‘the fuel for mission’s flame’?

I was on a website recently (no url, to protect the guilty…); in the corner was a counter, which purported to tell the visitor how many people had died and gone to hell since s/he arrived, with a brief homily underneath suggesting that active participation in evangelism would be an appropriate response. The crowning glory of this particular piece of crassness was the fact that whichever cheap/free html counter the website owner had borrowed counted to one decimal place. When I left, apparently, 153.7 people had been irretrievably damned during my visit.

This came back to mind as I drove my daughters to school and nursery this morning. Matt Redman’s Facedown was in the car CD player, and I listened to the penultimate track:

Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame
We’re going with a passion for your name
We’re going for we care about your praise -
Send us out.

Let worship be the heart of mission’s aim
To see the nations recognise your fame
Till every tribe and tongue voices your praise -
Send us out.

What is the proper motivation for mission/evangelism? The website with which I began suggests concern for the lost; this (in less crass forms) has a noble history, not least in Evangelical spirituality: Frank Houghton’s ‘Facing a task unfinished’ for instance:

Where other lords beside Thee
Hold there unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life and love and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night.

Matt Redman’s song offers an alternative vision, where the motivation for missional engagement is not the fate of the lost but the glory of God. This is hardly less ‘conservative’ (if such labels worry you) – Jonathan Edwards would have agreed; so, I seem to recall, would John Piper. (In fact, probably a view of mission as serving God’s glory is the mark of the consistent Calvinist, and the other a more Arminian take.)

Which is right? 2Cor 5:6-21 is interesting in this context. Just reading vv.10-11 might seem to offer support for a ‘evangelise them because they’re going to hell’ position, but the wider passage seems much more focused on the vision expressed in the Redman song: ‘we make it our aim to please him’ is the controlling thought.

So what? Well, two things perhaps. If this is right, then one of the standard evangelical justifications for a traditional doctrine of hell, that it is important as a motivation for mission, is removed. Second, on this understanding our motivation for evangelism would be less about the results and more about faithfulness to a calling, which feels right to me. Love for God simply comes before love for neighbour, necessarily.

6 Comments

  1. Jason Sexton
    Mar 18, 2010

    I’ve thought that a close reading of v11 included a persuading of others about the integrity of the apostle’s [missional?] ministry, while simultaneously being “open” before God. Ie, integrity both vertically and horizontally, and not persuading folks unto belief in the Gospel per se, as sometimes implied by surface glosses of this text. Though, of course, the apostle’s integrity certainly testifies to the Gospel’s.

    The v I have noticed most prone to gaffe translations in this pericope is v20 when most add the “you” as the object of “we implore.” Might seem to add to a direct, confrontational approach to evangelism consistent with the Arminian ethos? Kostenberger, “We Plead on Christ’s Behalf: ‘Be Reconciled to God,’” Bible Translator 48 [1997] helped me on this a few yrs back. Not sure when the “you” came into translation history (can’t remember if Kostenberger showed). 1599 Geneva & 1611 AV have it, while Vulgate leaves out “uos,” as does the 1545 Lutherbibel. The only modern translations w/out it are CJB, HCSB, NLT. Perhaps the better reading reinforces your point further though, with more of a doxological emphasis on God’s personal appeal to folks and role in evangelism/reconciliation, rather than a man-centered one.

    • Steve H
      Mar 21, 2010

      Hey, Jason, thanks for this – I’d not noticed the tr. issue in v20, but that is important.

  2. theklines
    Mar 18, 2010

    The problem with Piper, who is the theological voice behind Redman’s song, is that he posits a fundamental split between worship and mission. On the opening page of “Let the Nations be Glad,” Piper writes:

    “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. So worship is the fuel and goal of missions.”

    The act of mission is not itself the human response to the glory of God, it proceeds from and is on its way to the human response to the glory of God, which is worship. Mission is not itself worship. Piper, then, still roots the motivation of mission in anthropology. It is because certain human beings lack worship that mission exists. When this human problem has been solved, mission ends.

    I think this is wrong. The problem is the glory of God is defined apart from God’s sending of the Son and Spirit. God is not a missionary God, and so mission can only come from and toward worship; it cannot itself be worship. The motivation for mission, I want to say, is not that there are people out there who don’t worship. The motivation for mission is that if you don’t do mission God will leave you behind. We can only maintain our fellowship with God if we are blown out into the world by the Spirit in witness. For God is a missionary God.

    • Steve H
      Mar 21, 2010

      Hi Megan, thanks for stopping by.
      Is Matt Redman really that influenced by Piper? I’d not realised…
      On your construction in the last para, is there any possibility of eschatological consummation? That is, does the blowing of the Spirit ever turn to bring all things back to God? If not, I confess to having a problem.

      • theklines
        Mar 24, 2010

        Is there eschatological consummation? Yes. Will all things be brought back to God? Yes. But the church’s missionary vocation is not simply a prelude to eternal life with God. The church’s missionary vocation is its participation in the eternal life of God, for God is a missionary God. When all things are brought back to God, mission will not end; rather, it will be intensified, for their will be no sin and death to get in the way of whatever missionary adventures God dreams up for us.

        As you yourself write in “Trinitarian Missiology”: “the divine mission cannot ever come to an end. There must, therefore, be an eschatological continuation of God’s mission. For all eternity, the Father will continue to send his Son and Spirit to bring peace and joy to creation. For all eternity this mission will be centred on the event of the cross.”

      • Steve H
        Mar 24, 2010

        Now, it is an absolute rule of this blog that no-one is allowed to quote my own publications against me, OK?
        Seriously, as you’ll have spotted, that article was an exercise in trying to so nuance and redefine the meaning of ‘missionary’ that the language of ‘our missionary God’, so common in my ecclesial circles, could be rescued. Without nuance, I think the language is problematic, hence my comment on your comment.
        Thanks for the engagement. Steve.

get facebook like button