Ever stop to think about the mission of the church? This profound topic has come to mean many things to different people. Through sending short-term teams to serve overseas and implementing a host of best practices, churches may appear to be actively involved in carrying out mission. But the presence of activity doesn’t always guarantee we are fulfilling God’s purpose. Are we on track with our mission?
In God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth, G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim present a fresh reminder of God’s plan in Scripture for reaching the nations through the church. They explain how God’s dwelling presence—as seen in the Garden of Eden, tabernacle, and temple—is related to God’s mission, and they suggest how the church can engage in its central task more fruitfully.
Many books on the mission of the church focus on practical approaches to outreach, but God Dwells Among Us offers a biblical and theological perspective to fuel the church to fulfill its mission. Blending Beale’s strengths as a Christian scholar and Kim’s experience as a pastor, the authors lead the reader in a theologically rich and practically helpful study of Scripture.
In doing so, they draw attention to a crucial starting point for the church in its pursuit of reaching the nations with the gospel: God’s mission. But what is God’s mission? And what does it have to do with the temple and the mission of the church? Beale and Kim’s book comes as an invitation to join them as they search the Scriptures in pursuit of answers.
How Does the Church Fit into God’s Mission?
Beale and Kim point out that mission is the heartbeat of God from Genesis to Revelation. Using a significant symbol in Scripture—the temple—they trace the development of God’s plan to reach the nations. Each chapter unveils how God is accomplishing his mission by expanding his dwelling presence to the ends of the earth. They demonstrate how the Garden of Eden, as the first temple sanctuary, was the initial reference point of God’s dwelling presence.
In the context of the garden, God commissioned Adam and Eve to expand his dwelling presence into the world. Sin, however, marred everything, and Eden was lost. Despite man and woman’s expulsion from the garden, the expansion of God’s presence first experienced in Eden would continue. God established his dwelling presence among his people in the contexts of the tabernacle and temple. He continues to do so today through his new temple, the church. One day God will fill the whole earth with his dwelling presence. When that day comes, his mission will be complete.
Nestled within the larger mission of God is the mission of the church. Beale and Kim keep a spotlight on how the church’s mission develops within the context of God’s progressing mission. In the New Testament, the evolving concept of God’s temple centers on Jesus and the inauguration of his body—the church—as the new temple. Together, Christ and the church fulfill what the former Old Testament expressions of the temple represented.
Here, Beale and Kim offer an inspiring description of the church’s mission: to expand God’s presence to all peoples. Equipped with God’s Word in the context of suffering, God’s church sets out to accomplish its mission to reach the nations and expand his dwelling presence to the ends of the earth.
How Does the Church’s Mission Expand the Presence of God?
A major strength of Beale and Kim’s book is its merger of biblical theology with application to ministry. Although other authors have offered comprehensive studies of God’s mission in the Bible, Kim and Beal’s focus on the temple theme as a lens to understand God’s dwelling presence among the nations offers a fresh way to grasp the broad sweep of the biblical narrative.
“A heart for missions grows out of a soul that finds satisfaction in God’s presence.”
The authors rightly focus on the relationship between being and doing, balancing the health of church life with the activity of making disciples. Intriguing points of connection like, “A heart for missions grows out of a soul that finds satisfaction in God’s presence,” and “Worship fuels our mission to represent God,” are fleshed out in sound biblical exposition.
Undergirding these general statements are two simple approaches that enable the church to serve as priests in God’s expanding temple: ministry through life and ministry through deeds. In life, the church represents God’s mission of expansion through its witness of holiness to the nations. In deeds, the church engages God’s mission of expansion by making disciples of the nations. The authors’ emphasis on being in order to do seems timely in a day when best practices often take center stage.
Conceding the need for holy living, the church must still engage the nations, but how? It’s on this practical point that some may find the book lacking. But remembering the intent of the authors is important. Rather than presenting a specific list of practices to employ, Beale and Kim offer important biblical principles to undergird the church as it develops and implements its mission efforts.
For me, as a Christian serving overseas, there are two takeaways from the book. In framing my mission in terms of expanding God’s dwelling presence, I’m able to view myself as a priest in God’s new temple—the church—where I represent his presence by living a life of holiness, and I extend his presence by making disciples among my neighbors and friends.
This perspective gives me a sense of confidence that relieves me of the burden to accomplish the mission in my own strength. Ultimately, the mission belongs to God, and he will fulfill it. At the same time, this perspective gives me a sense of divine duty in expanding God’s presence among those around me. My service is a labor of joy that is not only sanctioned by God but empowered by him.
If you’re looking for another book on the latest trends and best practices in missions, then this book will be a disappointment. However, if you are looking for a biblically based, theologically sound description of the church’s mission that will encourage Christians to fulfill their purpose, then this book will equip you for the task. Let it enrich you and encourage your church to join God in the mission of expanding his presence to the ends of the earth.