Response to a Sept 13, 2022 Gospel Coalition article by Matthew Bennett, Jeff Kelly and Joshua Bowman
One of the practices of Disciple Making Movements (DMM) is to look for a “person of peace,” a gatekeeper who is uniquely placed to bring the gospel to their relational network. This terminology comes from Luke 10 and the incident where Jesus sends out his disciples to heal the sick and preach the coming of the kingdom of God. Bennett, Kelly and Bowman in their article, “Did Jesus Send Us Looking for ‘Persons of Peace’?” argue that the DMM “interpretation of Luke 10 is exegetically flawed, and following this philosophy to identify a person of peace is potentially dangerous.”
The authors suggest that we should not “conflate the announcement from Luke 10 with the post-resurrection gospel [e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1–5] and the message entrusted to contemporary missionaries.” The development of the Christian gospel through the cross and resurrection and Jesus’ post-resurrection directions to the disciples calls “into question the ongoing validity of Luke 10 as a case study for modern missions.” They claim that using this passage to “formulate contemporary strategies” for missions is illegitimate because it “dislocate[s] Jesus’ command from its redemptive-historical setting.” They also protest that using this terminology gives the DMM concept of looking for a “person of peace” the “air of biblical authority.”
The hermeneutical concern of the authors is the contrast between commands that are “prescriptive” and “mandatory” for the church today (such as Luke 24:46-48 – repentance from and forgiveness of sins), and commands that are contextually and historically limited (such as the Luke 10 instruction for the disciples to look for “people of peace”). The authors therefore contend that this command is not “valid” or “prescriptive” for contemporary missions strategies.
The authors are both correct and incorrect in their assumptions and conclusions. With language such as “secret sauce” and “delay gospel proclamation for an indefinite period of time in order to cultivate favor with our hearers” they have described a missionary who is unable to discern between the “prescriptive” message of the gospel (repent and believe) and the “descriptive” methodology of searching for a “person of peace.” This would be comparable to someone reading that we are called to “preach the gospel” and assuming that it is prescriptive of standing in a pulpit and giving a sermon. Or for someone to read Paul’s declaration that the Gospel of Christ “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16) and believe this requires them to give the gospel first to a Jew.
Nonetheless, even though we must not “conflate” passages given at different times, what Jesus did and taught before the cross is not disconnected from the post-resurrection message of the gospel. There are many similarities between the missional command of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 and the Luke 10 commission of the disciples, and it would disingenuous to see them as theologically distinct and unrelated. One illustration used in missions over the centuries is found in verse 2 of the Luke 10 discourse when Jesus sends out the 72: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.” Not only is there consensus that that the image of the harvest is relevant to contemporary missions, but the command to pray continues in its prescriptive force. Our interpretive responsibility is to consider the purpose of Jesus’ command concerning the “person of peace” within the missional context of Luke 10, and ask ourselves what lesson can be learned that will inform us in our ongoing task of proclaiming the gospel.
Correct interpretation calls us to determine as best we can what the passage meant in its context, what that meaning teaches us about God’s character and his will (which includes his mission), and how such a revelation of God’s character and will can be expressed in our particular ministry context. It is the same Jesus who sent out the 72 and then, after the resurrection, sent out his disciples with the gospel. Therefore, it is legitimate to ask, “What can we discover about Jesus’ will and character from the ‘people of peace’ instruction that will guide us in ministry today?”
Part of the interpretive task is to keep in mind that we all read scripture through our cultural grids. In the article, the authors present us with a caricature of missionaries who read the “person of peace” methodology as prescriptive and then fill the concept with their own “secret sauce” preconceptions that cause them to ignore those without “extensive social network and influence” and to delay presenting the gospel in order to “cultivate favor” with their hearers. While agreeing with the authors that such a missionary has misunderstood and misapplied Jesus’ teaching, I suggest that this description indicates a misunderstanding and misapplication of the DMM principle by the authors as well. Rather than being a reason for rejecting the principle, such misapplication points to the need for a correct understanding of what the DMM principle means and how it should be applied. Is there an interpretation of Jesus’ concerns in this passage that may validate an application of “people of peace” thinking in missions efforts today?
I suggest that Jesus had at least three expectations when he gave his instructions:
- The disciples would meet people sensitive to God’s Spirit and their need of salvation. “The especial mention of the greeting in this context must convey some deeper sense; the word ‘peace’ is no longer an empty formality but refers to the peace which is associated with the coming of the salvation of God.”
- These people would be receptive to the message of God’s kingdom. “A son of peace would mean a person who is open to or ready for the salvation that is now coming into the world.”
- This person or the household would act as a gatekeeper to the village and the disciples would be associated with a member of that community while proclaiming their message to others. The reference to “eating and drinking” may be “an act of table fellowship which seals the acceptance of the gospel by the household.”
More exegetical work should be done in order to substantiate the legitimate use of “person of peace” for missions today. However, I suggest that this preliminary reflection provides evidence that Jesus’ expectations as he sent his disciples into the harvest would be similar for missions today. Jesus sends us, even as he sent the disciples, to be “lambs among wolves” (10:3) with the expectation that we should expect to meet and look for (1) people within whom God’s Spirit is at work, and (2) who will welcome the message of the kingdom of God. Furthermore, (3) those people will be the beachhead for the growth of the gospel within their network of relationships.
For further responses to critiques of the DMM “Person of Peace” principle see:
Ken Jolley, Exploring Vegas’ Critique of DMM
Mark Naylor, Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs