Foreword to Running My Race
Though I don’t identify myself in the book itself, Dave Black asked me to write the foreword to his book Running My Race, published in 2016. I reproduce it here. Since my embrace of the gospel commission along with the often disparaged words “evangelism” and “mission,” often draws criticism, I’ll provide a link here to my defense of my vigorous use of those terms, Why I Believe in Dialogue, Respect, and the Gospel Commission.
When I agreed to write a foreword for Running My Race, I assumed that I would be writing primarily about dealing with cancer, grief, and loss. My wife Jody and I lost our son James to cancer 12 years ago. We have dealt, and continue to deal, with the aftermath of losing a child.
That way of talking about it, as loss, will startle some Christians. We sanitize and uplift our vocabulary, sometimes to the point of lying. I fully believe that James went on to glory. At the same time there was a loss. We still miss James! And yet we live in hope of the joy that God has put before us.
Dave Black misses Becky Lynn. Her long fight with cancer was also part of his race — as is his life without her now. That is certainly a topic of this book. But the book is about so much more.
At its heart, this is a book about mission. How does mission impact your marriage? How does mission change the way you deal with illness and death? How does mission change the way you live with your grief? How does it change the way you work, teach, and live?
“Mission” has become an unpopular word for many Christians. Some associate it with going overseas and imposing western culture. Others simply find it annoying and wonder why we can’t help people down the street instead of those in other countries. But mission is an essential component of being followers of Jesus. We are, whether we like it or not, a missionary community.
If we live as missionaries, it will make a difference in every part of our lives. If we choose not to be missionaries, it will also make a difference. Most Christians in the west have decided not to be missionaries. If you’re wondering why churches are dying in America, that’s your answer. Yes, there are many details, but those arise out of our refusal to heed the call of Jesus.
There is no option for a Christianity which is not a missionary movement. “Christian missionary” and “Great Commission Christian” should be redundant. Jesus was a missionary. He came to this world on a mission. You can’t follow Him without also being a missionary.
There are those who wonder how Dave Black and I came to be such good friends. He’s a Southern Baptist. I’m Methodist. He’s likely to be accused of being too conservative. I’m more likely to be accused of being too liberal.
There are a huge number of reasons why we can get along. We share many convictions:
- Scholarship is not about liberal or conservative, but about accuracy and integrity.
- We need an educated church. Not an educated clergy, but an educated church. That’s not a matter of seminary degrees but of emphasis on learning about the content of our faith. What we believe matters.
- We need to put our beliefs into practice. Apathy is not an option for followers of Jesus.
- God comes first in our lives, our marriages, our business, and all our activities.
The core reason, however, is that we both believe in the Great Commission. It’s the mission of the church as a whole and of every member. Your personal call may be down the street or around the world, but surely as you have been saved by grace, you have been called as a minister of that grace to others.
In this book you will learn how a good-news-driven person handles hardship, loss, and grief, and how you can find joy in all circumstances. You’ll see an example of living your life honestly, in public, as a witness. It’s a Great Commission book, which should be synonymous with it being a Christian book.