This is my 9th post in a series on developing a new missiology.
Previously: Access Isn’t Everything
The truth is, our missiology comes down to our understanding of who God is and how active He is in the spread of the gospel.
What is the goal of missions? For some, it’s a crusade against other world religions; the Christianization of the world. For others, missions is the ultimate act of compassion, a rush to save people before they die and go to hell. Still others might say it’s about fulfilling our responsibility to preach the good news; what “the heathen” does with that is between him and God.
Most missiologists since Ralph Winter say that the goal of missions is to reach unreached people groups. This anthropological approach to missions gave rise to prioritization of “sowing fields” over “harvest fields.” Somewhere along the way, this perspective was mashed up with John 24:14 (“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”), and the goal became “to bring Jesus back.” Then John Piper jumped into the fray with his book Let the Nations Be Glad, encouraging the church to refocus missions on giving God “the most glory.” “Missions exists,” he wrote, “because worship does not.” Then came the sliding scale of the degrees of glory.
The problem is that most current missiologies were formulated from the “limited divine involvement” perspective. All the mapping, categorizing, and prioritizing was done as the church’s attempt to do what they were “left” by God to do. Even John Piper’s take on missions (and yes, I’m treading lightly here) seems to assume much free-agency on the part of the church when it comes to missions (sorting out which activities and strategies would bring God the most glory). But Jesus’ promise to go with us must be key to our missiology; he often leads His people in very specific ways, and more often than not, those ways are counter-intuitive.
At the root of this conversation is the question of God’s participation in the spread of the gospel. Scripture says that God wills that none would perish (2 Peter 9), yet we know that many have, are, and will. Does a people group’s destiny depend on us? On one end of the spectrum, we find the “Their blood is on our hands” crowd who love to quote Ezekiel 3:18-19 (however out of context). At the other extreme, we have the Particulars who say, “When God pleases to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine.” Is God limited to the means He’s established for the spread of the gospel, (namely, us)? Or is He a relentless sovereign who will accomplish His will whether or not His people obey Him?
If you see God’s role as limited (whether that limitation be self-imposed or otherwise), it makes sense that you would be driven by compassion to get the word out as effectively and efficiently as possible (and at all costs). If, however, you believe that He is saving the elect, and will do so with or without your help thank you very much, then your motivation to mission is less about the need and more about the fact that we have been sent.
Of course, we need both compassion and obedience. We need plans and strategies, preparation and wisdom. Not to over simplify, but two views prevail: either you believe that God gave the Church this task of reaching the unreached and has then left us to get the job done, or you believe that God is orchestrating the spread of the gospel from person to person (or, if you prefer, people group to people group,) and sends us as important but ultimately expendable means.
To truly understand the kind of Spirit-led, callsourced missiology that I’ve proposed here, we must assume God’s micromanagement of the spread of the gospel to all nations. As Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my ways.” We have not been left to invent a winning strategy that will accomplish God’s purposes for Him, nor is He helplessly waiting for the church to “finish the task” so that He can return. No, God’s Spirit guides, directs, and leads us into His redemptive work among the peoples of the earth. Our part– our blessing– as sent ones is to obediently go and to stay in tune with Him enough to hear His voice and follow His direction.