06 Mar Great Commission, Great Compassion – Book Review
Great Commission, Great Compassion
Following Jesus and Loving the World
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015
208 pages, $16.00, paper.
Reviewed by Shane W. Parker, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Discipleship
Director of Professional Doctoral Studies
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
'Ultimately, this book is about choices' (14). Those familiar with the published work of Paul Borthwick, which spans 30 years of research and writing, will be accustomed to the focused challenges that the author provides, particularly along the lines of global perspective and Great Commission engagement.
His writings include A Mind for Missions, How to be a World-Class Christian, and Western Christians in Global Missions. Borthwick writes Great Commission, Great Compassion from both a background of teaching and publication, as well as operating in his current capacities as Senior Consultant with Development Associates International and Adjunct Professor of World Missions, at Gordon College, in Wenham, Massachusetts.
The “choices” that Borthwick addresses, in the work under consideration here, are captured in a single, reflective query, “Will I choose to live as a full-on, 24/7, passionate follower of Jesus—with a lifestyle that expresses that commitment through my words and through my concern for others” (14-15)? In an effort to guide readers toward an unwavering “yes,” in response to this question, the author considers first “Biblical Foundations” for Christian mission and compassion (Chapters 1-6), and then he establishes what he deems “Lifestyle Imperatives” for those who take up this mantle (Chapters 7-14). The author’s contention is that there is a distinct need for greater “balance” (17), as “practice and proclamation are the two hands of the gospel,” and Borthwick sees an acute need to stand for “justice, peace, and reconciliation,” as those who speak the truth of Christ (25-26).
In examining “biblical foundations,” for the sake of reaching this “even-handed” approach to discipleship, Borthwick initially seeks to establish scriptural warrant for his perspective on the “Great Commission, Great Compassion lifestyle” (27-51). Here, the author explores: “Jesus’ final imperatives” (27-33); the five “Great Commission” statements, which occur in the Synoptic Gospels, John, and the Acts of the Apostles (34-42); and finally Borthwick examines three themes, which he observes in the commonality, contours, and nuances of each statement (43-51).
While the brief treatment of the Gospels and Acts is straightforward, and there is helpful interpretive information to be gained, Borthwick noticeably shines in the areas of applicative and implicative observation. An example of this strength may be found in the themes, or “takeaways,” proffered in Chapter 4. As he prepares to move from commission to compassion, in terms of discrete emphasis, the author notes that the following themes emerge from his survey of the Great Commission texts: (1) a “mindset” that “we are sent, starting right where we are” (43); (2) as sent people, Christians are to be “purposeful” and “cross-cultural,” in the view and engagement of the world (47-48); and (3) the assurance of active, divine presence, particularly emphasized in Matthew 28:20, Luke 24:49, and Act 1:8, is to undergird and propel Christian witness (50-51).
Therefore, this Great Commission witness is to take the shape of “empowered, multiculturally sensitive sent ones” (52). The challenge here is that this witness must tangibly translate into the context of “human relationships,” and Borthwick presses the specific dynamics of displaying compassion toward those enduring poverty, or other forms of suffering and oppression (52-64). The core biblical foundation here is presented as Matthew 25:31-46, which the author refers to as “The Great Compassion” (54). Borthwick then briefly treats each of the areas of need mentioned in the scriptural passage (e.g., hunger, thirst, sickness, imprisonment), in turn, as a means to begin to move toward application.
This movement provides a bridge to the final “foundational thoughts” for this section (Chapter 6), as the writer offers another set of “takeaways,” this time making application to the area of demonstrated compassion (65-73). While these “thoughts” are, generally, in keeping with the flow of thought, both prior to, and following, these observations play a negligible role. The author appears to concede as much, noting that, “The imperatives for commission and compassion living will come in part two of the book, but for now let’s build on these” (65). How these thoughts are altogether different from, or foundational to, the material in part two does not appear readily apparent. Had the writer made this linkage explicit, it may have strengthened the outlined sequence from commission, to compassion, to the imperative need for action.
The second part of the book outlines “Lifestyle Imperatives,” of missional living. The chapter titles, expressing each imperative, are: “Choose” (Chapter 7); “Learn” (Chapter 8); “Look” (Chapter 9); “Pray” (Chapter 10); “Welcome and Celebrate” (Chapter 11); “Simplify and Give” (Chapter 12); “Stand Together” (Chapter 13); and “Go” (Chapter 14). In each of these chapters, Borthwick ties a prescribed set of attitudes and actions both to the “foundational” observations established in part one, and an additional “biblical reflection” segment, provided at the outset of each chapter (e.g., 77-79; 86-87; 98-100; 109-10; 123-27; 140-41; 153-55). This approach proves helpful, as it repeatedly redirects the reader back to biblical and theological norms, as the basis for the exhortations to act in a compassionate manner.