Theology of Urban Mission

The Biblical Theology and Current Theological and Practical Challenges in Urban Mission

Curated from a lecture series by Edmund Clowney

Course Introduction

About Dr. Edmund Clowney


  • Bachelor of Arts from Wheaton College in 1939
  • Bachelor of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1942
  • Master of Sacred Theology from Yale Divinity School in 1944
  • Doctor of Divinity from Wheaton College in 1966

In 1966, he became the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary and served until 1984.

Edmund Clowney – Wikipedia

About the Course

This course enlightens the mind to what the Bible says about missions, how the church regards missions throughout history. and what to think about other religions of the world. God himself is the center of missions, according to Scripture. Thus, Dr. Clowney centers his series of lectures based off this idea and gives useful information for how to approach the mission today.

Missions in the Old Testament

This lecture gives an overview of what missions is primarily about and gives insight to the idea of what it means to bless the Lord, to be a blessing, and to be blessed as seen through Abraham in the Old Testament and the coming of Jesus.

  • Part 1Runtime: 58 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 61 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 63 min
What is the center of missions?

God himself. Missions according to the Bible is of God, through God, and unto God.

What constitutes all of God's blessings?

God with us is what constitutes all of his blessings. The blessing is never the goodies apart from God. It’s first the presence of God himself.

How does the idea of blessing relate to missions?

When we are called to bless the Lord, we are called to glorify his name. We are blessed because we have the presence of God, and we are to be a blessing to others by being faithful.

What does is it mean that missions in the Old Testament is centripetal?

The nations were coming to Israel instead of Israel going out to the nations as God’s holy place was centered in Jerusalem. The holy place is no longer only in Jerusalem. It is for every nation, and it’s in heaven. The argument is there’s also a centripetal movement in the New Testament as Jesus is drawing everyone to himself.

Key Scriptures/Passages
  • The Center of Missions – Exodus 19:4, Isaiah 43:19, Romans 11:36, 1 Peter 2:9, Psalm 96:3
  • The Idea of Blessing – Numbers 6:22-27, Genesis 12:3, John 4 (God desires worshipers)
  • A Scattered Remnant – Isaiah 10:11, 12, 45:22-25; Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 7
  • The Wisdom of Solomon – 1 Kings 4:29-34
  • The Glory of God Revealed – Jeremiah 3:16 (no more need for the ark of the covenant), Zechariah 14:20
  • God Must Come for Justice and Justification – Ezekiel 33, 34, 37; Zechariah 13:7-9, Isaiah 43:25, Micah 7:16-17
  • The Righteous Servant Who Suffers – Psalm 69:9, Isaiah 52:13, 53, 63:9; Exodus 17
  • To the nations  – Isaiah 2, 19:20, 25, 60:5, 61:6; Zechariah 14:16

Missions in the New Testament

This lecture emphasizes the announcement of Christ’s coming in the New Testament. Christ comes to gather his people, and the church is to reach out and gather the elect. The gospel is a message of compassion and grace. Therefore, we are to show compassion and grace to the nations through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Part 1Runtime: 46 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 45 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 79 min
How is missions in the NT similar to the centripetal movement of missions in the OT?

In the OT, the nations were coming to Israel. In the NT, Jesus draws the nations to himself.

Why is it important for the church to reach out to the nations with the gospel?

We don’t know who will respond in faith. Jesus tells us to cast our nets into the deep–where we don’t expect a catch–and we will become fishers of men (Luke 5).

What "call" does the NT emphasize?

It emphasizes the call to be an evangelist. Every Christian must confess Jesus Christ before men–not only at salvation but as part of their life.

Who are God the Father and Jesus the Son seeking together to gather?

They are seeking worshipers.

Key Scriptures/Passages
  • Judgement and Blessing – Genesis 10; 12; Deuteronomy 30
  • Restoration through Christ – Luke 2:11, 32; Isaiah 49
  • To Gather the Remnant – Ezekiel 34:5, 11; Luke 12:32, Matthew 9:36, John 10:16
  • Come Into the Feast – Isaiah 2:2-4; 25; Matthew 22:4, Luke 14:15-24
  • Drawing men to Himself – John 12
  • The Cross is Near – Psalm 42
  • Only to Israel – Matthew 10
  • To All Nations – Matthew 28:18-20
  • To Call the People to Gather Together – Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23
  • The Church to Reach Out and Gather – Matthew 4
  • The Fullness of the Elect – Romans 11
  • A Relationship Between Matthew 16 and 28
  • The Lord Works How He Wills – Luke 5
  • Confess Christ Before Men – Matthew 10 and 16
  • The Compassion of God – Luke 15:11-32; 10; 1 Peter 2:9
  • Gentiles as the Holy People of God – Philippians 2:14-16, Deuteronomy 32:5, 1 Corinthians 14:25
Lecture Bibliography

The Mission of the Church

In this lecture, Dr. Clowney tells us Christ brings in the kingdom by the way of the cross, and the church is the resurrection assembly of Christ as well as a manifestation of the kingdom with Jesus Christ in authority. The church lives in the time between his first and second coming where God delays judgement. Thus, the mission of the church is to help bring forth the kingdom of God–not by force but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Part 1Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 44 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 79 min
What brings in the kingdom?

The coming of Christ

The church is not given the sword, so who has the sword?

Christ has the sword and is both Redeemer and Judge.

Key Scriptures/Passages
  • Jesus’ Kingdom Power – Matt. 11:20; 12; John 12, Hebrews 1
  • Heirs with Christ – Eph. 2:11-12, 19
  • Judgement on the house of God – 1 Peter 4:17, 1 Corinthians 6
  • The church is not given the sword – John 18:11-36, Heb. 13:14, 2 Corinthians 10:3, Eph. 6
  • Pray for Peace – Is. 29:7, 1 Tim. 2:1-2, Jer. 29
  • Christ has taken the sword – Acts 12:23; 13:11; 5
  • The church is the new nation and family of God – 1 Peter 2:9, Eph. 3:15

The Ecumenical Movement

Ecumenism is the movement or tendency toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation. The term emphasizes what is viewed as the universality of the Christian churches.

This lecture goes through the history of this movement by tracing the conferences that took place among churches of all denominations throughout the generations.

  • Part 1Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 4Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 5Runtime: 48 min
  • Part 6Runtime: 46 min
What are four contributing factors to the ecumenical movement?
  1. Unity
  2. Pietism
  3. Liberalism
  4. Desire for more missionaries to be sent out
This movement said people should not be divided by theological dispositions. However, in what case should they not unite?

Churches should act together in all matters except when deep differences compel them to act separately.
In other words, be together in all things you can be together on, but not all things, such as gospel proclaiming, can be done together due to differences.

To progress ecumenically, you need to progress ______.


Liberation Theology

This lecture describes the problem with Liberation Theology, a movement prevalent in the 70s and 80s that relied heavily on Marxist ideology and distorted Biblical doctrine. Sin, for example, was often viewed in terms of oppressive social structures instead of an individual’s rebellion against God.

  • Liberation TheologyRuntime: 79 min

Lecture Bibliography

Approach in Mission

Dr. Clowney explores pros and cons of two different approaches to evangelism in mission. The direct approach gets straight to the gospel while the indirect approach seeks the understanding of the individual before presenting the gospel–if it ever gets to there.

In the latter portion of the lecture, he explains The Chinese Rites Controversy and the problems it presented in matters of approach.

  • Part 1Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 46 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 65 min
What are some advantages to the direct approach?

With this approach, you get to the deepest need of the person first, and you do it all–getting to know the person and presenting the gospel–at once.

What is a disadvantage to the direct approach?

You may shorten the potential relationship.

What is an advantage to the indirect approach?

You get to know the person and their needs before sharing the gospel with them. Thus, it’s possible the gospel could be presented more clearly when the time comes.

What is a disadvantage to the indirect approach?

You may never actually get to the point where you share the gospel which is what serves the person’s deepest need–a need for Christ.

Key Scripture/Passages
  • Hardened and Blind to Sin – 2 Cor. 3:14, 1 Cor 1:20, 2 Cor. 4, Rom. 3:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:8
  • The Ignorance of the Lost – Ps. 97:6, Eph. 4:17-18, Acts 17:23, 30; John 4:22,1 Cor. 10:20
  • God gives man up to their own evil desires. Because men gave God up, God gave them up. – Rom. 1:21-26
  • Grasping the Truth – Rom. 7:6, 2 Thess. 2:6-7, Philemon 13, Rom. 1:18
  • Holding Fast – Luke 14:9, Hebrews 10:23, 1 Thess. 5:21, Heb. 3:6, 1 Cor. 15:2; 7:30;  6:10; 11:2
  • They grab it so they can exchange it. –  Rom. 1
  • The Doctrine of Orginal Sin – Rom. 5


Contextualization began when missionaries on the field recognized the need to understand the culture to establish a church. Questions such as “Can the gospel be understood among cultural boundaries?” and “Can Western Culture communicate the gospel?” arose.

Dr. Clowney presents how culture shapes theology as well as how theology shapes culture and emphasizes Christ as the transformer of culture.

  • Part 1Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 46 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 78 min
Clowney presents Christ as the transformer of culture. What does this mean?

Not all cultures are demonic but instead all have a spiritual root and possess an innate rebellion to God. Therefore, they–like all individuals–have opportunity for radical transformation by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

How do diverse people come together?

They seek to come together in their understanding of doctrine as they each seek the mind of Christ.

How are we not bound by our culture or language?
  1. We can break the rules of language in order convey meaning across another culture.
  2. Translation between languages
Is the gospel limited by language barriers?

There is no language or culture opaque to the gospel. We can overcome any barriers by unity in Christ.

How does systematic theology help in contextualization?

It includes application to cultural thought horizons and appreciates the history of dogma. We must appreciate not only the context of the text but also the context of the hearer.

Why is contextualization of Scripture important?

The fullness of revelation of Scripture uses ordinary language–not scientific language–full of ambiguity and the context determines the meaning.

Key Scriptures/Passages
  • The Revelation of God’s Word – Ex. 31:18; 32:16, Deut. 31:26, Jer. 23:29, John 5:45, Heb. 1:1-2, Col. 2:8
  • Theology Shapes Culture – Deut. 6:6
  • Our Sufferings for Christ’s Sake – 2 Cor. 1:5; 4:15; 12:15, Eph. 3:1, 13

The Church Growth Movement

Church Growth is a movement within evangelical Christianity which aims to grow churches based on research, sociology, analysis, etc. The Church Growth Movement started with a passion for the Great Commission, and seeing people come to Christ, but it also created a few problems.

Statistics will show a church is more likely to grow when it stays within one societal or cultural group. Yet to be like Christ, we know we must welcome all people and seek reconciliation.

This lecture walks through ideals of the Church Growth Movement and helps us understand how to prioritize disciple-making in the church while also overcoming barriers and moving towards reconciliation.

  • Part 1Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 42 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 79 min
What do people of this movement say is required of the church?

Growth. They believe there’s no sowing without reaping and that God is interested in results/outcomes from the mission of the church.

What type of people do evangelists of this movement strategize to reach?

Winnable people. They pour more time into reaching those who are most likely to convert than those who seem resistant.

Should we take people out of their social context in order to evangelize to them or help them grow as believers?

Instead of taking people out of their social context, we should encourage them to remain and therefore witness within.

Key Scriptures/Passages
  • Fruitful Labor – Luke 5
  • Seize the Opportunities – 2 Sam. 15, Eccl. 3:1-8, Eph. 5:16
  • Discerning God’s Will – Phil. 1:10
  • Strategies/Being Good Stewards – Matt. 25:26

Lecture Bibliography

Defining Religion

There are 4 billion people in the world with approximately 1 billion of those claiming Christianity. This lecture opens up a discussion about the resurgence and common practices of world religions as well as theories that attempt to define religion.

  • Part 1Runtime: 46 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 44 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 4Runtime: 42 min
What is Fetishism?

The worship of natural objects assumed to have supernatural powers

What is Henotheism?

the worship of a single god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other deities; worship of one god at a time

What is Polytheism?

the worship of many gods

What is Monotheism?

the worship of one god

According to J.H. Bavinck, what do other religions represent?

Other religions all represent paths of escape from God. He asks, “What have you done with God?”

According to Wilhelm Schmidt, where do you find the primitive tribes today?

In the most remote and inaccessible places

Lecture Bibliography

Overview of World Religions

This lecture gives an overview of world religions by discussing in length the ways of Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

  • Part 1Runtime: 46 min
  • Part 2Runtime: 44 min
  • Part 3Runtime: 47 min
  • Part 4Runtime: 48 min
  • Part 5Runtime: 45 min
  • Part 6Runtime: 46 min
  • Part 7Runtime: 43 min

Lecture Bibliography