Monday, September 16, 2019

Defining Mission: Good News

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of good news.

Good news is at the heart of Christianity and at the heart of Christian mission. Mark identifies his account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as “the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” Indeed, the term “gospel,” the name usually given to the biblical books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, literally means “good news.” Christians believe that the story of Jesus is good news!

For early Christians, this concept was central to how they understood what it meant to be a Christian. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, there are numerous references to Christians preaching “the good news,” and the apostle Paul refers to himself as one who has been “set apart for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1).

Mission is about God sending good news to the world. Mission begins with God (what missiologists refer to as the missio Dei, the mission of God) and God’s love for the world. The message of God’s love for the world is conveyed by God sending Jesus, God and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus sending his disciples, and the triune God sending the church in mission.

Those who are sent by God in mission are sent with a message. Mission is grounded in this message of love that God sends to the world. And this message is not bad news to the world; God is sending good news! We should treat it as such and present it with joy.

Note that it’s not just evangelism that involves good news. All forms of mission should have a component of good news to them. They should be both good and involve something new or not present in that situation before. Thus, good news is not just a narrow formulation of theology but includes the full breadth of God’s loving actions in the world.

Mission thus is centrally about the good news, which is basic to Christianity. Without it, not only would there be no mission; there would be no Christianity. Being a Christian is about claiming the story of God’s good news as the story of our lives as well. It’s about finding our place in the conversation of the saints of all times and places. And it’s about the God who loves us and who, because of that love, came down to earth in the person of Jesus to set us free, heal our wounds, forgive our sins, renew the world in which we live, and restore our relationships.

Methodism has always been clear that while being a Christian involves finding our place in the story of God’s good news, that place is never a solitary one. When we become Christians, when we recognize and respond to God’s gracious love, we are connected to other Christians. We become part of the ongoing conversation of the Christian faith, a conversation in which Christians throughout the world and throughout the ages share their understanding of God’s good news.

Furthermore, when we experience the good news of God’s love, we are compelled to share God’s love with everyone, Christian or not. When we truly experience the good news of God’s love, we want to talk with others about it! We want to know if they, too, have experienced this love, to learn from them if they have, and to encourage them to look for it if they haven’t. Moreover, we want to demonstrate God’s love for others in our actions as well as our conversations. In short, when we truly experience God’s love, we want to engage in mission. Good news is thus both the message of, and the motivation for, mission.

In Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission, Chapter 3 explores the nature of this good news in greater detail. As Christians, we may think we know the good news about which God wants us to engage the world in mission, but the gospel writers don’t precisely clarify what they mean by “good news.”

This chapter looks at four different senses in which the terms “good news” and “gospel” are used in the New Testament: as the Kingdom of God, as freedom from sin, as resurrection, and as restoration of relationship. The chapter then lays out how these different dimensions of good news connect to different dimensions of mission work and why thinking of the breadth of good news requires us to engage in relationships with others as part of our mission work, the topic of next week’s post.

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