Book review: Incarnational Mission: Being With the World
The world is urban at its core— over half the world’s population live in cities, and most of the global poverty resides there too. Urbanization affects all of us, whether we live in cities or not, and this impact will increase in the coming decades. In Incarnational Mission: Being With the World, Samuel Wells urges Christians to embrace their neighborhoods, no matter how foreboding they may appear. He seeks to equip Christians with various approaches to spread the gospel.
According to Wells, “Mission is responding to what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world” (18). Simply put, the essence of God’s being is present within the neighborhoods in which we serve. For mission-minded Christians, the book provides some helpful ideas that can enhance their approach to sharing the gospel with all kinds of people outside the church.
At the beginning of the book, Wells describes the world as the kingdom that is anticipating God’s work. Persons living within the kingdom have their own set of beliefs and needs. Consequently, individuals may have varying perceptions and attitudes towards God and the church.
Wells shares the stories of being with (1) individuals who have lapsed, (2) those who are seeking, (3) those of other faiths, (4) those who have no faith, (5) those who are hostile, (6) neighbors, (7) institutions, (8) governments, and (9) those who have been excluded. Thus, “being with the world” requires disciples to understand the different viewpoints of people within their community.
Drawing on the Gospels, Acts, and personal insights gleaned from more than two decades in ministry, Wells presents eight dimensions of mission that illustrate the concept of being with: presence, attention, mystery, delight, participation, partnership, enjoyment, and glory. The stories that Wells shares provide examples of the eight dimensions being used to strengthen the relationship between disciples and non-Christians. Applying these dimensions requires disciples to be humble, open, and present within the communities during celebration and tragedy.
The final chapter, “Being With the Excluded,” truly encompasses mission and the application of the eight dimensions. For example, people who have suffered hardships face “poverty, discrimination, disadvantage, hunger, homelessness, and migrancy. These are not problems to be fixed for a person; they are conditions that are shared with a person” (221). To lead an individual to freedom from their situation, one must take the point of view of the oppressed person.
Encouraging and assisting a person who is experiencing difficulties requires the presence of, attention to, and participation between disciples and non-Christians. The skill sets and resources from local organizations, institutions, and government are sometimes necessary to assist a person. However, the collaboration between community partners provides an opportunity to showcase God’s work to help individuals find freedom from their situations.
This book is an excellent resource containing principles and practices that challenge the reader to become an active participant in urban mission. In each chapter, Wells’s illustrations and personal insights will benefit beginners and veterans in the mission field. Church members, ministry leaders, and pastors can apply the concepts of the eight dimensions to strengthen current and future ministries of the church. God’s compassionate presence in the community is truly reflected in the phrase “being with the world.” Indeed, “With,” says Wells, “is the most important word in the Christian faith.”
—Reviewed by Victor Kindo, a student who is assistant director of operations for the Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
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