You Might Not Be Missional…

kinnon —  January 26, 2010 — 24 Comments

…if your response to the term is to see it as a liberal/progressive plot to move the church into the purely social gospel column.

[Note that I've edited this post for clarity and updated it with a few more links since first published earlier today.]

I've been away from the blog for a while. Mostly tweeting and retweeting 140 characters of limited wisdom. In that Twitterverse, someone noted Brent Thomas' response to Jonathan Leeman's 9 Marks post, Is The God of Missional Gospel Too Small?

Leeman begins his cautionary tale with this;

It's been said that liberalism often creeps into the church through the doorway of evangelism and mission work. I think that's right

And shortly thereafter,

More and more evangelical and missional leaders have begun to characterize the gospel of justification by faith alone, penal substitution, and the salvation of souls as a "small gospel." [emphasis added]

One might reasonably ask who the "more and more" are – though it's probably just easier for Leeman to refer to the amorphous "they" to make his point – stats and facts being optional.

Thomas, who like Leeman writes from a Reformed perspective responds to the post,

It seems that, on one side, we have many moving towards what is becoming known as a “missional” approach, focusing on God’s mission to restore all things to Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It might be said that Tim Keller is at the forefront of this movement. On the other side, we have the more traditional, church-focused camp spearheaded by 9 Marks Ministries and Mark Dever focusing on the supremacy of penal substitionary atonement in any talk of salvation (I’m not so sure these things are mutually exclusive, personally, but that’s not really the point). Again, this is just my sense and I could be wrong, but from my perspective, such as it is, I not only sense a growing separation, but that separation being pushed by the more traditional side. [emphasis added]

I've read Thomas' post a number of times and commented there on how I felt Leeman's central four points against missional sounded like boilerplate from certain Reformed blogs – attacking the particular Emergent Village brand of the much wider global emerging church conversation. (As an aside, please read Reformed Pastor Michael Newnham @ Phoenix Preacher on what he feels the wider emerging church conversation has added to 21st Century Christianity.) In rereading that post this morning, the emphasized line in the above quote stood out to me.

Thomas sees missional as "focusing on God’s mission to restore all things to Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ" over and against Leeman and 9 Marks focus of the "supremacy of penal substitionary atonement in any talk of salvation."  The Kingdom of God position versus a soteriology that revolves around penal substitionary atonement. To which I want to respond – what difference does this argument really make to the unbelieving people in your neighbourhoods?

Sorry brothers.  Your discussion may be a great one for the academy but I don't see it helping with a necessarily simple and important understanding of missional.

My Credentials, or Lack Thereof, to Be Involved In This Discussion
I'm not a theologian. In my 55th year (how I hate to write that), I've been a Christian since 1982. I have owned a television production company with my wife since 1985 – I'm a writer, director and editor who has spent 95% of my career working in secular media. I've also been, for want of a better phrase, a lay leader in the church for more than half the time I've been a believer – predominantly in charismatically-flavoured Baptist and independent churches. Imbi and I now attend an evangelical Anglican Church in downtown Toronto.

In 2006, I began working with an organization that identified itself as a Movement of Missional Leaders. I was documenting that movement from behind the viewfinder of an HD camera. Never one to miss an opportunity to engage in interesting conversation, I was drawn into hours of discussion on missional with missional practitioners & thought leaders on three continents – while also producing hours of content that discussed all things missional.

References to those missional discussions & insights can be found in hundreds of posts here at

One of those posts was written for the Rick Meigs' inspired Missional Synchroblog, What is Missional Church? or A Little More Missional Shampoo. In it I unpack where the recent missional discussion has come from – identifying Lesslie Newbigin as the instigator of this present missional conversation.

In brief, Newbigin returned to the UK in 1974 after the better part of four decades on the mission field in India. What he discovered was a post-Christian/post-Christendom culture that no longer understood the Christian meta-narrative. Newbigin recognized that for the Gospel to have any kind of impact on English culture – Christians would need to become missionaries to their own nation.

How did that translate to North America?

Vast swaths of the U.S. still function in what remains of a Christendom culture. The plot has not been completely lost. But that is not the case for many of the northern states and is certainly not the case in a post-Christian Canada. And the reality is that the trajectory of the Christendom areas in the predominantly Southern States is towards post-Christendom. (See the data coming from Barna, the Pew Foundation and anecdotally in this article from USA Today. Ed Stetzer is the goto person to understand what's happening to the church in North America.)

And this is my simple, yet I believe, easily comprehensible understanding of What is Missional:

To quote Eugene Peterson, it's about,

The Word (who) became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

Becoming missional means we realize that Jesus has "moved into the neighborhood" and we are to follow him. It stands in stark contrast to church buildings that say, come. Missional stands counter to the attractional church model of Christendom.

I believe there are three aspects to this discussion. Missional is incarnational – in that we are to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in our neighborhoods – positional in that we are to move out and amongst, and relational – we are to love our neighbors, whether they ever darken the doorsteps of our church buildings or not – in fact, whether they ever even "become Christians". Luke 10 provides a framework for that journey as we move into our neighborhoods – engaging everyone we meet – entering wherever we are invited – receiving hospitality and engaging in relationship – understanding that in C.S. Lewis' words, Aslan IS on the move – and we are to follow Him.

My definition does not negate the need for Christians to be a part of a real Christian community where they are being discipled and are growing in their faith and their witness. Chicago's Life on the Vine would be one example of a church attempting to live this out. (Dave Fitch is one of the leaders there – and Imbi and I shot the Stetzer/Fitch videos in LotV's building.) There are many others. But the focus is not the building as the locus of the community.

Missional is about us getting off our butts and actually engaging with our neighbours as Christ engaged with the people he met – teaching and then sending His disciples out to do the same.


Sometimes it's seems easier to simply engage in esoteric arguments about who has the completely correct theological understanding – rather than to actually meet and love our neighbours.

Missional isn't complex – but apparently, it also isn't easy.


You might also find this post helpful on the Missional Longview – written a week after the one I link to above for publication on the actual Missional Synchroblog date. And please make a point of reading the other posts in that synchroblog. If you are at all interested in What is Missional? Brent Toderash aka Brother Maynard wrote eight posts covering all 50 of the Synchroblog posts with a final summation here.

The Missional Mobilization video with Pete Atkins in the sidebar is also worth watching in light of this post. Pete and Kath Atkins, Fresh Expressions missioners in the UK, have had a profound impact on Imbi's and my understanding of missional/mission-shaped – as they are both thought leaders and practitioners.

And might I also recommend you add these voices to your missional blog reading list if you haven't already: Jason Coker and the three JR's: JR Briggs, JR Rozko and JR Woodward.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

24 responses to You Might Not Be Missional…

  1. You just insulted the three JR’s.

    I think we’re destined to re-hash the “what is missional” conversation over an over again until it’s declared heretical or turned into a commodity. My money is on the latter.

  2. Good writing Bill… from a guy who was raised reformed and attended both Calvin College and Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, as well as being doctrinated in Republican politics…

    Introduced to the missional conversation via Leslie Newbigin, Craig VanGelder, George Hunsberger, David Bosch, I REALLY wonder about this fear of liberalism?

    I don’t entirely ‘get’ the accusation or even the suggestion for that matter. This morning I searched all of the Old Testament ‘justice’ references in the NIV, and it’s clear that justice and mercy are central to Yahweh.

    While the cross and forgiveness of sins is also central, without justice and mercy directing our lives, I’m not convinced we really believe/follow the Jesus who lived, died, and conquered death.

    Is it possible that trowing around the term ‘liberalism’ simply allows us to continue to hold onto our wealth, power, and position over and against identifying and speaking for/to the marginalized on our society?

    Grace & Peace.

  3. Bill –
    Rocked it again. Like Randy, a connection from my friendship with some “we don’t speak of, I have decided those who make these pronouncements from their extreme corners of American Christianity hate to ski. That is, everything they disapprove us will lead us, read slippery slope, into liberalism. Many cannot abide the idea of a broader understanding of the Gospel and its multi-layered impact on a world and people in need of redemption and restoration.

    Keep rocking the net.



  5. Jeremiah Lawson January 26, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    What I don’t understand about the claim tht “missional” is ceding ground to a liberal social gospel is that culture war politics in conservative American evangelicalism is still gunning for a social gospel. When someone like Mark Driscoll talks about reaching the young men for Jesus and that the vision of Mars Hill is that young men would love Jesus, get jobs, take wives, and make babies that is still a social gospel agenda, to “transform the city for Jesus”. I’m not saying that’s automatically bad but it CAN feel like it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Then again over the last five years I’ve figured out that I’m more Presbyterian/Reformed Anglican in my sympathies than Reformed Baptist so there’s not much at 9Marks that has gotten and kept my attention.

  6. Sigh, it pained me to read this. Yet again obeying the Biblical commands relating to justice, mercy, and charity is seen as some kind of heresy. I really get impatient with some theologically and politically conservative Christians who like to go on and on about how the Bible is 100% literally true right up until the bits about giving away your extra coat or selling your possessions to give money for the poor.

  7. Bill, I’m guessing you know John Bowen 🙂

  8. Jason, I have now registered the word as a TRADEMARK every use on any blog in the world will now automatically remove $5 from your bank account and deposit in mine 🙂

  9. Nicely done my dear, just made me smile to see what we do and why we do it said so plainly. Thanks for that! Blessings and deep deep deep shalom to you.

  10. I have to admit that I wish the past 5-8 years of accusing the conservative evangelical church of getting too liberal or emergent would be wiped from my memory. It makes me happy that my (Evangelical College, also accused of being too liberal/emergent) professors warned us about the slippery slope fallacy. Until I immersed myself into the trendy blogs, I didn’t realize that you could make a living sounding alarms whenever someone didn’t quite fit five Calvinistic points into a sermon or mission statement.

    In addition, I also grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition, and I experienced none of this panicking every time Rick Warren or the Pope’s name was mentioned. I’m at an AMiA church now, and I’m sure we’re part of the problem 😛

  11. This is unfortunate. We have found that the “big gospel” perspective starts to make more sense to Christians when you get them face-to-face with the people who are experiencing massive brokenness. As part of a DVD on this subject, I filmed my friend Steve explaining this point really well:
    link to

  12. So after moving into the neighborhood what’s the goal? As you begin to love the people what’s the goal. If you wish to share with them the love of God what does that bring you to do? When you form the relationships and then have an opportunity to share the love of Christ with them in Word so they too can receive what you profess to have as a Christian what do you tell them? Does the atonement come into play at any point? Just curious

  13. I’m coming a little late to this post, but after reading through the book of Mark and trying to figure out why so many religion scholars missed the Messiah and even plotted to kill him, my conclusion is they had a very clear sense of correct theology and their positions were linked to preserving that kind of theology. Once the Messiah showed up and challenged their theology they fought to preserve their theology rather than engage with the living God and humbly accept some correction. Such a reading has been a caution to me, as a theology student, to be wary of preserving a doctrine over a fresh encounter with the living God and following him wherever he may lead–even if he leads me to modify my theology.

  14. Len – That explains why my account is dry.

    Mick – Very well said. Thank you.

  15. George … there’s a goal past loving people?

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength. The second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

    What other goal do you need? If you do these two things are you worried that God can’t take care of the rest? Is S/He not up to the job?

  16. Missional has already been coopted – evident by the Ed Stetzer/David Fitch video you did.

    I love the Peterson quote “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

    This is the best of the missional conversation. That being, incarnation right where you are, i.e. your neighborhood.

    I get the impression that many are still convinced the attractional model can somehow pull this off while still being a big mean consumerist machine. I am not persuaded. I can’t barely get the rudder of my little Vineyard church to make the course correction. We have been attractional for so long, it is too hard to think about change. “What, you mean you want me to engage with my neighbors?” Well, yes, and your family, friends, coworkers, kids coaches, kids friend’s parents, etc.

    Change is slow.

    I am currently discussing how the Vineyard Movement is positioned to emerge as a missional reality at my blog:

    link to

    Hope to see you there.

  17. @george

    My understanding of it is that “loving people” is in fact an end unto itself – there is no further “goal” to attain. Inclusive in this is a sharing of what the incarnation and the resurrection mean to Christians, but loving people should not be a means just to get a sympathetic ear for our preaching. Such would be a very cynical approach.

  18. What is it to really love someone as God does? Put whatever label on it, “missional” or otherwise, the question is, how do we really love people the way God does.

    If we ourselves have been redeemed, forgiven, born again, regenerated, saved, received eternal life, have this amazing relationship with the God of the universe, how does that show up in our love for others. If we have truly been set free, we know that it was the truth of the gospel that has set us free, the truth that Christ died and saved us from the penalty of our sin and more than anything else our goal will be to see others set free. Jesus did not come primarily to give bread, physical bread, but to be bread, spiritual bread, so that those who trust in him will never hunger or thirst. He told us that.

    If you are saying you are missional and you are not concerned about the spiritual well being of the person there is a problem. I love meeting practical needs of people but as I do that I want to love them with the truth of how they can truly be set free and know the God who created them. If we don’t consider that in our reaching out to people there is a huge problem. There really is a huge problem because so many professing followers of Christ think that they are doing enough by just meeting people’s practical needs. It really says a lot about where they themselves are in relationship to Christ.

  19. Thanks all for responding to this post and creating discussion.

    Certain intransigent folk who are convinced that they are right and the rest of us are somehow completely missing the Gospel will continue to be ignored. (I won’t ban you, George. But neither will I engage. It is a pointless exercise.)

  20. No problem Bill, it is your blog after all. Could you do me one thing as I leave, could you point me to somewhere where you yourself have articulated what you believe the Gospel is? What is it that really sets people free?

    Intransigent at, “refusing to agree or compromise; uncompromising; inflexible.”

    When it comes to the truth of the Gospel, the core of the Gospel, Jesus saving people from their sins, you are right, there is no compromising on that. He was crucified so we could be saved. But it’s only for those who repent and turn to Him in faith. Do you believe that?

  21. Careful, George … those pesky assumptions will burn you every time.

  22. Thanks for the post Bill – good stuff as always.

    To my chagrin, I find myself readily expecting gross misunderstandings and mischaracterizations of missional theology and ecclesiology. I waffle back and forth between excitement and frustration when presented with opportunities to explain and clarify missional to folks. I’m firmly convinced that the best way forward for missionally minded people is to continue telling stories of all that God is doing in and through our particular ways of understanding the gospel and being the Body of Christ. The main point NOT being the eventual appeasement of Christian critics, but the increased awe and interest of broken, lost, poor, and oppressed people.

    Funny – I have never heard anyone else refer to the 3 JR’s besides us when we are together. We took this picture (link to a year ago at the Ecclesia national gathering. Hoping to make it a yearly ritual.

  23. (sarcasm alert)

    Of course, we have nothing to fear about becoming theologically compromised like they did back in the early 20th Century. That’s because people back then were STUPID, and we in the early 21st Century are SMART.

    We are impervious to getting off-track, side-lined, mis-led, or even — dare I say — deceived. After all, all Christians who came before us were, in varying degrees, STUPID.

    But thanks be to God, we aren’t like them. We are SMART.

    (sarcasm off)

    Maybe this little comment will add nothing useful to this post, but I just couldn’t resist. Maybe Bill “curmudgeon” anointing is rubbing off on me. 🙂

  24. in response to that, i just wanted to share that curmudgeon spelled inside out is:


    i’m not sure if it was significant, but just felt the need to pass that along in case it would help with discernment on theological warped drive issues in this decade-old millennium.

    sincerely, me

    (ooh! that phrase spelled inside out is: “Mere nice, sly.” but it is also: “celery me sin.”)

    (hey, bill, has anyone done, like, an anagram theology yet? maybe that’s what the 21st century church needs! umm … “Bible study” becomes “i’d buy blest.” i think there’s something here …)


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