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April 1978 · Vol. 7 No. 2 · pp. 37–40 

Book Review

Discipling the Nations

Richard R. DeRidder. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975. viii + 253 pages.

Reviewed by Hans Kasdorf

Though the Great Commission texts were treated in commentaries and were the basis for many an inspirational sermon, relatively few scholars who wrote in English have wrestled with the texts. The Great Commission texts were always quoted, especially during the “great century of mission” but were not seriously exegeted. In German and French it was different. I know of at least a dozen scholarly essays and monograms dealing with the biblical texts in those languages. That suggests a paradox: Why is it that the Anglo-American student movement and scores of other Christian “volunteers” took the Magna Carta of our Lord seriously without devoting serious efforts to the study of the text (excepting Samuel Zwemer’s Into all the World) while their Continental counterparts studied the text in depth without taking its implications as seriously?

In recent years several significant studies of the Great Commission have appeared in English. Those mentioned here do not exhaust the list but are examples of the wide range of interpretation.

As the title indicates, Hubbard’s study is a critical approach to the {38} Matthean text. It was written as a dissertation and is quite technical at points. However, a reader with an understanding of Greek (also some Hebrew) and a familiarity with the form critical literature on the Synoptics will generally find the text quite readable. Both the teacher and the preacher will gain valuable material and sermon ideas from it.

After stating the “form critical problem” of the Matthean text which, according to the author, “has not yet been satisfactorily” solved (p.2), Hubbard lists a number of solutions proposed by theologians of this century (nine of the eleven scholars analysed by Hubbard are from the Continent). The problem is whether or not the Matthean text follows a pattern of what Hubbard calls a “commissioning Gattung” (p.69). Upon analysing twenty-seven examples from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings in which commissionings are described, he concludes that there is, indeed, such a Gattung (Form) in Matthew 28:16-20. The characteristic pattern (using the Matthean model here, pp. 69-72) is as follows:

  1. Introduction, describing the setting (16)
  2. Confrontation between the commissioner and the commissioned (17a)
  3. Reaction of the commissioned to the commission (17b)
  4. Confirmation of the commissioner to the commissioned (18)
  5. Commission, which in this case is to “make disciples of all nations” etc. (19-20a)
  6. Reassurance of the commissioner’s support to the commissioned (20b)

Here are genuine nuggets for exegetical preaching on the Great Commission!

Comparing the Matthean text with other Synoptic passages and the Johannine commissioning record (Hubbard omits the second Lucan record of Acts 1), the author notes that a seventh element, namely a Conclusion, is frequently added. This is in keeping with the Old Testament tradition, but was not observed by Matthew (pp. 102-107).

The second volume, by the late missionary statesman Max Warren, is more historical than exegetical. It is one in the recent “I Believe” series edited by the New Testament scholar Michael Green. Warren begins with the biblical basis of the Great Commission, saying that “The New Testament Spells It Out” (pp. 15-55). His point of departure is the centrality of Christ, and he presents biblical evidence that obedience to the Great Commission is a condition to claim the world for the kingdom of God.

In the second part the author describes four different epochs of {39} nearly twenty centuries of history in which the church has tried to interpret and obey the Great Commission. After delineating “The Commonplaces of Mission,” preaching, teaching, healing, witness (pp. 59-71), Warren contrasts the great names and events of secular history with “an anonymous company” of humble “Christ-Bearers,” their “names are known only to God” (p. 67). Such servants glory not in the human “triumphalism” of “colonial regimes” (p. 110, 114), but they bring glory to the one to whom was given “all power in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).

The last section of Warren’s book discusses today’s significant questions: What does it mean to spell out the Great Commission in our day? What does it mean to communicate the gospel cross-culturally? What is the cost of witnessing to the claims of Christ under governments hostile to the message? How does the Christian missionary respond to religious and cultural pluralism? “Obeying the Great Commission Now and Tomorrow” (pp. 171-183) is to permit “the uncontrollable God who is in control of history” to be in control of the witness (p. 138). This fascinating and disturbing book is “must reading” for those who are concerned about missions in our time.

Discipling the Nations by the Calvin Theological Seminary professor of mission is not an explicit treatment of the Great Commission per se, but of mission theology. This too was a doctoral dissertation; despite occasional heaviness, DeRidder’s treatise is quite readable and the positive aspects of the book far outweigh the negative.

The author contends that the God of the Bible is the God of salvation history manifested by His universal covenant. Through Christ and the Holy Spirit He has created a “New People of God” (p. 202) of both Jew and Gentile. These make up the community of believing disciples who are commissioned to disciple the nations. The author’s thesis is that all who respond to the Kingdom Gospel are brought into God’s universal covenant with mankind.

DeRidder sees “the chief concern of the believing community” to be “making disciples,” (p. 13) which identifies with “preaching the Kingdom of God.” He contends that “Every true church is an outpost of the Kingdom of God,” called to make disciples and “placed in a particular spot in the world to bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ” (p. 210). To enter the Kingdom requires repentance of sin and reconciliation to God.

Those who are in the Kingdom of God (which is not the same as being a nominal church member) are under obligation to be at the disposal of the King for the furtherance of his good purposes. The beneficiaries must become benefactors (Luke 22:25 ff.), not in {40} name only but by spending themselves and being entirely expendable in the service of mankind for Christ’s sake (p. 144).

There are times when the biblical view of the Church is overshadowed by the author’s particular theological persuasion. But his emphasis on the New People of God and the task of the Believer’s Church as God’s evangelistic agent in the world to carry out the Missio Dei is sound theology of mission. As such the book complements earlier mission theologies by the Lutheran George Vicedom, Missio Dei (1960), the Ecumenist Gerald Anderson (ed.), The Theology of the Christian Mission (1961), the Reformed Johannes Blauw, The Missionary Nature of the Church (1962), the Catholic John Power, Mission Theology Today (1971), and the Mennonite George W. Peters, Biblical Theology of Missions (1972). The fourteen page bibliography and the indexes make the book a valuable tool for the serious student of mission, and the price makes it a bargain.

To those of the younger generation who have attended the Urbana Mission Conference, David Howard is no stranger. But neither is he foreign to those who have read his books, Hammered as Gold, Student Power in World Evangelism, The Costly Harvest, and Words of Fire, Rivers of Tears.

The book reviewed here, like the last chapter of Warren’s book, deals entirely with the relevancy of The Great Commission for Today. The five chapters are titled to correspond to titles given to Christ: 1) “The Son of Man Brings the Commission into Focus”; 2) “The Son of God Sends His Church”; 3) “The King of Kings Proclaims His Dominion”; 4) “The Servant of the Lord Defines Our Ministry”; and 5) “The Risen Lord Empowers His Church.”

Howard’s style is delightfully readable. He interlaces his message with personal experiences, brings unique insight to the texts he exposits, and makes relevant applications for today’s needs. The author also appends six pages of “Questions for Discussion,” which enhance the usefulness of the book for personal and group study of mission. A 120 page book which makes the Great Commission “come alive” is worth more than $1.95.

In conclusion: let those who endure a heavy missiological diet read the critical exegesis of Hubbard (and Oliver) and the biblical theology of DeRidder. But those who desire to be warmed and inspired will benefit more by Warren and Howard. Still others might also want to turn to Zwemer’s 1943 classic, Into All the World, and become the commissioned of the Great Commissioner.

Hans Kasdorf
Fresno Pacific College

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