Tag Archive: Mission


The authors of Missional Church have provided a wonderful arrangement of coherent, systematic, and thought-provoking theology concerning the state of the Church in North America.  The work captures all the key points of the missional dialogue.  In fact, when the book is read with others in the field of mission and evangelism the book holds a unique place.  In one sense it looks back and recapitulates much of the missional discussion from previous generations.  Yet, the book also points forward to a new vision for what it means to be the church today and in the future.  This theologically engaging book serves as the hinge and turning point for future debate.

Looking back to look ahead also drives the content of the work.  Repeatedly the authors trace the historical trajectory of the most important developments in North American religious history.  Yet beautifully, the authors do not simply end the discussion with the current state.  The offer a vision and challenge for the church to write the next chapter of the church’s history.  They challenge readers to assume their roles in the unfolding of God’s mission.  They challenge the church to be faithful to the tradition, critiquing it when appropriate, and forging new ways to be distinguishable from its current surroundings in order to make visible and witness faithfully to the in-breaking reign of God.

One of the strengths of the work lies in the authors’ ability to consistently return to the New Testament for the apostolic witness and structure of the church.  If we ask ourselves if a contemporary church practices is too relevant and potentially unfaithful, check it against the New Testament.  If we struggle to grasp the essence of Christianity, return to Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom.

In this strength, however, may be a weakness.  The author’s repeatedly depict the landscape of the new modern world.  It’s a world of autonomous thinkers and rational decision-making. It is – in a word – an Enlighten world.  We are unable to turn back the clock.  A simple, “do what Jesus did” may not sufficiently address the issues of new world.  Some translation of “the way Jesus did it” is necessary.  Here the authors sometimes fail to bridge the gap, not adequately translating Jesus’ way into the stream of the North American ways.  (It is interesting to note that the authors rarely call for a demanding critique of culture.  Their posture is often one of convergence and cooperation.  For this reason I would have liked to have more about the translability of the gospel into our time.)

Missional Church is also restricted by its publication date.  Published in 1998, the work came prior to the new wave of social media (facebook, Twitter, etc.).  Thus, when the authors briefly and generally speak of technology, they cannot fully grasp the implications of it.  For all of the talk of “community” in Missional Church, I would love to hear their thoughts on the cyber-communities that exist today.  To the facebook “communities,” I imagine they would say that the church must be tangible human community marked and made to be much more than what appears on the surface.

In all, Missional Church is a highly worthwhile endeavor for any student of mission and evangelism.  I was challenged both as Christian and as a church leader by the history and vision the authors outlined.  I am called by God and challenged by Missional Church to “not be content to equip the church for maintenance and security…to not indulge the temptation to compromise with worldly power” (268).

This is the final review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

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In chapter eight, the authors argued that particular missional communities are the crux of God’s mission in the world.  Such communities, however, cannot operate in isolation from one another.  “Particularity is not exclusivity” (248).  Rather, the people of God are a universal community of communities (248).  Individual communities flow from the particular of their contexts into the wholeness of the catholic church.  However, this oneness is not limited to institutional unity or good public relations.  Rather, particular missional communities existing in more concrete, practical, and fruitful ways to give a unified witness to the one Lord.

How did the early church do this? (As you can by now, “Let’s get back to the early church” is a prominent theme in Missional Church).  The early church, the writers argue, demonstrated its connectedness through the canonization of scripture and formation of doctrine and confessions.  However, the early church’s strong connectedness eventually succumbed to institutionalization.  David Bosch argues that the failure of the early church was that it ceased to be a movement and turned into an institution (252).  As an institution, the structures of the church in the first centuries (as well as today) may be susceptible to cultural compromise.  For Christians today this susceptibility may mean adopting the latest corporate marketing strategies or hiring processes over and against the biblical witness of fair, faithful, and just business practices.

The authors also explore the four Nicean “marks of the Church” (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic), and their implications for today.  An apostolic church is based on the teaching and preaching of the apostles, carrying forward their legacy.  In the same way the apostles gave witness in their lives and work to the good news of Jesus Christ, so too the Church follows in their footsteps.  The Church’s catholicity is demonstrated in all the ways that the Church witnesses to the one gospel that draws all people unto Christ (257).  Particular communities live out this catholicity when they serve Christ in their own context, yet understand that is it not the only way to be a Christian community.  A community of holiness is expressed in the ways a particular community functions as one set apart for God’s mission. Holiness becomes evident in communal practices of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, righteousness, and justice.  Finally, the oneness of the Church – unity – is the result of the Church’s faithfulness to apostolicity, holiness, and catholicity.  In the midst of a world of competitiveness, wastefulness, and contention, the Church exists to offer a different way, a united way.

The authors conclude their discussion of the connected nature of the missional church by arguing that the four marks of the church are essential for a connected, missional church.  Such “marks,” when faithfully and honestly lived, represent the missional unity that “transcends all human boundaries and cultural distinctions” (265).  This unity, or connectedness, is the future of the faithful church embodying God’s reign.  Accountability and cooperation, not classic congregationalism, is the way forward for connected missional communities.

While I greatly appreciate the vision the authors present for the church of the 21st century, I remain fuzzy on the details.  The idea of a “community of communities” sounds absolutely faithful, fruitful, and scriptural.  However, I’m unclear what this “looks like.”  It does not seem as if the authors are arguing for institutional unity or uniform organizational polity.  A national “connected” church that exists as collaboration among the thousands of already existing churches does not appear to be the goal.  What then does this “community” look like?  There is no doubt that a conversion of existing church structures is needed if the Church is to be more “unified, holy, apostolic, and catholic,” but how do we discern the next move?

This is the ninth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

After describing the nature and leadership of a missional church, the authors examine how such a church might organize itself for its missional vocation?  The authors outline three principles for the structuring of the missional church.  First, the scriptures are authoritative for the formation of the structures.  The authors point to the early church as one that makes clear that the church must have structure.  The early church structured its life around regular meetings, mutual encouragement, hymns, and instruction.  Leadership functioned for guidance and oversight.  Even more, in each early church context, the church was a concrete reality (think of the Incarnation), not a nebulous abstraction.

Second, the authors claim that a missional church structure must have cultural diversity within its structures.  They argue that from the outset, the church was mandated to be multicultural (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth).  We might also think of those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost.  The Church is multicultural because God’s people are formed in distinctive ways in each context (233).

Finally, the local particular community is the basic missional structure of the church.  “The basic form of Christian witness is a company of followers of Jesus called by God’s spirit and joined together as God’s people in a particular place” (233).  The authors point out that this definition of “church” is particularly challenging in North America.  The North American assumption is that this organization or structure will manifest itself as a local congregation.  Oftentimes, these local congregations are determined by geographic.  But now, however, people move, change jobs, or live in multiple places.  The authors challenge the North American context to re-imagine what communities and parishes look like.  If the church is more than a building or a place, what might a “local particular community” of believers look like today?  How might it function to give glory to God in its context?

The analysis of local churches, the authors argue, begins with testing the structural integrity of local churches.  Only after we know the history or a particular church can we discern how the local church might be more than a geographic holding place for the community.  We must be open to the scriptures confronting and transforming out mindset, attitudes, and assumptions about our structure (247).

While the authors raise several valid claims about “particular communities,” the particulars of any proposed structure are absent.  I would have appreciated a more concrete vision of how these three principles work together to form the Church in the North American landscape.  The chapter left me feeling this way: It’s raining (Christianity is in trouble).  I am currently covered by an umbrella (the structure I have always known).  However, the authors have taken away from umbrella (structure) and not replaced it with anything (despite the rain!).

This is the eighth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

Equipping God People for Mission

To this point, the authors have focused on the context that has shaped the church and how the church may move forward into a new world.  In chapter seven they turn to the key to the formation of missional communities: Leadership.  They present leadership as one of the spiritual gifts provided by the Spirit, gifts which all people possess.  The characteristics of the form of leadership necessary in the new world include: biblical and theological astuteness, skillfulness in understanding society and culture, and courage and endurance.  The authors claim that the purpose of missional community leadership is to form and equip a people who announce and witness the reign of God.

How does this leadership come about in the Church?  First, church leaders must be shaped by the revelation of Jesus Christ.   Just as Jesus called disciples, leaders call God’s children to participate in the continuation of Jesus’ ministry.  Leaders guide the community of God’s people as the sign and witness of what happened in the Incarnation.  This Christ-shaped leadership involves more than preaching and teaching.  It involves attending to the whole spiritual well being of the community.  Second, missional leadership must be shaped by the Spirit’s formation of the post-Pentecost community.  Leaders must trust that the Spirit will guide and quip according to the Spirit’s purpose.  Finally, leaders are those who are shaped by eschatology.  They lead with an eye towards the flock and with an eye towards the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, the current forms of leadership are not adequate, the authors claim.  They do not fit the description of scriptural missional leadership. Oftentimes pastoral leaders are molded as counselors, managers, or technicians.  The authors chart the trends in clerical roles this way:

  • Apostles to Priests: around 200 ad clerical roles took the form of a specialized life.  Apostles became “priests” with sacramental authority charged as manufacturers and operators of liturgies.
  • Priests to Pedagogues – during the Reformation, church leaders become “keepers and guarantors of the Word,” teaching, preaching, overseeing right doctrine.
  • Pedagogue to Professional – Beginning in the mid-17th century (Enlightenment), training and functioning of the church was handed over to institutions of reason and rationalism…this is the case today.

How might leaders recapture a scriptural and spiritual model for leadership?  The writers propose that leaders must become like novices, “learning to recover practices that have become alien to current church experience” (199).  (The authors’ discussion of leadership and community is littered with diagrams and organizational jargon.  These items are necessary for the chapter, but not for this summary.)   Above all, leaders are called to lead missional churches as covenant communities (208).  Through accountability, learning, and listening leaders may “reform a collection of consumers, needs-centered individuals to live by an alternative narrative” (200).

Leaders must possess courage, perseverance, and a deep sense of vocation.  Christian character, academic and intellectual competency, biblical and theological training, and spiritual and communal formation skills are also necessary.  But leaders are not alone! As the authors point out, all of these qualities are not found in one person.  They suggest that leadership is most fruitful as a team function (think Eph. 4).  The authors further put the onus of this formation on denominational leaders and seminaries.  I would add discerning local congregations to the list of those responsible for raising up a new generation of church leaders.

Of the many things this chapter caused me to ponder, one question repeatedly arose in my mind: What is it…or why is it the case…that missional leaders (according to the authors’ definition and assessment) are not prevalent in the Church today?  Do they simply not exist?  Are seminaries failing to produce quality leaders?  Is it a local church dilemma?  Are the leaders out there, but being hampered by the current state/mindset of local churches?  I’m not sure blame is to be placed on any one group or entity.  Perhaps all groups are responsible.

I wonder if this problem is compounded by a loss of denominational identity among laity and clergy.  For example, in many churches there are a variety of theological, philosophical, and political views in the pews.  Such views create expectations and desires.  These expectations tempt, and may ultimately pull, pastors in various directions.  As a result, we create leadership structures that seek to meet all the needs of the parishioners.  Church leaders become caterers to the populist opinion.  I wonder then, does the pulling in multiple directions discharge the momentum of all people pulling the same direction?  Surely so.  Perhaps a recovery and rally around the core denominational traditions and theological stances may serve as a point of revitalization for tired clergy and beleaguered laity.

This is the seventh review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit

In chapter six the authors turn to the role of the Holy Spirit in creating missional communities.  Above all, the Holy Spirit, the source of all life in creation, is the community-forming grace present in missional communities.  “The church owes its origin, its destiny, its structure, its ongoing life, its ministry to the divine Spirit of life, truth, and holiness” (145).  Specifically, the Spirit calls together a community for holy living, mutual support, and sacrificial service.  Through the creation, cultivation and sustenance of the Spirit missional communities form a culture “radical hope” for a “new way of life that has become a reality in Jesus Christ” (153).

How is a Spirit-formed community sustained? By the Spirit in ecclesial practices (prayer, fellowship, singing praise).  The authors claim that the strength of such practices comes as a result of the Spirit’s historical, communal, experiential, and dynamic presence in the life of the community.  First, the authors point to the ecclesial practice of baptism, in which persons are  “incorporated into the new humanity of God’s reign” (159).  Baptism is a public declaration of a new identity and a transformed way of life.  One’s baptismal formation bounds the person’s identity as a “sent” person of God’s mission.  Likewise, the ecclesial practice of Eucharist sustains and nourishes the baptized community in their mission.  Through the sharing of everyday elements (bread/wine) around common table (companionship), the community models for the world the “sharing and receiving the basic necessities of life” (166).

Non-sacramental practices also form and sustain missional communities.  Through reconciliation we participate in acts of accountability, repentance, honesty, forgiveness, and love.  In discernment we learn to listen, hear, test, and plan our participation in God’s mission together in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Through hospitality we exhibit peace, cross boundaries, and open ourselves to others.

As the authors describe it, the missional community’s ecclesial practices are the antidote to the competitive and alienating individualism of the world.  In these practices the church is not just one more civic institution offering religious goods.  The church is a community that takes time to be gracious, reaching out to invite fellow human beings into a relationship with God.

I greatly appreciate the authors’ emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in mission.  Often it seems evangelism is reduced to proclaiming Jesus or showing God’s love.  Evangelism is something we, Christians, do.  As a community of people we walk with the Spirit, are lead by the Spirit, and sow the Spirit so that it (now us!) might manifest the fruit of the Spirit (147, Galatians 5.22).  Evangelism is a Trinitarian endeavor.  We are not alone.  We worship and proclaim one God in three persons.  Just as evangelism requires the whole of our being, it also involves the fullness of God.

This is the sixth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

In chapter five the authors investigate how the Church might discard the Christendom mind-set (i.e. the church is not privileged in society today) and become truly apostolic.  How might the Church live “in,” but not “of” the world?  How can the church be sent out on behalf of the reign of God, participating in God’s victory over evil?

The authors first note that the Church must be bicultural.  The Church needs to be “conversant in the language and customs of the surrounding culture and living toward the language and ethics of the gospel” (114).  A nonconformist stance towards the world must be buffeted by conformity with Christ.  The Church is a community shaped by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, living according to the pattern of the resurrected life in the age to come.

In an attempt to capture the political image of the Church, the authors offer the metaphor of the “church as holy nation (117).”  Scripturally, they point to 1 Peter 2.9, Matthew’s interpretation of the kingdom, and Jesus as King of kings.  The Church exists as a “political” ekklesia, an assembly gathered for decision-making.  Even more, Church worship becomes a political act.  Praise, prayer, and Scripture reading/preaching all give light to an alternative community with alternative allegiances.  Worship roots the community in the vocabulary of Jesus (Lord’s Prayer, teachings, etc.), the economics of the early church (Acts 2), and a right understanding of power (Sermon on the Mount).  “The church can make a powerful witness when it chooses to live differently from the dominate society even at just a few key points” (127).  The task of the church is to discern those key points and act!

What does an alternative community look like?  The authors claim that the “total life” of church matters.  The life of the church is not lived in separate church activities done by committees.  Rather, the whole of church life is wrapped up in witness to reign of God.  Also, the knowing (faith) and doing (works) of the gospel is vital.  An alternative community shares in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in word and deed.  Such communities are “willing to trust Jesus’ way, all the way – rather than resorting to some other way (hate, violence, deception, etc) (132).

Alternative communities of Christ also practice preaching, teaching, and healing.  Preaching means announcing the reign of God “beyond the four walls of the church building, out of the safe group of people who know and love each other, into the public square” (137).  Teaching, on the other hand, helps those who respond to the good news gospel grow in discipleship as citizens of the reign of God.  Healing comes through offering love and compassion to others, seeking restoration of mind, body, and soul.

Chapter five was spiritual reading for me.  It caused me to reflect and consider my own understanding of the Church.  What is my theology of preaching and teaching?  What am I trying to “get done” through the Spirit in my sermons and teaching moments?  What “gospel” am I conveying in my words and actions?  Does my life and community resemble an alternative to the world?

I might add this to the authors’ discussion of alternative community: When we (church leaders, theologians, etc.) present the “alternative” nature of the church we must be careful to define “alternative.”  For many, an “alternative community” depicts something different from the normal, strange, or otherworldly.  While these are true of the church in a certain sense, the Christian understanding of “alternative” is not exclusively “non-normal.”  That is to say, for the Christian, this “alternative community” is what we were created for.  God created us for worship and praise.  As children of God we were created such that this “alternative community” is “normal.”  I love what Thomas Merton wrote, “A tree gives glory to God be simply being a tree” (New Seeds of Contemplation).  Like the tree, we give glory to God by simply being whom God created us to be, children of God. For the Christian, the alternative is the normal.

This is the fifth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

Denominations…where do we go from here?

After examining the contextual forces at play in North America (chapter two), the writers turn to the unique version of Christendom in North America.  Christendom, they argue, is the relationship that was formed/exists between the church and the broader culture in North America.  As they put it, this relationship has functioned in a variety of ways.  On one hand, the Church has served a guide for the country, responsible for spiritual guidance.  At the same time, the church has acted as a political entity, addressing national policies.  In these ways (and others), the writers suggest that the Church has often found a place of privilege in society.

For some, Christianity’s relationship with the North American culture appears to be a form of Constantinianism (in reference to the legal establishment of the Christian church by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century).  However, the authors argue that over time the North American bent towards Constantinianism (legal establishment of religion) had been replaced with a functional Christendom.  That is, Christianity and the culture maintain a relationship in which both are influenced by the other.  The writers chart the course of Christendom in America this way (time period – cultural influence on Christianity):

  • 17th century – efforts at legal establishment of religion
  • mid-17th century – Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson’s influence
  • mid-18th century through mid 19th century– rise of denominations
  • late 19th through early 20th – immigration of Protestants, Catholics, Jews
  • mid-20th century – wars, civil religion
  • 1960s to today – civil rights, sexual revolution, (Individualization)

The authors argue that today the Church in North America is most influenced by denominations.  The define denominations as the type of church structure that provides “organized life of multiple congregations” (63).  They highlight the trend in denominations that has occurred over the past centuries.  Originally, as new people came to North America in the 17th century they needed a way of relating to one another.  As a result, denominations arose based on ethnicity and geography.  Today, denominations have become corporate organizations that function as rule enforcers or regulators that shape denominational identity.

Near the end of the chapter the authors call for a faithful critique of the existing denominational structures and organization in America.  Though we take denominations for granted, we must also reassess and critique their role.  Are they biblical?  Do they have a role in North America today?  As the authors put it, do denominations represent all that God intends them to be?

I echo this question wholeheartedly.  I wonder, do denominations complicate and divide the Church?  Or do they add a genuine texture of diversity?  It seems the muddling of denominational value has come as a result of a muddling of theological integrity.  Denominational boundaries are drawn not according to theological differences or worship practices, but according to differences in political stances or policy views.  Denominational identity is wrapped up in political allegiances.  How do we recover the various theological traditions that demarcate denominations?  We do so not so that those differences might push us further apart.  But how might we say where we are different in order to see where we agree?  How might a recovery of rich theological traditions within denominations revitalize denominations as instrument of God’s grace and not as institutions focused on building, growth, and strategy?

This is the third review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

An age of rationality and autonomy

Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" at University of Louisville

In chapter two the writers explore the North American context in which the church finds itself.  The Church’s “context” is both its local community and the larger national culture.  For a missional church to flourish it must intimately know and understand its context.  Churches are challenged to “translate the gospel as good news for the society to which it is sent” (18).  Upon unmasking the philosophical foundations, values, and history of a particular context the Church is more equipped to convey the gospel.  As the authors point out, churches today must be culturally relevant in order to connect with community.

What is the North American context?  The authors argue that three trends that have emerged from modernity are reshaping the North American church context.  First, rationality and reason have become the new mode for discerning and knowing beliefs.  Empirical studies and rational thinking are the avenues for discovering the things that are true.  This represents a shift away from the notion that truth is embedded within tradition or revelation.  Second, the autonomous self has replaced the role of institutions in shaping persons’ attitudes and beliefs.  In medieval Europe, institutions (Church, monarchies, feudal system) shaped persons, and personal interests were subservient to larger corporate interests (23).  In the modern North American context, final authority resides inside the human head (23).  Individuals are free from authoritative institutions and able to discern truth and construct knowledge on their own accord.  Third, the modern context emphasizes the role of the social contract, which submits that individuals will make decisions out of self-interest, but the collective effect will lead to the promotion of the common good.  These principles, when exercised and enjoyed, lead to the realization of the full potential of human life.  The authors suggest that these three trends present the Church with a new “audience.”

Even more, the authors describe North Americans as persons who understand themselves as citizen with rights and freedoms to be exercised at all times and at all costs.  Individuals are also consumers, viewing all of life (including church life) as something to be consumed.  North Americans have also constructed roles and identities (career, job title, political affiliation, etc.) that serve as their primary identity markers.  Finally, modern individuals have become a product of product of technique using science-based technology to manipulate the social and natural world.

One of the major implications of these trends of the “new” individual is that one’s context matters for who one is and how he or she understands him or her self.  Each person brings assumptions to his or her search for truth. Objectivity and facts are always contextual.  For the Church (or church leaders), we must wrestle with the notion that one’s understanding or quest of God/Truth is always an interpretation relative to one’s context and cultural understanding.  We must ask, how can the church address a world in which rational and autonomous individuals are free to make decisions, but they do so without normative content common to all persons?  Even more, what might the growth of a North American pluralist society through immigration, migration, or technology mean as we seek to define context and community?

The authors offer much to digest in chapter two about the new cultural currents the church faces.  However, it is interesting that there is very little mention of race or socio-economic status as factors within the North American context.  It seems these things have played a vital role in the formation of the North American culture, yet the authors do not discuss them as factors to navigate in the current discussion.

I might also add another factor, or characteristic, that seems prominent in the North American context: time and priorities.  In a culture that is constantly moving with more activities demanding more time, the North American “audience” will increasingly be asked to arrange priorities.  How will we spend our time?  What is a faithful use of our time?  What activities consume our hours?  The church will need to discern this “time-crunch” and be prepared to speak into the busy lives of those who may feel too busy to listen to the Church or God.

This is the second review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

From sending to being sent

The authors of Mission Church begin their exploration of mission and evangelism by stating what has become all too obvious to many Christians around the world.  While Christianity has exploded and grown in many parts of the world, Christianity in North America has experienced a loss of power and influence.  The Church in North America has grown increasingly marginalized.  The authors further point out that North American Christian’s solutions to this problem are too bland.  Often, the typical response to “fix” the Church begins with workshops, seminars, and books.  The writers of Mission Church believe our strategy of analyzing Church problems and searching for solutions misses the crux of the situation.  The answer to the crisis is not the production and enactment of a new method or strategy.  The problems are spiritual and theological; they have more to do with who we are and what we are for as Christians (3).

The opening chapter of Missional Church charts the history of Christian mission throughout the 20th century.  The writers argue that most early theologies of mission that originated in the West we ecclesiocentric.  Western missionaries sought to make churches in other parts of the world in the images of Western Christianity.  Mission as disciple-making was not part of the discussion.

During these times, the assumption was that “mission” was just another program of the church to reach out to pagans.  For many local parishes, mission was often defined as member recruitment.  Many church leaders viewed “mission” as synonymous with church institutional maintenance.  Unfortunately, this attitude persists in many places still today.

However, the writers point to Lesslie Newbigin (writing in the latter part of the 20th century) as one whose contributions to the field of mission shifted the debate.  Newbigin was one of the first to introduce the idea of the missio Dei (“mission of God”).  For Newbigin, the missio Dei was theocentric.  Mission is not merely an activity of the church.  Mission is the result of God’s purpose of healing and restoring all creation.  God is a missionary God and we are a missionary (sent) people. (John 20.21).  The missio Dei is God’s mission of calling and sending the church to be a missionary church in whichever context the church finds itself.

The authors offer the working definition of the Church as “God’s instrument for God’s mission” (9).  More specifically, they argue that a missional ecclesiology is biblical, historical, contextual, eschatological, and practical. I hear the echoes of Lesslie Newbigin’s definition of the Church: “The church is to be “a sign, instrument and foretaste” of the reign of God” (Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble, p. 103).

Finally, the authors touch upon the visibility of the church.  Is the church visible or invisible?  Is the Church a tangible object or an ideal?  The writers conclude that the Church is a real and tangible human community marked and made to be much more than appears on the surface.  It is not just a human institution.  It has been created by the Spirit (13).

When one looks at the nature of the Church one sees a resemblance of the Incarnation.  The Church is divine in purpose and earthy and organic in composition.  The Church exists in and is shaped by a context and culture.  This divine-human-incarnational relationship is the framework for all missions in this dramatic and decisive time for the Church in North America.

I am greatly looking forward to this book.  From the outset, it seems as if it will provide real substance to the study and practice of mission.  Perhaps most importantly, that substance will be thoroughly scriptural and theological.  Specifically, the authors’ location of the substance of mission and evangelism in the Incarnation is magnificent.  If we are called to participate in the greatest mission in history, it only makes sense to found that mission on the greatest moment in history, the moment when God became man!

This is the first review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

Philosophical, communal, faithful….and needed

Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age is a clear, methodical, and enlightening look at evangelism in the 21st century.  While lacking in theological or scriptural substance at times, Kallenberg’s philosophical background clearly creates a compelling image of how the Christian faith may prosper amid changing times.  Kallenberg’s use of analogies, metaphors, and anecdotes presents a systematic approach that most church leaders will enjoy.

Particularly fruitful is Kallenberg’s consistent emphasis on evangelism as a communal practice.  Evangelism is no longer solely the responsibility of individuals.  Rather, evangelism today is the practice of the whole church embodying the life of Christ.  Kallenberg does allow for traditional face-to-face conversations to be part of a church’s evangelistic outreach, but he locates the crux of evangelism in a churches ability to live out its story in line of the gospel story.  Rightly so, Kallenberg argues that this model of evangelism greatly depends upon the church maintaining and fostering a faithful, righteous, and honest character.  He invites churches to ask, “How are we embodying mercy and grace?  How are we living out the call to repentance, forgiveness, and thanksgiving?”

Kallenberg’s emphasis on the role of language is also welcomed.  The Christian faith holds a special language that we are called to invite others to learn.  We evangelize by embodying the church’s language, allowing it to form of lives.  Kallenberg’s love for the Christian language has Stanley Hauerwas’s fingerprints all over it.  I recall listening to a lecture Hauerwas gave at school in which he told us students, “You are here to learn a new language.  Theological education is about learning a new language.”  While not all Christians are called to formal theological education in a seminary, Hauerwas’s point fits all Christians.  All Christians are called to learn the language of God, the Church, and faith.  Evangelistic outreach involves embodying this language, sharing and teaching it to others.

Live to Tell, however, is not without it’s faults.  While Kallenberg wonderfully articulates the postmodern circumstances for conversion, he says very little about what comes next for a convert.  We might say that he adequately gets us to the point of justification, but then sidesteps sanctification.  He does say that close proximity to Christian worship gives someone a vantage point for imaginatively inhabiting the Christian outlook (101).  But he makes few connections between evangelism and involvement in Christian practices (prayer, scripture reading, fasting, etc.).  You may recall that Scott Jones avoid this pitfall by arguing that evangelism aims for more than simply bringing people to the point of accepting God’s claim on their lives.  For Jones, we evangelize people into Christian discipleship.  We evangelize, or invite, people into a full commitment of their heart, mind, soul, and strength in love of Christ.  For Jones, evangelism never ceases, stretching beyond the moment of justification and helping to lead persons in sanctification.

In all, Kallenberg’s work makes a wonderful contribution to today’s discussion of evangelism and mission.  His philosophical and theoretical musings contribute a new voice to the on-going theological, scriptural, and pragmatic discussion currently taking place.

This is the final review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

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