Biblical Basis Movements

A Few Thoughts on Holistic Mission and Movements

A question from Jessie:

Steve, curious about your opinion regarding mark #8 in that book, "movements engage in holistic mission." I assume the author is referring to pursuing good works alongside gospel proclamation. How does this fit in with the 4 fields plan of ministry? There doesn't seem to be much emphasis on good works in the 4 fields model. As someone learning a lot from NoPlaceLeft would love to hear your perspective.

A few thoughts:

What is our mission? This is what Schnabel says, a truly great student of NT mission:

“Missionaries establish contact with non-Christians, they proclaim the news of Jesus the Messiah and Savior (proclamation, preaching, teaching, instruction), they lead people to faith in Jesus Christ (conversion, baptism), and they integrate the new believers into the local community of the followers of Jesus (Lord’s Supper, transformation of social and moral behavior, charity).” 

Eckhard J. Schnabel
Early Christian Mission: Jesus and the Twelve (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 95.

Our mission is to make disciples of the nations by going, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matt 28). Is that holistic? It depends how you define holistic. 

What did Jesus do? What did he train the Twelve to do? What did the risen Lord continue to do through Paul and the early church? 

Jesus gave no mandate to transform society. Jesus didn't advise Pilate on urban planning or Herod regarding foreign policy. Jesus went looking for disciples. His message didn't bring comprehensive social transformation. It brought division and conflict. 

Does being a disciple bring result in transformation? Definitely. It must. Social transformation is a fruit of the gospel. When it comes, it's a blessing. True disciples love their neighbors in very practical ways. They don't pass by on the other side of the road. 

Let's get back to John Wesley. The early Methodists brought incredible social transformation, to Britain, the US and around the world. For John Wesley social change was the fruit of true discipleship. Early Methodism was a gospel-centered movement. Wesley led with the gospel as the priority. 

Once a movement makes social transformation their mission, they are headed for decline. The gospel must be central. The gospel is the priority. That gospel includes the call to repent and believe, receive forgiveness through Christ's death, be baptized and experience the life-changing power of the Spirit (Acts 2:38). Yet there is no guarantee the gospel and the new community of disciples be accepted in the community. In the book of Acts as the Word spreads disciples are made and churches formed. But there is also conflict and persecution in every place.

So the center of our mission is the multiplication of disciples learning to obey Christ. The fruit is changed lives and salt and light in the community. Yet society is often divided and persecution results. Disciple making movements don't equate or prioritize social transformation over the spread of the gospel.

I'll have more to say on this in my next book on the lifecycle of movements. Meanwhile I need to get back to writing it!



Life in Christ means obedience to Christ

Gordon Fee

Gordon Fee

Learning to obey what Jesus commanded is central to disciple making movements.

Yet some regard obedience based discipleship as the equivalent of introducing a Christian verison of sharia (Islamic law).

I'm working through Philipians at the movemnet with Gorden Fee, an outstanding NT scholar. In comments on Philippians 2:5-11 here's what he says about obedience and disicpleship

There is no genuine life in Christ that is not at the same time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being regularly transformed into the likeness of Christ . A gospel of grace, which omits obedience, is not Pauline in any sense.

Life in Christ is a gift of grace that we can never earn. Life in Christ brings with it the power of the Holy Spirit resulting in being transformed from the inside out so that we bear his likeness.

Disciplehsip means learning to obey what Jesus commanded. One step at a time. Always one more step.


Twisting the nose of Jesus

i mage


I am neither an untrue man … nor a mere nose of wax to be twisted this way and that

Sir Walter Scott

True north in the confusion over human sexuality and marriage is what the Scriptures teach. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 19, affirming Genesis 1-2.

This is what Christians have always believed. Until recently. What changed? Western culture changed.

When I make this point, the response is sometimes, well it is more complicated than that. We have to balance what Jesus taught on marriage with what he taught about love.

So now we have loving Jesus versus Jesus the authority on marriage in the 1st century. In the 21st century, we prefer the loving Jesus. And we get to define the true nature of love.

These are attempts to create Jesus in our image. Jesus is Lord, his words are the words of the living God. For all time in all cultures.

Disciples are those who are learning to obey his teachings, not avoid them (Matthew 28: 18-20).

So the real Jesus has a problem with sexual sin in ALL its forms. It’s better to pluck out an eye than give yourself to sexual sin and find yourself in hell (Matthew 5:29). God will judge us if we give ourselves over to sexual sin. To be silent about this is not an act of love — unless Jesus got it wrong. But then you wouldn’t be his follower, obeying his teaching.

The real Jesus welcomed the woman who wept at his feet (Luke 7:36-50). He announced to a room of men who were judging her, “Her sins are many.” And her sins are forgiven. Her faith saved her from God’s judgment. She went home at peace with God.

Who is this man, who welcomes sinners and forgives them?

Jesus took sexual sin seriously, warned against it, and gave his life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). He died so we could be forgiven and know new life through the Holy Spirit. We are not alone in our sexual brokenness and sin. There is a Savior.

So don’t twist Jesus’ nose. He is the one hope we have of being rescued from our brokenness, our shame, and our sin — in all its forms.

Stay on Target. A reminder to myself.

I turned 60 last year. There are many new joys in this stage of living. Chief among them are grandchildren.

There are also new griefs. Chief among them is to see once faithful and true disciples, many of them leaders, wander from the gospel and the mission Christ entrusted to us.

It's just as much a spiritual, moral battle as it is theological. It's a battle we don't talk about. Yet the casualty rate is high and the price we pay is dear.

I don't want to spend my life correcting error. Yes, Jesus corrected error. The apostles did the same. But this did not dominate their ministry. For some, it does. Yet they are not putting the gospel to work in the world where it belongs.

So what can we do in a positive way to remain true to the cause?

We study the word continually, applying to our lives and mission. We devour the word together, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we obey. As we learn the obedience of faith, we become who we are in Christ. 

Surprised by NT Wright

NT Wright

NT Wright

NT Wright is probably the leading New Testament scholar of our generation. He's certainly the most prolific. After examining the Ressurection of Jesus here's what he concludes is central to the church's mission:

Thus the church that takes sacred space seriously not as a retreat from the world but as a bridgehead into it will go straight from worshipping in the sanctuary to debating in the council chamber— discussing matters of town planning, of harmonizing and humanizing beauty in architecture, in green spaces, in road traffic schemes, and (not least in the rural areas, which are every bit as needy) in environmental work, creative and healthy farming methods, and proper use of resources.

If it is true, as I have argued, that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.

This is not an extra to the church’s mission. It is central.

Politics, town planning, architecture, green spaces, traffic flow, environmental work, farming methods, proper use of resources? Really. Central? This is what Jesus did? This is why he died and rose again? This is what he sent his disciples into the world to do?

Turn the fruit of the gospel into the gospel itself, and we lose the gospel. 

What did Jesus do? What did he train the disciples to do? What does the risen Lord continue to do in the Book of Acts? Keep that central.


Defending a Scandal



Southern Baptists have passed a resolution defending the truth that Christ died for our sins, in our place, taking upon himself God's just judgment on sin.

Why the need?

Every generation must choose whether to affirm what the Scriptures have always taught. Ours is no exception. In the 1960s mainline liberal Protestantism turned its back on orthodoxy. Now progressive evangelicals are repeating their error. 

Red Letter Christians — following the spirit of the age and French Catholic philosopher Rene Girad — reject the notion of a God who requires the sacrifice of his Son for sin.

At a popular level, William Paul Young (The Shack) has said the idea that Christ died as a substitute sacrifice to save sinners and satisfy the just wrath of God the Father — is a “monstrous,” “evil,” and “a terrible doctrine.”

So well done Southern Baptists for affirming what the Scriptures have always taught.

Movements decline and decay when they drift and deny their core beliefs. They remain dynamic when they stay true to core beliefs and adapt their methods to reach a changing world.

Want to learn more?