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Talking about integral mission

I’ve been talking with Stephanie who is starting some research into what makes ‘integral mission’, the idea that gospel proclamation and social action must go together. What is integral mission in biblical terms? What might it actually look like, and what are the implications?

In our thinking as Western evangelical Protestant Christians, there remains a sacred-secular divide, which sometimes appears as a dichotomy between ‘word ministry’ and, well, everything else. We might scoff at the phrase, ‘If necessary, use words’, because it’s so obvious to us that we must use words, that words are always necessary. Yet meanwhile, we’re probably thinking, ‘If necessary, use actions’. We have treated ‘word’ and ‘action’ as if they can be divorced.

A lecturer of ours speaks of there being two Great Commissions: ‘make disciples’ and ‘love God and love your neighbour’. Yet we’ve probably decided that ‘making disciples’ means imparting information so that other individuals can make a rational, personal ‘faith decision’. When it comes to the formation of Christian community, we think that there is a linear progression from ‘believe’ to ‘belong’ and ‘behave’ — people must have made a fully informed faith decision before we can say they have ‘become Christians’. But what if ‘making disciples’ is a more corporate, outward, multi-dimensional thing?

Stephanie wonders if J. Mack Stiles provides some useful boundaries to the question in Marks of the Messenger:

We must never forget that the gospel brings more long-term social good than any governmental program ever developed. …

Our calling as Christians is to love our neighbour. … J.I. Packer is right to say that the nature of love is to relieve need. This includes physical needs too. …

Do I take part in seeing social ills end regardless of the evangelistic opportunity it affords? With all my heart, yes and amen. We care for others regardless of any return for our efforts — evangelistically or otherwise. We never qualify whom it is we are to love. …

So, is caring for others “the gospel”? Is that evangelism? No, not without the spoken message of the gospel of Jesus. … Caring for others represents the gospel, it upholds the gospel, it points to the gospel, it’s an implication of the gospel, but it is not the gospel, and it is not equal to the gospel. …

If we get nothing in return, it’s okay because it is the nature of love. But do not forget that seeing people come to Christ in the midst of suffering and injustice is to do the greatest good we could ever do.

If Mack is right, this is still only the beginning of an outline to the question. I’m really excited to see what she comes up with!

Categories: Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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