task. – Keith Ferdinando, “Mission: A Problem of Definition”, Themelios, 33.1 (2008), 49. accessed online 2/16/17.

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