Note that its entitled "a" missional theology...not "the" missional theology. What I attempted to describe are some basic understandings of functioning as God's community of ambassadors to all creation. There is plenty of room here for the different denominational distinctions and doctrines - I didn't even try to get in to all the finer points of systematic theology here. So, if you think that something I added is wrong, please feel free to open dialog. If you think I left something out...I did. Add it and serve faithfully.
If you aren't interested in reading 3500 words over three posts, you can listen to nearly the identical thing at missionalmonks.com - the "music" player is in the left hand column - its just under 30 mins including the intro (shorter than most of my sermons...). Whether you read or listen, I'd love your feedback.
Toward a Missional Theology
Over the last couple years I’ve been working on a degree in evangelism and missional leadership from SMU. It has been an awesome experience and I’ve really enjoyed the diversity of folks I’ve been blessed to study with. I’m usually the youngest in the class, usually one of the only (if not THE only) white males and so far I’ve been the only one who would be described as a “missional church planter.”
So I’ve had anything but the experience of sitting in a room with people just like me, telling each other what we want to hear to feel better about who we are and what we do.
I’ve learned a lot by listening to the struggles and questions of folks in contexts that appear so very different from my own. When they ask me to describe my context, it isn’t usually very easy to do. Partially this is because “my context” changes pretty regularly. At one point I would have basically described us as a typical non-denominational suburban store front church that was trying very hard to keep our focus outside of ourselves, but not succeeding very well. At some points I’d have described us as a small group of shell shocked survivors huddling in a living room. Sometimes we’re a vibrant community of families serving our neighbors. Sometimes, we’re a haphazard collection of individuals wanting to experience an authentic connection with others, but unsure how to escape the individualism we’ve all been raised in.
At our best, I think we are a community of disciples in process who sense that church as usual just isn’t cutting it. But rather than defining ourselves over against traditional church, we’re seeking to emulate Jesus by living more fully into our lives. We’re committed to living the gospel in the midst of the suburban disconnect. Proclaiming gospel isn’t about getting someone to join our club. Its about getting our club to join God in the ministry of reconciling the brokenness we see all around us.
In some ways our context is hard to describe because we are exploring territory that hasn’t had many visitors recently. Yet, we aren’t really trying to be novel. We’re trying to faithful to God and the mission that God has entrusted to us, the ambassadors and image-bearers of the Triune God.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, praying and discussing what it means to be church. I’ve gained a lot of understanding from reading Exodus, the prophets and the Gospels - even though I was trained (implicitly if not explicitly in church growing up and in seminary as well) to look to Paul as the primary source of insight for church organization.
Authors such as Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost, who wrote The Forgotten Ways...and numerous other books - Hugh Halter and Matt Smay have also been very helpful. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the new monastics have helped me think more specifically about the role of community in our development of whole life faith.
Really where these authors have been the most help is in painting a picture and providing language to describe what we see in the text when we stop reading through the lens of the empire.
In many ways and for many years, I believe that our reading of scripture has been heavily influenced by Christianity’s way to comfortable relationship and even identification with the dominant culture. I think this is problematic. It is very hard to take to heart Scriptures admonition against the powerful and God’s overwhelming consistency of siding with the oppressed when we’re associated with the powerful oppressors.
Take the Scriptural concept of “The Day of the Lord.” For those who have been oppressed, the day of the Lord is an event to be looked forward to with great anticipation because it is the day of deliverance and justice. For those who have been guilty of oppressing others, it is a day to fear greatly for the same reason. But we don’t ever like to assume that we are the ones being prophesied against...we never associate ourselves with the Pharisees. And so the Day of the Lord becomes about judgement to those outside of our group. We can oppress, neglect or ignore people all we want, so long as we show up for church, don’t cheat on our spouse and sign off on the doctrinal statements that our group feels are most important. God sides with the weak, the overlooked and forgotten. If we want to find ourselves on God’s side, sitting in a comfortable worship assembly completely oblivious to the darkness all around us may not be the best strategy.
As I’ve thought about what it means to be God’s people - the church - I find myself returning to passages like Genesis 1-2 quite often. Those of you who know me are probably used to hearing me comment on the paradoxical descriptions of God in these two chapters.
In chapter 1 of Genesis we read of a God who is anything but like one of us. In fact there are very few things in this chapter that seem to describe God in even remotely human concepts. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters, which gives us the impression that God IS somewhere and isn’t just a concept. God speaks, implying a voice and the ability to make sounds...which we can do. Beyond that, this Being, whatever he, she, they, it is...it isn’t one of us.
And yet, in Chapter 2 God is described in a very different way. Still great. Still mighty. Still in charge. But also familiar. Intimate. Like a father - the good kind of father, not the abusive absentee ones that some people have experienced.
This God walks in the Garden, kneels in the dirt, forms a body and breathes life into its nostrils. This God walks with his children, talks to them and empowers them with productive tasks to accomplish.
This may be the most simplistic and obvious statement I could make, but it strikes me that in some ways we are like this God...but we are not this God. I think, however, that it is very important for us to remember to keep both of these truths in front of us. If we forget that we are not God all kinds of things go wrong - Scripture, human history and personal experience will all attest to that!
to be continued...