Posts Tagged ‘missionary work’

978-1-63146-516-1Me and a friend have been working our way through some pretty good books. I'm just a little more ahead of him, but he is plowing his way through slowly and making some amazing discoveries in the works of Scott McKnight and NT Wright among others. We have both had our theological worlds shredded–and for the better!–but we always kept coming back to the same question: how does this 'reign of Jesus'/'kingdom of God'/'Jesus is King' stuff play out in every day church/christian life?

That is really the question any theology needs to answer, in my opinion. I think NT Wright is brilliant theologically and Scott McKnight is spot on when it comes to the Kingdom of God and the Gospel. But I think even they would admit that if their theology has no practical legs, it's not worth all that much when it comes to the church. This is why, in my opinion, their work is so refreshing: it has legs, and arms, and hands, and so much more. It's not just for the head or even the heart. It's for those who work. This is the problem I have found with my own tradition's theology for so long. It limits itself to a mere 'join the club' type of rhetoric. It appeals to the head, sometimes the heart, but rarely to the appendages. Too much it focuses on getting 'saved' without really understanding or knowing what that means.

This is where Michael Frost's book Surprise the World has picked up what was lacking in my own understanding and in a few short pages provided a shell to enhance the framework and platform built by McKnight and others. I am not saying McKnight or Wright are devoid of practicality, so don't misunderstand my point. Nor am I saying that Frost is devoid of the framework or platform. I simply haven't read enough of Frost to know at this point. In short: I like this book. A lot.

I like this book because Frost, who has heretofore been unknown to me, bridges the small gap that I think exists between a robust Kingdom theology and a robust 'here's how Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places' practicality. This is not to say that these other two are devoid of practicality. Not at all. It's just that in this book by Frost one is able to see the platform and the framework upon which he is constructing his ideas. His near constant use of the phrase 'God's reign and rule' to under gird these 5 habits is what captured and held my attention. Here is a christianity that is finally getting out of itself. This is no mere book about habits to make you a better you. This is a book about getting out of you and into Jesus–it's about bringing his rule and reign to bear on this world in meaningful, Kingdom driven, Christlike ways. It's about having a solid reason to be a missionary every day instead of the mere 'hey, it's time to get saved and join the club' kind of rhetoric that we typically hear from our pulpits.

He is focusing primarily on 'mission' in the book and the way we go about bringing God's reign and rule to bear on this earth. He writes, "Mission is not primarily concerned with church growth. It is primarily concerned with the reign and rule of the Triune God." (21) It is this idea that permeates the book and supports his ideas. I love it! "Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ" (21). He couldn't be more correct and in this I begin to make the connection between the 'drowning' and the 'breathing.' I will spare you my thoughts on missionary work, but suffice it to say that perhaps a new model is needed in some parts of the world.

The only part of the book that kind of bothers me is the habit of 'listening.' It's not that I think listening to the Holy Spirit is a bad idea. Far from it. But this idea of 'centering prayer'…I'm just not sure about because, frankly, it sounds weird. Prayer is prayer. I get that he clears up any confusion that it might be confused with Eastern meditation. That's good. But for all the emphasis he places on being in tune with Scripture and Jesus I found this chapter/habit to be lacking. Prayer is prayer. Silence is silence. I think it's quite OK to be quiet during prayer and let the Holy Spirit pray for us. 'Centering prayer', frankly, bothers me precisely because of the imagery that it brings to mind. I'm sure the Bible even talks about meditating day and night on the Scripture, but again I think this is something different from what Frost is suggesting. I'm willing to be wrong on this point, but right now I remain unconvinced. Maybe I'm bothered by calling it 'centering prayer.' Maybe not. I simply do not see, in the Scripture, and overwhelming call for Christians to engage in this sort of prayer life. That's my opinion.

The other habits, though, are spot on in my judgment: blessing, eating, learning, and being sent. I especially love the part of learning about Jesus. We simply do not do enough of this because we are too concerned about getting people to say a 'sinner's prayer' or getting them baptized or whatever. Let's slow down and learn from and of the Master. 

I have minor quibbles with the way he interprets some Scripture. For example, is take on 1 Corinthians 11:23-28, is a bit strange, but it doesn't necessarily impede what he is saying. Sometimes his language is a bit awkward. For example, I don't know what it means to 'craft a blessing' (38) but I'm not willing to build a mountain of protest against it. I simply think that blessings are often more random and spontaneous than planned or 'crafted.' Other times, I found his writing to be quite breathtaking. For example, when talking about reconciliation between God and humans being at the heart of Christ's work on the cross, he draws the obvious conclusion that such reconciliation between warring people should be a core expression of God's reign and rule (87). To this I offer a hardy Amen. I suppose more Christians need to hear this–especially some who call themselves 'conservative' and yet go out of their way to wish death upon anyone who wants to see peace with those who practice Islam and upon those who practice Islam.

It is such 'conservative' Christians who have turned me off completely to the conservative movement in the church. We should pray for peace, pray for our enemies, and feed those who wish to bring us harm–as evidence that Jesus rules and reigns in our own lives too. We have a long way to go in our understanding of Jesus and the church if there is a single person among us who wishes death to another human being simply because they wish death upon us. Jesus did not call us to hate those who hate us, but to bless them. We do not promote the reign and rule of God through force or violence or aggression or through inflamed rhetoric, but only through a loving embrace, a hardy meal, and through the imitation of Jesus.

Jesus healed the blind, the lame, the lepers, and the deaf–and even raised the dead–as evidence of God's kingdom coming in glory. Therefore, it should be reasonable to suggest that wholeness, the healing of broken people, is primary evidence of that reign today. (92)

This is a short and yet remarkable book. I am always glad when the Lord brings to me a book like this and I am even happier when I can write a positive review to share with my friends. I highly recommend this book. To be sure, Frost is recommending that we make these five habits (BELLS) more than mere habits. "I want you to make a habit of them. I want you to inculcate these habits as a central rhythm of your life…Missional effectiveness grows exponentially the longer we embrace these habits and the deeper we go with them" (99). It's hard to disagree.

I want to say exercise caution, but I also want to say to live under His rule and reign with reckless abandon. The simplest acts of blessing and grace can be missionary work. This book helps the reader see that even in the seemingly small acts of blessing God works mightily. You do not need to be trained in preaching or missions to be a missionary. You need to be willing to be a blessing to all, feed anyone and everyone, pray with all kinds of prayers, learn about our Master, and get sent into the world.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Surprise the World (Amazon, $4.99, paperback); (Tyndale, $4.99, paperback)
  • Author: Michael Frost
  • On the Web:
  • On Twitter: Michael Frost
  • Academic Webpage: Michael Frost
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: NavPress
  • Pages: 125
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience:
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book via the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.


God's Love Compels Us is a collection of sermons based on the text of 2 Corinthians 4-5 (4 sermons), Psalm 22 (1 sermon), and two other topical sermons written by well educated men who are preachers or scholars or missionaries. The first three sermons are by D.A. Carson (who also edited the book), David Platt, and John Piper. The rest of the sermons were written by gentlemen I've never heard of before, but hearing their stories and ideas was refreshing and was welcome. I especially enjoyed the contributions written by Michael Oh and Mack Stiles. 

The first four sermons (each sermon makes up a chapter for a total of 7 chapters) are wholly exegetical sermons and follow the text being expounded closely. Two of the last three sermons are topical. Michael Oh's contribution is an exposition of Psalm 22. I would expect nothing else from a Don Carson book. The book is dense and packed with deep theological thoughts and ideas which flow from a deeply held Reformed theology. There is not a lot of nuance to the sermons. They are fairly straightforward propositional and exegetical sermons.

The work focuses primarily on the issue of missions work and why we do it and perhaps to a lesser extent how we do it. There's a lot of emphasis on where we do missions work also.

I have but a couple of thoughts.

There are a lot of stories about missionaries from days gone by who did the hard work of taking the Gospel to strange and exotic locations–like CT Studd who went to China or Hudson Taylor who did the same. And even though I've heard these stories hundreds of times in books and sermons it is still good to hear them afresh, maybe from a different angle. There are a lot of statistics about how many people live in the world and how many are unsaved ("If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it is the height of arrogance to sit quietly by while 597 million Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs in North India go to hell.", 26*, sermon by David Platt. I'm not sure who among us is sitting around arrogantly while this happens, but I suppose a little rhetorical hyperbole is the way preachers work.) You will also find in this book a lot of the standard Reformed doctrines of salvation. This is not a bad thing in and of itself (even if I don't happen to buy all of the propositions), but it seems to me there is so much more worth exploring that perhaps the preachers should have given some thought to varying the messages. In other words, there is a tremendous amount of repetition in the book. And as good as salvation is, I am inclined to think that the apostle Paul, who wrote the letter a number of these sermons are based upon, had a little more in mind when he was writing than mere formulations of theological salvation propositions.

For example, what about the kingdom of God? I was able to find all of four references to the Kingdom of God in the entire book. This was disappointing if it is true that we 'represent the foreign power of the kingdom of God' (Stiles, chapter 4). I wish this idea had been explored a little more within the context of God's love compelling us to missionary work.

We also hear a lot about the exotic locations around the world where there is a serious deficiency of Gospel proclamation and belief. Yes. It is true there are a lot of Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus without the Gospel in the Middle East, India, and Asia. What we don't hear a lot about in this book is the deficits here in America. If we are looking for depth of faith as opposed to width of belief then maybe those who are Christians in the Middle East or India or Asia or Africa ought to be sending missionaries to the United States instead of the other way around. It's just a thought, but it seems to me that, to a certain extent, this book is too well educated to stir up the common American Christian to do much. Indeed, it is based on a pre-conference conference on world mission 'designed especially, though not exclusively, for students' in 'April 2013' (from the preface).

Is this a book that will stir up the church in general? Is the audience preachers who will read it? Students who will study it for a cross-cultural evangelism class in undergraduate school? This is a book that needs to be in the hands of the church in general so I wonder if the authors are, to a sad extent, preaching to the choir?

Carson writes in the preface that world mission is no longer "'from the West to the rest,' but more like 'from everywhere to everywhere..'" And this is my point. Still, the book doesn't lay much emphasis on this 'everywhereness' to include the USA. I well understand the book's intention, but this seems to me a deficiency. If it is true that, as Carson writes, there are 'thousands of unreached people groups' and 'larger populations where knowledge of Scripture is desperately thin' and places where 'nominalism or syncretism reigns supreme' and 'the gospel is poorly understood and widely disbelieved' then it seems to me someone ought to have addressed this concern directly here in the USA where all of this is true too. This is my opinion. I didn't edit or write the book. I just think that what he is describing is, in fact, America. Look around! The famine is here in America too.

Another important aspect of the book is something that Stiles said in chapter four, something I have not heard any other preacher say in the days since our world in America changed: "We were convinced that the response of the church to the events of 9/11 must not be military, but missionary. So we moved when the home sold" (p 53).  This is absolutely overwhelming! And what Stiles did was move to the Middle East. I don't think I have read a single line like this in all the books I have read since 9/11/01, by any author, from any denomination. I don't think I've heard a single preacher say this. Why? This quote alone should be preached and is worth the price of the book.

I wish this had been said more by preachers. I'm convinced that it is the only way anything is going to happen even now so many years removed from that event. I think what's happening, though, is that the church is ceding more and more of this prerogative to our government. It's not just in matters of international diplomacy either. It's all around us as churches lose ground in our cities and states and small towns and governments, big and little, local, state, and federal gain ground. It's sad, really, that this Kingdom to which we belong and which we are gives so much ground. The gates of hell shall not prevail, said Jesus. Hmm.

A book on missions is, thus, important and necessary for here in America too.

Finally, a disappointment. There is not a single contribution by a woman in the book. Yes, it is edited by Kathleen Nielson and she gets some props in the preface written by Carson. But she doesn't even get a line on a dedication page. I'm terribly disappointed that we get to hear from zero of the outstanding female voices in the evangelical church–voices that would certainly add depth and perspective to the idea of world missions. I wish the editors and publisher would have given this more thought and tried to include at least one female voice.

When it's all said and done, I think this is a helpful book. I'm not enamored with the all of the writing (mostly because I've read enough of Carson's work that he is predictable at this point and I'm not really a fan of Piper). Hearing from some fresh voices was a good thing for this book (Oh, Stiles, and Um were especially welcome voices) and I hope to hear some more from these preachers in the future.

The book has a helpful page at the end where we learn more of the biographical information about the authors–their education, family life, and educational background. There is a very helpful index and another Scripture index that I found especially useful. On my ePub version everything is hyperlinked which I love! I was also able to highlight and add notes which again I love. Notes are at the end of each chapter which is better than at the end of the book.

I will leave this review with a quote from the book that I found to be especially fruitful and which, in my opinion, needs to be offered more and more by preachers in America. To this end, it is my hope that preachers who read this book will be challenged to preach the Gospel–in season and out of season, to their congregations–in order that this Kingdom to which we belong, that this God who loves us so, will be plainly evident to the world and so that once again the church will start pushing back the gates of hell:

Consider Luke 14:13-14…Note that, in context, Jesus is primarily concerned not with giving guidelines for how to throw a party, but with challenging the give-to-get economy under which the Pharisees are operating. They throw parties and invite honorable guests in order to be invited to parties thrown by honorable guests. Jesus is suggesting that they radically flip this on its head. He is making the point that, if you know the unrepayable, nonmercenary nature of God's grace, it is borne out in your actions: you engage in one-way giving, being radically generous with your time, money, and relational capital. In other words, those who have received a gift that they can never repay are those who have the resources to give away gifts that can never be repaid. (101)

Yep. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase God's Love Compels Us Amazon (Kindle, $9.59)  CBD ($11.49)  Crossway ($14.99)
  • Author: D.A. Carson & Kathleen Nielson
  • Publisher: Crossway
  • Pages: 126
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience:Pastors, preachers, Christians, missionaries, students
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy courtesy of Crossway via the Beyond the Book Blogger program
  • *My page numbers are based on the ePub version I downloaded for my NOOK reader. Page numbers may or may not correspond to print versions or Kindle locations.