What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. By Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011, 266 pp., $15.99 paper.
This book faithfully deals with Scripture's main texts relevant to social justice issues. One has to respect the authors' careful exegesis for the question of how the mission of the church and social concerns intersect. They interact with other significant authors like, T. Keller, C. Wright, J. Stott, and R. Stearns, just to name a few. The overall message from DeYoung and Gilbert is that as Christians we can do many good things, but as the gathered church we must not get distracted from the main task. "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" (62). In other words, mercy ministries are not equal partners with evangelism and disciple making.
While a local church may do other things along the way, for instance open a soup kitchen, it needs to lean towards the kinds of activities that accomplish its purpose-discipleship. Let us not confuse the church gathered and the church scattered. DeYoung and Gilbert make a helpful distinction that others have made between the organic and institutional church (p. 232). The church should not confuse what we may do as Christians with what we must do as a church.
The two chapters that expound and apply major passages related to social justice are worth the price of the book. Also, the epilogue nicely brings together an imagined young pastor with an older, wiser pastor. His advice to the younger man helps the reader apply much of the book's concern.
Several times DeYoung and Gilbert stress that they are not de-emphasizing compassion. Their churches practice certain kinds of mercy ministries. But they want these ministries to have their proper place in the life of the local church. To them, mercy ministries are important, very important, but not the utmost of importance to the purpose of the institutional church. To elaborate, marriage is really important too, but not utmost in the church (230). A church cannot do everything (pp. 225, 235, 241, 266) and, thus, must stay decidedly focused on what is truly central in Scripture (pp. 26, 62, 231, 241, 247, 265).
This volume would have been better if DeYoung and Gilbert had reduced the number of exclamation marks to two or three for the entire book! Also, while they have an index of Bible references and subjects, the subject index does not include all the people discussed in the book or even all of the page numbers for some indexed topics. With these minor weaknesses noted, this book comes across with a clear style, resonates with compassion and fairness, and stands on firm biblical soil. It is a welcome companion on the trek towards the heavenly city.
[CredoMag originally published a slightly modified version of this review in their March 2012 issue.]