Symphony of Mission
The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World
by Michael W. Goheen and Jim Mullins
Baker Academics (2019)
FES Library book call number: 266 GOH
The Christian imagination, often neglected in our standardised Singapore education, is what I suggest as one of the key contributions that The Symphony of Mission brings to the ongoing theological conversation on mission. Also, it presents a biblical survey and holistic framework of mission which challenges inadequate understandings present within the Singapore church.
Goheen and Mullins begin the book with a thorough and faithful exposition of the biblical picture of mission as God’s continuing work of restoring creation and the active participation of his people in it. They describe the holistic vision of flourishing at (1) Creation, the components of (2) Rebellion, and finally the process towards (3) Restoration, giving due emphasis to the themes of both Old and New Testaments, including that of the kingdom and the role of humanity, with a movement from Adam and Eve to Israel, and then to the church. After establishing the foundational aspects of mission as incarnational, Spirit-empowered, comprehensive, communal, distinctive, and motivated by love, they present in detail three inseparable “movements” of “the symphony of mission”: (1) Stewardship, (2) Service, and (3) the Spoken Word. When equally emphasised and integrated, they result in a winsome and powerful blueprint of our participation in God’s mission. Here, the momentum of Goheen and Mullins’ book continues where other books on mission theology may stop. They patiently guide the reader through a process of internalising the truths of the book and moving towards practice. This is done through an exploration of discerning vocational calling (considering abilities, affections, aches, and anchors) and providing replicable exercises for defining one’s mission focus and living out the three movements with intentionality. Finally, the book ends with a call for perseverance, a subversive rhythm of rest, and the learning of lament.
The holism and integrity of Goheen and Mullins’ view of mission as a restoration of all creation is a welcome counter to the anthropocentric definition of mission, which is simply reduced to the salvation of human souls, widely held in Singaporean evangelicalism. At the same time, the false dichotomy and misguided priorities that are drawn between the preaching of the “gospel” and the doing of good works is categorically repudiated by the integration of the movements of Service and the Spoken Word proposed by Goheen and Mullins. Their inclusion of mission lived out in the daily life of one’s vocation further extends the breadth and implications of mission to its rightful scope. Indeed, our good work reflects the character of God and foreshadows the wonder and fullness of the kingdom at its consummation. This adds missional and eternal significance to the daily work we do. It also impoverishes the commonly held eschatology in which God resigns his original creation to the flames and parachutes disembodied souls to a heavenly reality.
Aside from these critical theological contributions, the stories that Goheen and Mullins narrate are particularly valuable as examples of mission lived out, grounded in the realities of daily life but radically creative and bold. I have found that one of the key challenges that Christian students face is the difficulty of imagining what a practical outworking of holistic mission could look like on campus. To this end, I find that the stories embedded in the book help trigger the imagination and present to the reader a vision for what may be possible when one lives an integrated life of Service, Stewardship, and the Spoken Word.
For example, the story of the Love Your Neighbour Rally inspires, convicts, and leads one to consider what similar opportunities for true sacrificial service on behalf of neighbour might be present in today’s COVID-19-ridden Singapore. What could it mean to “stand in the gap” between the virus and the most vulnerable among us? The migrant workers confined to their dormitory rooms for months on end as the virus ripped through their ranks come to mind. We may most naturally reach for our wallets for a one-time donation to organisations working among the migrant workers, but how can our local churches (and mission agencies) respond to their situation with systemic love? This is indeed one such situation where Goheen and Mullins’ exercises for performing the songs of stewardship, service, and spoken word may be helpful.
In conclusion, The Symphony of Mission is a thorough treatment of the foundations and practical outworking of biblical mission suitable for the layperson. It is ambitious but succeeds in conveying not only theology but conviction and creativity.
FES Staff worker
This book review was originally written in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the course Mission and Evangelism at Trinity Theological College, Singapore in September 2020.