John Franke on ‘What is Missional Church?’

The word ‘missional’ is all abuzz these days and perhaps can be more than a bit ‘squishy’ (to use a technical theological term). What I mean by this is that much of the time missional comes to mean what me or my tribe can squeeze out of it. Of course this doesn’t just happen with the word missional. Language in general can be squishy and so we can (and do) have this same phenomena with ‘gospel’ and ‘evangelical’ as well – to name just a couple more examples. I often hear people say that a word like missional has become so diluted, overused, and misused that we should just give it up. I believe this would be a mistake and that we do well to theologically discipline our speech about church and mission instead of simply throwing the word out. Without such theological discipline we will simply repeat the same pattern with whatever new language we choose.

The squishiness of missional language occurs often I think when we begin with what we are doing for God instead of the missional character and activity of Father, Son, and Spirit in the world. The missional nature of the triune God issues forth into not simply a church with mission as a program or department or that is ‘missions minded’ (as the Baptist churches I grew up in liked to say) but a church that is itself the instrument of mission, a missional church. Similarly, the nature of theology will not simply be theology with a missional component or missional subdivision or missional box that can be simply checked off, but a truly missional theology. As the church increasingly faces the challenges of globalism and moves ever more into a culture where the nostalgia of Christendom is losing sway, we will do well to ‘thicken’ our descriptions of the missional nature of church and theology. Thus, the present ‘missional conversation’ is both timely and vital.

In the video below John Franke gives a good introduction and primer to missional theology and missional church grounded in the missional nature and activity of the triune God. For further discussions see Franke’s The Character of Theology: An Introduction to its Nature, Task, and Purpose – A Postconservative Evangelical Approach and Franke’s afterward in Stan Grenz’s Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era entitled ‘An Agenda for the Future of Evangelical Theology.’

John Franke: What is Missional Church? from Allelon on Vimeo.

A (Love) Note Concerning Fifteen Years of Marriage to My Beloved

Special note: My beloved goes by C.C. to the rest of the world yet I refer to her as Christie. Even after fifteen years I still find myself in the position of explaining this little quirk in our marriage to folks quite often. It really seems to confuse people sometimes. A few have even jumped to the conclusion, before they thought it through, that C.C. must be my wife while Christie must be my girlfriend or something. Well, ummm, no! Its simple really – the initials stand for Christie Cherie which she shortened to C.C. after we were married. Yet, I fell in love with her calling her Christie and still do so (and do so all throughout this post). Its that simple. That’s all there is too it. C.C. and Christie refer to the same person. There are no girlfriends on the side or split personalities involved, I promise!

“Marriage is foremost a vocation & a spiritual reality. A man and a woman come together for life to fulfill a mission that God has given them.” Henri Nouwen

Fifteen years! It almost takes the breath away. There were even people who told us we wouldn’t make it. Suffice it to say, they were (and are) wrong.

Fifteen years! Its hard, really, to know where to begin. The first thing I noticed about Christie was her blue eyes – absolutely beautiful and enrapturing. I still remember the first moment I looked into her eyes. Though she didn’t know it, she had me right then. Or there is the kiss of her lips. Simply sweet and intoxicating to this very day! I remember our first kiss. There was definitely no turning back after that. It was simple, I couldn’t say exactly why, but I knew we had to get married – and get married we did. And there is the touch of her skin – exhilarating, warm, and comforting – all from just the touch of fingertips or the holding of hands.

Fifteen years! I really didn’t think I could ever be more in live with Christie than the day we married or her ever be more beautiful – and beautiful she was! But I am man enough to admit I was wrong. Our marriage has been one in which love has grown. I am more in love with her at this very moment than ever before. Love is just like that, it keeps multiplying. And if she could see what I see, it would be a woman who is even more beautiful to me now. Each day with her I seem to find more beauty that I had not discovered previously. How wonderfully beautiful our Creator has made my beloved. It seems there’s a never ending surplus!

Fifteen years! And she’s even more now ‘the other side of me.’ Looking back, it seems I had really little to no idea who I was when we married. Christie has helped me to know myself … she has given me the gift of not only herself but me as well. I truly believe that this gift, the gift of ‘who I am’ if you will, can only be given to us in relationship to others. It’s not a gift we can confer on ourselves as a solitary practice. I think this is one of the reasons we have the church – the community of God’s people imaged after and participants in the divine triune communion. I think marriage works like this as well – imaged after and participants in triune love and grace. After a lot of practice, which has included much failure as well as success on my part, I can attest that we really only ‘find ourselves’ when we pour ourselves out for other people. Marriage is like this – a most intimate daily pouring out of oneself for another person. We call this sort of thing faithfulness.

Fifteen years! Yet the month of September comes to us as bittersweet. Eight yrs ago on September 1st would have been our little Noah Avery’s due date. Fourteen yrs ago our little Jordan Taylor went to be with our Lord. On this day, our anniversary day, our little Micah Jayden was due to be born eleven years ago. Though we weren’t able to meet Jordan Taylor, Micah Jayden, & Noah Avery in person (yet) … we love and miss our babies all the same. Even after all these years Christie & I profoundly feel and lament their absence from us each day. Contrary to what many have told us we do not believe we need to ‘get over’ our grief or see it as unhealthy. We conduct our mourning not only as a natural aspect of parents who have lost their children but as a husband a wife within the intimate communion of marriage. We grieve (and rejoice) together.

Fifteen years! Yes, we have experienced much grief, but we have not grieved as those without hope. The ‘not yet’ of the Kingdom points towards and will one day fully give way to the ‘already’ of the Kingdom of God. For this reason, we also rejoice that one day we’ll see them face to face with King Jesus. We do not believe this will be in some sort of dis-embodied ‘heaven’ (see N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope for more on this) as many seem to imply. The blessed hope of participation in Christ’s bodily resurrection means that in the ‘new heavens and new earth’ we will be able to touch them and hug them and hold them in our arms. It is in large part because of all of the above that theology for me can never be an ‘ivory tower’ discipline divorced from reality and human experience. The incarnation of our liberating King Jesus, the blessed hope we have because of his resurrection, and our participation in the communion of Father, Son, and Spirit touches ALL aspects of the human story – reaching down even into the depths of our grief and mourning. This is our story.

Fifteen years! Christie has been my teacher by being my best friend and wife. She would probably say I’m the ‘real’ theologian, but she has taught me the nature of the marriage bond as a sacrament in which we encounter the triune love and grace of Father, Son, and Spirit together within the faithfulness of the marriage covenant. This is something I could never learn simply just from a book! And there’s more – what it means to be a man, a husband, a daddy, a friend, a lover, a pastor/chaplain, to grieve well, to rejoice well and laugh often – I have learned from her as wife, mother, lover, pastor/chaplain, and friend. I have learned from her the meaning of loving faithfulness. What it means to be Christlike I have learned mainly from her. Whatever accomplishments, academic or otherwise, I have would not be possible without her. They are hers as much as mine. I (we) certainly wouldn’t have Damaris (our amazing and soon to be 13 year old daughter) without her! In the final analysis I know more of the triune love and grace of Father, Son, and Spirit because of the faithful love of Christie, my beloved, to me.

Happy fifteenth anniversary sweetheart. You are more beautiful to me than words can say. I still get tongue tied after all these years. I am blessed beyond measure by your faithful love to me. I am thankful that YOU are the mother of our children. I give thanks that you are my life partner in pursuing the mission of God. I praise God for the gift of you in my life. I ‘fall in love’ more and more all over again each and every day. Thank you for being my wife – my beloved.

Songs from our wedding:

Geoff Moore – If You Could See What I See

Michael W. Smith – The Other Side of Me

N.T. Wright on ‘The Shape of Paul’s Theology’

Below is a very good video in which N.T. Wright gives a fifteen minute introduction to the shape of the Apostle Paul’s theology. There are some things, I think, of particular note as you watch.

First, there is what Wright does not mention – in this case neither Paul’s theology of justification or the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith (and no, the two are not coterminous as some assume). This will be troubling to a great many evangelicals who consider justification in some form to be the epicenter of Paul’s theology. On this we should remember however, that even the conservative Reformed theologian Thomas Schreiner does not think justification is Paul’s theological center. Schreiner says that what God has done in Christ and Jesus himself is Paul’s center. (See for instance his chapter in Four Views on the Apostle Paul and his interview with Credo magazine.)

Second, Wright does us a great service by placing Paul in his first century context as the Jewish theologian he was. Too much of Paul talk has simply read Martin Luther’s problems with personal guilt and his issues with the medieval Catholic church back onto PauI. I think this sort of anachronism has overdetermined how Reformed and Evangelical theology since has treated ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel’ and ‘justification’ – these things being stripped from their narrative context and ‘systematized’ as it were, such that the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith became basic shorthand for and equated with the gospel. (For more on this see Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.)

The problem here, of course is that Paul was not a first century Martin Luther and the Judaism of Paul’s day was not the first century equivalent of the medieval Catholic church. Now, Paul surely does have a theology of justification by faith and the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith does say some things that are true. However, I would still say that 1) we get justification in Paul wrong when it is simply equated with the Reformation doctrine of justification and 2) we get the gospel itself wrong when it is simply equated with the Reformation doctrine of justification (which in American evangelicalism becomes further reduced to something like the ‘plan of individual salvation’).

Third, Wright’s mention for Christians to speak truth to power is instructive for the church in the U.S. during an election year when too many Christians are content to be pandered too with superficial God talk and do not have the wherewithal to avoid being used as pawns in American politics (left, right, and in between). Pay special attention here to Wright’s comments with Romans 1:14-16 in the background. I think here we get some important background that informs as to precisely what ‘gospel’ Paul was not ashamed of in Romans (and it has very little to do with our modern plan of salvation). Wright’s comments on I Thessalonians 5:2 concerning ‘peace and security’ as a Roman state slogan and a ‘giant con’ and a ‘protection racket’ I think has an important parallel for present day American Christians who embrace too readily the peace, security, prosperity, success, or happiness of the civil religion of Americanism or one’s political platform. As Wright states, ‘Jesus is the reality of which Caesar [and the Democrats, Republicans, or any other political ideology] is the parody.’ The gospel of the cruciform King Jesus should call into question ALL other political ideologies. ‘Jesus is Lord [King], Caesar is not’ forms the basic identity forming ‘politics’ and paradigmatic narrative for God’s people in Paul’s thought.

Fourth, in the second half of the video Wright sums up the three big themes of Paul’s theology as monotheism (or one God), election (or one people of God), and eschatology (or one future for God’s world). Each of these Wright emphasizes, gains a trinitarian focus as they have been rethought and reworked by Paul in light of the faithfulness of Jesus as the Messiah and the experience of the Spirit. With all this, Wright is summarizing the thrust of much of the argument in his book, Paul: In Fresh Perspective which has been instrumental in helping me to grasp Paul’s thought here and the integrating my own focus on trinitarian theology with narrative (and even missional) theology. I highly recommend it.

(HT: —of Paper, Pints, and Tweed)