missional? again?

November 10, 2008

OK, I’m going to say this. I’m getting sick of missional.

David Bosch

Everyone likes to quote  David Bosch nowadays (read so many books on mission, and you’ll find roundabout one random quote of Bosch somewhere, as if the author just wanted to include Transforming Mission in the bibliography – Constants in Context actually seem to have read Bosch), so let me give you a quote or two:

The inflation of the concept [talking about “mission”] has both positive and negative implications. One of the negative results has been the tendency to define mission too broadly – which promted Neill to formulate his famous adage, “If everything is mission, nothing is mission”, and Freytag to refer to “the spectre of panmissionism”.

And yes, I know that he adds to this:

Even if these warnings have to be taken seriously, it remains extraordinarily difficult to determine what mission is.

But did you read that he also adds:

Attempts to define mission are of recent vintage. The early Christian church undertook no such attempts-at least not consciously.

All of these found on the first page of chapter 13 of Transforming Mission.

Missio Dei

The missio Dei is a extra-Biblical, 20th century theological concept. It’s not the heart of the Bible. I cannot see how all of the Bible can be read through this concept. It addressed certain 20th century theological questions. Nothing less, nothing more. It’s important. It’s not the heart of the gospel. I think we tend to be too sure about the heart of God in the easy way we use this concept.

Early Church

The early church wasn’t missional, they were followers of Jesus. They cared more for themselves than for the world! Yes, hear that again: They cared more for themselves then for the world. Go study Acts, see how they get together money for the poor and elect deacons to look after the poor. Which poor? There fellow Christians. These passages make me uncomfortable, I tend to think the early church was wrong. I tend to think they should have cared for the poor regardless of whether Christian or not. But this is the tradition I believe in, so maybe they were right and I am wrong.


I see this in our denomination today. Wanna be popular? Be missional. I see this on the blogosphere.Watched the Obama campaign? Share the wealth, care for the poor, care for the environment… sound familiar? Like the missional church? Somewhere in the back of my mind I have the fague recollection that when theological ideas become popular, something tend to go wrong.

I’ll continue to read missiology. I’ll still be signed up for all those missional blogs. I hope to never stop thinking what it means to follow Jesus in this day and age. But forgive me, I’m not comfortable with being missional

Am I the only one?


5 Responses to “missional? again?”

  1. Jake Belder Says:

    I agree that the missio Dei is not the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is primary, for without it the missio Dei is not possible.

    Just a quick note about the Early Church…what we read of it in the book of Acts is such a small portrait of what the Early Church actually was. Also, that is at its most infant stage. I recommend Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, which analyzes the growth of the Church from a more sociological point of view. He demostrates quite clearly there how the Church actually was very actively involved in the life of the community outside its own walls, and that this contributed significantly to its growth. I should note that Stark, as a bit of an agnostic, leaves little room for the work of the Spirit in the growth of the Church, but as an historical work, it is helpful.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand: I think there is a sense in which we are to be missional, though I don’t conceive of it necessarily in the way that most evangelicals do. I think it’s broader than that. I believe the Church certainly does have a mission in this world, and that the mission means making known the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ over all of life (as I stated in the comment to your previous post). So, that means that our mission is not just proclaiming the Gospel, but also living it and demonstrating how it completely transforms all of life. And the point is that this, as Bosch hints at, should not have to be a conscious effort, but our own hearts should be so transformed that it is just our natural way of living.

    What do you think, does this put us in agreement, Cobus?

  2. cobus Says:

    I don’t want to lessen the importance of social justice, mission, or any of that one bit. I have no problem with what the missional conversation is calling us to. I just sometimes think it might be necessary to use other lenses in reading the Bible as well.

    Yes, in a sense we are to be missional. But that is not the be-all-and-end-all of the church, I think… Except if you already decide that missional is the way to go, and then find ways of forcing whatever comes onto your way to being missional…

  3. Jake Belder Says:

    Oh yeah, absolutely. We should never being forcing our identity to be squeezed through or into some sort of paradigm or lens.

    Our identity determines who we are and what we do, not the other way around.

  4. I made a remark at a mission conference some time ago that it seems to me that we are using (and often misusing) Western philosophical terms to describe issues (missional, post-modernism, emergent, emerging, etc) to try and describe how we understand the Bible or the interpretation of the Bible in modern times, while forgetting that for the vast majority of Christians in countries like Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and China (the fastest-growing Christian community) these terms mean absolutely nothing. In that sense I also agree that the use of the term “missional” may not necessarily be a good term or the only term to describe what we have to be as Christians.

    I would agree with Jake Belder that what we have in the book of Acts is a very small part of the history of early Christianity. Depending on how missional is defined (once again, a more Western concept), we would be able to discern different ways in which the early Christians acted as disciples of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they merely witnessed about Christ. Sometimes they healed people (not necessarily Christians). Sometimes they organised fund raisings to help poorer congregations. Sometimes they spent days in explaining the gospel to people who were willing to listen. I therefore think that it is impossible to pinpoint exactly what “being missional” would mean. It will be dictated, at least in part, by the community within which we have been called to serve. And the way in which God called me to serve, may not be the same for the people called to serve in Vladivostok.

    And of course, I cannot help always referring back to the words of the emperor Julian (the Apostate) who once wrote in anger:

    “These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.

    “Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.” I wrote more about this in my blog about “The Missional Church and the Needs of the Community”: http://missionissues.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/the-missional-church-and-the-needs-of-the-community/

    We may be complicating things by inventing words, but that cannot take away the obligation we have towards God’s world.

  5. Lourens Says:

    Cobus. I also have to leave a note on the early church which agrees with what Jake Belder said. One of the big reasons for growth in the early church was the fact that their charity was not just towards other Christians, but towards the socially peripheral people, as Jesus also did. In 360 AD Constantine’s son Julianus became caesar and he was not a Christian. They were obviously threatened by the rising power of the germanic tribes and he felt that this was because the romans were not serving the roman gods anymore. He wanted to bring the romans back to their gods, but he said that this would be impossible if they did not act like Christians in love towards each other and others. Together with the martyrdoms of Christians social welfare was the other major contributary factor towards the growth of Chritianity. It would be interesting to converse at some time on the whole missional and missio dei topic, but verbally not written.

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