An unpublished review written in 2014 for a university ministry website.
Here in Tanzania, a pastor friend of mine has a chicken project to empower people in his local church. You get a loan to buy three chickens and you pay it back by selling the eggs. As the chickens breed, you can increase your brood and maybe even upgrade to goats or pigs. By pursuing this project, is my pastor friend being distracted from his core business of preaching the gospel? Tanzanians don’t seem to think so, but in Australia we’re not so sure. Isn’t the Bible’s view of mission primarily concerned with ‘telling’ rather than ‘doing’?
This book is for that sort of question.
Dean Flemming is a Bible guy — a New Testament professor and mission educator who has worked in Asia and Europe — and part of the genius of his book is that it’s really an extended Bible study. Recovering the Full Mission of God spends two chapters on the Old Testament, four chapters on Jesus and the Gospel narratives, two chapters on Paul and the churches, one chapter on 1 Peter, and one chapter on Revelation. It’s a detailed book but a readable one.
Here’s the catchphrase: being, doing, telling.
Flemming takes us beyond the binaries of ‘word’ and ‘deed’, showing that God’s mission plays out in a seamless fabric of telling, doing, and being; the good news is something we speak, practice, and embody. For example, he says, ‘1 Peter spotlights the church’s identity as a distinctive and holy people. Acts especially brings out the church’s witness of the word to all kinds of people. And Mark’s Gospel gives particular weight to Jesus’ actions as an expression of his kingdom mission’. It’s like a jazz trio: from time to time one player has a solo, then fades back for another player to take the lead, but the entire group never stops playing together.
God’s mission leaves nothing unturned.
This exploration shows that the Bible doesn’t have just one framework when it comes to mission. If we are trying to itemize and classify mission, the Bible tends to leave us hanging. It has no ranking system for ‘verbal’ and ‘non-verbal’ communication. Instead we often find catch-all language, like the image of ‘light’. When Jesus says, ‘You are the light of the world,’ he is referring to everything visible in us, our entire lives, our whole community. And this is the point of Flemming’s threefold expression, ‘doing, telling, being’: it’s not a sequence or a hierarchy, but an umbrella phrase capturing the diverse and all-consuming language we find in the Bible.
This is a handbook you’ll keep coming back to.
Even if you don’t read it straight through in one go, this book will stay open on your desk whenever you spend time on the Bible and mission.
When Flemming says we’ve been experiencing a tension between word and deed, it’s a tension our friends around the world might not recognise. For my Tanzanian friend, being, telling, and doing have always been important — all three. As Aussies, I wonder if we’ve got some catching up to do. But this book is exactly the resource to help us on our way.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.