A Vision for Missions (Book by Tom Wells)

Tom Wells has written a book that centers in on a very important aspect of missions that is perhaps long lost in the contemporary Church’s approach to missions—the God-centeredness of missions.  Though this book was published in 1985, and much has changed since then, especially in the area of modern missions, the book continues to be relevant for our day, and the generations that follow, for it speaks of a foundational truth that gives meaning and motivation for missions—God’s character and our knowledge of Him.

Deeply frustrated and troubled at the emphasis given to man’s needs, Wells seeks to remind his readers that God is the message and motivation of missions, and that those who know the most about Him are the most equipped to go and tell of Him.  He follows these two theses, or lines of thought, which also serve as the main divisions of the book:

  1. “God is worthy to be known and proclaimed for who He is, and that fact is an important part of the missionary motive and message.”
  2. “Those who know the most about God are the most responsible and best equipped to tell of Him.”[1]

The first two chapters serve as somewhat of a foundation, and emphasize that God does all things for His pleasure and that the Christian life begins and continues in the knowledge of God to the glory of God.  “The Christian life, then, is born in the knowledge of God.  It grows as it increases in the knowledge of God.  Maturity is, in large part, finding the answers to this question: What is God like?”[2]  These beginning chapters serve to direct our hearts and minds to God and His glory, to the God-centeredness of the Christian life in general, and the God-centeredness of missions in particular.  If missions is to be biblical and successful, it must, of necessity, be centered in the God of missions.

In Chapters Three through Chapter Eight Wells takes up the subject of God’s attributes.  God’s attributes!  I find this to be the most unique and most profitable aspect of this book.  Who, when thinking of missions, thinks of God’s attributes?  I would have to guess that very few do.  But that is precisely our problem.  The majority of books and discussions on missions today centers in on strategy and man’s needs.  These are not wrong in themselves; they certainly have their place.  But they are not the center of missions.  They are not the motivation of missions.  God is the center and motivation of missions.  In these chapters Wells systematically looks at God’s attributes—particularly His self-sufficiency, sovereign power, wisdom, righteousness, graciousness, and faithfulness—and relates to the reader their significance in the area of missions.  His overall principle, brought up numerous times throughout the book, is that God is worthy to be known and proclaimed for who He is.[3]

Another overriding principle throughout the book that he argues for is that the “thing we must see is the connection, the inseparable connection, between our view of God and our attitude toward missions.”[4]  Wells is constrained to show us God—the glory of God; that in all things, including missions, we will have a God-centered perspective.

Chapter Nine serves as a transitional chapter, linking together the two major themes of the book.[5]  Wells rightly discerns that the transition between the worthiness of God to be known and proclaimed and those who are best equipped to tell of Him is Jesus Christ.  He says, “The danger is that we may forget that the man who knows God best is the man who best knows Jesus Christ.”[6]  He argues that it is not enough to study the character and glory of God alone; we must seek to grow in our knowledge of God through Christ as well, “who is the key to the knowledge of God.”[7]

Chapter Ten is also like a transitional chapter before getting to the biographical sketches of past missionaries who had this God-centered approach in their missionary endeavors.  This chapter takes up the relation between God’s glory and the needs of men.  I find this chapter to be of vital importance, especially because of the overall emphasis thus far given in his book.  Some may object that Wells is unconcerned toward man’s needs, and that His God-centered view of missions makes God out to be an unloving and uncaring god.  Such, however, is far from the truth.  Wells simply seeks to put man’s needs in perspective—they are not first; God is!  In fact, Wells argues that having a concern for human need is part of being God-centered:

And what does God think of human need?  Can any Christian doubt the answer?  God is so intensely concerned for needy men that He has sent His Son to die for them.  The heart of God towards poor, distressed sinners is fully unveiled at the cross.  For us to be God-centered means to have this same compassionate heart![8]

We must not forget God in our zeal for men.[9]  This necessity of filling our hearts and minds with the glorious knowledge of God is not impractical.  It is quite the opposite.  “Thoughts of God, and of all else, erupt into acts.  The filling of the heart with wise thoughts of God becomes the most important, the most practical, business in the world.”[10]  It is this relation between our knowledge of God and the conduct of our ministry that we must not neglect.  If we are to have a concern for the needs of men—and we should—it must first be grounded in the glory of God, lest our ministry be man-centered.

The final few Chapters (11, 12, 13) focus in on three examples of past missionaries.  Wells takes a brief look into the lives of missionaries David Brainerd, William Carey, and Henry Martyn.  What is clear in all three examples is that these men performed their ministry with a view to the glory of God—that was their chief end and enjoyment.  An example from Brainerd’s journal will suffice to make this point.  Wells quotes Brainerd, saying,

…In evening prayer God was pleased to draw near my soul, though very sinful and unworthy: was enabled to wrestle with God, and persevere in my requests for grace.  I poured out my soul for all the world, friends and enemies.  My soul was concerned, not so much for souls as such, but rather for Christ’s kingdom, that it might appear in the world, that God might be known to be God in the whole earth…. Let the truth of God appear, wherever it is; and God have the glory for ever.  Amen.[11]

This God-centered emphasis is not a new thing, a new movement, a new teaching.  It is old—as old as God (eternal).  The missionaries of the past held to this God-centered view of missions, and so ought we today.  What is evident is that their primary concern for the glory of God and Christ is what motivated them to reach out to lost men and women with the gospel.  This too must serve as our theological progression—God must be first.

My love for this book is deep.  Not so much the book itself, but the truth within.  I have been awakened to an old truth in new times.  I know that I will find myself returning to this book again and again for edification, encouragement, and teaching.  All missionaries, pastors, and Bible students—even lay Christians—should read this book.  It doesn’t matter if you’re not entering the mission field.  Missions is a fundamental aspect of the Church, and so we ought to be concerned with it.  More importantly, we ought to be concerned with the God of missions, for He is the message and motivation of missions.  The proper vision for missions is God and His glory in and through Christ.  God must be our vision for missions.  This is Wells’ point that deserves deep contemplation in light of contemporary missions endeavors.

[1]   Well, Tom. A Vision for Missions (PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 9.  Emphasis his.

[2]   Ibid., 25.

[3]   Ibid., e.g. 41.

[4]   Ibid., 36.

[5]   Ibid., 97.

[6]   Ibid., 98.

[7]   Ibid., 100.

[8]   Ibid., 119.

[9]   Ibid., 110.

[10]   Ibid., 109.

[11]   Ibid., 123.  Emphasis by Tom Wells.


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