On definitions and quandaries

On Monday I stated my belief that mission is either integral or it is not mission. When we are talking “Integral Mission” we are really talking “Mission”. So what is mission?

One of the most difficult things to do as a missional theologian is to define your subject. This may seem to be a daft statement. A biologist does not spend much time discussing the nature of biology nor does a computer scientist spend hours wondering what a computer may be! Mission theologians spend ages discussing the nature of their subject.

David J. Bosch, one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century said that ultimately it is not possible to define mission (Transforming Mission, 1991, 9). He contents himself with proposing 13 statements on mission as an “Interim Definition” (TM, 8-11) and, what he refers to as “approximations”.

Bosch says that “The missionary task is that coherent broad and deep as the need and exigencies of human life” (TM, 10). Mission includes evangelism but goes beyond the merely verbal communication of the Christian message.

The Micah Declaration (2001) says,

Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.

“The proclamation and demonstration of the gospel”. There should be no doubt that evangelism is part of integral mission but that evangelism has social consequences. This begs the huge and deeply theological question as to the nature of the gospel. If, as many Evangelicals would say, the gospel is an individual, eschatological and vertical salvation then the social consequences are likely to be seen as individual moral improvement. However, if salvation has cosmic consequences then the whole of human life in its relationship with creation will also be affected.

This has a more profound foundation in God’s mission and even deeper in God’s character. Tomorrow, we will return to that subject.