Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

3 Aug 2012

A Steep, Uphill Battle in Evangelical Missions?


I received the most recent issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly with some anticipation. The title article was “Proclamation vs. Social Action: A Symposium.” With the 2011 release of Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway), I was hoping an emphasis on the Scripture-induced priority of proclamation in missions (not to mention the establisment of long term proclamation centers, a.k.a. church planting) would begin working its way back into Evangelical Missions. Alas, it seems to be a very steep, uphill battle. Some brief reasons evidenced in four of the five symposium contributors to answering the question “Which has priority—proclamation or social action” (264–71) are as follows. You may want to read the issue yourself to see if you agree:

1. Many Evangelicals are simply unwilling to answer the question at hand by exegeting the Scripture. Many that do so do not give priority to the New Testament in discerning the mission of the Church. Much of the argument for social justice and cultural redemption comes out of the OT or Kingdom passages in the Gospels.  What we see is that the activities one prioritizes is a direct result of one’s hermeneutics.

2. Many Evangelicals fail to be honest with the history of Missions or to be cautioned by past realities. One contributor said this, concerned more about relational schisms in the Body of Christ than missional fidelity:  “The proclamation/social action question created an historical split between evangelicals and many denominational leaders in the 1900s. Today, the bad question is positioned to possibly split the evangelical community as it exacerbates already challenging generational differences” (Mark Long [pseudonym], 266). A better track would be to remind rising generations why the split needed to be made with the denominational missions machinery to begin with.

3. Many Evangelicals are simply unwilling to proclaim the truth to those who are lost. They feel that it is intolerant and “Elevating a Worn-out Conversation” as contributor Christopher Heuertz put it. He says, “Many of my friends in poverty pray prayers that go unanswered. Many of my Muslim and Hindu friends have sacrificed more for their faith than a lot of sincere, earnest Christians I know. To suggest to my friends that their religions are wrong…is offensive and inappropriate—especially if I have not engaged their contexts through solidarity” (268).

Certainly, much more could be written. The question is worth answering and priorities are worth setting. They have to be set. The New Testament will provide some very good answers for those willing to listen.

3 Responses

  1. Yes, it is important for us to point out to our students that the Evangelical world has a lot of problems! We aren’t the only ones with difficulties. 🙂

    1. BE

      I don’t think this post is about showing that the “Evangelical world has a lot of problems” just like “us”. The post is about the understanding of missions, which is a major issue for churches. Churches of all stripes don’t think through what they are called to do and how they should be doing it. This particular issue–social action–has been mishandled across the board for years. Books like DeYoung’s and Gilbert’s are a help in steering us in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done.


    2. It would probably be helpful to give some positive points as well, such as the fact that many evangelicals are very deeply committed to sacrifice for the sake of missions and even social action.

      I was not meaning to necessarily lay out an “us” versus “them” critique. In my opinion we are all Evangelicals, just some of us happen to be willing to be Separatists. Really, one of the main purposes of separation is exhortation to biblical fidelity with the hopes of protecting it and encouraging change toward it. I hope our voice will encourage those desiring to have a Biblical philosophy of missions in the midst of the uphill struggle.