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May 3, 2010Missiology

Monday is for Missiology: Missional Voices II

Last time we looked at the influence of missio Dei theology by examining its sway on the emphases of one of today's leading missiologists, Darrell Guder. This week we turn our attention to a new crop of leading missional practitioners that have also begun re-envisioning the posture of the church within the emerging cultural context: Alan Roxburgh and Alan Hirsch.

The Two Alans

Two of the better known thinkers in the missional church conversation are named "Alan." When we started doing our three part series (part 1, 2, and 3) about "mission Al," we noticed this and made a reference to it in the videos. Both are mentioned in the "Missional Family Tree" I mentioned in my last missiology post. Their ideas warrant consideration.

Alan Roxburgh

Alan Roxburgh serves as the Vice President for Allelon Canada and the coordinating team leader for the Mission in Western Culture Project, and he is the author of such books as Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) by Alan J. Roxburgh (2010), Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One, co-authored by M. Scott Boren (2010), The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, co-authored with Fred Romanuk (2006) and the monograph Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality (1997), among others. Roxburgh endeavors to demarcate the missional conversation, not with a hard and fast definition, but rather with suggested themes for exploration. These themes are:

1) Western society as a mission field

2) mission as missio Dei, and

3) the missional church as a "called-out" community.

Roxburgh places these three themes together with a nod to the way Newbigin framed a "three-way conversation" or "trialogue" between gospel, church, and culture: the missionary encounter requires interaction among the people of God, the Gospel as it is revealed in Scripture, and the surrounding culture. According to Roxburgh:

This triangle helps to understand how the three characteristics of the missional church relate to one another. In other words, being a missional church is not about doing church in a better way so that more self-seeking individualists might get their private needs met. Being missional is not just about the church corner of the triangle. There is much more to the missionary encounter than the church. The conversation can only occur as there is a true encounter among all three corners. [1]

He believes the tendency in the post-Christendom churches of the West is to continue envisioning the church as the "question to be asked and the problem to be solved," thereby positioning both the Gospel and the culture as subsets of a miscalculation of the role of the church, "an ecclesiocentric default that still remains as a continuing part of Christendom's legacy." [2]

Roxburgh amends the "gospel, church, culture trialogue" to reflect his aforementioned themes in another type of "relational" triangle:

In this paradigm, Roxburgh claims the whole of the missio Dei is about what God is doing in all of creation. The calling of the church is to ask the larger questions of what God is doing in the creation and to be the "sign, witness, and foretaste of that work."

According to Roxburgh, so much of the missional conversations in North America place the church as the "goal, end, subject and purpose," and "this preoccupation continues to prevent Christians in North America from engaging the kind of missionary dynamic Newbigin so eloquently presented to us." [3] At the same time, he affirms the function of the church in mission:

The argument here is not to diminish the incredible dignity, vocation and, even, ontological priority of the church. This acting and working of God in Christ is in and through the church. The church is that which has, even before the creation itself, been in God's purposes in terms of how the work of Christ is made tangible and expressed in creation. [4]

Alan and I have only met once when we led the "Beyond the Church Doors" conference sponsored at Dallas Theological Seminary. I found him to be a deep thinker and a challenging communicator. I have read (I think) all of his books and use them when I teach on the missional church.

Alan Hirsch

Another of today's leading missional practitioners, Alan Hirsch, is the founding Director of Forge Mission Training Network, co-founder of shapevine.com, and author of such books as Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship, co-authored with Deb Hirsch (2010), ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church, co-written with Michael Frost (2008), The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (2006), The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century, co-written with Frost (2003), among others. His writings have been widely cited in assisting the church as it sorts through the intersection of Christology, missiology, and ecclesiology within today's evangelical landscape.

In his book ReJesus, Hirsch cites the same Trinitarian grounding of the missio Dei by Bosch that Guder does earlier, but Hirsch reflects the fullness of Bosch's expansion of the missio Dei to another "movement." In Transforming Mission, Bosch writes, "The classical doctrine of the missio Dei...[is] expanded to include yet another 'movement': Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world." [5] Hirsch is quick to assert that it is important to see the cycle continuing with the triune God sending the church into the world, while at the same time, refusing to revert to the previous ecclesiocentric approach.

Once the missio Dei becomes the framework for mission, Hirsch believes that the subsequent role of the church is participation in the liberating mission of Jesus (referred to by the Latin term participati Christi). Hirsch echoes Bosch:

Mission takes place where the church, in its total involvement with the world., bears its testimony in the form of a servant, with reference to unbelief, exploitation, discrimination, and violence, but also with reference to salvation, healing, liberation, reconciliation, and righteousness... Looked at from this perspective, mission is...the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus...It's the good news of God's love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world. [6]

Therefore, according to Hirsch, the church is not a religious institution but rather a vibrant community of believers who partake in the way of Jesus and his work in the world. Further, he argues that the function of the church is "humble participation in his grand scheme -- the kingdom of God. We neither determine our own agenda nor merely imitate God's, but rather participate in the marvelous plan of God according to his call and guidance." [7]

Hirsch warns that it is a great error to equate the church with the kingdom of God. In his paradigm, the kingdom is much broader than the church-- in a cosmic sense. He writes, "The church is perhaps the primary agent in the kingdom but must not be equated with it. We need to be able to see the kingdom activity wherever it expresses itself and join with God in it." [8] In a recent article in Leadership Journal, Hirsch asserts that the mission is an instrument of the church, a means by which the church is grown. But, he writes, to say the "church has a mission" is incorrect. [9] According to missional theology, Hirsch says, the more correct statement is "the mission has a church." [10]

Alan Hirsch has become a good friend and we are engaged in some projects together. He is continuing to encourage (and even provoke) the church to new thinking. I've interviewed Alan before at the blog and you can read that interview here.

For discussion.

As some of the missional thinkers are calling the church to see itself as a means, not the end, and the mission of the church as wrapped up in God's mission and work in all creation, we should seek clarity in a few particular areas. Is it fair to say that the missio ecclesia and the missio Dei should be one and the same, or are there differences? What is the mission of God? Are there things that God is doing in his mission that the church cannot participate in? When it comes to the work of the church, should some things be given greater emphasis than others? If so, which ones?

Let's talk about it!


[1] Alan Roxburgh, "What is Missional Church?: A Continuing Conversation," Allelon; available from http://archives.allelon.org/articles/article.cfm?id=401; Internet

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 390.

[6] Ibid., 519.

[7] Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church (Peabody, MA/Erina NSW, Hendrickson/Strand, 2008), 29.

[8] Ibid., 30.

[9] Alan Hirsch, "Defining Missional," Leadership Journal (Fall 2008); available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2008/fall/17.20.html; Internet.

[10] Ibid.

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Monday is for Missiology: Missional Voices II