What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission

by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

Crossway, 1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, IL 60187, 2011, 288 pages, $15.99.

Reviewed by Benjamin G. Edwards, director of Urban Ministry, Inter-City Baptist Church, Allen Park, Michigan.

You can never hit the target if you do not know what the target is. Thus, the only way to determine a strategy’s effectiveness is to determine the desired end. In order to determine the success of the Church, then, we must have a clear understanding of the Church’s mission. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert argue that the Church needs to gain a sharper understanding of its mission if it is going to be effective in accomplishing the task God has given it.

The authors propose that the current discussion regarding mission would benefit from more careful definitions and theological categories. Thus, they offer clarifications regarding the kingdom, social justice, the gospel, and other theological and missional terms. Although DeYoung and Gilbert interact with missiological ideas, they are writing in large part to help church leaders navigate the issues.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is its focus on scriptural exposition. One of the best chapters—Chapter 6, “Making Sense of Social Justice”—contains an exposition of several texts related to social justice that enables a better biblical basis for the discussion. In addressing their primary question—What is the mission of the Church?—the authors seek the answer in the explicit biblical commands given to the Church rather than in the mission of God or the mission of Jesus.

DeYoung and Gilbert demonstrate why certain texts cannot be used to expand the mission of the Church. They then arrive at their statement of the Church’s mission through careful examination of several commissions, concluding that the mission of the Church is to “go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father” (pp. 62, 241).

Two qualifications are necessary in order to properly understand the book. First, the authors support much of the concern surrounding issues of social involvement. They want churches to do good, but they also want them to have a biblical framework from which to properly view their actions.

Second, there is a distinction between the Church and individual Christians. The authors believe the two are not identical, with certain tasks only given to the Church institutionally and others only given to individual Christians. Their focus is on the mission of the Church, which they consider narrower than the mission of individual Christians. The mission of the Church should not be determined by combining all of the commands given to individual Christians, but instead by looking at the tasks specifically given to the Church. Those who miss these qualifications will likely miss the value of the book.

DeYoung and Gilbert have argued for the Church’s mission by dealing carefully and extensively with scripture. Those involved in fulfilling this mission should not lightly dismiss their answer without the same level of careful attention to scripture. Ideally, this book will bring an increased focus on God’s word in discovering the Church’s mission.

Check these titles:
Horton, Michael. 2011. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. 1998. The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

VanDrunen, David. 2010. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 380. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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