Doing Theologically-Grounded Missions
When I was in pastoral ministry, I lost track of the number of times I would hear about a new strategy or method for doing ministry.
The constant invention of new methods could create a constant need to follow the latest trend for assured results. The method was often only peripherally connected to the Bible and doctrine. The Scriptures were used as a superficial justification of this or that method—like a proof text to sanctify a model that was taken from the business world or pop culture.
This same problem persists in missions and missions movements. In our zeal to reach the nations and fulfill the Great Commission, we sometimes treat our theology as something that is only tangential, forming our missionary methods. We assuage ourselves with remarks like “as long as the lost are reached” or “as long as they hear.” But this prompts the question: “reached with what?” or “hear what?”
Alex Kocman and Chad Vegas’ Missions by the Book steps in to address this very problem. As the subtitle states: theology and missions walk together. We don’t form our theology only to set it aside when it comes to crafting our missionary methods. The ends do not justify the means if the means themselves are not flowing from what we believe about the Scriptures, Christ, God, and the gospel.
Kocman and Vegas have written an excellent primer that connects our basic, evangelical, theological commitments to our missionary methods. This book is a reminder of the old paths that evangelical missionaries used to be committed to. Sometimes, as newer methods are created, we never stop to ask: “are these methods theologically grounded?” More simply: is this God’s way or man’s?
In chapter one, Vegas and Kocman cover a basic doctrine of the Word of God, arguing that the Bible is the sufficient authority for missions. It is of little value to hold to the inspiration of Scripture if we are not going to equally see the Bible as sufficient for missions. God uses the means of his Word to reach the lost, not just the message (17).
Chapters two through four take the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit—a basic Trinitarian doctrine of God—and look at each person’s connection to missions. “The saving love of the Father cannot be preached, nor can disciples of the Son be made, apart from proclaiming the triunity of God and baptizing in the triune name” (28). The Father has decreed the Son be sent to all nations (ch. 2). The Son’s mission is to save all nations (ch. 3), a point they expand upon largely through an exposition of Psalm 2. And the Holy Spirit is a witness to Christ in all the nations (ch. 4).
The authors then move on to a doctrine of the church. Here, they focus on four marks of the church: preaching the Word, administering the sacraments (or ordinances), discipline, and mission. This naturally leads into the next two chapters on the apostle’s commission and the church’s mission to the nations. They argue there is both a consistent pattern to the apostles’ evangelistic sermons and a “contextual accommodation made for the sake of their hearers” (79). This is worth highlighting, since at no point are Kocman and Vegas against crossing the cultural divides and faithful translation and contextualization of the method. They are against failing to see how the content of the message drives the how and why of the contextualization. Methods are not value neutral but arise from our doctrines.
Chapter eight is a strong chapter on the “Power of Ordinary Gospel preaching.” As Vegas says, “The missionary ought to be committed to preaching Christ to the exclusion of all else (1 Cor. 2:2)” (114). This chapter speaks strongly to those missionary methods that think they can improve upon or move beyond the preaching of the gospel and proclaiming Christ crucified. We must let the Scriptures and the gospel ground and drive our methods. After all, “faith comes through hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). God has given us both the message of the gospel and revealed the very means of spreading the message. We can’t divorce message from the means and claim to be faithful.
The final two chapters discuss the reward for missions and the commissioning of the missionary to the nations. The rewards are (1) refinement of our character; (2) redemption of hearers; and (3) the resurrection of our bodies. Our missionary efforts must stem from a desire for the return of the Lord and the consummation of all things. Finally, the missionary must be prepared to persevere and even suffer for the Lord, while passing on sound doctrine.
Our methods are not a silver bullet or golden key that opens up an easy road peppered with instantaneous fruit. In a culture like our own, where we are often driven by instant gratification, discouragement and temptation to abandon faithfulness to God’s way of missions abounds.
Kocman and Vegas have written an excellent introductory primer that connects basic loci of Christian theology to the practice of missions. At times, you can tell there is more doctrine floating beneath the surface that could be explained, but their goal is not an exhaustive treatment of any particular doctrines. Their purpose is to introduce the “how” and “why” of missions.
This book is a great starting point for a greater recovery of connecting our missionary methods to our historic, evangelical, Protestant doctrinal commitments. We don’t set aside these commitments to go out and do the work of missions. The methods flow out from within these doctrinal streams we swim in. In fact, what does it say about our commitment to our beliefs and our understanding and immersion in them, if our methods don’t flow from them?
Who would benefit from this book? Hopefully, people at every level of this discussion. A new missionary will be focused and challenged by this discussion. A church member will hopefully think more deeply about the connection between belief and practice. A more advanced practitioner of missions or even pastoral ministry will be enriched by this return to the ‘old roots’ of our faith and practice communicated to a new generation. You could even give this book to a younger believer to introduce them to some basic doctrinal truth in a way that won’t temper their zeal to share Christ with others. Finally, those who have advanced and pioneered new methods will be challenged to reexamine the “how’s” and “why’s” of methodology.
While this book does not take on advanced thinking and practiced missiology, it does refocus the discussion to basic theological commitments. It will prepare new missionaries for the task but also prepare the ground for fresh and faithful ways of doing missions, where the Scriptures themselves drive the methods rather than being tacked on as an appendage to our methods.