Blues Brothers:  On the Missio Dei. Somewhat by accident this week, I started a series examining and interacting with some of the posts from the missional synchroblog in which I participated this week along with 49 other “official” entries and a few unofficial ones. Having already apologized to Paul Simon, today’s set is the “make a new plan, Stan” series.

Cobus Van Wyngaard weighs in by invoking David Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission right in the post title. This is one of the keystone works for understanding missional, so it’s good that somebody brought it into the fray. Leaving the definition to others, he chose to explore the question, “Why the missional church?” Although often credited with the term missio Dei, he writes that “Bosch is simply giving an overview of how the concept has developed since 1932 onwards.”

The classical view of the missio Dei says that God is a sending God. God the Father sends the Son, and God the Father and the Son sends the Holy Spirit. This become important for mission when to this is added another “movement”: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sends the church into the world. The church then change form being on a mission, to being an instrument in God’s mission. And from this our title: The missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae. The sending God is the motivation for the missionary activities of the church. To use the words of the synchroblog: The missional church is not the church that send other on a mission, but it is the church that was sent by God.

After noting some of the missteps with the term “missio Dei,” he quotes Bosch:

During the past half century of so there has been a subtle but nevertheless decisive shift towards understanding mission as God’s mission. During preceding centuries mission was understood in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was interpreted primarily in soteriological terms: as saving individuals from eternal damnation. Or it was understood in cultural terms: as introducing people from the East and South to the blessings and privileges of the Christian West. Often it was perceived in ecclesiastical categories: as the expansion of the church (or of a specific denomination). Sometimes is was defined salvation historically: as the process by which the world – evolutionary or by means of a cataclysmic event – would be transformed into the kingdom of God.

Summing up, “The missio Dei remind us of why we talk about missional.”

I’m glad Cobus brought Bosch into the picture, and his brief comment on the misuse of the term missio Dei is a helpful reminder that “missional” is not the first such term to pass through an interpretive quagmire. Besides the invocation of Bosch, his contribution to the mix of defining missional is of course making the strong connection to the missio Dei and the point that the church’s mission flows from there.

devries_missionaldiagram.jpg Dave DeVries is no stranger to missional definitions, being the most consistent voice in the beleaguered Wikipedia definition. Before showing his diagram of the term, he writes,

Here is a simple explanation of the word missional—it describes being a missionary everywhere you are! It is about doing missions—aligning your life with the redemptive mission of Jesus in the world. It includes adopting the posture of a missionary in order to engage those in the culture around you with the gospel message. It is based on the recognition that every believer has been sent by Jesus as Christian missionaries with the good news of salvation together in community with other believers to their specific geographic and cultural context. Just as God sent Jesus, Jesus sends all believers (John 20:21).

Quoting another source,

Missional then, no matter what noun it is modifying, must qualify the meaning of that noun by referencing God’s mission as defined by Scripture. More specifically, missional limits any noun that it modifies to the temporary mission task of the Church to make disciples of all ta ethne for God’s glory and worship … Therefore, a local church is missional when it intentionally pursues God’s mission for His glory among all peoples by following His patterns and His ways of expanding His kingdom. (Van Sanders, “The Mission of God and the Local Church,” in Pursuing the Mission of God in Church Planting: The Missional Church in North America, ed. John M. Bailey, Apharetta: North American Mission Board, 2006, 25).

Dave spends most of his time around the missio Dei, quoting and refering to a number of sources, including Bosch — not surprising, as his contribution was partially lifted from his Doctoral Dissertation.

Like Cobus, Dave’s contribution is to underscore the connection to the missio Dei and to connect it with the work of Bosch. This aspect of understanding missional is vital, and many have noted it in some form already. Despite the fact that the terms would fit technically, in my mind, Dave’s short form definition doesn’t make a clear enough distinction between missional and the common understanding of “missionary.” It would appear he roots his definition in missiology rather than ecclesiology; this is not wrong, since properly understood, the two are the same. Most definitions seem to tie it more closely with ecclesiology, so that the “sending” aspect of missio Dei is incorporated with the concept of incarnational. By approaching it from missiology and including the word “missionary” in the definition, the term may appear to have more of a preaching or confrontational evangelistic connotation than is intended.

David Best approaches the question with three images. The first, of Jesus, center of all things, incarnate and contextualized to culture. The second conveys movement, or “going,” and the third depicts community.

David’s post is difficult to interact with, but I appreciate the very different approach he takes. By depicting the meaning with artwork, the interpretation remains “fuzzy” as the images speak to each person. The term “missional” itself is somewhat in flux, as we’ve already noted.

David Fitch weighs in as well, with what for some may be the controversial stance that megachurches cannot be missional. After outlining developments in the misuse of the term, he sums up his definition in this way:

I use the word to describe a specific theology of the church. This theology specifically a.) Sees the church as Trinitarian extension of the Missio Dei (mission is not a program of the church, it is the church) b.) Sees the church as the people of God driven to inhabit contexts incarnationally (as opposed to producing evangelistic strategies to get people to come into the church), and c.) Views salvation as a holistic reconciliation of the entire cosmos with God (as opposed to merely the penal satisfaction of God’s justice, although this is certainly part of it!) -Christ’s work recapitulates the undoing of all sin (personal, social, political, psychic etc.) until He comes. I consider the Gospel and Our Culture Network as the founders, with names like Roxburgh, Van Gelder, Guder, Hunsberger building on the work of Bosch and Newbigin. I consider Alan Roxburgh (again), Frost and Hirsch, Ed Stetzer, Martin Robinson, Dwight Smith and others to be key practitioners contributing to the furtherance of this movement.

He gives four reasons why megachurches cannot be missional, with explanations which further underscore his understanding of the word.
1.) Attractional Church Works Against Being Missional/Incarnational in almost every way. (It is attractional, an antithesis.)
2.) Mega church is not reproducible. (Citing Hirsch, missional is to multiply again and again.)
3.) Mega church is inherently built on Christendom. (Assumes a certain culture; not effective in post-Christendom; missional is contextual to any culture.)
4.) Mega church tries to organize community among its thousands. (missional is built in communitas.)
He is careful to note, “I believe the work of the mega-churches is valid and has its place in the Kingdom: the ministry to the dormant unchurched of Christendom. But for reasons stated above, the whole impulse of missional ecclesiology is radically different than mega-church.”

I agree with David’s assessment. Despite megachurches adopting missional language, they are not and cannot truly be, missional; this is one of the misuses of the word which we hope to see corrected. I like the concepts which his list of reasons brings forward ₁ not only the incarnational aspect, but that of communitas, which is built in the context of missional engagement. He also gives us our first mention of post-Christian culture, which is the situation which began to give rise to this rediscovery of missional engagement, and for the first time to put language to it. That said, missional endeavours to be culture-neutral, contextualizing as need be. Megachurch, on the other hand, is specifically geared toward modern Christendom.

David Wierzbicki rounds out today’s trinity of Davids. His post is essentially a personal reflection on a commissioning service he had just attended. “What I heard today was a point by point upholding of the old ways. The ‘take Jesus to the dark places where they didn’t have him, and tell them the message that will save their soul from flames’ way of doing mission. It wasn’t all bad, but much of it was downright horrible.”

As a personal reflection, David’s post (like the first David above) is not a formal treatment of defining missional, but as one reads it, it becomes clear how different the thinking is and how far it needs to shift in some quarters. This post in fact illustrates some of what’s been said already about paradigm shifts.

“DoSi wrote in German, so I had to use an online translator to read it (as linked). Such translations are necessarily a little “wooden” at best, but the point still comes across. Mostly. The post begins with reference to a Trinitarian God and describes part of the story arc of Scripture. The aim of mission is the Kingdom of God, the doing of God’s will on earth as in heaven. Conceptually, the post appears to include incarnational ministry and the fact that the mission is God’s mission.

I’m interacting with all the tough ones today! ;^) The automated translation tool makes it difficult to do much more than pick out the themes of the post, which are recurring in many of the posts we’ve looked at so far. This is the first one we’ve seen so far to refer to the Kingdom of God though — another helpful addition.

Doug Jones reframes the question to ask, “what is the mission of God?” In order to answer this, he first discusses who God is and what he does, saying, “In Genesis one we see that God relates within the various parts of the Trinity. We observe that God creates. Finally God rests.” He then suggests that we are called to be a “social and relational community” observing a rhythm of work and rest, focused on restoring the goodness of creation, or “to carefully review God’s mission as revealed in Scripture and then reflect God’s character and God’s priorities in our everyday life.”

Doug takes us back to the beginning, to understanding who God is — by saying he is social, he incorporates the trinitarian view we’ve already mentioned. The wider view of restoring creation has been hinted at, but is a bit more strongly stated. The rhythm of work and rest may perhaps be understood as the “rhythm of life” that is being discussed in some quarters of missional conversation, particularly those which intersect with monastic thought and the formation of missional orders. This speaks again to “the everyday” or ordinary functions of life within which missional engagement occurs.

Including all we’ve said so far, we can now say:

  • the term missional is misused by many who don’t understand it;
  • missional church is not the same as emerging church;
  • simply adding the term doesn’t make it so;
  • missional is incarnational;
  • individual missional engagement, not just corporate engagement, matters;
  • missional church roots itself in history by taking a long view of its engagement;
  • missional church is in the hands of the so-called “laity”;
  • missional is a buzz-word only to those who don’t have it in their DNA;
  • missional engagement thrives in the context of third places;
  • missional is a paradigm that should be innate to every healthy church;
  • The missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae;
  • missional builds communitas;
  • the mission is to extend the Kingdom of God; and
  • missional engagement takes place within the ordinary, everyday rhythm of life.

We’ll leave it at that for now, and resume with Part IV next week. So far we have a few threads coming together from common themes that have begun to recur… and we’re only 15 posts into the process. Perhaps I’ll have to pick up the pace a little!

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