Sent to Be Vulnerable
The Advent season is one that highlights vulnerability. Jesus takes on flesh and is a fragile infant. Humility and gentleness are subjects more easily addressed at this time of year. Additionally, our eyes more fully see the needy that surround us. Vulnerability takes on a renewed sense for us as we engage in God’s great mission to the broken. In his book God Who Sends, Francis Dubose includes a passage with the subheading “Sent to Be Vulnerable.” It is the conclusion of a chapter that deals with the need for our mission to be that of both ministry and evangelism. For Dubose, and I think he learns it well from Jesus, the two should not be separated.
The sending does not always express itself in success. The Christian witness is primarily sent to be faithful. Sometimes there is the positive response of the masses. Sometimes there is rejection. The mission of Christ, the mission of the Jerusalem church, and the mission of Paul were often attended by hostility, rejection, and danger.
Jesus said at the commissioning of the twelve, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16).1 Isaiah had been commissioned under adverse circumstances (6:8–13). The roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11 and the history of the missionary enterprise—indeed the history of the church and her martyrs—are witness to the vulnerable position of those sent into the world.
The mission of God has always required radical commitment. Witness the vulnerable Moses. Witness the vulnerable Jesus—the ultimate vulnerability of the cross!
A comfortable Western Christianity finds little identification with the radical commitment reflected in Jesus’ identification with the Servant of the Lord and his mission to release the captives and liberate the oppressed. The missional mandate emerging from the very nature of the Christian faith calling for the witness of redemptive deeds reflective of the nature of God himself is beginning to find expression around the world. What liberation theology intellectualizes, a growing number of God’s servants are beginning to actualize—a theology of praxis in solidarity with the poor and oppressed of the earth in Christ’s name.
Some of us are uncomfortable with that understanding of mission. In the name of being biblical, we have retreated to an “evangelism only” missiology. We have mistaken “traditional” for “biblical.” We need to take a fresh look at the Bible—see it for what it says at face value and freed as much as possible from our tradition. It is feared that the plea for the return to “evangelism in the more traditional sense” is not a return to biblical ground. Traditionally, we have found very uninvolved ways of doing evangelism, separating it from the implication of a radical commitment to ministry and the larger issues of justice and other demands of the biblical faith. We rightly decry what has happened to evangelism in this century, but the manipulative (imperialistic) and selective (racist) evangelism of the extreme right has been just as unbiblical as the insipid and anemic evangelism (nonevangelism) of the extreme left. The way to return to biblical evangelism is not to deny to mission the validity of ministry and service when the New Testament so clearly and definitively includes it. We cannot have our missiological cake and eat it too. We cannot have a biblical mission and destroy what is integral to biblical mission.
from God Who Sends, pages 124-125
1. See Creath Davis, Sent to Be Vulnerable (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974).