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John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

A Bigger—and Smaller—View of Mission

From his base at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, from whence he occasionally looks askance at what's happening in the neighboring land south of the Canadian border, John Stackhouse defies the notion that there is any conflict between first-rate scholarship and public engagement. One day presiding over a scholarly conference, the fruits of which he will see into print; the next day writing a razor-sharp op-ed piece; then working on one of his own scholarly projects; then reading proofs of his latest book for thoughtful general readers—Stackhouse does it all with a sense of mission and a healthy skepticism for received opinion.

No surprise, then, that we were interested in getting his answer to the question currently on the table for the Christian Vision Project: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?

Anyone who is sent on a mission had better be clear about what is being asked of her and why. If she is not clear about the nature and rationale of the mission, she risks trying to do too much, or not enough, or the wrong thing entirely. She also risks trying to do the wrong thing for the right reason or the right thing in the wrong way.

Let's begin, then, with two ways in which our view of mission should expand. First, Christians typically have believed that those who have not heard the name of Jesus are simply lost and destined for hell. Much of the energy of the great 19th-century missionary movement among Westerners, and much of the impetus of missions work around the world to this day, has come from the horror of a Niagara of souls pouring into a lost eternity for want of an evangelist.

We also need to acknowledge, however, a corresponding horror in the hearts of many—including many missions-minded Christians—about a God who allows whole nations and generations to plunge into a lost eternity simply because no one happened to reach them with the gospel. Does faithfulness to the Bible mean we must retain ...

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