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

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Stanley Hauerwas on Confusing the ‘American’ We with the ‘Christian’ We

The video below is from a question and answer session with Stanley Hauerwas after a lecture he gave at Azusa Pacific University. His remarks are specifically in response to a question about Christian non-violence, but also speak well to the state of the church in the U.S. as we come off our most recent (and contentious) election cycle.

But an aside before getting to that: I want to be a better blogger, really I do. I am told that blogging regularly requires momentum, something that I can’t seem to really bring to critical mass for myself. Its not like I’ve nothing to write about. I’ve actually quite a bit really – thoughts are always churning through my head, but between the day job, the reading I do (which, while I consider it slow is still vociferous and something of a barely well-managed obsession :-)), and family time I find myself without a lot of uninterrupted time to put these thoughts into something readable. I’m told by a friend with whom I converse about theology and such that my insights and questions are helpful to him, not only in how he thinks about his faith but also in his spirituality (and of course the two are intimately interwoven) and he has exhorted, “Other people need to be able to hear/read what you’re saying. This is good stuff Russell. Why don’t you put this (whatever we are talking about) on your blog?” Well, there’s no quitting my job unfortunately, and the reading/conversations I have are a big part of what provokes my theological imagination. What’s left is family time and I have decided not to cut into that as much as absolutely possible and I think in the short and long run this is for the best. So, all that to say, I want to be a better (ie, more consistent and regular) blogger and less sporadic … but I’m not making any promises.

Ok, now on to the video…

I have a great love for the church. In fact, I see my vocation as being an ecclesial theologian – or that is, a theologian for the church in its 21st century, post-Christendom missional context (we could perhaps try to chase down what this looks like, and I have some thoughts, but I’ll save that for some other time). That being said, I find myself grieving quite intensely for the church in North American right now. On the heels of our presidential election it seems to me that far too much of the church has simply adopted the culture war (seen in terms of polarized American politics and its cultural forms as ‘cultural’ Christianity loses favor with the slow demise of Christendom), civil religion of Americanism/nationalism, and ‘Christian’ nation narratives far too readily.

These narratives have been evidenced in more than one conversation I’ve been privy to since the election that basically says that with the decline of the U.S. as no longer a ‘godly nation’ under Obama, Texas should secede and become its own ‘godly nation’ (I’m serious, this is the actual language that has been used). As far as I can see all three of these false narratives are at play in this kind of talk and are wholly and completely bad for the health, identity, and mission of the church. God has a people and an alternative polis or city with its own differently order ‘politics’ – that of cruciform love. This people and this polis is the church, not a supposed ‘Christian’ or even ‘godly’ nation-state in any form. More could (and needs to) be said on this, but the church, God’s ecclesia, is largely subsumed and co-opted under the weight of these alien narratives; the acceptance of which reveal, I think, that the church at large in the U.S. is in something of an identity crisis. Hauerwas gets to the heart of this identity crisis well in the video when he remarks that far too often,

…the ‘American’ we has been confused with the ‘Christian’ we.

I think Hauerwas speaks well here with much needed wisdom for the church in the U.S. May we heed his words.

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.