By Dr. Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Associate Professor of World Christianity
When my husband and I were bringing up our blended family of six kids with an age range of six years, we had to institute certain rules to remain sane. Many of them related to food, specifically to pizza. While Luana didn’t like peppers, Anton hated onions, Jonathan didn’t want mushrooms, María Isabel hated olives, Maya never ate pepperoni, and Natalia wouldn’t touch any meat. So, we created a rule: you can take one –only one—ingredient off your piece of pizza. You had to eat all the rest. Our family peace rested on the fact that on a pizza, you can take off one ingredient and still eat pizza!
Now compare that to whole grain bread—the sort we bake daily in Casa Adobe, the intentional Christian community my husband and I are a part of in Costa Rica. Water, butter, salt, whole-grain flour, bran, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds are blended and baked together. Try taking out the wheat germ or the salt. Impossible! Each ingredient is so intimately welded to the others by heat that they have become an inseparable part of the whole. In Spanish, we call this pan integral, meaning whole-grain bread.
So it is with the gospel, the good news of God’s love for God’s creation. The good news that Jesus proclaimed and embodied is more like whole-grain bread than pizza. It is one seamless whole: love for God cannot be separated from love for neighbor (as the apostle John so insistently reminds the early Christians in his letters). Reconciliation with God through Christ and the ongoing work of the Spirit cannot be separated from reconciliation with other people and with the entire created order.
God’s reign of love and justice affects every dimension of life: spiritual and physical, personal and social, economic and ecological.
The same comparison remains true when we move from gospel to mission. A reduced understanding of the gospel necessarily generates a reduced understanding –and practice—of mission. If the good news is limited to mending individuals’ relationships with God and for life after death, with no implications for any other relationship or life before death, then we will focus all efforts on those single objectives. If instead, we recognize good news as affecting every last dimension of existence, human and non-human, within God’s good creation, then there will be no realm of life that remains untouched by the Christian mission. Following Jesus as whole-life disciples means engaging in God’s life-giving purposes far outside the bounds of religious language, church buildings, and evangelistic programs. The good news propels God’s children beyond, sent as Jesus was, as agents of God’s preposterous reconciliation, which overcomes all petty human borders, exclusions, and prejudices.
From Eden, through the law and the prophets, to Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, through the early church, and to the future arrival of the New Jerusalem, God intends to restore relations and bring wholeness. Faithfulness in God’s mission does not allow us to pick and choose ingredients, proclaim or embody the good news, embrace people like us or reach out to others, engage in ‘church’ matters or social ones, surrender our heart or our pockets, pray or seek justice, care about salvation of the soul or shalom on earth.
As the Good News has to do with the whole of life, mission is also wholistic and integral, influencing every last corner of life.
Not everyone is called to bake whole-grain bread as we do daily at Casa Adobe. But every follower of Jesus Christ is called to join others in God’s wholistic restoration project in their particular context. May we live into that calling through the gifting and strength of the Holy Spirit!