November 6, 2012
by Ross Hastings
For many in the church I suppose the concept of the West needing to be reevangelized may come as a bit of a surprise. This is especially true if they are part of a megachurch or if they live in some of the last bastions of Christendom in, say, the southern parts of the United States. In these sections of the church, where nominalism often pervades, the preaching of the gospel to the church is still needed. The paper-thin influence of Christianity in a once “Christian” Denmark led Søren Kierkegaard to ask how exactly are we to become Christian, especially when “one is a Christian of a sort?” (The Practice of Christianity).
For most cities in most Western countries, however, Christendom is long gone, and missional theologians like Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch and Darrel Guder have in the late twentieth century sought to make Western churches aware that they are in a missional situation, even more so than in the so-called Third World, which now comprises 70 percent of the world’s Christians. But, and this is crucial for those who think missional is a passing fad or flavor of the month, these authors remind the church of what has always been true.
The church, any church—mainline or evangelical, liturgical or spontaneous, high church or low church, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant—all churches that are in the missional Christ, that are indwelt by the missional Spirit and that worship the missional Father, who sent the Son and the Spirit, are missional, whether they know it or not. It is a matter of their identity in the God who is missional. These authors have been at pains to show that the church, when seen in light of the doctrine of God, is missional.
The missional movement was built on the resurgence of the doctrine of the Trinity. And properly understood, missional churches will not therefore be activistic or shallow, but will live into their union with the missional God in order to live out his mission. They will be deep churches. It is this dynamic that I have sought to present and defend in my book, Missional God, Missional Church.
The message of the missional identity and orientation of the church in light of its union with the missional God is profoundly relevant to evangelical churches, not just mainline churches. The evangelical church in the West is not very deep! In fact it is in cultural captivity that in many ways keeps it from being both evangelistic and missional. Furthermore, many evangelical traditions and churches need to be convinced that mission is more than evangelism (though never less than that) by means of a biblically and theologically sound paradigm.
Mission is more than obedience to the Great Commission, and it is not the saving of disembodied souls out of creation but participation with God in the redeeming of whole persons to become fully alive in creation. It is obedience (or vocation) within obedience to the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor, and it is obedience within obedience to the cultural mandate of Genesis 1-2.
It must therefore include seeking justice and shalom for our neighbor. It must be holistic, and at its heart it pursues shalom in all areas of human life—vocation, marriage and family life, and culture making. As Chris Wright has so convincingly demonstrated in his Mission of God, mission must be understood not only in light of the self-revelation of God in the gospel, it is the very heart of the grand narrative of the whole Bible. It is theologically and biblically primal!
The church is the new humanity in Christ, the last Adam, and as such participates in God’s work in the world, and as gathered and scattered community it must show signs and be the messenger of the kingdom of God that is to come in its fullness at the consummation of creation. While not seeking political hegemony, it must be engaged as salt and light and in advocacy of reconciliation in the world. It does not merely become a deep community in which persons are formed by communal practices, crucial though that is for today’s often ill-formed and fragmented Christians. It will be a hospitable and engaged community, deep and wide!
Being formed in the way of Christ is to be missional!
Ross Hastings is associate professor of pastoral theology at Regent College. Hastings holds two Ph.Ds, one in chemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, and the other in theology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:32 AM