by Dean Flemming
—Reviewed by Richard Hibbert, director, School of Cross-Cultural Mission, Sydney and Missionary Bible College
EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS continue to debate whether proclaiming the gospel or demonstrating it should be given priority. Reacting to the “social gospel” promoted by theological liberals in the early 1900s, and despite calls of the Lausanne movement and prominent spokesmen like John Stott, evangelicals have emphasised that the heart of evangelism is verbal communication of the gospel.
In his characteristically lucid style, Dean Flemming succeeds in demonstrating that being, doing, and telling are interwoven in the Bible’s portrayal of mission. Alongside his case for holistic witness, he consistently argues that mission must ultimately and always include verbal communication of the gospel.
Flemming advances his argument by integrating two areas of expertise—New Testament studies and missiology—and thereby complements Chris Wright’s The Mission of God that focuses on the Old Testament. Using a biblical theological framework, each of Flemming’s chapters considers how the relationship between embodying, practicing, and proclaiming the gospel is depicted in a section of the Bible. In this process, the book successfully strikes a balance between providing sufficient exegetical detail and synthesising this evidence to show how it advances its argument that word, deed, and character are interwoven throughout the Bible. The book brings fresh perspectives to the proclamation-demonstration debate.
First, Flemming provides convincing biblical support for variations of emphasis among the three dimensions of being, doing, and telling in mission. He does this by showing that while all the Gospels portray Jesus and his disciples engaged in all three dimensions, Matthew, Mark, and John each highlight a different dimension. Building on this, and his analysis of how the apostles contextualized the gospel for particular audiences, he suggests that churches and mission agencies may justifiably “spotlight certain dimensions of the church’s mission” according to the current needs of the societies of which they are part (p. 111).
Second, this volume refreshingly takes us beyond the “word versus deed” controversy by emphasising that both speaking and doing flow out of identity—the “being”—of the church. “We don’t simply do mission. Mission is who we are” (p. 258). Third, Flemming effectively addresses the question of priority among word and deed by pointing out that the New Testament never treats them as separate and that the question itself needs reframing.
Recovering the Full Mission of God clarifies the mission of the whole Church, and for that reason should be read widely. But because it is encompasses the mission of the Church as a whole, rather than focusing on the task of missionaries, readers will have to look elsewhere for a detailed discussion of the implications of this excellent analysis for how missionaries should engage in their task.
EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 125-126. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.