…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 kinnon.tv.
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.