Compassion and the Mission of God | Book Review


Compassion and the Mission of God has two purposes, which Rupen Das articulates in the book’s Introduction, the first as a statement and the second as a question. First, the statement: “This book will revision some of the biblical narratives to try and understand where the poor and the broken fit within the economy of God and why” (15–16, emphasis in original). Second, the question: “Why does God care for the poor, and as a result, why should we?” (16, emphasis in original).

Chapter 2, “Issues That Frame the Discussion on Compassion” (17–41), examines “four foundational issues that influence different perspectives on whether compassion is a fundamental biblical value and whether the church should respond to poverty and other social issues. These are: (1) how is Scripture read and understood, 92) can theology be contextual, (3) the exact nature of the mission of the church, and (4) how one views the poor” (18).

Chapter 3, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Old Testament” (43–71), examines what the Hebrew Bible teaches about the cause and cure of poverty. Das argues that the Wisdom tradition largely sees poverty as the result of “laziness and lifestyle choices” (71), the legal and prophetic tradition took a more systemic view of the matter. “A social-scientific and historical approach to the study of poverty in the Bible helps explain the history and the social, economical, and political contexts that created and entrenched poverty in Old Testament society and which then are the reason for the teaching on the issues of poverty, care of the poor and of justice” (70). Obviously, these two explanations—bad choices, unjust systems—continue to characterize the contemporary debate over poverty.

Chapter 4, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Gospels” (73–86), focuses on “the socioeconomic context of the Gospels rather than an analysis of the teachings on the poor and poverty” (73). Das argues that the causes of poverty in Jesus’ day were the same as in the Old Testament, though with different elites. “The causes of poverty continued to be exploitation by the ruling business, political and religious elite” (85).

Chapter 5, “Teachings and Practices of the Early Church: The New Testament and Church History” (87–103), address three topics: (1) “the context within which the early church lived” (87); (2) “the practice of charity by the early church and its impact” (88), showing that “Christian and Jewish charity”—which Das sees as one thing, not two, so perhaps Judeo-Christian would be the better term—was “a completely new departure from existing [i.e., Greco-Roman] values and practice” (92); and (3) “the teachings of the early church fathers” (88). Das argues that the early church clearly valued charity, but also notes that the justice theme of both Old and New Testaments is not as prominent. Regardless, “The Central truth through all the teaching was that the only way one could demonstrate that they were true followers of Christ, was if they showed mercy and compassion toward the poor” (102–103).

Chapter 6, “Theological Challenges” (105–121) looks at three theological debates that have divided Protestant Christianity, affecting how it ministers compassionately to the poor: (1) the nature of the gospel, whether Jesus’ “kingdom of God” or Paul’s “justification by faith”; (2) the nature of “righteousness,” specifically whether it is “moral perfection” or “obligation”; and (3) the nature of the Millennium, where some interpretations effectively separated “evangelism and discipleship” from “justice and compassion.”

Chapter 7, “Healing the Divide” (123–134), surveys the history of the modern missions movement regarding the relationship between “the verbal proclamation of the gospel” and “addressing social and physical needs” (123). Das examines the great century of Christian missions (the nineteenth), which practiced both, though without “a clear theological understanding of whether social issues should be addressed” (123). In the nineteenth century, if Liberation Theology and the World Council of Churches swung to the extremes of social concern over evangelism, evangelical missiologists (led by Donald McGavran) swung the other way. The Lausanne Covenant brought evangelism and social concern back into relationship for evangelical missions, with evangelism still considered “prior” in some sense. The integral mission of the Micah Declaration, Das argues, “finally provided the right balance between the verbal proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of its reality. Neither operates independently and each has significant implications for the other” (134).

Chapter 8, “Transformation or Witness: The Challenge of Transformation” (135–163), asks: “Does the compassion of God focus on only meeting immediate needs through charity or is God concerned with the underlying issues that cause poverty and in the transformation of the world?” (135). It answers affirmatively. However, it adds: “But it is God who transforms and he invites us to partner with him. God is already in the process of redeeming human beings and creation, and will transform us all when created time melds into eternity” (161, emphasis in original).

Chapter 9, “Transformation or Witness: Being a Witness” (165–179), takes up the flip side of the coin. Christian mission involves both transformation and witness. This call to conversion is a hallmark of evangelical missions in particular. However, missionaries who combine evangelism and social concern must face several challenges: (1) “there should be no conditionality in the assistance that is provided” (175), and “there is no conditionality and proselytism to force individuals to change their social group and religious affiliation” (179). Bearing witness is the Church’s work. Converting people is God’s.

Chapter 10, “The Face of Compassion” (181–195), outlines “three dimensions of compassion” that God exemplifies and that his disciples should exemplify too: (1) “God seeks to bless human beings and his creation”, (2) “He defends and protects those who are the victims of evil,” and (3) “God desires his creation to be restored to him” (186, emphasis in original). These three dimensions—blessing, justice, redemption—should also characterize the people of God.

Chapter 11, “Conclusion: A God of Compassion” (197–202), rounds out the book with this strong statement: “The ministries of compassion and social justice are in effect prophetic ministries because they embody the values at the core of the kingdom of God. Most people encounter the invisible kingdom for the first time through these ministries and realize that maybe there is an alternative to the realities of the world they live in. This opens them to the possibility of a God who is compassionate” (201). And, “To be compassionate in the midst of a culture which robs people of life is what it means to be the people of God in the world that we live in” (202).

Book Reviewed
Rupen Das, Compassion and the Mission of God: Revealing the Invisible Kingdom (Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library, 2015).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

What’s Happening in the Assemblies of God Today? | Influence Podcast


Welcome to the Influence Podcast, a collection of inspiring and challenging conversations, aimed at empowering the entire spectrum of church leadership, from lead pastor to lead volunteer

In Episode 207, I’m talking to Doug Clay about the good things God is doing in the Assemblies of God. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Doug Clay is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. He will share his unique perspective on our Fellowship after a brief word from our sponsor.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Including Children with Disabilitiespart of the Momentum Training Series.

Whether you already have children in your church with disabilities or just want to be prepared for all students, this resource will show you how to share the love of Jesus with everyone who enters your class. Including Children with Disabilities is also available in Spanish.

For more information visit MomentumTrainingSeries.com.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Pentecostals and the Poor | Book Review


Pentecostals and the Poor began to take shape when the Asia Pacific Theological Association invited Ivan Satyavrata to present four lectures on the theme, “Power, Tradition, and Social Engagement,” at its fall 2011 General Assembly in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Satyavrata reworked those lectures into the resulting monograph, the inaugural volume in The APTS Press Occasional Papers Series. It outlines the author’s mature reflections on four topics: (1) the Pentecostal tradition of social engagement, (2) the biblical perspective on Pentecost and mission, (3) a Pentecostal theology of social engagement, and (4) the role of Pentecostal theological education.

Satyavrata is, in the words of his publisher’s website, “Senior Pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Kolkata, which has close to 4,000 people and a significant social outreach, providing education and basic nutrition for several thousand children in and around the city of Kolkata. He has played an active role in Christian leadership training as President of the Centre for Global Leadership Development (formerly SABC), Bangalore, of which he now serves as Board Chairman, and has recently been invited to serve as International Deputy Director for the Lausanne Movement in South Asia. His chief interest has been in issues relating to the Christian witness to people of other faiths.”

Regarding (1), Satyavrata argues that “strictly speaking there is no one Pentecostal tradition; what we do have is multiple Pentecostal traditions which bear a certain family resemblance.” That resemblance centers around “the immediate, manifested presence of the Holy Spirit experienced by the early Church in Acts [which] is normative for the Christian faith community today.” Crucially, social engagement has always been part of that tradition. “Pentecostals today offer not only spiritual refuge from the problems of this world but concrete and authentic social engagement alternatives. They have in fact done so from the very beginning [of Pentecostal history] as a natural extension of their evangelism and missionary efforts.”

Turning to (2), Satyavrata argues that biblically, “the Church’s mission [should be seen] as a continuation of the mission of Jesus.” Jesus’ self-conception revolved around the concept of the kingdom of God. According to Satyavrata, “three crucial aspects of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom have bearing on our understanding of mission”: (a) announcement of the kingdom’s arrival, (b) demonstration of the kingdom’s reality, and (c) extension of God’s kingdom-rule. Just as the Spirit of God empowered Jesus’ mission, so the Spirit continues to empower the Church’s mission. “Pentecost made the church a witnessing church, and her witness was spontaneous, immediate, effective and directed to ever widening circles of men,” Satyavrata writes.

Based on critical reflection on the biblical witness, Satyavrata arrives at the following conclusion: “A theologically robust Pentecostal understanding of mission thus views mission in terms of God’s ongoing redemptive project of extending his kingdom-rule to people of all nations as the Holy Spirit empowers the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.”

Flowing out of this broad understanding of mission, Satyavrata then turns to (3) a Pentecostal theology of social engagement. At the outset, he makes the following statements: “The extraordinary success of the Pentecostal movement is largely due to its outreach to those on the periphery of society…. The genius of Pentecostalism has thus been its relevance to the powerless—its ability to penetrate enslaving power structures of the socially and economically marginalized.” American readers need to keep in mind as they read these words that Satyavrata is referring to the global Pentecostal movement, not just the expressions of that movement in America. (American Pentecostals are both like and very unlike Pentecostals throughout the rest of the world.) Satyavrata also notes that Pentecostals “have in general been better at doing it [i.e., social ministry] than articulating it in statements of faith or theological formulations.”

Following on his understanding of mission, Satyavrata notes the relevance of the kingdom concept to the church’s social ethic: “The kingdom ethic of Jesus is made operational within the charismatic community by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and becomes thereafter the moral foundation for the life of the early church.” He then examines “how Pentecostal spirituality shapes Pentecostalism’s social response” by looking at five key features of that spirituality: prayer/worship, liberation, healing, community, and hope.

In the final section of his monograph, Satyavrata sketches (4) the role of Pentecostal theological education in mission. He defines theological education as “the Church’s mandate to disciple God’s people, further their growth in vocational giftedness and maturity in Christ, and thus equip them to fulfill the kingdom-mission of Christ.” This means that the aim of theological education is transformation holistically understood, including the transformation of (a) spiritual passion, (b) theological formation, (c) community, and (d) mission. He concludes: “Since education is for mission it must generate creative and fervent missionary engagement and make a difference in the whole world!”

Pentecostals and the Poor is a short, easily digested monograph worthy of your consideration. Although its origins lie in an academic context, its reasoning and conclusions are stated clearly and is well worth reading by pastors and other leaders in local churches.

(Full disclosure: he Satyavrata is a professor and friend of mine.

Book Reviewed
Ivan Satyavrata, Pentecostals and the Poor: Reflections from the Indian Context (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2017).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Evangelism, Compassion, and Mission(s) | Influence Podcast


“When compassionate missions stand apart from evangelistic efforts and apart from the work of the local church, the uniquely redemptive role of the church is either diminished or lost altogether,” writes Dr. Jerry Ireland in For the Love of God.

“Therefore, missionaries must find ways to engage in compassion in ways that are more directly linked to the evangelistic calling of the church.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Dr. Ireland about the relationship between evangelism and compassion in the Church’s mission. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and host of the Influence Podcast.

Dr. Ireland is chair of the Intercultural Studies and Ministry, Leadership, and Theology departments of the University of Valley Forge, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. An ordained Assemblies of God minister and former missionary to sub-Saharan Africa, he is author of Evangelism and Social Concern in the Theology of Carl F. H. Henry and editor For the Love of God: Principles and Practice of Compassion in Missions.

My conversation with Dr. Ireland is coming up after a brief word from our sponsor.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Tru Fire Curriculum:

Children’s leaders often feel worn down by curriculum that doesn’t give them what they need to be effective. Tru Fire provides leaders with engaging lessons and empowers them to connect kids to the Holy Spirit so that they can feel confident their kids are developing lifetime faith through experiences with God they’ll never forget.

To download free sample lessons, visit TruFireCurriculum.com.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

For the Love of God | Book Review


For the Love of God, edited by Jerry M. Ireland, examines “principles and practice of compassion in missions,” as the subtitle puts it. Part 1 examines principles, and Part 2 examines practices. Contributors are for the most part missionaries with practical experience and/or relevant academic training.

Part 1 includes five chapters: “Introduction” and “A Missionary Theology of Compassion” by Ireland; “Missions and Compassion: The Indigenous Principles” by Alan R. Johnson; “Defining Poverty” by JoAnn Butrin and A. Chadwick Thornhill; and “Best Practices in Compassionate Missions” by Suzanne Hurst.

Part 2 includes nine chapters: “Compassion and Unreached People Groups” by Jeff Palmer and Lynda Hausfeld; Counterintuitive Missions in a McDonald’s Age: Recovering the Apostolic, Incarnational Model to Integrating Gospel-As-Mission and Gospel-As-Deed” by Jean Johnson; “In Pursuit of Holistic Economic Development” by Brian Fikkert; “The Church’s Response to Injustice” by JoAnn Butrin, Suzanne Hurst, and Brandy Tuesday Wilson; “Orphans and Vulnerable Children” by Ireland; “Health Issues and the Church’s Response” by Karen Herrera and Paula Ireland; “Natural Disasters and the Church’s Response” by Jeffrey Hartensveld; “The Local Church and Faith-Based Organizations” by Jason Paltzer; and “Conclusion: For the Love of God” by Ireland.

Ireland summarizes “the approach of this text” in his Introduction:

This text addresses compassion in missions from a thoroughly evangelical perspective. As such, this text will center around three themes to which we will often return: biblical foundations, the local church, and development principles. The central thesis of this text is that these three themes must guide evangelical responses to compassion if we are to be faithful to Scripture and to the church’s uniquely redemptive purpose. We will argue that Christian compassion is fundamentally a matter of discipleship and that modern Christian missions often tends, contrarily, toward the professionalization of compassionate ministry. Such an approach robs local believers of their God-given mandate to love their neighbors (Matt. 22:39).

In other words, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20) commands believers to make disciples of all “nations,” that is “people groups.” A necessary outcome of discipleship is compassionate individuals and congregations who minister to the needs of their neighbors holistically. In cross-cultural situations, missionaries’ primary work is to empower the local church to make compassionate disciples, rather than to do the work of the local church themselves.

Who should read this book? Missionaries are obvious candidates, especially those working in compassion-focused missions. Those preparing for missionary careers or those teaching them also are intended readers. However, I would also recommend the book to pastors, especially those whose churches sponsor compassion-focused missions or who send abroad short-term missions teams. The emphasis on empowering indigenous local churches to perform compassion ministries, rather than doing it for them, should affect the way U.S. churches fund their missions program, as well as how they utilize short-term missions teams.

The book includes a 14-page Bibliography, but not an index. Though an index would be helpful–indexes are always helpful in academic books–the specificity of the chapter topics obviates need for one.

Book Reviewed
Jerry M. Ireland, ed., For the Love of God: Principles and Practice of Compassion in Missions (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2017).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

You Found Me | Book Review


When it comes to American churches, I have bad news, and I have good news.

Bad news first: Most churches in America are plateaued or declining, and fewer Americans self-identify as Christians. If you’re a pastor or church leader, you probably don’t need me to tell you these things, since the majority of you see it with your own eyes in your own churches and communities.

Now that you’re depressed, let me tell you the good news. The things happening inside your church and outside your church don’t have to remain that way. Plateau and decline are reversible, and people are winnable. The question pastors and other church leaders need to ask themselves is how these things can happen in their churches.

Rick Richardson’s You Found Me is a good place to start. Richardson is director of the Billy Graham Center Institute, the research arm of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (Illinois), where he also serves as a professor of evangelism and leadership in the graduate school. His book draws on surveys of 2,000 unchurched people and 4,500 Christian congregations (including 1,500 churches with fewer than 250 in attendance) that BGCI conducted, as well as several smaller research projects.

Richardson divides You Found Me into three parts. In Part 1, “Recovering a Missional Imagination for the Unchurched in America,” he debunks common myths about unchurched America and shows “how unchurched nones, millennials, and irreligious are surprisingly open to Christian faith,” in the words of the book’s subtitle. To reach these people, a church needs to become a “conversion community,” that is, “a congregation that is seeing changed lives and growing primarily through reaching new people rather than by adding already churched people from some other congregation.”

In the BGCI surveys of American congregations, 10 percent are conversion communities. Richardson takes a close look at what sets those churches apart from others and articulates what he calls the Conversion Community Equation:

Missional Leaders + Missional Congregation = Conversion Community.

Part 2, “Developing Missional Leaders,” identifies what the pastor and other church leaders must do to help their churches become conversion communities. Essentially, it involves modeling evangelism in a way that others can imitate. This modeling is multiplicative, however. A pastor models evangelism to others, who in turn model it to still others, and so on.

Part 3, “Cultivating a Missional Congregation,” outlines a four-step process that characterizes conversion community churches. Such a church, Richardson writes, “clearly understood that it belonged to a specific community, which it blessed through service and outreach with the ultimate aim of bringing those in their community into the congregation as beloved children of God.” In other words: (1) belong, (2) bless, (3) bring, and (4) beloved. Interestingly, the “top predictive factor [research showed] was hospitality to the unchurched.” Richardson comments, “If there is a silver bullet, this is it.”

You Found Me is a hopeful, helpful book. It is hopeful because it paints a beautiful portrait of what churches in America could be. It is helpful because it shows the specific brushstrokes that make such a portrait possible. I encourage senior pastors, board members and leading volunteers to read this book. It includes questions at the end of each chapter to facilitate discussion. Additional downloadable resources are available at the publisher’s website here.

Book Reviewed
Rick Richardson, You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is cross-posted here with permission.

Christians in the Age of Outrage | Influence Podcast


America is angry. Turn on TV news, tune into talk radio, check your timeline on social media, and chances are good you’ll see someone angry—outraged!—about something. Some commentators even worry that our nation is on the verge of a civil war.

It would be nice to say that Christians in America are tamping down the fires of outrage, but unfortunately, that’s not always true. Instead, some Christians are fanning the flames. They’re kicking outrage up to 11.

One Christian leader who’s trying to turn the outrage down is Ed Stetzer. He thinks outrage is unbiblical and anti-Great Commission. In his new book, Christians in the Age of Outrage, he explains why Americans are mad, why that’s bad, and what Christians should do about it.

Ed is Billy Graham Distinguished Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College; dean of its School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership’ and executive director of the Billy Graham Center. He’s also my guest for Episode 159 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host.

P.S. You can read my review of Ed Stetzer’s book here. If you like my review, please click “Helpful.”

Why Missions Needs Missionaries | Influence Podcast


This past summer, thousands of Assemblies of God churchgoers went on short-term missions trips. These trips often do much good. They certainly change the people who go on them for the better. But is it a good idea to shift a church’s missions strategy to short-term missions?

Similarly, churches are increasingly supporting “social justice” causes such as anti-human trafficking initiatives and water well drilling as an important part of missions. Granted, these are great causes, but are they missions?

In today’s episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk with with Doug Clay and Greg Mundis about what missions is and why missions need long-term missionaries. Doug Clay is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA), and Greg Mundis is executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions.

Five Tensions Churches Must Manage to Successfully Engage Millennials | Influence Podcast


America is in the midst of a generational sea change. Baby Boomers are no longer the nation’s largest generational cohort. Instead, Millennials are.

Unfortunately, Millennials are the least religious generational cohort in our nation’s history. If the Church wants to reach Millennials, it cannot rely on strategies that worked with Boomers. The generations are simply too different.

In today’s episode, Influencemagazine executive editor George P. Wood talks to Geoff Surratt about five tensions churches must manage to successfully engage Millennials.

Together with his wife, Sherry, Geoff is the founder of Ministry Together, which “partners with “ministry leaders for relational health, organizational growth and Kingdom impact.” He is also author of the free e-book, The Church Will Thrive.

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