What is Mission?


 In What is Mission? J. Andrew Kirk provides a broad overview of the study of missions.  Kirk starts with a discussion of theology and mission and the intersection between the two.  An introductory discussion is also provided on the missio Dei and how this must be applied to the mission of the Church.  Kirk also discusses the need for a mission “in the way of Christ.”  While he provides a satisfactory introduction on the importance of the way mission is done over just the goals of mission, the discussion provided by Escobar in, “The New Global Mission” is both more insightful and specific in its application.

What is unique is in Kirk’s discussion of the contemporary issues in mission.  In particular Kirk discusses “Overcoming Violence and Building Peace” and “Care for the Environment”, both topics not normally included in an overview on issues in mission.

Kirk begins the discussion on building peace stating that, “Peace is often coupled with justice, but then largely ignored… and reconciliation is usually associated with Christ’s atonement.”  (pg 143)  Kirk argues that the church focuses on the justice in the sense of correcting injustice.  His argument is that the church thinks of the reconciliation made with God in Christ’s atonement without focusing on reconciliation with in the church and within the world.  One might say that Kirk’s criticism is that although the church might be an advocate for peace it is not an agent of peacemaking.  Kirk refers to the gospel as, “a message of costly reconciliation in which the injuries caused by alienation are mended.  Evangelism is incomplete unless it addresses the problem of violence and points to Jesus’ sacrifice as the means of recovering harmonious relationships.”  (pg 144-145)  Kirk goes on to provide an insightful discussion of how a Christian should interact and participate within politics and considerations for Christians in both the arena of individual and corporal violence as a part of peace (such as retaliation and the Just War theory.)  For Kirk it is vital for a Christian witness to find themselves in this role of a “dual citizen” and to be an active participant within the world and an active witness and agent of peace.

Kirk also provides an unusual discussion of the environment and Christian mission.  He again starts with a broad overview focusing on the interaction and responsibility of an individual Christian with the environment.  Kirk appears to find balance on the subject of the environment in a discussion on Genesis 1.  In particular in the tension between the verbs ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion over’ in tension with ‘till’ and ‘keep’, which Kirk argues should be considered ‘to serve’ and ‘to preserve.’   He writes, “This, in a Christian framework, care for the earth is not based on either a pantheistic belief that we are all part of the same stream of life, nor on a holistic view that affirms an equal worth to all living matter, nor on a pragmatic belief in the supreme value of survival.  [three perspectives previously discussed]  It comes rather from the respect and honor due to a gift that needs cherishing.”  (page 177)  What is lacking in Kirk’s discussion on the environmental concern is how to balance finances and what should be given a financial priority.  Bolivia, as an example, has no pollution control and undoubtedly makes a significant negative contribution to the environment.  On the other hand, many in Bolivia remain without electricity or consistent and clean supply of drinking water.  Many live in housing which is not adequate to sustain natural forces, and many communities are without proper sanitation.  In such cases it is unclear if Kirk would advocate for financial aid to go towards development of human needs or in caring for the environment.

While Kirk provides a good overview of a number of concerns for Christian mission, and for individual Christians, the book lacks a discussion on how a Christian should balance these concerns.  While there is compelling arguments for individual Christians, and the churches to be concerned about these topics, there is not convincing evidence that mission agencies should dedicate resources to some of these concerns.  Also unclear is whether these should be an implicit or explicit component of Christian mission.  In other words, would it be proper to send a Christian missionary with the primary purpose of advocating for environmental causes, or should a concern for the environment be a value demonstrated in the lives of Christian missionaries?  One thing that Kirk is clear on is that these concerns must first be a concern of the Church as a whole before the Church becomes a prophetic voice in these areas to society.