Martin W. Bender
The question of what the church ought to be doing is on the minds of Christians. Should the focus of the church’s actions be on evangelism? Discipleship? Helping the needy? All have a scriptural warrant, but which takes precedence? This is the question Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert attempt to answer in What is the Mission of the Church?
Their answer to the question is the Great Commission. The church ought to focus its attention on the communication of the Gospel to both itself and to the greater world. This seems like the obvious answer, but many see the church as God's means to demonstrates his benevolence. They are careful to point out that the church does have a responsibility to care for those who are in need. This is a common idea that pervades the Bible. When the church focuses on social justice to the exclusion of the Great Commission trouble occurs.
Moral proximity is the concept that most resonated with me. It is the idea that an individual’s responsibility to help another person is limited by their relationship to that individual as relationship, time, ability, and location. One of the members of my congregation asked me how she should respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. I looked her in the eye and said, “Nothing.” It wasn’t the answer she was looking for, but there was nothing physical for her to do. Outside of prayer and sending cash there were no other options. Her moral proximity to the situation was so far removed there was no way for her meet this pressing need. Herein lies the problem for today’s Christian. There is no lack of opportunity for good moral action, but there are physical limitations.
My friend Todd is working daily to help flooding victims in Louisiana. Jeremy, an old army buddy of mine, was able to drive from Florida to Louisiana to do the same. They both have an incredible opportunity to help people in need and work for the good of others. Meanwhile, I sit in Georgia doing nothing physical to help their efforts. Should I feel guilty about this? Is my church failing in their God-given task of helping others by not responding to this disaster? I think not. We live in a particular context with real limitations on how to carry out God’s work in the world. The work of the church is the communication of the Gospel. Sometimes the best way to do that is by helping flood victims but for most of us, the best way is to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
This book is good if you are questioning what the church should be doing. It will be helpful for me as I attempt to move my congregation from a mainline, social justice mentality toward a Gospel focused evangelical paradigm. It reads quick and has many resources listed for further study. I did find it funny that on the same page where they said the book would not be footnote heavy there was half a page of footnotes. I liked the book and will recommend it to some of my congregants.