Review by Phil Wagler
What is the subject?
Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in central London and past dean of the chapel at Duke University, writes Incarnational Mission about three things: mission, the world, and being with. The book is his attempt to apply “with” to the mission of the church in the world God loves.
Who is the author?
Wells, an evangelical Anglican, provides affirmations and thought-provoking challenges to evangelical Anabaptists who share his concern for a living church comprised of living and active disciples on mission.
Why this book?
As a mobilizer with Multiply/MB Mission, I sensed he could push me further to engage with the world in Jesus’ name. I want to grow in this personally and in my ministry encourage our churches to be with the world more intentionally. We talk about “incarnational mission” but what does it really look like?
Toward this end, Wells did challenge and equip. Profoundly helpful was his clear distinction between four ways the church tends to engage society: working for, working with, being with, and being for.
“Working for” is the default of most Western churches – we are the advantaged who work for the betterment of the “needy” (spiritually and physically).
On the other end of the spectrum is “being for” – the activism that cries for something to be done, but without appreciation for the complexities involved or the brokenness of humanity and our structures.
In between these two extremes, Wells would have us settle; in the balance of working with, but only after being with the lapsed, the seeker, the indifferent, those of other faiths, even the hostile and living within work places, organizations, institutions and government. His point is to be present as Jesus was, for being with makes space for the Spirit to work in and through us and for the gospel to find hearing and credibility. Being with takes the world and the gospel seriously.
Though Wells’ writing style requires discipline to keep plowing through, perseverance is fruitful. Incarnational Mission is not an introductory book to be sure and Wells occasionally assumes too much of the reader – and even their familiarity with his other works – but I would recommend it to those seeking to live the mysterious holistic tension between proclamation and demonstration in mission, and who really are serious about taking not just the Word, but the world seriously.
Two great quotes that keep me thinking
“…if you’re looking for where the future church is coming from, look at what the church and society has so blithely rejected.”
His challenge to those on mission is to keep these words before them, “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”
“Mission means being with all those who have taken the freedom of God’s patience not yet to believe.”
[Phil Wagler is a member of Gracepoint Community Church in Surrey, BC and a Mobilizer with Multiply/MB Mission.