DeYoung, Kevin and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Comission. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.
DeYoung and Gilbert argue that the mission of the church is the Great Commission: “the mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering those disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father” (p. 241).
Much of the book provides helpful responses to those who extend the mission of the church so broadly that the core of the Great Commission is minimized or lost. They convincingly argue that the missio dei and the mission of the church do not necessarily coincide, that incarnation is not the best metaphor for church ministry, and that John Stott’s interpretation of John 21 is not the most accurate. They rightly argue that gospel can refer to all the good that results from God’s plan of redemption, and they also rightly center the gospel on the provision of atonement and how it may be received by individual humans for salvation. They rightly tell the story of Scripture as centered on humans and sin rather than on creation and corruption.
What is the Mission of the Church? also contains some weaknesses. Gilbert and DeYoung could have made their argument stronger by canvassing Acts and the Epistles for further indications of the church’s mission. In addition they also overcorrected in reaction to some of the errors that they identified. The Creation Blessing (Gen. 1:26-28) gets little play in the redemptive historical survey chapter. In a later chapter it is reduced to something that Adam failed to do, that no other human is tasked with doing, and that the Second Adam will accomplish apart from our work. This incorrectly ties the Creation Blessing with Adam’s probationary test. Genesis 1 and 9 present the Creation Blessing as something that all humans have, though it is now twisted by the Fall. It is not uniquely Adamic. Another weakness is found in their discussion of the kingdom of God. DeYoung and Gilbert view the kingdom of God as a spiritual reign of God in men’s hearts. While Ladd, whom they draw on, is correct that “reign” rather than “realm” is foremost in the NT concept of kingdom, it is difficult to reduce the NT teaching about the kingdom to the spiritual realm alone. Involved is the regeneration of all things. They do get this right in their chapter about the new heavens and the new earth, in which the carefully delineate what we can and cannot say about continuity and discontinuity between the two. DeYoung and Gilbert rightly correct loose talk about building the kingdom or bringing in the kingdom and instead point out that Christians await the kingdom. Even so, there ought to be an emphasis on living consistently with the anticipated kingdom in one’s present vocations.
Two chapters cover the important topic of social justice, and a third deals with doing good works. They show both what social justice passages demand while also correcting sloppy interpretations and applications of these passages that are all too common. DeYoung and Gilbert helpfully show how to avoid pitfalls that equate social justice with particular political programs. They distinguish between the institutional church and the organic church and note that Christians as individuals sometimes must do certain things that the institutional church is either forbidden or permitted but not required to do.
Overall, DeYoung and Gilbert have tackled a complex subject and gotten a great deal right. What is more, they have offered a correction to common misconceptions. They could make their argument stronger in the future by reconsidering their treatment of the extent of the Creation Blessing and of the nature of the kingdom of God.