Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On the Way with Jesus

On the Way with Jesus: A Passion for Mission Richard Showalter, Foreword by Ralph D. Winter (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2008).

At the beginning of On the Way with Jesus, Eastern Mennonite Missions president Richard Showalter writes how a new realization emerged concerning the church’s mission in western culture when Bishop Newbigin returned in 1974 from India to England: the true missionary situation now begins here, at home (17). The rising importance of new movements of evangelization, specifically the “missional” and “emergent” movements, now only confirms this insight (17). Thus the mission of Jesus truly takes off when the Holy Spirit awakens the church to this new landscape (105). The church is now in a unique place to engage western culture with the passion and truth of the gospel.

Showalter’s book offers a critical stimulus to the church’s mission in the west and around as it learns to follow Jesus. It sums up his reflections on leadership and service in the Anabaptist tradition over the course of his lifetime, revealing nuggets of practical wisdom. It provides wonderful perspectives to the new missional environment the church faces as it comes to grips with practice the gospel both locally and globally. Helping the church make these connections is what Showalter accomplishes throughout (19).

Showalter breaks down On the Way with Jesus into five main parts. Each part contains short chapter summations of what he has learned during his experience as missionary and educator. A Foreword by Ralph Winter and a list of questions and activities near the end provide solid bookends to what Showalter communicates about local and international missions. In fact, Showalter writes his book with pastors, missionaries, and educators in mind, both laity and clergy, as he expresses in winsome and encouraging ways how churches may engage in evangelism and outreach. His turn of phrase and easy access approach to the material is not lost on the reader. Indeed, his work will undoubtedly appeal to a cross-section of the Evangelical community, especially within the Anabaptist tradition, though he certainly stresses unity in the wider ecumenical church body – not only doctrinally but also ethnically (89ff, 135ff). His passion for mission is apparent on every page.

One area this passion is demonstrated is in Showalter’s turn of phrase. For example, regarding developing a heart for missions, Showalter states persuasively how “the passion to introduce others to Christ is born from what he is doing for me” (39), and reflecting on his own ministry, he writes reflectively how “If I were young again, one of my top two priorities would be to go into short-term missions” (57), or, writing to the importance of local missions in the Mennonite church, Showalter contends how the whole of Christ’s church needs to develop a strategy where the “nearest missionary is only thirty miles away” (108). There are many places or gaps in the culture (in fact, in any culture) where the church simply must “go” to offer Christ (108). Again, the mission is now here.

But there are also a few questions students of missiology will want to ask Showalter. One of those questions concerns matters of historiography: Are the Anabaptists the forerunners to the Pentecostals? Surely, there are theological connections, but Wesleyan/Methodist Christians may want to contest this move (28). Showalter’s chapter of the Global Christian Movement definitely sounds the trumpet for the Anabaptist tradition. Second, can the church really disconnect Jesus’ sacrificial life from his passionate vision? Yes, Jesus was a man of vision and passion. He did what he said (Matthew 7:21). But he was also a person through whom God’s kingdom-vision broke in, renewing and transforming life. Showalter states that it was Jesus’ life that made the difference, not necessarily his vision. True, but can vision and life be so easily separated? As Proverbs states, “Without a vision the people perish” (29:18). Certainly, there is a deep connection between vision and mission. As Showalter states, a true vision is realized in the midst of life (21). At some point, the church must do what it says. As Jesus enacted the vision he cast in announcing the kingdom of God so must the church. Vision and mission are distinguishable but never separable. Vision and mission collide in history, and where they remain separate God fills in the gap with Christ’s incarnate love. God works for creation’s good in spite of humanity’s sinfulness (Romans 8:28).

Surely this is what Showalter contends. The vision guides the mission on the way with Jesus. It gives hope and promise to the church. Showalter amply demonstrates this throughout his collection of reflections: the problem is not with vision per se, but with passion. The passion for mission must come from Jesus; it must come from the One who changes hearts and leads the church on the way: Jesus is literally the crux of the matter. As readers will discover, Showalter’s work is a helpful step in this direction.

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