Missional – You Keep Using That Word…

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‎”What is the church? It is the unifying, sanctifying, reconciling, and proclaiming activity of Jesus Christ in the world. Mission cannot be something separate from or added to the essence of the Church. The essential nature of the local congregation is, in and of itself, mission, or else the congregation is not really the Church.” Charles Van Engen

“…the church is a sign, a servant and a foretaste of the kingdom of God…” Leslie Newbigin

Missional is everywhere it seems but has become something of a Rorschach inkblot in which folks can see whatever they want – or (along with the language of ‘narrative’ and ‘story’ that is now also being co-opted) simply a new label that can be used to repackage whatever a church has always done or the same standard consumer Evangelical pragamtism with a new wrapper.

When this happens I always want to reply back (along with Inigo Montoya),

“Missional … you keep using that word, I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

The missional shift is ultimately not merely another program of the church or a pragmatic response to decreased attendance or cultural marginalization, but a renewed and robust theological vision rooted in the triune sending of the church by Father, Son, and Spirit in and for the world as a sign, servant, and foretaste of the Kingdom…

“Mission was understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It was thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology, or soteriology. The classical doctrine on the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and Son sending the Spirit was expanded to include yet another ‘movement’: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sending the church in the world.” David Bosch

“The missional church vision is not a programmatic response to the crisis of relevance, purpose and identity that the church in the Western World is facing, but a recapturing of biblical views of the Church all too frequently abandoned, ignored, or obscured through long periods of church history. It is a renewed theological vision of the church in mission, which redefines the nature, the mission and the organization of the local church around Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom. Missional churches seek to respond to God’s invitation to join Him in His mission in and for the world, as a sign, a servant and a foretaste of His Kingdom.” Charles Ringma

N.T. Wright on ‘The Whole Sweep of Scripture’

“Until we wrestle with Scripture like that we are not really honoring it. If this is the book God meant us to have by the Spirit, then it is important we actually take that seriously instead of just snipping it down to make it digestible; like somebody with a huge banquet in front of them who insists on going to the back room and just making a peanut butter sandwich instead.” N.T. Wright

Below is a really great video from ‘The Work of the People’ with N.T. Wright on how to read the Bible. In it he touches on a problem that I take to be rather rampant in North American Christianity – that of picking and choosing verses here and there to the neglect of the whole story.

The holes in North American hermeneutics are revealed in the pursuit of agendas (whether consciously or unconsciously) of making the Bible merely into a source of raw data and proof texts for personal systematic theologies and apologetics (like the HCSB Apologetics Study Bible), a ‘life application’ instruction book (a la the Life Application Study Bible), or a self-help manual (have you seen the Joel Osteen Hope for Today or Joyce Meyer Everyday Life Bibles?). [Yes, I realize I probably just picked on some people’s favorite ‘study helps’ in this paragraph.]

Americans love control and I personally believe these (again, whether consciously or unconsciously) are ways that Scripture is held a bay and at a safe distance … one verse at a time.

Instead Wright encourages us to get swept up in the ‘whole sweep of Scripture’ and compares reading the Bible to listening to a symphony. One of the points of course is that one doesn’t merely listen to a symphony ‘one note at a time’ – one necessarily listens to and experiences the whole thing. To do otherwise simply doesn’t make sense and is to miss the point of the symphony itself. And it also occurs to me that the thought of a ‘note of the day’ devotional is rather odd; its inconceivable that one would think they can get swept up in the symphony in this way. Yet ‘verse of the day’ devotionals seem to be the steady diet of a great many North American Christians.  Are we settling for peanut butter sandwiches when there is a banquet available?

I say let’s put away the daily verse approach and really ‘press our noses against the window’ of Scripture.

The Whole Sweep Of Scripture from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

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.