The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World

Written by Michael W. Goheen and Jim Mullins Reviewed By J. D. Payne

Goheen and Mullins have written this concise work to encourage Christians to engage in the mission of God in the world. Using the metaphor of symphony, they note “God’s mission is like a symphony” with a place for a diversity of artists (p. xix). His mission is broad and multifaceted; therefore, everyone in the Body of Christ has a part to play in the work. The influence of Kuyper, Bavinck, and other representatives of Dutch neo-Calvinism is felt throughout the book. Goheen and Mullins use biblical exegesis and numerous practical stories that reveal much wisdom and experience.

The authors address three particular questions: (1) What is the church’s mission as she participates in God’s mission? (2) What is my role within God’s mission? (3) What does mission look like in daily life? They do an excellent job employing both theological and anecdotal evidence to make persuasive arguments. The missiological and pastoral experience of the authors combine to produce a compelling and engaging work. Though published with Baker Academic, the book is practical in orientation and lacks extensive footnotes. This book would connect well with the person in the pew and college and seminary students.

Early in the book, the authors address six things as the “foundation for all missional engagement” (p. 32). Mission must: (1) include incarnational presence; (2) be empowered by the Spirit; (3) be comprehensive in scope; (4) be communal; (5) include a distinct way of life; and (6) be motivated by love. The church is to be intentional in engaging her neighbors with both actions and words. An entire chapter is devoted to this concept of intentionally. The authors give special attention to the stewardship of leveraging one’s occupation for God’s glory by including two chapters on a theology of vocation/work and discerning how Christians’ roles in the marketplace are to be used in God’s mission. Readers are challenged to evaluate their present realities and make necessary adjustments to be more intentional in their roles in God’s mission. The book concludes with a chapter on the Sabbath and how rest reflects God’s work in creation and also serves as a witness to the world.

Though this book is my first exposure to Jim Mullins’s work, I have encountered Goheen’s work over the years and been greatly blessed. I have found his scholarship and humility to be encouraging and refreshing. The Symphony of Mission is an attempt to connect many lofty theological and missiological issues to church members. The authors are to be commended for accomplishing this incredible purpose. Their discussion of God’s mission throughout the Scriptures is beneficial. Their emphasis on intentionally when it comes to engagement with unbelievers is outstanding. The church slides away from mission, not toward it. Their chapter to assist readers in obtaining a biblical perspective of work and how they can find their “vocational sweet spot” (p. 148) is a must-read for college students and those not serving in traditional vocational ministry. There is much value and worth in this book.

My first concern, however, is related to a matter often found in evangelical writings on mission. While I agree with the authors’ description of the breadth of God’s mission in the world, they fail to give priority to the apostolic work of the church as related to evangelism and church planting where a foundation has not been established (Rom 15:20–21). I do not recall discussion related to the unreached peoples. Attention is removed from global disciple-making and placed on being sent into the world to serve like Jesus (John 20:21). This Johannine emphasis frequently misapplies and skews Great Commission actions in a direction that overlooks the emphases found in the Synoptics and Acts. The authors emphasize the problem of making any distinction and emphasis when it comes to mission (p. 38). In their attempt to elevate the importance of more people serving in God’s mission, they diminish the biblical gravity given to the pioneer labors of the apostles. Their holism toward mission reduces gospel urgency and blurs the lines between temporal and eternal matters. While the authors clearly note the necessity of gospel proclamation, it is placed in a room with so many other important activities that evangelism comes across as one among many equal opportunities. “Environmental stewardship,” they write, “should not be seen as an opponent of evangelism” (p. 40). To this I would definitely agree, but they are far from equivalent. The authors’ view is not a novel perspective; it developed among the World Council of Churches and influenced evangelicals in the twentieth century.

My other concern involves their understanding of salvation. In their attempt to show the cosmic implications of God’s mission to redeem a groaning creation, less attention is given to personal regeneration and the urgency of gospel proclamation. Very little is stated regarding calling people to repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). While the authors clearly advocate individual conversion and preaching the gospel, their noble attempt to correct a distorted evangelical theology, that only focuses on the personal, could lead the reader to wonder if they selected a poor choice of words when describing the extent of salvation. Clarification is needed. For example, by writing about “salvation” in terms of “the restoration and recovery of creation” (p. 87), attention is removed from the personal.

J. D. Payne

J. D. Payne
Samford University
Birmingham, Alabama, USA

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