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.
That we are living in a time of increasing globalization and pluralization should not surprise anyone. Christians in the West increasingly have to learn how to exist in a world that is increasingly post-Christendom in orientation. I am one that would agree with those who claim the increasing pluralization does not mean we are necessarily becoming more secular. It seems to me at least, that many Christians witness the loss of Christian influence in the wider culture and politics in particular and simply call it ‘secularism’. But the loss of Christian influence in a pluralistic culture does not mean we are becoming more ‘secular’. What pluralization does mean is that our world (and North America included) is more and more religiously and ideologically diverse (having even more non-Christian faiths and ideologies represented) and that these religious expressions and ideologies are increasingly bumping up against each other.
And many Christians, to be honest, are not making the transition well. It saddens and grieves me that so many turn to the wider ‘culture wars’ to ‘fight’ things out and maintain Christian influence. But not only are the culture wars bad, I believe, for democracy (in that they ruin our ability to converse effectively, only increase polarization on both sides, and simply feed into a political system that upholds the already rich and powerful), but I believe fervently the culture wars are also bad for the gospel (in that they have the tendency to make a the gospel a bludgeon, to name just one reason) and hinder the missional faithfulness of a gospel shaped people in our context.
There is a way to contend for the gospel of the kingdom of God in our context, but I do not believe it to be the ‘power over’ way of the culture wars (especially the variety of culture wars that are entangled in American politics). It is so hard to truly love like Jesus when we are all busy ‘warring’ with each other. I would much rather see Christians live out our faith as peacemakers in the line of Jesus and as cruciform agents of self-sacrificial reconciliation – to be those that live the gospel and Jesus story as our core identity among our neighbors (be they Muslim, Buddhist, straight, LGBTQ, Hindu, Black, White, or however else people may self-identify). In order to do this well we have to take account of what it means to live in a common world with multiple faiths.
Miroslav Volf (who grew up in a totalitarian state) has written a very good book called A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good in which he discusses how to live the gospel well in the midst of post-Christendom pluralization. The video below provides a good introduction to the theme of ‘Multiple Faiths, Common World‘.
(HT: Allan Bevere)
May the peace of our liberating King Jesus be with you.