A few weeks ago, I posted four articles on a ministry called Floresta, now renamed Plant with Purpose.
It turns out that Scott Sabin, executive director, has written a book describing their ministry, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People. I’ve been provided a spiral-bound, pre-publication copy and have been asked to review it here at OneInJesus. But a simple book review just won’t do. You see, Tending to Eden addresses some very big questions that point us, I think, in a very good direction. And this requires serious reconsideration of how we do missions altogether.
Christianity Today ran a couple of articles on how Plant with Purpose does ministry in third-world countries, and I was very impressed. I concluded,
And, of course, this means that many Christian organizations work diligently to spread the gospel but leave their converts in poverty and unable to feed themselves. Others spend millions to dig wells and build houses but don’t change hearts.
However, a holistic ministry, built on a better salvation model, can not only bring right relationship with God, it can bring right relationships within the church, within the villages, with the government, and with the Creation. This is big.
Maybe it’ll help to start with some questions.
* Why is it that nearly all foreign aid, public and private, fails to lift the people who receive it out of poverty?
* Why is that many nations that are nearly 100% Christian remain in abject poverty?
* Why is it that some nations with virtually no natural resources — Israel, Japan, Singapore — are among the most prosperous in the world, while other nations, with a wealth of natural resources — Mexico, for example — are mired in the depths of poverty?
* Many historians credit the astonishing prosperity of Northern Europe and the United States in the last few centuries to the “Protestant work ethic.” Why doesn’t the Protestant work ethic work everywhere?
* Why did Rwanda suffer one of the most brutal genocides in history despite being nearly 100% Christian?
Now, questions such as these have huge implications. For example, evangelical and fundamentalist American churches are remarkably generous when it comes to foreign missions, but many are very reluctant to give to “social justice” or poverty relief programs, other than in times of crisis. After all, the churches can see very real benefits in evangelism, but see very little good from poverty relief efforts. Just so, Americans tend to be very skeptical of government-sponsored foreign aid, particularly when they see so little long-term good coming from it.
On the other hand, today’s evangelical churches are rapidly moving toward a better, more holistic gospel, which sees the need to not only to save souls but to help relieve disease and suffering. We are even seeing a movement toward “Creation care” theology, which points out that Christians have been charged by God with caring for his Creation.
The most immediate impact of this thinking has been in local communities, where churches are becoming more and more involved in inner city ministries, addiction recovery programs, and the like. And this is as it should be.
But we now find ourselves at the point where we need to take our broader, more holistic gospel to our ministry to other nations, and this means changing how we do missions. No longer is it good enough to only do evangelism, while leaving our converts disease-ridden and impoverished. No, we plainly need to figure a way to redeem not only souls but also communities and cultures and even the Creation.
You see, we are learning that salvation is not the goal. Salvation is the beginning. Salvation sends us on mission with God to do good works, which certainly includes bringing souls to Jesus, but it’s much, much more. To quote John Mark Hicks,
God created the cosmos in which to rest, delight in, and enjoy. He did not create it to snuff it out of existence. Though subjected to frustration, God will redeem it and the resurrected saints will enjoy the harmony, peace and wholeness of both creation and community as they bask in the love of God. Resurrected saints need a resurrected (renew) cosmos in which to dwell with God.
God has called us to redeem people, to restore them to a redeemed community, living in a redeemed Creation. We sometimes refer to this bigger, bolder gospel as “missional,” because it calls us to participate in all of God’s redemptive mission.