The Great Commission with Great Compassion: a book review

I never read a book by Paul Borthwick, but nineteen years ago I promised I would. I was at Urbana, a large Christian missions conference hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship every three years or so. A man stood outside the auditorium giving out copies of Six Dangerous Questions to Transform Your View of the World. He gave me a free copy of the book on condition that I would read it. A voracious reader even then I promised I would, but on my flight out of Illinois my book bag lay open under my seat spewing its contents across the floor of the plane. I got home without the book (and I lost several others as well). I  did skim the book’s contents in my local Christian bookstore, but I never really read it.

9780830844371Dear anonymous IVCF staff member, I just made good on my promise to read a Borthwick book, albeit a different one. Great Commission, Great Compassion is Borthwick’s new book and it is . . .great. Borthwick teaches at Gordon College and is an author and consultant who has written on Christian mission and worldview. Great Commission, Great Compassion explores how we in the church are called to go and do–to  both share the good news of the gospel and to care for the hurting, the wounded and marginalized. Too often books about mission vacillate between the poles of gospel proclamation and active service. Borthwick helps us pursue both these aspects of Christ’s mission.

Borthwick’s  book divides into two parts. Part one examines the biblical foundations for living out the gospel and making disciples. Chapters two through four look at Jesus’ Great Commission through the lens of five sending passages: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24: 45-49, Acts 1:8 and John 20:21-23. From these passages Borthwick demonstrates that we are sent by the Christ who has all authority, and we are sent with the asurance of God’s power through the Holy Spirit’s presence with us (51).  In chapters five and six, Borthwick challenges us to live into the the Matthew 25 imperatives as we feed the hungry, slake the thirst of thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked,  care for the sick,  and visit the prisoners. He challenges us to memorize 1 John 3:16-18, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (68).  This as the test of our devotion, that we love with both words and speech, and action and truth.

Part two explores ‘lifestyle imperatives’ for living out this great commission and compassion. Borthwick challenges us to commit to Kingdom Mission in our personal choices, develop an ongoing posture for learning and discovering on how to serve and share well, cultivate eyes to see needs and opportunities, pray for the world, welcome strangers (i.e. reconciliation, response to immigrants and LGBT community), live simply and generously, pursue justice and mission within community, and get out of our comfort zones. Additionally, an appendix describes “One Hundred Ideas for Great Commission, Great Compassion Outreach” (193-198).

I really enjoyed this book. Borthwick combines a close reading of the New Testament call to go and do with personal stories of outreach and mission. He also has lots of suggestions for living out this kind of witness. But don’t let the breadth of this book scare you. I appreciated Borthwick’s practical insights and thoughtful approach. I found this book inspiring with lots of ways to dig in and live deeper into a lifestyle of witness and service. It makes me wish I read that Borthwick book years ago. Sorry again, InterVarsity guy.

I recommend this book for personal reading, but I think it will be particularly fruitful for book study or church small group which dreams of pursuing a more active and embodied witness. There is no ‘discussion guide’ in the back of the book, but attention to each chapter would like spark conversation. There is a lot of good stuff here. Five Stars:★★★★★

Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.



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