Ed Stetzer suggests that we can avoid the trouble that shipwrecked the missio dei movement in part “by going back and looking at the roots of the missional movement and having a robust theological discussion that heightens our awareness of the issues at hand.”
To this end, our synchro-series turns its attention first to the intersection of missiology and soteriology. One might expect this relationship to be “a given,” but perhaps for just this reason it bears a slightly closer inspection. In his intro-post on Monday, Ed notes that “some consider the transmission of salvation as a physical process” (sacramentalist) while “[o]thers think that salvation is transferred by moral action[, where] salvation is not so much something to be acquired by some individual or organization and conveyed to others, as it is something created by shifting the state of affairs.” Thirdly, he writes, “Evangelical theologies have generally represented a third idea: salvation is a work of grace, accomplished by Christ, and received by faith alone. In the meritorious sense, the recipient is passive.”
Jonathan Dodson talks about how in some circles, mission emphasizes social activism to the apparent neglect of evangelism, while in others, evangelism is more important than social activism. Mission reduces people to evangelistic projects. He notes that “How we understand the person and work of Christ should affect our understanding and practice of mission.” I might paraphrase his question in other words to ask, how much more is Jesus than a good example?
I was going to be surprised if nobody brought up the concept of salvation extended to creation rather than just human individuals. Is God saving individuals, or is he saving a singular bride comprising many individuals? Jared Wilson didn’t disappoint:
The answer to the question is this: The missional church’s scope of salvation will determine the scope of its mission. Is Jesus saving souls but damning creation? Or is he saving souls not just for their escape from hell but to be the princes under his kingship over a coming new heavens and earth, the restoration of the brokenness of all things?
I further loved it when Jared said, “The two great failures of the evangelical church today are failures of the highest magnitude: neglected proclamation of the gospel and refused embodiment of the gospel.” He states that a both/and approach is necessary if we are to avoid being legalists or self-idolators. Jared’s post was, in fact, a highlight of the discussion for me this week: The Two-Fisted Gospel: A Manifesto for Kingdom Militancy.
David Fitch responds to Ed’s contention that salvation took a turn during the Enlightenment, saying
I don’t think either Luther or Calvin imagined what modernity would eventually do in isolating and reducing the atonement to a forensic transaction between each individual and God. This view of salvation became fully flowered in American revivalistic evangelicalism. This view of salvation, I would argue, has done as much damage to the furtherance of Mission in the world as the protestant mainline development.
This plus the ecumenical error to which Ed refers, says David, is a two-pronged assault that leaves us with an “over hyped, individualized salvation that takes the shape of either people individually promoting a Kingdom enlightenment agenda for justice… or people promoting a version of a ticket out of hell for individuals.”
In the discussion that ensued in response to the various posts, Scott Boren chimes in:
If we want to talk about salvation then we need to speak to the nature of the problem. What’s wrong with the world? When we talk about this, it’s clear that we have to go back to creation and to what God intended for the world. Adam was charged to steward creation, not just to have a individual relation with God. We have a creation problem, which of course includes people, but the issues that need salvation are larger than getting people to individually receive grace through faith.
Simply put: instead of responding to Ed’s question in the way it has been framed, I think that having a missional imagination calls us to reframe the question around God’s intent of creation, how we messed it up and what God seeks to bring to restore creation.
I like what David, Jared, and Scott contribute in the rejection of certain phrasings of the question as a means of rejecting a false dichotomy (which I don’t think Ed intended other than for discussion purposes) between two poles that have been at odds for some time. It speaks to me of pendulum-swings where everyone argues the evils of one extreme without realizing that its removal means the pendulum won’t swing at all. By which I mean not that we’ll be left with balance but that we’ll be left without the necessary expressions from each side: each is impotent without the other.
Responding to the question of the week, David refers to a paraphrase of N.T. Wright to say that salvation is “the working of God in the world to make all things right” to say that we transition “from asking people ‘have you made a decision to accept Christ as your personal Lord and savior?’ to inviting others to join us in entering the salvation begun in Jesus Christ that God is working for the sake of the whole world.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, Tim Heerebout also advocates “a theology of ‘both/and’,” saying that he cannot “understand why people insist on polarizing the gospel so much.” He reminds us of the command to love both God and people, saying there is “no reconciliation to God without reconciliation to humanity. If we over-emphasize the personal conversion/reconciliation to God through Jesus then we miss the second half of what Jesus was asking of us — that is to follow His example of love to humanity.” Others responded with similar sentiment; John L said that “if we limit salvation to one specific view… we risk making Jesus into a reflection of our own incomplete nature.” In a slightly different vein, Michael DeFazio wrote,
If we assume that salvation is liberation from the powers of sin and death, then salvation cannot be separated from our actual lives — what we do in and with them, etc. And it is here that Jesus’ “example” saves us, by showing us how to walk the way of salvation. Here it also becomes clear that “example” is really not the right word for what we’re trying to say (and maybe using it is part of what continues to obstruct the larger re-definition of what salvation and being saved are all about). Really we’re talking about Jesus as our path-clearer or trailblazer.
Overall, the clearest message was along the lines that salvation is not a social or propositional matter, but somehow involves both faith and action, particularly to the extent that the action involved will somehow extend the Kingdom of God or aid in bringing salvation to all of creation in some way. The precise manner of this last transaction is somewhat vague, and perhaps it is so of necessity.
A question was raised about missiology or ecclesiology needs to come first, and this is an excellent point. For my part I have to say missiology first, because God has a church in the world because he has a mission in the world. In other words, defining the mission allows us to define the church. If we define the church first, we run the danger of a missiology geared toward the church rather than toward Christ. Concern was also voiced about some denominational circles being more concerned about survival than growth, meaning that there seems to be greater concern about the fact that the numbers are dwindling than the fact that people are “lost.”
The subject of the nature of salvation in a missional context requires more exploration than it’s been given thus far, but already a direction for the topic seems to be emerging. Whatever view of missional salvation eventually finds acceptance, it will be a broad one that looks beyond the needs of an individual to avoid an undesirable afterlife.
Jump in with further thoughts below.
Perhaps soteriology and missional are similar in that they cannot be contained by any single expression or idea. No two people will hold the exact idea-experience of salvation, even though we all point to the identical, historical-yet-timeless, transcendent Source of that salvation.
Missional might then be characterized as that place where we all agree to be pointing at the same Person, but each has a different perspective on what they see. There’s nothing unhealthy about sincere differences of perception. It would be robotic and un-human to NOT have differences of perception.
I like what John King said on Clayton’s site the other day, “No matter how much more a Christian may want to say about the New Testament, I would hope that we could all agree that it is the permanent starting point for our common identity. Dare I say more?”