What is Mission? Evangelism, Justice, and Beyond

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What is Mission? Evangelism, Justice, and Beyond

Over the past one hundred years, a breach has opened and gradually widened within the theology and practice of Christian mission. On one side of that breach are those who maintain that the primary, or even sole, provenance of mission is evangelism, understood as verbal proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ that seeks the conversion of its hearers. On the other side of the breach are thoase who contend that mission is largely or exclusively a task of seeking social justice. These Christians tend to see conversion as at most a possible byproduct of the church’s pursuit of justice; at times they reject the language of “mission” altogether, associating it with conversion-oriented evangelism.

Numerous efforts have been made during the past century to heal this missiological breach. Proposals employ terms such as “whole gospel,” “holistic gospel,” “integral mission,” and “full mission.” They insist that the church’s “two mandates”—to pursue sociocultural flourishing (Gen 1:26–31) and to make disciples (Matt 28:18–20)—must be held together, as must “good news and good works” and “being, doing, and telling.” Anabaptist and Mennonite missiologists have been leading participants in the healing work.1

In their 2004 book, Introducing World Missions, A. Scott Moreau, Gary Corwin, and Gary B. McGhee tell the story of the “cracks in the unity of the mission movement” that developed in the early twentieth century.² The cracks multiplied with the emergence of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in the United States, affecting missionary endeavors around the world. After showing the aftermath of those cracks—including especially an ascendant conservative evangelical mission from the mid-twentieth century—the authors examine recent trends and conclude, “It seems almost certain that theological tensions will increase in the coming years.”³ The breach, in other words, may only get larger.

The contributors in this issue of Anabaptist Witness address this situation by responding to the question, “What is mission?” Most of their responses revolve around an affirmation of the holistic character of the gospel and mission: the gospel speaks to our material and spiritual conditions, so mission should too. Yet evidence of the breach is present in these pages. While some contributors hew closely to an evangelical understanding of holistic mission, in which proclamation aimed at conversion to Christianity is viewed as essential, others largely construe holistic mission in progressive sociopolitical terms. Common use of “holistic” language does not prevent the appearance of deep divisions. With that in mind, perhaps one way forward is to question the categories (“holistic,” “evangelism,” “justice”) employed in these discussions—a strategy taken by some of our contributors.

The issue opens with a lucid evangelical statement of holistic mission by Ronald J. Sider and Heidi Rolland Unruh. The authors suggest, on historical and theological grounds, that Anabaptists should be leaders in holistic mission; they then explore reasons that many American Mennonites seem hesitant to embrace evangelism. This essay first appeared in an edited volume titled Fully Engaged: Missional Church in an Anabaptist Voice, edited by Stanley W. Green and James R. Krabill.4 We are grateful to the authors, editors, and publisher for allowing us to reprint it here.

Picking up on a challenge in Sider and Rolland Unruh’s essay to Christian Peacemaker Teams, CPT executive director Sarah Thompson discusses how that organization unites word and deed through a ministry of presence. This ministry requires the transformation of its participants and calls institutional churches to repentance for their complicity in injustice and violence. Although Thompson describes CPT workers as being on a “faith journey,” this journey is not necessarily grounded in the Christian tradition. She calls on diverse readers to join and support CPT in their opposition to violence and oppression.

José Luis Oyanguren, a missionary in the Argentine Chaco, then outlines a missiology rooted in Jesus’s ministry, and specifically in a study of Matthew 9:35–38. Oyanguren describes Jesus’s mission practice as, among other things, oriented toward the periphery, dialogical, liberative, and ecumenical. English-language translations of this piece as well as others in Spanish, French, and Korean are on our website, www.anabaptistwitness.org.

In the following piece, Anabaptist Witness visuals editor SaeJin Lee interviews South Korean conscientious objector SangMin Lee. Lee considers how his conscientious objection could be considered a form of Christian witness and argues for the priority of embodied witness and the need to be reserved with judgments about others’ salvation. Near the end of the interview, SeongHan Kim joins the conversation to shed light on the history of Korean Christian peace witness and to assess the character of North American Mennonite peace witness.

Next, Anabaptist Witness book review co-editor Steve Heinrichs interviews Patricia Vickers, a psychotherapist and member of the Tsimshian Nation in British Colombia, Canada, and Randy Woodley, a missiologist and Keetoowah Cherokee (legal descendant) in Oregon, USA. Vickers and Woodley reflect on indigenous American encounters with Christian mission, and challenge dualistic approaches to mission—including those claiming to be holistic.

British missionary Jim Harries, who lives and works in Kenya, furthers that challenge in the following piece. Deploying postcolonial theory, Harries argues that the “evangelism and social justice” debate is captive to Western categories that leave Western domination unquestioned. Harries calls instead for a vulnerable approach to mission that eschews Western funding and prioritizes indigenous language and concepts.

In the next five pieces, the authors reflect on the nature of mission in relation to specific events and ministry settings. Robert Thiessen writes of his “journeying with Jesus toward the indivisible gospel” while working with the Mixtec people in southern Mexico. Through a critical examination of gentrification in Detroit, Tommy Airey outlines a theology of evangelism centered on marginalized persons, justice, and reconciliation. Timothy Paul Erdel and Robby Christopher Prenkert review a basketball ministry with marginalized men in Kingston, Jamaica. Writing from the Philippines, Jonathan Cranston describes peacebuilding efforts in Mindanao through the story of Queenie Liwat. Finally, Chad Martin considers how the use of the Qur’an in Christian sermons can illuminate the unity of evangelism and social justice.

The Mennonite World Conference Mission Commission, the Global Mission Fellowship, and the Global Anabaptist Service Network gathered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in July 2015 to address the relationship between mission and service. Given the relevance of this conversation to the present issue, we are pleased to present the texts of the three plenary presentations—by Richard Showalter, Ofelia García and Victor Pedroza, and John Fumana, respectively. These are followed by several book reviews that further shed light on our theme.

Although the contributors to this issue of Anabaptist Witness do not offer a unified answer to our question, an emerging consensus may be tentatively identified: Christian mission involves all of life, and it requires vulnerability with those encountered on the way. If mission is to be vulnerable as well as holistic, then perhaps the hoped-for healing of the breach will generate a theology and practice of mission we have not yet imagined. The work lies before us.

Jamie Pitts, Co-Editor

[1] See, for example, Samuel Escobar and John Driver, Christian Mission and Social Justice (Scottdale, PA, and Kitchener, ON: Herald, 1978); Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993). Recent general works on the topic include Dean Flemming, Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing, and Telling (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2013); C. René Padilla, ¿Qué es la misión integral?, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Kairos, 2009); and Brian Woolnough and Wonsuk Ma, eds., Holistic Mission: God’s Plan for God’s People (Oxford: Regnum, 2010).

[2] Moreau, Corwin, and McGhee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 143.

[3] Ibid., 311.

[4] Sider and Rolland Unruh, “Keeping Good News and Good Works Together,” in Fully Engaged: Missional Church in an Anabaptist Voice, eds. Stanley W. Green and James R. Krabill (Harrisonburg, VA, and Kitchener, ON: Herald, 2015), 47–56.

Articles in this issue

Academic article by Ronald J. Sider, Heidi Rolland Unruh

Keeping Good News and Good Works Together

Disponible en español

Academic article by Ronald J. Sider, Heidi Rolland Unruh

Que las buenas nuevas y las buenas obras vayan juntas

Exclusive online content
English Language Version Available

Reflection piece by Sarah Thompson

Christian Peacemaker Teams

Disponible en español

Reflection piece by Sarah Thompson

Equipos Cristianos de Acción por la Paz

Exclusive online content
English-language version available.

Academic article by José Luis Oyanguren

Consideraciones misionológicas según Mateo 9:35–38

English language version available

Academic article by José Luis Oyanguren

Missiological Reflections on Matthew 9:35–38

Exclusive online contect
Disponible en español

Interview by SaeJin Lee

병역거부자 이상민씨와의 “평범한” 티타임

English language version available

Interview by SaeJin Lee

An “Ordinary” Teatime

Exclusive online content
Korean language version available

Interview by Steve Heinrichs

Living Vulnerability

Academic article by Jim Harries

Evangelism or Social Justice

Reflection piece by Robert Thiessen

Journeying with Jesus towards the Indivisible Gospel

Academic article by Tom Airey

A Theology of Mission for (Colonized) Gentrifying Spaces

Reflection piece by Timothy Paul Erdel, Robby Christopher Prankert

Mentoring Marginal Men in Tower Hill, Kingston, Jamaica

Reflection piece by Jonathan Cranston

Queenie Dreams of Peace in Mindanao

Reflection piece by Chad Martin

That You May Know One Another

Reflection piece by Richard Showalter

Let Us Be Reminded Who We Are and What We Are Called to Do

Reflection piece by Ofelia García, Victor Pedroza

Siguiendo los pasos de Jesús

English language version available

Reflection piece by Ofelia García, Victor Pedroza

Following in Jesus’s Steps

Exclusive online content
Disponible en español

Reflection piece by John Fumana

Ensemble, pour le partenariat dans l’Évangile

English language version available

Reflection piece by John Fumana

Together, Let’s Partner in the Gospel

Exclusive online content
Disponible en version française

Book review by Maria Hosler Byler

Todd M. Johnson and Cindy M. Wu, “Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Changing World”

Book review by Mary Raber

Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist, “History of the World Christian Movement, Volume II: Modern Christianity from 1454–1800”

Book review by Martin Rhodes

Janel Kragt Bakker, “Sister Churches: American Congregations and Their Partners Abroad”

Book review by Aaron Griffith

Steven P. Miller, “The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years”

Book review by Karin Holsinger Sherman

Berry Friesen and John K. Stoner, “If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible”

Book review by Melanie Kampen

Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Eduardo Mendieta, eds., “Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy”

Book review by Alain Epp Weaver

Beth Baron, “The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood”

Book review by Wilbert R. Shenk

John E. Sharp, “My Calling to Fulfill: The Orie O. Miller Story”