Book Review: Missions by the Book, by Chad Vegas and Alex Kocman

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In college, I remember one of my professors asked us to outline the biblical indicators of a healthy church. Here are the highlights of my list: preaching the gospel, regular gatherings, and spiritual growth. I assume every Christian would agree with these indicators. But in the years since, I’ve realized that Scripture must guide not only what we do but also how we do it.

 These days, missiology is often separated from theology; it was never intended to be this way. Missions shouldn’t be driven by sociology or anthropology, but theology. That’s the underlying conviction of Chad Vegas and Alex Kocman’s Missions by the Book. The Bible not only tells us the “what” of missions, but the “how.” The two go together.

Usefulness for Us

In response to biblically superficial methodologies, Vegas and Kocman trace the theological basis for missions. In doing so, they show how the Bible should inform our missiological practice.

Each chapter features two parts: biblical description and biblical prescription. This structure forces readers to distinguish between what the biblical authors are reporting and what they are commending, between historical fact and theological precedent.

Their chapters cover a host of topics—from the doctrine of Scripture to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit to the doctrine of the church. The second half of the book more directly addresses the modern-day missionary; they discuss the power of ordinary gospel preaching and the missionary’s reward. The book closes with a rousing charge for today’s missionaries.

All in all, Missions by the Book is a valuable resource for both missionaries and senders of missionaries.

Theology and the What of Missions

It feels almost misleading for me to talk about the “what” and “how” of missions separately. In fact, one of the book’s main claims is that these two were never meant to be separated! As the authors say, “bad theology leads to bad missions, and bad missions spreads more bad theology.”[1]

A useful illustration of this principle is the chapter on the Holy Spirit. Vegas and Kocman survey the person and work of the Holy Spirit. They explain that the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption, and that the Holy Spirit applies the work of the Son to us.[2] In the process, Vegas and Kocman highlight the ordinary means through which the Spirit works. In other words, they highlight the necessity of faithful gospel preaching and careful administration of the ordinances.[3] Why? Because the Spirit uses these ordinary means of grace to accomplish extraordinary things in God’s people.

The Spirit works through God’s people to establish churches that are marked by the preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the ordinances (or sacraments), and a fervent obedience to the Great Commission.[4]

The apostles modeled this kind of church in the book of Acts. For example, every apostolic sermon included four elements: God, the person and work of Christ, the response of faith and repentance, and the promises of forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Holy Spirit.[5] The Apostles were relying on the ordinary means of grace even as God used them in extraordinary ways.

Theology and the How of Missions

What a joy it is to know that it is not up to us to figure out how to engage in the missionary task!

Since the time of the apostles, the church has seen the Holy Spirit use the ordinary preaching of the Word to move sinners from death to life. And His work continues today, among both pastors and missionaries. So, if you’re a missionary, you should know your job: to preach in dependence on the Spirit, knowing that the Spirit uses your labors to exalt Christ.[6]

The gospel message proclaimed by the Apostles is the same message the church is to proclaim today. Missionaries must not seek to add their own creative touch.

In the closing chapter, the authors give final charges to contemporary missionaries; they base these exhortations on Paul’s words gives to Timothy in 2 Timothy. One notable charge is the passing on of sound doctrine. Missionary work must be robustly theological, not marked by novelty or creativity. Vegas and Kocman serve the church well by reminding us of this precious truth by reuniting biblical doctrine with missiological practice.

[1] P. 2, Missions by the Book

[2] P. 51

[3] P. 51

[4] Pp. 66-70

[5] P. 80

[6] P. 52

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