October 2, 2007Missiology

Meanings of Missional Part 5

I must confess I have taken a longer hiatus than intended from my Meanings of Missional series. Now, I'd like to return to the meat of the discussion as we seek together to define - and more importantly to live - the missional mandate.

Theological Understanding of the Sending

We have talked together about the way many of those who embraced the concept of the missio dei - or at least, embraced the expression - seemed to propel the church out of the missionary conversation entirely. Needless to say, those were extreme views. And it would be silly to assume that proponents of the missio dei hold such views today. But, it is also silly not to consider what happened when the missio dei got confused. This was not a theoretical happening. In the 1950s and 60s this view shipwrecked much of the world mission enterprise. We need to be careful to avoid the error by taking the best of the discussion and guarding from the errors.

In my last post, I talked a lot about H.H. Roson. Interestingly - and I will just touch on it here and come back to it in later posts since the topic is becoming increasingly important - H. H. Rosin and some others expressed concern about the Trinitarian nature of mission, which is resurfacing in modern missional conversations. In his analysis of the missio dei, Rosin seems to take issue with the assumptions surrounding God's nature and his mission. He is concerned about the Trinitarian rooting of some of the ideas.

Rosin wrote:

in Trinitarian terminology mission must be distinguished clearly from (aeterna) procession:

One understands the sending to be a message stemming from an inner-divine order, from one divine person through another to creation. (H H Rosin, Missio Dei, Interuniversity Institute for Missiological and Ecumenical Research, 1972: 2.9).

Thus, you can see the controversy when Hoekendijk defines, "Mission, sending, is first of all an intra-Trinitarian term. Mission is a movement within God Himself.' (Feier der Befreiung, "Was ist Mission?" In: Kontexte 4, 1967, 126; as cited in Rosin)

More on that later... but let's review and go back to Hoekendijk, as he will help us later to understand Newbigin, McGavran, and much of then conversation we call missional today.

Johannes Hoekendijk

During the tumultuous period of mission discussion in the 1950s, Johannes Hoekendijk sought to define the missio dei as larger than the church. (I would encourage you to read his major work, The Church Inside Out and an analysis of Hoekendijk's work: Jongeneel, Jan A. B., ed. Philosophy, Science and Theology of Mission in the 19th and 20th Centuries: A Missiological Encyclopedia, Part Ii: Missionary Theology. New York: Peter Lang, 1997).

Perhaps more than any other single voice, Hoekendijk redefined the mission of the ecumenical churches. As Professor of Mission at Union Theological Seminary in New York he was, of course, only a block away from the "God box" - the square building of the National Council of Churches. (I went to visit there recently and found it quite intimidating.)

Hoekendijk's views had not always been those of Union Theological Seminary, however. As Charles Van Engen explains:

Hoekendijk grew up in a very conservative Reformed but separatist, almost sectarian, church that considered the "world" fallen, evil, and hopelessly lost. After the WWII the "guilty conscience" influence moved him to react very strongly and negatively to his upbringing and the kind of church he grew up in --- going to the other extreme. (This from a email from Chuck.)

Hoekendijk's concern was that the mission of God was more than church extension--and he was partially right. The challenge is that as the IMC was integrated within the World Council of Churches, the missio dei became more and more focused on social issues. Over the decades, any church which did not participate in the social aspects of the missio dei began to be viewed as illegitimate. The missio dei was not only bigger than the missio ecclesiae, it was often contrary to it.

As social justice became the focus, liberation and other theologies could be embraced as missions. As it moved to this extreme the World Council of Churches could (and did) fund communist guerillas in Southwest Africa and consider such mission.

The Roman Catholic Church was contending with the same ideas - and in the same context. The words chosen by the World Council of Churches to describe and explain mission provided a bridge to Catholic thinking. At Vatican II in 1965, the "Decree on Missionary Activity" joined the WCC's "Trinity, Mission and Church," when it said, "the pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature. For it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she takes her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father." (Vatican Council II, "Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church" (Ad Gentes [AG]) 2, in ed. Walter M. Abbot, The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Herder and Herder / Association Press, 1966, 585)).

The ecumenical language of "sacrament, sign, and instrument" became more common. The church began to be understood as a body that exists for others. However, soon, the idea of the church for others became the focus of debate.

Hoekendijk challenged the member bodies of the WCC to abandon both the traditional form of church and the traditional approach to missions. He held that the congregations should abandon their buildings and institutions and become bands of roving ministers, believing that the time for evangelistic mission work had passed. This sounds remarkably familiar to some voices in the church today.

It would probably seem odd to many evangelicals to read the article under missio dei in the Evangelical Dictionary of Missions (John H. McIntosh, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, s.v. "Missio Dei." See also, Ronald J. Sider, One-Sided Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993)). Many would wonder why anyone would say anything negative about the missio dei, since it simply means the "mission of God." Well, the word has a history, and the history both informs and cautions us today. The article in the dictionary states:

Hoekendijk challenged missionaries to identify and integrate with the suffering masses, seeking to realize God's shalom on earth. As this occurred in the 1960's and 70's, the World Council's ministry focused almost entirely on social, economic, and political "liberation." Positively, the WCC reminded evangelicals that Jesus came feeding and healing as well as teaching and preaching. Evangelicals, especially the neo-evangelicals, admitted they had presented a "one-sided Gospel," as Ron Sider put it. Unfortunately, the leaders in the World Council of Churches also advocated a "one-sided Gospel," one that neglected humanity's need for reconciliation with God.

Critics like Donald McGavran and Arthur Johnston accused the World Council of Churches of abandoning the lost masses of the world. (See Arthur Johnston, The Battle for World Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1978). Eventually, the WCC defined salvation primarily in political and economic terms. They saw the mission of God as a justice issue rather than a salvation issue, although of course it is really both.

This was the bottom line of the later missio dei movement--the determination that God's mission is broader than the activities of his Church. And, again, they were partly right. We use those words today. Reggie McNeal and I talked about it recently -- God is still at work outside his church. But, we also talked about how. Both matter.

So, we ought not abandon such an idea because some have taken it to its illogical conclusion--and we should be very careful of saying that uses of the word "missional" today are endorsing the ideas that led to such deep missiological problems in the World Council of Churches. However, we must also recognize that the emphasis led to problematic results which Van Engen pointed out, and with which we have dealt in previous posts. These problematic outcomes caused Van Engen to root his definition of "missional" elsewhere.

The reality is that some still reject the church as God's missionary instrument, seeing the missio dei as something that encompasses much more than the missio ecclesiae. The challenge to evangelicals is the fact that they are partially right.

I referred to DuBose many times in my post a few weeks ago. One of his former students shared with me that he recalls the constant emphasis DuBose placed in class on the wholistic (or holistic, if you prefer) nature of the mission of Christ - that it was not either/or, preaching or healing, evangelism or social ministries - rather it was all. But DuBose never moved to place this activity of God outside of the continuing work of Christ's church - "the body of Christ." That is my primary reaction to the understanding of the missio dei in the 1960s and 70s - that is it bypassed the church. It is that focus - or fear - that I think drives some evangelicals away from the concept of 'missional' - they remember another "word of the day," missio dei.

I do like what Van Engen says about the word - actually, both of these words.:

The genesis of my view of missio Dei and of "missional" is the Bible (I do not mean this facetiously at all), and the "traditional view of mission" that assumes a difference between church and world, the nature of the church as being most fundamentally God's instrument to call the nations to reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, and a missional ecclesiology as I develop in GOD'S MISSIONARY PEOPLE.

So, how then does Chuck Van Engen define "missional"? I believe Van Engen is the leading theologian of mission in the world today (though he mocked me for saying that... I still believe it). Thus I think it's important that we listen to his conclusions.

Van Engen draws from Guder and Bosch and builds on Newbigin, but perhaps with some nuances. As you read his definition, you will notice that some of his comments reflect back on some earlier questions I posed. Basically, the missional church discussion will be influenced in how you deal with three issues:

What is the role and nature of the church?

What is the kingdom and how does it relate to the church?

How is God working outside the church today?

Van Engen's full missional definition is:

With the term missional I emphasize the essential nature and vocation of the church as God's called and sent people.

A missional ecclesiology is biblical, historical, contextual, praxeological (it can be translated into practice), and eschatological.

The word missional, with reference to the church, sees the church as the instrument of God's mission.

Following Lesslie Newbigin and others, a church that is missional understands that God's mission calls and sends the church of Jesus Christ, locally and globally, to be a missionary church in its own society, in the cultures in which it finds itself, and globally among all peoples who do not yet confess Jesus as Lord.

Mission is the result of God's initiative, rooted in God's purposes to restore and heal creation and call people into a reconciled covenantal relationship with God.

"Mission" means "sending," and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God's action in human history, with the church being the primary agent of God's missionary action.

This definition is based on Darrell Guder, edit. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 11-12, 4-5; see also David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), 390.

I agree with Van Engen that a biblical view of both the missio dei and missional is essential--and hopefully that is where we all agree. I think it is also important to note that he draws on Guder, Bosch, and Newbigin, all of who have been significant influences on my own understanding of the missional church.


Now, let me say one last thing. I have received a bunch of emails about this little study... and for that I am grateful. But, a couple of you have been nervous.

Some have responded to this series by questioning whether we really need another debate about words. I understand the emotion behind that - we Christians have wasted a huge chunk of world history arguing about words instead of sharing the Word. But what I'd like to accomplish in this blog is to help us clearly understand how our varied views on words can prevent us from actually being - well - missional!

I am a conservative evangelical. No secret there. But, I also think we can learn from others from all sorts of biblically and missiologically informed traditions. We also need to understand what people mean when they use words so we can be sure we are all talking about the same thing.

So let's keep looking at the word and see if we can come, at last, to understand variations that will help us be better servants... and, I believe clarity of definition will help make some room for the term, and more importantly the focus, in evangelicalism.


To summarize this lengthy discussion - as best as I can see it, Dubose rooted his missional ideas in the idea of a sending, "missionary" church, while Van Engen based his ideas on the classical understanding of "mission." Next week, we will look at the third major use that ties into the concept of the (early and much more healthy use) of missio dei that many in the missional church conversation use.

With that, we will dive into Guder, et. al. who wrote The Missional Church. Guder and the other writers give us good insights for how to embrace the missio dei without going down the path that led to such problems elsewhere.

I think we need to be God's missionary people, with a biblical definition of mission, focused on the missio dei.


Any place you want to jump into this debate with a comment, a critique or a concern? Feel free.

How would you interact with Van Engen's ideas and emphases here? How would they differ from some of the well-written articles I referenced previously?

Have at it! We'll move ahead next week, but I have learned that I need to stop promising things on Monday... so this is now an occasional series that I will call "Meaning of Missional" and post other missiological things on Monday.

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