Mission of the Church
Five Views in Conversation
Edited by Craig Ott
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic
Pbk, 224pp, £13.99
What do you get when a Catholic, an Eastern Orthodox, a female evangelical and two male evangelicals are asked to discuss the mission of the church? We’d expect sparks, disagreement and fiery arguments - but that’s certainly not what we do get here - there is a real sense of a listening dialogue and understanding. This book’s aim is to explore commonalities and differences. Perhaps there is hope for ecumenical dialogue!
The contributors are Stephen B. Bevans, a Roman Catholic, Darrell L. Guder a mainline Protestant, Ruth Padilla DeBorst a Latina evangelical, Edward Rommen an Orthodox and Ed Stetzer a North American evangelical. The Catholic view advanced here is that of prophetic dialogue, but its not really clear how this is different from other Christian views.
Missing from the discussion is the distinction between church as institute and as organism (but being a good Kuyperian I would say that!). Having said that, however, the Orthodox view seems to focus on the church as an institution with the focus on sacrament as mission, and Padilla DeBorst on the church as an organism with the different social actions taken by the church and her support of integral mission. Both are needed.
After each author has provided their perspective, they each get an opportunity to provide a response to each other. This adds to the value of the book. The introduction by Ott provides a clear overview and justification for the book.
All the authors endorse a trinitarian view of mission, the concept of missio dei, an awareness of the global nature of the church, a shift from mission to missions and a recognition of the place of the church in mission - even though the authors would all endorse the same ecclesiology.
The strength of the book is the range of agreement. The book lives up to its aim of a charitable dialogue. That in a way is also its weakness - I would have liked to have seen more on what is most distinctive about mission according to evangelicalism and the same for the other views. The stress here is on the similarities. And that is a good place to start.