The following is a book review of Al Tizon’s Whole and Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World. Al Tizon is the Executive Minister of Serve Globally (ECC) and a speaker at our upcoming Awakenings Gathering March 28-30 in Alexandria, VA. Want to learn more from him and other voices like his? Register today.
One of the defining and disappointing characteristics of western Christianity has been our instinct to bifurcate the church’s mission. Consider, for example, the countless ways we find to debate whether evangelism or justice should be our priority. Is it the church’s primary mission to address the material sources of a person’s present suffering or the spiritual nature of their future? These either-or debates often happen within privileged confines among those with the ability to theorize about these things. It’s probably not surprising that communities relegated to the margins have often held together the same attributes of Christian identity that others of us have torn apart. I’m thinking of the many African American congregations in my neighborhood whose services end with an old-school altar call and whose bulletins are filled with opportunities for their members to seek justice throughout the week.
In Whole and Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World, Al Tizon applauds those who have attempted to bridge theological bifurcations such as this by encouraging, in the language of the Lausanne Movement, “the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.” By emphasizing whole—or, in other contexts, holistic—these theologians and practitioners are advancing a version of mission that cares about word and deed, evangelism and justice. Importantly, the church beyond the west is included in this vision. Rather than the old assumptions about western missionaries being sent to the majority world, mission is now from everywhere and to everywhere.
Whole and Reconciled is a paradigm-shifting book with the potential to enlarge how our churches envision and participate in God’s mission. Here are four ways Tizon succeeds in challenging us to think bigger about everything, beginning with reconciliation. Rather than the old assumptions about western missionaries being sent to the majority world, mission is now from everywhere and to everywhere. Click To Tweet
4 Ways “Whole and Reconciled” Extends Our Understanding of Mission
1. A Missional Paradigm: Reconciliation
What makes Tizon’s contribution so important is not just his emphasis on wholistic mission but how he utilizes reconciliation as the missional paradigm. He writes:
In the age of intensified conflict on virtually level, it can no longer be just about putting word and deed back together again … holistic mission also needs to be about joining God in putting the world back together again. It needs to be about participating with God in the healing of the nations (Tizon, 2019, p. xvii).
Like other pastors of intentionally multiethnic churches, I regularly think and preach about reconciliation between people on opposite sides of America’s malicious racial divisions. And while Tizon acknowledges the church’s responsibility to address racial injustice, his vision is larger. As an Asian-American missiologist with extensive experience in the academy who is also relationally connected with many expressions of the global church, Tizon is thinking big in these pages. For him, reconciliation is the orientation for the entirety of the church’s mission.
To make his case for a reconciliation paradigm, Tizon first situates the reader within a world that is increasingly:
- and post-colonial.
Each of these has significant implications for the church’s mission. To take just the first, a globalized world is one in which the pursuit of money is accepted as humanity’s unifying ideology. The ensuing inequalities and backlashes must be understood and accounted for by the reconciling church. This means we must see globalization not simply as a neutral process but as an ideology which competes with the Kingdom of God. A globalized world is one in which the pursuit of money is accepted as humanity's unifying ideology. This means we must see globalization not simply a neutral process but as an ideology which competes with the Kingdom of God. Click To Tweet
Perhaps I’m forgetting one, but I can’t remember another book about reconciliation which reckoned seriously with globalization and the spiritual power of money. It’s these sorts of insights which lend creative possibility to Tizon’s vision for the church’s mission.
2. The Nature of the Gospel
After evaluating the world our churches currently inhabit, he then asks about the nature of the gospel itself—the source and focus of our mission. Not surprisingly, the gospel is holistic. Tizon writes:
Jesus testifies to nothing less than the restoration of the shalom of God, to which all have access, especially the poor, the captive, the sick, and the oppressed (p. 80).
Rather than representing the whole gospel, too often our churches have succumbed to what the author calls false and half-gospels. While most of his readers probably will not have been tempted by the gospel of hate, some of us have experienced the attraction of the gospels of prosperity, comfort, and empire. We might also have contented ourselves with the half-gospel of personal salvation which cares mostly about disembodied souls and that of social liberation which finds evangelism unnecessary and embarrassing.
Understanding the gospel is important for Tizon because of its inextricable connection with the mission of reconciliation. The whole gospel includes three dimensions:
- vertical, between God and people;
- horizontal, between peoples;
- and, circular, “between God, people, and creation” (p. 87).
Here again we see the potential in a reconciliation paradigm for mission; the creation itself is included within the purview of the gospel. Truly, this is good news for the universe!
Tizon’s promising vision includes the role of the Spirit-empowered, worshipping church, beginning with individuals who have themselves been reconciled. As embodied creatures made to be in relationship with our Creator, our own wholeness is essential if we are to serve effectively as Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation. Reconciled people are grounded within a reconciling church which reflects, in its relationality, the communal nature of the Trinity. Importantly for Tizon, the nature of the Godhead implies that our churches are aiming for intercultural fellowship—reconciled community across cultural lines of division. Again we see the important implications of this paradigm: cultural diversity is not an add-on available to some congregations, but an important characteristics of the reconciling church.
3. A Needed, Global Perspective for the Western Church
As Tizon turns directly toward viewing mission through the lens of reconciliation, his roots within the global church are especially, and helpfully, apparent. Readers are reminded that our interest in holistic mission is not new; neither is it unique to the western church.
More than once, but especially in his observations about mission, I wondered whether anyone else could have written a book that not only addresses holistic mission so effectively but that, in its very approach, embodies a holistic perspective. The author’s international experience and global friendships position him to introduce us to a way of holding together word and deed that, by the time we reach the end of the book, seems inevitable. Tizon is our hospitable guide, introducing us to an extensive Christian family from which we have much to learn.
4. Our Vocation as Peacemakers
Whole and Reconciled ends with a call to pursue God’s mission as peacemakers. Given the focus on the reconciliation of God’s shalom, this is a natural benediction. Even so, I found myself surprised. Frankly, peacemaking is not a theological note that is often sounded in the reconciliation literature. Yet Tizon rightly discerns that a reconciliation paradigm for mission will lead to ambassadors of God’s peace. This peace—vertical, horizontal, and circular—is the very definition of God’s whole mission. Nobody, nothing, and no place are left out.
Implied in this call is the importance of holistic leadership which can account for the scope of God’s mission. For our churches to equip and send peacemakers into the world’s many fractures, we will need women and men whose imaginations have been captivated by the vision Tizon lays out here.
Additionally, we will need leaders who also refuse to look away from the complexities and profound challenges of our globalized, post-colonial, and post-Christian milieu. Leaders such as these—with eyes wide open to our broken world and imaginations captured by the whole and reconciling mission of God—will inevitably make disciples who seek peace as ambassadors of the cosmic shalom won by Jesus.
Whole Churches Representing the Whole Gospel
As a pastor I regularly have a nagging feeling about everything I’m forgetting. Have I said enough about evangelism lately? Are we being intentional enough about discipleship? Are leaders being equipped to address the systemic injustices in our city? Are relationships being nurtured to resist the inevitable conflicts and divisions?
So one of the surprising things I felt reading this book was a sense of relief. By inviting us to imagine mission as reconciliation, Tizon alleviates the instinct to pick and choose, to elevate one aspect of mission to the detriment of another.
Instead, the whole mission holds together. The result, I expect, will be whole churches representing the whole gospel for the good of the whole world.