The ‘Whole’ in Our Gospel

Has “holistic mission” won the missiological battle? Its champions say so, but their boast might be premature.

In recent years, the ideal of “holistic mission” has dominated thinking about the church’s call to make disciples of all nations. Broadly speaking, a “holistic” approach weaves together two essential threads of mission: sharing the gospel of eternal life through faith in Christ and meeting people’s earthly needs, which often involves challenging political and economic forces that breed injustice and poverty.

Influenced by liberation theology, the work of the Lausanne Movement, and books like Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, holistic mission came of age in the 1970s and ’80s through the missional church movement. Today, its animating spirit can be found in institutions like the Christian Community Development Association and the global Micah Network. As Sider likes to say, and as Al Tizon repeats in Whole and Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World, “We won.”

In the 1980s, holistic-mission advocates used the language of “transformation.” Then, under the influence of Latin American theologians, they pivoted to “integral mission.” Tizon, executive director of Serve Globally (the international-ministries arm of the Evangelical Covenant Church) and a missions professor at North Park Seminary, argues for recasting holistic mission in terms of reconciliation.

As Tizon acknowledges, this proposal is indebted to a host of theologians and missiologists (whom he cites generously). His purpose is more about showing how this newer paradigm meets the needs of the prevailing global situation. He begins the book with a series of chapters on “The Whole World” that address the effects of globalization. Though he …

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