The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone


Samuel Escobar

InterVarsity Press, 2003, 190 pp.


Escobar, a leading Latin American theologian, serves as professor of missiology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  This book is part of the Christian Doctrine in Global Perspectives series. 


“Christian mission in the twenty-first century has become the responsibility of a global church.” (12) 


“The heart of ‘mission’ is the drive to share the good news with all, to cross every border with the gospel.” (13)


“From the missionary perspective, indigenous churches from faraway places have become sister churches down the street.” 


“Andrew Walls has described a ‘massive southward shift of the center of gravity of the Christian world.’”  “…the form of Christianity that has developed in the Southern Hemisphere and has reached the great Western cities is a ‘popular’ form of both Catholicism and Protestantism that we might well call ‘grass-roots Christianity.’  It is marked by a culture of poverty, an oral liturgy, narrative preaching, uninhibited emotionalism, maximum participation in prayer and worship, drams and visions, faith healing, and an intense search for community and belonging.” (14-15)


The first thousand years of church history consisted of the Eastern (Orthodox) Church.  The second millennium was lead by the Western Church.  The third millennium will be lead by the Southern Church (per Walbert Buhlman) (16)


Another missionary force is “the transcultural witnessing for Christ that takes place as people move around as migrants or refugees,” for example thousand of Filipina maids in Islamic countries.  (17)


“Imperial missiology carried on missionary work from a position of superiority: political, military, financial, technological.”  It is symbolized now by information technology.  “The radical change to which God’s Word keeps calling us is a change of mindset and attitude.  Without that, the mere accumulation of human and technical resources and the adoption of sophisticated methodologies will not work.” (26)


Chapter Two: Mud and Glory, (a fascinating missions history overview)


Although there is a quantitative aspect to mission, “Christian missionaries themselves frequently emphasize that mission is a divine enterprise and that their engagement cannot be explained or understood by purely human factors.”  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7) (28-9)


“No fact of history is more amazing than the spread of the influence of Jesus.” (Latourette) (34)


“The Christian story is serial; its center moves from place to place.  No one church or place or culture owns it.” (Andrew Walls) (36)


“Now that churches are being disestablished in the West, and Western culture is marked by a post-Christian ethos, a new opportunity is arising.  “…the churches are called to return to a situation that is closer to the primitive church… …the church has become a differentiated society in relation to the total social body.  Thus it is possible for the church to rediscover its specific nature.” (quoting Roger Mehl) (53)


Chapter Three: A Brave New World Order (How globalization affects mission)


The primary organizing principle of the future is economic.  Market is the main force behind globalization.  “The world is becoming one vast marketplace.”  Innovation, efficiency and technical rationality drive global systems, but without a clear goal it becomes change to create new markets and stimulate desire. (quoting Robert Schreiter) (56-7) 


Uncritical acceptance of modernization and globalization as supreme values or powers to be appeased or accepted as ruling our lives is idolatry.  “The culture of globalization creates attitudes and a mental frame that may be the opposite of what the gospel teaches about human life under God’s design.  If mission simply rides on the crest of the globalization wave it might inadvertently change the very nature of the gospel.” (58-9)  “A great challenge to Christian missionaries in the coming years will be how to remain first and foremost messengers of Jesus Christ and not just harbingers of the new globalization process.  They will have to use the facilities of the system without being caught by the spirit of the system.” (63)


“Absolute poverty has grown … partially by global capitalism’s quest for short term profit, a quest that precludes long term commitment to a people and a place…” (63)  “In many places…Christian compassion will be the only hope of survival for victims…”  The challenge for missionaries will be how to avoid the pitfalls of missionary paternalism and of the failed secular welfare system.  Only the redemptive power of the gospel transforms people in such a way that it enables them to overcome the dire consequences of poverty.” (66)


“The poor of the world are the great missionary force of the present stage in mission history.”  “It is especially among the poor that we find people open to the gospel and enthusiastic about their faith; churches are growing with astounding vitality in this world of poverty.”  The number of missionary volunteers from the South is increasing at the same time the South is becoming increasingly poor.  Funding these missionaries is not easy.  Combining resources from the rich nations with the human resources from the poor nations to work in a third area is one cooperative model. In many cases witnessing occurs via economic migration. (66-67) 


“The missionary dynamism of churches in the South could well be stifled and misdirected by an imitation of the expensive Western models of missionary organization.”  “The incarnational approach modeled by Jesus and Paul is the key.”  (68)


Chapter Four: Post-Christian and Postmodern (Challenges of the new globally propagated culture)


“Churches unable to understand postmodern youth are also unable to keep the new generations in their fold.” (71)


“Christendom presupposed the dominance of Christianity in Western societies, as well as a certain degree of influence of Christian ideas and principles on the social life and international policies of nations.”  “A post-Christian situation means that in the name of a pragmatism in which the market and profit determine the rules of the game, even the ideals are abandoned.”  (73)


“Today the Christian stance in the West has to become a missionary stance, in which to be a Christian is equivalent to being a ‘resident alien.’” (73)


Marks  of postmodern culture: (75-6)

·       Ascendance of feeling and revolt against reason

·       Search for ever more sophisticated forms of pleasure

·       Sports and popular artistic shows as religious celebration

·       Glorification of the body

·       Incitement to expensive pleasure

·       Loss of dreams and ideals

·       Materialism which turns consumption into the primary interest of citizens

·       Cynicism and bitter disillusionment in literature


Compassion and prayer must have priority over triumphalistic apologetics of the self-righteous.  “Spiritual power and disciplines such as prayer, Bible meditation and fasting are necessary for mission across the new religious frontier.” (76, 78)


“The factory paradigm encourages missionaries to set objectives for mere outward behavior.  It is primarily interested in quantities.  [However] spiritual growth involves a process that takes place inside a person; it is not something that can be measured, controlled or predicted.”  It is facilitated by the Word, the Spirit and the people of God.  (79)


“It is this reaction against modernity and secularism from a conservative alliance of religious conviction and political interests that today is know as fundamentalism.”  There are Hindu (India), Jewish (Israel), Catholic (Mexico) and other forms of it.  (83)


Chapter Five: We Believe in a Missionary God (Biblical basis of mission)

“The biblical conviction that God is active in the world, active in human history through people he calls and sends, is at the heart of mission.” (86)


“’Mission’ means ‘sending.’”  “The mission to which God sends those he chooses is always a ‘mission impossible, possible only because God will act in order to accomplish his purpose.” (88)


“While Christians confess in their creeds and their worship that they believe in a God who loves the world so much that he sent his Son to reveal his love and accomplish salvation for all humankind, frequently they do not care much about what has to be done today to demonstrate that love and to communicate this good news to the world.  Thousands of churches carry on ‘business as usual’ without ever asking the simple question, ‘Why has God placed us as a community, at this time, in this neighborhood, in this city, in this country, in this world?”  (93)


“Mission exists because God is a missionary God who sends his people to be a blessing to all of humankind.”  “Mission begins in the heart of God, and it is his initiative to which we humans respond.”  (94)


Chapter Six: Christ: God’s Best Missionary

Chapter Seven: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission


“The chief actor in the historic mission of the Christian church is the Holy Spirit.  He is the director of the whole enterprise.  The mission consists of things that he is doing in the world.    This fact, so patent to Christians in the first century, is largely forgotten in our own.  So we have lost our nerve and our sense of direction and have turned the divine initiative into a human enterprise.” (quoting Bishop John V. Tayor, The Go-Between God) (112)


“Pentecostal and charistmatic churches have kept closer than other denominations to the New Testament pattern explored by [Rolland] Allen.”  (117)


“The use of the Great Commission as the imperative motto for evangelical missionary work is a relatively recent development.  The biblical pattern stresses the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church as the source of missionary dynamism.  Not a new legalism but the free, joyous expression of a renewed experience of God’s grace provides a key to understand what may be the inspiration for the spontaneous missionary thrust in evangelical missions and churches around the world.” (118-19)


Growth in numbers and depth is the work of the Holy Spirit (in Acts).  (124)


“Mission understood in pneumatological language is one act with two steps.  It is first to perceive the blowing of the Spirit and the direction from which it comes.  And then it is to run in the same direction to which the Spirit is blowing.” (quoting Valdir Steuernagel) (127)


Chapter Eight: Text and Context: The Word Through New Eyes (Bible and Culture)


We must listen to many who have read and responded to the Bible in their own language.  “The time of European and Western monologue is over.” (136)  “If we listen carefully we find our own assumptions challenged and our thinking sharpened.”  Especially our presuppositions and theological understanding.  (137)


“The life of young evangelical churches around the world is often marked by the fresh rediscovery of biblical truth…” (141)


Chapter Nine: Mission as Transforming Service


“Through teaching, preaching and healing, the work of Jesus reached and transformed people in all aspects of their lives, so we can conclude without any doubt that Jesus’ mission was holistic.” (143)  “It is clear that the gospel challenges and changes [social] structure.”  (in Acts, 145)


“Century after century, the history of mission is filled with stories about the transforming power of Christ, especially on the lives of the poor.  The records reveal that compassion for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed has been a distinctive mark of Christian character, modeled by Jesus himself….”  (147)


“Of course, the gospel is to be preached to all human beings first and foremost because of obedience to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not as a kind of subservient vehicle at the service of development schemes.”  “By applying biblical principles of reciprocity, solidarity and mutuality, poor Christians will be empowered to become agents of their own liberation and not passive recipients of handouts.” (148)


“This world is crying out for more servant-evangelists and more evangelist-servants after the pattern of Jesus.” (152)


Chapter Ten:  A New Way of Looking at the World


“Missionaries too must be on guard against practices that ‘depersonalize’ others, turning them into ‘unreached’ entities to be ‘targeted’ for evangelism.  In this way ‘the unreached’ become faceless objects we use to fulfill our plans….”  “Mission needs a continual recovery of the biblical view of people.” (156-57)


Western society largely ignores the spiritual nature of humans.  “The concept of humans made in the ‘image of God’ seems puzzling, even to many Christians.”  (quoting Charles Kraft) (160)


“We in the West are entering an era when we must learn to listen to what our brothers and sisters around the globe have to tell us.  The nature of the world church requires it.”  (163)


“Global partnership of churches will be indispensable for mission in the twenty-first century.” (164)


One paragraph on p. 167 denounces “managerial missiology,” for broadly “depersonalizing people” and “making them objects of hit-and-run efforts to get decisions that may be reported.”  As it reads this is an uncharitable over-simplification and generalization that depersonalizes and denigrates several significant missions movements and many missionaries.  It seems out of character with the rest of the book.


 “The church is called to be an instrument of God for mission, a missionary people, a community of transformed people who live as a new fellowship, a sign of the reign of God at work in the midst of human history.” (168)


“A global church developing new partnerships for mission faces an impossible task, but God is the God of the impossible.” (169)


“Worship is also an act of rehearsal.  It is an anticipation of things to come.  It is the moment at which we are reminded that our lives and our world have a goal, and that this goal is that day when every nation and tribe and people and language will worship God and the Lamb.” (quoting Justo Bonzalez) (170)