I’ve been asked to conduct a training on the biblical foundations of integral mission, also known as holistic ministry or transformational development. There are many folks who have addressed this question more ably than I. My favorite discussion so far is Bryant Myers in the second edition of his book Walking with the Poor. Here are links to the intro, part 1, and part 2.
A Quick Review
Things are probably starting to get a bit piled up and confused in your mind, right? So let’s take some time to review the key points from our discussion so far.
- The spiritual and the physical are inseparable, even though the spiritual precedes the physical and is more important.
- Facts and beliefs are inseparable, even though believing must precede knowing.
- Human nature, culture, and social structures are inseparable. They are interrelated and influence each other, but human nature is the primary driver.
- An opportunity to develop and grow is also an opportunity to fail.
- Humanity is both good and evil. We are made in the image of God, and yet we are fallen.
- God has been working to develop mankind from the beginning.
Alright. Now let’s do a quick review of Old Testament history using one of the lovely graphics from our friends at the Bible Project.
There is a lot of material there, but the pattern is pretty simple. Notice how cyclical everything is! It is most apparent in Judges, but really, the whole Old Testament is a big cycle. It could be titled, “Why the Law Doesn’t Really Help That Much”. There are at least two reasons. First, doing good in real life is entirely too complex to be reduced to a set of laws. We see an example in Matthew 12. Jesus breaks the Sabbath, and yet he doesn’t. Why? Because healing is more important than the Sabbath. So Jesus “disobeys” a part of the Law without breaking the Law. On the other side, in Genesis 4, Cain is condemned for murdering Abel before the law against killing was given.
Second, the law requires interpretation, and humans tend to do that according to their own interests instead of according to God’s will. In Matthew 5, Jesus reinterprets the Law to make it even stricter (or broader, depending on your context).
Matthew 5:27 (NET) “You have heard it said, “Do not commit adultery”, but I tell you that whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.”
Why the Law?
We conclude, along with the OT prophets, that the law wasn’t given to make us righteous. Instead, God was going to have to make us righteous so that we could keep the Law as it was intended. That’s the new heart of Ezekiel 36:26. So then why was the Law given to us? Paul gives us an answer in the letter to the Romans.
Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Paul tells us that the Law was given so that we might become conscious of sin, and therefore, of our need for God. With Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God opens a path to salvation for humans and tackles the problem of creating a just world. The solution is very much a work in progress, as we might have expected from a God who believes in development! Its completion awaits the final return of Christ. All this (and much more) can be called the kingdom of God. It is God’s holistic reign in Jesus (and the church) breaking in to human history.
What does this mean for integral mission?
First, it means the Law is a failure as a means of producing a righteous and just society. The takeaway for integral mission is that creating the “perfect law” has already been done, and it didn’t work. Your new law may be awesome and it may make things better, but it’s still not going to work because humanity is still broken. We have to hold the culture, the social structures (the law), and humanity together and remember that humanity itself takes precedence!
Second, Christians no longer follow a Law, we follow a God-Man. This restored relationship is the basis for justice. While there is no way to enumerate a law complex enough to deal with the whole of the human condition, as we walk daily in relationship with Christ, we can follow him in justice. This is much less definite than following a Law. It requires great wisdom and great dependence on God. Integral missionaries can never stop learning or depending on God.
Third, the heart is the source of injustice, and it the heart where integral mission must aim. Now, a right heart will express itself in just actions, but that is the symptom, not the cause. It is the fruit, not the tree. We must “make the tree good” to quote Jesus. By the way, that is humanly impossible, which brings us to point four.
Fourth, heart change is the work of God in partnership with His people. True heart change requires rectifying the relationship between man and God through belief in Jesus Christ. Meaning that holistic ministry must emphasize the proclamation of the Gospel, through words AND deeds!!, as its ultimate goal.
I feel like we have covered this ground many times already. But holism means holism! Integral means integral. It starts with Jesus, but encompasses all aspects of life and faith. Change starts in the hearts of the ministers and continues in the hearts of those ministered to. It starts with one person, but aims to change a culture and a nation and ultimately, all cultures and all nations.
Finally, we must acknowledge that our mission will remain incomplete, despite our most valiant efforts, until Jesus returns. This is not a failure on our parts. It is a promise from God. We can only do what we can do. We are not God.
Alright. I’m sure that your head is beginning to hurt from trying to hold so many different ideas in tension. So go home, take a break, and relax. We’ll start again tomorrow … and yes, it gets a little bit more complicated. But you are almost there! Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world!