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Missional 101

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Missional 101

Ed Stetzer -Copyright  

Today, I spent time on the phone with Francis Dubose. He was gracious enough to t ake the time
to talk with me at length about all things missional.

Dubose is the first person I can find to use the word in the sense we use it today. Dubose, who
is 85, wrote God Who Sends back in 1983. He was a professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological
Seminary where the Francis M. DuBose Award for  Excellence in Kingdom Missions is given in his honor.

My friend Jeff Iorg, president at Golden Gate, helped me track down Dr. Dubose at his assisted
living facility. It was a great honor to be able to talk to a man who has influenced so many.
Dubose does not think he coined the word "missional," but he could not recall who might have
done so before him. Our talk was a great help and I will share some of his thoughts later.
I want to add up front that I will start this project from an historical perspective. My Ph.D. is in
missions and my ideas are shaped by the historic ideas about church and mission. The missional
conversation is an important one and I hope this series will add to the dialogue on the issue.

Finally, I should add that I don't think I can "define" the word. Simply put, it means what people
intend it to mean when they use it. For me to say, "No, missional means this and you are using
it wrong," is silly (and that goes for all "users" of the word).

However, at the end of the series, I will explain how I use it, how I don't, and why... and make
some suggestions on how evangelicals might do so.

Meanings of Missional - part 1

Depending on your perspective, it brings warmth to your soul or a shiver down your spine. Yet,
there is no question the word is gaining traction. Is this the case with the church word of the
day or is it here to stay? And… oh yes… what does it mean anyway?
The answer to the last question depends on who you ask. Some words become so quickly
enmeshed into our Christian subculture that the definition is an active, evolving target, that is
being changed and defined on the move.

The genesis of this paper came from a week of meetings that illustrated the different meanings.
First, before the meetings, I received an email from blogger "Brother Maynard" expressing his
concern about the Wikipedia definition. His concerns can be found by looking in the wikipedia
history page near the bottom. Maynard has since been seeking to find a common definition of
the word "missional."

As a missiologist concerned with the history, I was surprised to see the debate proceed without
any reference to the origin of the word-- just to its current usage. So, I started doing some
research and contacting people about their use of the term and the influences that shaped
their ideas. I will reflect some on the answers I have received from Dubose, Guder, Hirsch,
Keller, Van Engen, and others in the coming weeks.

Second, in late May, I had the privilege of leading a week of missional conversations. It was a
busy week, but it was a good week to think on things "missional."

I taught two days at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on the need for a church to
have a missional orientation. Then, I led a one day faculty retreat at Biblical Seminary
(Hatfield, PA). Finally, I spent the morning on Thursday with Geoff Hammond, new president of
the North American Mission Board.

New Orleans, thanks to the influence of Jack Allen and others, is a missional-friendly
environment. Biblical Seminary has decided to reorder their entire curriculum around the
missional church. My assigned task at Biblical Seminary was  to look at the use of the word
missional. I did so by tracing the understanding of church and mission through the International
Missionary Council  meetings from Edinburgh to just after Willingen. Geoff Hammond has a passion
for seeing North America in a missional manner—as a mission field.

In short, I discussed missional church in many contexts—but the word meant different things to
different people. The faculty at Biblical Seminary asked for me to write some of the ideas down
(and I agreed), but then I promised a more thorough  analysis to Geoff Hammond. That has become
a bigger task than I expected, but I look forward to sharing the results with them.
As that week moved ahead, and in subsequent conversations, I have seen just how much the
word “missional” is a true wiki-word. Practitioners, theoreticians, fans and foes are defining,
defending, and dissecting it. Its blurred meaning has brought it to the point that even some of
its earliest and ardent users of the term are becoming reticent to use it themselves for fear of
their audience misconstruing their message. But the proponents of the term missional see it as
a word set apart from other cousin-words, like missionary, mission, and missio dei. Many see
the need for a different term.

Jim Thomas, writing at the Urbana site regarding why we need the word, explained,
We need a new word… to cause us to reconsider what God’s mission is and whether we are
partaking of it as we should. The old words, like missions and missionary, are laden with
historical baggage and strong cultural images that prevent us from seeing a broader picture.

Also, regarding the use of the term, Alan Roxburgh cautioned, If the language of missional
church is to become a helpful way of forming communities of  God’s people in a radically changing
culture then we have to spend the time and energy to  understand what is at stake in the language
we are using.  Simple sentence definitions are not adequate. (from "The Missional Church" in, Theology
Matters: A Publication of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry Vol 10 No 4 • Sep/Oct 2004)

The "new word" appears to be catching on among evangelicals. For example: Southern Baptists
have become frequent users of the word. The Wesleyan  Church Evangelism and Church Growth
Team explains: "The E&CG Dept. exists to equip & empower The Wesleyan Church to become a
missional  movement through multiplying believers, leaders & churches."

Randy Pope, pastor of Perimeter Church in Atlanta, preached a message at last summer's
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly entitled, “The PCA: A Missional
Church?” from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 .

The Assemblies of God Department of U.S. Missions includes “missional” as one of their 4
values. The Evangelical Free Church is planning a “Missional Summit” for their leaders in 2007
and they have renamed their church planting  leadership: “Missional Church Planting Team.”
The Nazarene Church’s denomination has adopted “Missional” as their denominational goal.
They describe themselves as Christian, Holiness, and Missional. I have cited many evangelical
denominations, but the term and the concept have many  ecumenical roots that both influence
and concern some evangelicals.

Obviously, part of the problem regarding the debate over what it means to be “missional” is
that so many people have used the term in so many different ways. Put simply, if I want to be
"missional" what does that actually mean? And, as evangelicals use the word, what can and
should it mean for them?

But, in order to get to contemporary usage, we will need to go through history. Why? Well, the
origin helps us get at the meaning. I think there are probably three key early thinkers (in order of
publication) that are most significant:

Francis Dubose, God Who Sends (1983)
Charles Van Engen, God's Missionary People (1991), and
Darrell Guder, ed. The Missional Church (1998)
(Take the time to read the reviews of Van Engen's book at Amazon as it illustrates some of the
debate in missiological circles.)

But, I think that Guder (as author and editor) has to be the most influential, and the Gospel
and Our Culture Network was the most influential organization. I first read about the idea of
the missional church in the thoughtful writings of Guder  and others in The Missional Church
and later in the Gospel and Our Culture Network. He/they were building on the ideas birthed
in an earlier  missiological debate (which we will see next Monday).

And, I believe The Missional Church was the most influential on the topic. On a personal note, The
Missional Church was my introduction to the ideas of  church and mission. It was only later that I
would interact with the other authors mentioned in my post.

I read both Van Engen and Dubose as part of my Ph.D. program, but had read Guder, et. al.
before I began the program. Actually, Guder's missional focus for North America is one of the
reasons I went into missiology instead of Church Growth... and soon found Bosch, Newbigin,
Van Gelder, Van Engen, Dubose, and others as part of my Ph.D. at Southern Seminary.
My interest in missiology, and my current role as missiologist in residence at LifeWay (and
partnership with the International Mission Board) all stem from reading that book. So, as best
I can tell, Guder and the GOCN leaders were the most  influential. (Guder was the editor and
the other authors included several noted missiologists: Lois Barrett, Inagrace T. Dietterich, Darrell L. Guder, George R. Hunsberger, Alan J. Roxburgh, and Craig Van Gelder.)
So Guder et. al. were the genesis for many people's ideas today.

When we asked Darrell Guder about the origin of the term, he emailed back:
The word apparently achieved its current popularity as a result of the publication of the
research project I edited entitled Missional Church, Eerdmans, 1998. We chose the term
because it was not defined, and we wanted to find a way to convey with an adjective the
fundamentally missionary nature of the church (which is the wording in Vatican II on which we
were building).

Yet, Charles Van Engen and Francis Dubose both indicate a different starting point, and a
somewhat different emphasis, in their understanding of "missional." I will explain more fully in
the weeks ahead as they came to influence me as well.

So, if the word does not have a clear definition, should we even use it?

Obviously, I think so, though I have seen the term be used in some ways that concern me. Even
though I might disagree with some emphases, I believe we can learn from the ideas of others in
the missional conversation without having to agree with them on every point.
More on Monday (and probably in between as I am anxious to get some more out there for your
input if anyone is paying attention).

Here are some questions for you:
So, do we really need a new word anyway?
What questions do we need to address as we examine "missional"?
How have you seen people use it that both encourages and concerns you?

Meanings of Missional- part 2

The Missional Rorschach Test

Based on some of the blogs, my series has spawned, or reignited, some
thoughts on what it means to be "missional." That's a good thing, I think, as it
will enable some cross conversations.

But, I think that "missional" is like a Rorschach Test for many people. In a
Rorschach Inkblot Test, a subject is asked to describe what he or she sees in
random inkblots. It tells much about what a person is thinking and feeling. I
think the same is true for all of us engaged in the missional conversation. To
some degree how we define "missional" is determined by our pre-existing
concerns about what is wrong, and what is right, with the church today.
So, before I reveal my own ideas (or perhaps as I do so), I think we need to look
to history for the genesis of the ideas that have shaped "missional" today.

What is Missional?

For Acts 29 , a missional church includes inerrancy.
For many Southern Baptists, being missional includes supporting the
Cooperative Program (the denominations centralized mission strategy).
For those of a mainline persuasion, being missional tends to include more of a
social justice focus than perhaps it does for evangelicals.
For some, missional and emerging are the same thing.

I am not seeking to (nor could I) disallow these emphases as part of the work
"missional"-- I agree with some of them. But, I am saying that how people
define missional has more to do with what they believe than it does with the
term itself.

And, surprisingly, mission is not easy to define. Let me explain.

Defining Mission, Missions, and Missional

David Hesselgrave and I are currently co-editing a new book called Mission:
God’s Initiative in the World. It will be a missions textbook geared toward
issues in the field of missiology.

The book is structured around three “grand essays” follow by two respondents
to the essays with cross references to the others. The contributors are some of
the leading missiologists of our day. In that book, we will also address briefly
the issue of mission and missio dei.

Here is the outline of the "grand essays." (When we nail down the final
"respondent essay," I will share all of them as well.)
Chuck Van Engen: Mission Described and Defined
Paul Hiebert: Changing Perspectives of Contextualization
Ralph Winter: The Future of Missions
(Many of you will be aware that Paul Hiebert recently died, just a few weeks
after finishing his essay. We consider it a special honor to publish this work

In our book, Chuck Van Engen has the rather unenviable task of defining
mission, missions, and missional—and he does all three with great discernment.
That is not an easy task, but it is essential. And, if we are to define “missional”
we have to determine what the mission “is.” In his essay, Chuck explains:
It would appear that ‘mission’ and ‘missionaries’ are two of the most
misunderstood words in the vocabulary of North American churches today.
People use the words mission, missions, and missional in different ways. Thus,
any discussion of missional cannot be complete without asking the question,
“which missional?”

Also, and to be fair, it is quite probable that most of those who use the term
would not have the need to understand the background. If you, as a follower of
Christ in interaction with scripture, you determine that you want to be
"missional" as best as the Spirit leads you, it it certainly fine to do so.
Yet, as the term has grown in prominence, it has also grown in opposition. In
some of the places I have spoken, I have specfically been asked to not use the
word "missional," as it is a "liberal word." (I am not sure how a word gets an
ideology, but that is another story.)

Now, before you get offended by their concern, there is a reason. Obviously,
their concern has not pushed me away from using the term, but it is helpful for
us to understand their worry... and it might be a surprise to know the
problematic history that causes some evangelicals to reject the word
"missional." And, the word "missional" is much less important than the emphasis
it brings.

By the way, the objection has nothing to do with the Leadership Journal article
"Dangers of Missionalism" which I have read several times and (I think) it is
about the danger of having a mission (or goal) rather than the danger of

However, to understand the objections and the nuances it will be necessary to
go through the history, which we will in depth next week. But, let me breifly
explain why some evangelicals are concerned about the word missional and its
roots in missio dei theology.

Why Are Some Evangelicals Nervous about the Missio Dei

That may seem odd—who can be concerned about the mission of God? Well, it
is not the concept, but the history, particularly in missiology, that concerns
many evangelicals.

For example, read this paragraph and decide if you agree with its sentiment:
It is the Church and the Church alone which can carry the responsibility of
transmitting the Gospel from one generation to another, of preserving its purity
and of proclaiming it to all creatures. It is the Church and Church alone which
can witness to the reality that man belongs to God in Christ with a higher right
than that of any earthly institution which may claim his supreme allegiance…
We may and we should doubt whether the churches as they are do truly express
the mind of Christ, but we may never doubt that Christ has a will for His
Church, and that His promises to it holds good.

This paragraph is from a meeting that took place in Tambaram in 1938.
In the next few decades, the ecclesiocentrism of this passage (and the whole
Tambaram conference) would be challenged by a missiology / theology that
came to be known as the missio dei. It will be worth your time to read this if
you are interested in the subject.

A few decades after Tambaram, Johannes Hoekendijk and others, sought to
define the missio dei as larger than the church. Their concern was that the
mission of God was more than church extension—and they were partially right.
Hoekendijk challenged the member bodies in the World Council of Churches 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 was called participating in the
missio dei.

Because of this history, and much of the social justice emphasis (or "social
gospel" depending on your view), evangelicals have historically shied away from
missio dei theology. For example, there is this telling description in the
Evangelical Dictionary of Missions under the heading, “Missio Dei”:
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.

So, I hope that everyone is excited about the missio dei becuase they are
excited about joining in the "mission of God." But, the theoligcal system called
missio dei has a history that some evangelicals do not want to repreat. Many
evangelicals are nervous about the origin, history, and implications of the term.
Those concerns typically tend to revolve around three areas:
1. the role of the church
2. the nature of the Kingdom
3. the nature of salvation

Tormod Engelsviken has written an excellent analysis that will play into what I
develop over the next several weeks. He wrote in the International Review of
Mission an article entitled, "Missio Dei: the understanding and misunderstanding
of a theological concept in European churches and missiology."
You can find the beginning of the article here, but this excerpt will address the
"problem" of the missio dei:

It was another German missiologist, Georg F. Vicedom, who has the honour of
having developed the concept of missio Dei in a way that seems to be
consistent with the more classical missiology that preceded Willingen, and
quite different from the more radical missiology that, under the same label,
was worked out during the 1960s. In his book Missio Dei, Vicedom emphasizes
that mission is God's work from beginning to end. God is the acting subject in
mission. However, Vicedom does not thereby exclude the church from the
mission of God but includes it: "The mission, and with it the church, is God's
very own work". (8) Both the church and the mission of the church are "tools of
God, instruments through which God carries out His mission. (9)

For the missional Rorschach Test, the question may be built around what you
think the mission is, and how it is best lived out related to the church, mission,
and culture. Since that was the fundamental debate of the International
Missionary Council meetings for the first 60 years of the last century, it is there
we will turn next time. For, as best I can tell, those missiologists who first used
the term missional all see the genesis of their ideas in the conciliar missions
movement (IMC), it is just a matter of when they get off the conciliar missions
track (which ended poorly).
To lay my cards on the table, I think that mission, missionary, and missio dei
are all helpful root words for missional, but all have their dangers and their
failings. Every one of the terms can both be helpful and every one has led to
error. The error has come when the terms have been misused or misunderstood.
And, for all of us, our own theoligcal and missiological vision tends to fill these
terms: in other words, the words become a Missional Rorschach Test.
The question I want to pursue this week and next is, "how can we best live out
our missional mandate by learning from the past as we seek to be obedient to
Jesus today?"

Meanings of Missional- part 3

Semantics is the branch of linguistics that concerns meanings of words and
their usage. One of the foremost semanticists of literary history is that eminent
(but short-lived) philosopher, Humpty-Dumpty, who – while balancing
precariously upon a wall – explained semantics to Alice (of Wonderland fame):
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it
means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many
different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty
began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs, they’re the
proudest – adjectives you do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can
manage the whole lot them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
“Would you tell me, please,” said Alice, “what that means?”
Humpty Dumpty gave a lengthy explanation of what he meant by the word.
“That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
“When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I
always pay it extra.”

We probably need to pay the word missional extra for all the work we make it
do. A missional church is not any one thing. It is not simply a new style or
model of doing church. And there is not one formulaic amalgamate (that means
“word”) that sums up its meaning. The landscape of the missional debate is
filled with questions, assumptions, and opinions – along with hard pressed
critiques on wider issues such as leadership styles, congregation sizes,
vocational/bi-vocational ministry, building church-based or house church-based
as well as core theology.

One thing the debate about the word illustrates is the statement “Words don’t
mean, people do.”

So what does that mean?

What it means is rooted in the word "mission" in one of several forms.
It means in order for us to use the word missional (and it’s a perfectly good
word) we’re going to have to understand what different people have meant by
it, and settle upon how we might use it constructively in the future. A useful
way to get at this is to determine what people have meant by it in the past.
For example, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian and well known
missional thinker, dropped by the comment section of this post and wrote:
I agree with you that the concept of the Missio Dei is crucial and right, but it
depends on what people mean by it... I've heard missiologists cite the Eastern
view of the Spirit in order say 'God is at work in major ways out in the world,
liberating people and it's the church's job to get involved with what God is
doing"... I think, however, many people who cite the 'Missio Dei' concept are
going beyond the teaching about common grace/natural law to say that the
Spirit is working in people's lives in a major, virtually saving way apart from
belief in Christ.

In my response, I agreed and wrote:

I think everyone would agree that the missio dei (mission of God) is larger than
the missio ecclesia (mission of the church). The harder questions are, "How?"
and, "For what purpose?"... and, I would add, "What is the role of the church in
that work?"

And, if you combine such a missio dei missiology with the "Preferential Option
for the Poor" that became prominent in the 1970s, you end up as did the World
Council of Churches 1980 mission meeting at Melbourne... focused on economic
liberation as God was "at work" there.

According to Jacques Matthey: "Taking up the concept of Missio Dei, which had
influenced WCC theology since Willingen, Melbourne defines its theological entry
point into the world: God acts by and through the poor, the victims and the excluded.
The aim of God’s action, described as 'shalom'... is also defined in the sense that God aims first
at the liberation of the poor, a liberation that will bring about changed
relations in the world and also the liberation of the rich and powerful. The
poor and their fate thus become the yardstick for judging all social, political,
economic, religious and missionary developments and programmes."
See the original post for the full quotes and context. So, words do have
meanings that "follow them" but they really have the meaning that we "
assign them."

Hence the reason for this "meanings of missional" project...

Roots of Missional-- in the IMC Movement

As I have indicated before, you cannot understand "missional" without
understanding the debate about "church and mission." The debate about
"church and mission" was a (if not "the") defining missiological debate of the
first 60 years of the last century. These debates took place in and around the
International Missionary Council (IMC) meetings. The IMC met from 1921-1958,
as follows:

• Edinburgh 1920 (pre-IMC)
• Lake Mohonk 1921
• Jerusalem 1928
• Tambaram 1938
• Whitby 1947
• Willingen 1952
• Ghana 1958
After the Ghana meeting the IMC was absorbed into the World Council of

Why Start Missional in the "Mission" Debate?

Most early authors writing on the subject of the missional church all either root
their ideas in, or draw some inferences from, the IMC movement. Yet, the
definition of mission there was quite confusing.

I recently shared with my friend David Hesselgrave and co-editor about my
"missional project." David is, I believe and think few would argue, the world's
leading evangelical missiologist. He allowed me to share a quote that I believe
will have some relevance to the discussion. (He also wrote me yesterday, "As
for 'missional,' you are to be commended. It desperately needs defining, and in
every context in which it is used.")

He is writing a paper which will probably appear in the International Journal of
Frontier Missions which traces what he sees as the mistakes at Edinburgh that
led to such great theological problems later. He wrote (in an unpublished
document) about the definition of "mission" which, like its cousin "missional" is
used by many people in many different ways.
Indecisiveness as to the nature and meaning of mission led to continuing
confusion and vacillation as to what the mission is and also as to the
relationship between church and mission. At one point leaders proposed that
“mission is church;” at another point that “church is mission.” In 1968, Uppsala
delegates proposed to “let the world establish the agenda” while at the same
time turning a deaf ear to the question “What about the two billion (who, it
was reckoned, had not yet heard the gospel)?” Themes of subsequent
conferences often had a hopeful ring to them but attendant discussions and
understandings were much less hopeful. The theme at Bangkok in 1973 was
“Salvation Today” but in the end “salvation” turned out to be “humanization.”
Ten years later the theme at Vancouver was “Jesus Christ—the Life of the
World,” but no major speaker referred to it. Speakers focused, rather, on
“world affairs in ecumenical perspective.” (Cf. Arthur F. Glasser, “World
Council of Churches Assemblies,” In Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. A.
Scott Moreau, general editor. Grand Rapids: Baker 2000:1026). If the
“ecumenical perspective” on mission were to be boiled down to a single
sentence it might be, “Mission is everything the church does in the world,” or
the more nuanced, “Mission is everything the church is sent to do in the
world.” But both definitions run afoul of Stephen Neill’s oft-quoted dictum,
“When mission is everything, mission is nothing.”
It was that very concern that prompted Francis Dubose to use the term
"missional" in the first writing on the subject.
The International Missionary Council Meetings
Although there were many meetings, I’ll focus particularly on the meetings at
Tambaram (Madras) and Willingen because they are most significant in the
missional discussion.

Tambaram: Church and Mission Are One

Long before the missio dei language that would emerge after Willingen, the
missiologists and missionaries gathered at Tambaram believed that "church and
mission are one." And, by "mission" they focused on the "sentness" of the church.
In 1938, the IMC leadership met in Tambaram (Madras) in India. This conference
was one of the most theologically focused, and became a transition
point in the understanding of church and mission.

By the time the council met, many of the evangelicals from Western countries
had already distanced themselves from the IMC movement, although they
would still be greatly influenced by the meeting (and continue to be today).
Several shifts in understanding were emphasized—shifts that would sound
similar to the missional conversation today.

According to helpful summary from Moreau, these shifts included:
• a shift from a focus on the atonement to a focus on the incarnation.
• a renewed high view of scripture (based, partly, on Barth’s influence).
• “Larger Evangelism” became the focus of the mission. This was a compromise
position between the evangelistic impulse of Edinborough and the more social
gospel influence of the 1928 Jerusalem conference which had driven
evangelicals away.
• A focus upon the church as the hope of the world, if it would live, act, and be
different for the gospel.
• An assertion that indigenous expressions of church were needed and valued if
the church was to be God’s missionary in every global context.
T.V. Philip explained (italics are mine):
The main conclusion of the Madras Conference was that church and mission are
inseparable... It is the church that is God’s missionary to the world. So from
Madras on, it was impossible to speak of mission without directly linking
mission to the church.

The church being the center of (or central to) the mission was a new
development. Oddly enough, the church was not the center of missionary
activity in the early 20th Century: Rather, the individual mission was, as
directed by the missionary sending agencies.

These mission agencies were not "real" churches. These agencies were what
Ralph Winter's called “sodality structures” – kind of like parachurch agencies –
which, while energized by the “modality structures” of churches, were really
not churches. They were seeking to plant churches, but were not (for the most
part) churches themselves.

The terminology of “daughter” or “younger” churches had begun to emerge out
of this colonial period to describe churches planted by missionaries. In their
struggle to become indigenous a natural tendency to develop organizations
resulted in a focus upon the institution of the church and not upon its mission.
It was the wish to move these churches on to becoming missionary-minded
themselves – and full partners in the missionary task – that pushed those
gathering for the Tambaram council to look back at the church itself as the
foundation of mission, and to see mission as the church’s purpose.

This was really continued growth in the understanding of what it meant for a
church to be truly indigenous. The language of the "indigenous church" became
important here. A church had to be “rooted” in its culture and context. (And, I
actually quoted this in my first book, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern
Age.) They wrote:

An indigenous church, young or old, in the East or in the West, is a church
which, rooted in obedience to Christ, spontaneously uses forms of thought and
modes of action natural and familiar in its own environment. Such a church
arises in response to Christ’s own call. The younger churches will not be
unmindful of the experiences and teachings which the older churches have
recorded in their confessions and liturgy. But every younger church will seek
further to bear witness to the same Gospel with new tongues. (From
/International Missionary Council, “The Growing Church: The Madras Series,”
Papers Based upon the Meeting of the International Missionary Council, at
Tambaram, Madras, India, December 12–29, 1938. Vol. 2, (New York,
International Missionary Council), 276.)

The significance of the shifts in focus brought about by Tambaram would be
hard to overstate: The church was again recognized as the instrument of God’s
missionary activity. But, this was an ecclesiocentric and mission focused
approach, and was soon after criticized as such. Yet, it was still a
missiologically informed and mission-focused emphasis.

The conference documents explained:

It is the Church and the Church alone which can carry the responsibility of
transmitting the Gospel from one generation to another, of preserving its purity
and of proclaiming it to all creatures. It is the Church and Church alone which
can witness to the reality that man belongs to God in Christ with a higher right
than that of any earthly institution which may claim his supreme allegiance…
We may and we should doubt whether the churches as they are do truly express
the mind of Christ, but we may never doubt that Christ has a will for His
Church, and that His promises to it holds good.

Not everyone agreed. E. Stanley Jones pointed out that the council did not
emphasize the Kingdom of God as much as he believed they should. E. Stanley
Jones (quoted from here) complained about Tambaram:

It blazed no great way. Why? Because of its basic starting point-- the Church. It
began there and worked out to all its problems from the Church standpoint....
"The Church is the world's greatest hope!" That is not a chance sentence. It
sums up the presuppositions of Madras.... Is the Church the hope of the world?
If so, God help us! . . . God is laying hold of other instruments besides the
Church to realize the Kingdom of God . . . the Kingdom is a demand upon the
total life-the whole of life, personal, devotional, economic, social,
international-comes its way.

There were certainly some issues with the Tambaram meeting. Like all of us,
they saw through a glass darkly and all the emphases will not be embraced by
all Christians. Evangelicals will be uncomfortable with the idea that Karl Barth's
neo-orthdoxy returned the council to a higher view of scripture. Others will
want to move more fully into the ideas of the missio dei.

But the reason I spend so much time here is that this is where the first author
to use the term "missional" rooted his ideas. In 1938, the International
Missionary Council saw the church as a missionary church, as an indigenous
church, and as a church centered on mission, and focused on God’s mission. At
Tambaram they believed that God worked through the "sent" church to redeem
a people (and to some degree a world) to Himself.

In our August 13th phone conversation, Francis Dubose indicated to me that it
is from here that many of his ideas flow-- not from the ideas of the later
Willingen conference and the missio dei concepts that flowed from it. For that
matter, Dubose shared his concern that the missio dei emphasis distracted
God's people from focusing on the purpose and focus of our God given mission.
In other words, he believed that the "mission" was defined too broadly.
Dubose wanted to focus on the church as "missionary" but specifically chose not
to use that language since books like The Missionary Nature of the Church
defined the term in ways he found problematic. Thus, Dubose used "missional"
as a replacement for the word "missionary."

Thus, as I look at the early uses of the word "missional," the ideas there were
focused on a sent church, indigenous to its culture, being the incarnation of
Christ in that context.

Dubose explained it this way in God Who Sends. When Dubose refers to
"universiality," he is referring to the universal mission call on all believers and
churches. He knows that all believers are called to "it." His concern is that the
"it" was not defined as Biblical mission.

The most insightful works on mission, as well as the more popular ones,
confront us with this dilemma. Some authors assume a definition but do not
give one. This can be illustrated from those authors which assume “the
universal” as the missionary motif of Scripture without demonstrating this
hermeneutically. This is seen in such popular treatments as Julian Price Love’s
The Missionary Message of the Bible, and more scholarly works as Ferdinand
Hahn’s Mission in the New Testament, and Johannes Blauw’s The Missionary
Nature of the Church. Hahn says, “A fundamental element of missionary
thought and action is the universalist understanding of God.” Most of the
chapters in Blauw contain the word universal. His first chapter is “The Point of
Departure and General Perspective of Universalism in the Old Testament."
Dubose, God Who Sends, pp22-23

The suspicion is that we begin a priori with the idea of universality, starting
perhaps largely unconsciously from the orientation and mystique of the modern
world missionary enterprise, and then going back into the Scripture in an effort
to discover the biblical justification for the universal activity of the Christian
world mission. We do this rather than first going to the Bible with the
expressed purpose of discovering that first meaning, that original idea, impulse,
event (whatever) which is the mission genius of the biblical message, that
living verity, the proto-missio, which developed ultimately into the worldwide
missionary enterprise.

He indicates that his central approach is that missional means “sending.” He

There are, of course, objections to this approach. Why limit the meaning of
mission to sending? The answer is because that is what mission means. If we
are to capture this essential idea, we must be guided by the discipline of that
idea. Since mission and sending have essentially the same meaning, we look for
its meaning in the message it conveys in Scripture just as we look for the
meaning of covenant, kingdom, grace or any other biblical concept through
that precise language, at least at the outset.Dubose, God Who Sends, pp25
The book is a journey through scripture, with a focus on the sending of God's
people. At the end of the book, he summarizes his thesis with these points:

(1) Mission means sending. The naked language establishes the genius of the
germinal idea: the Sender, the sent, the sending purpose. The contextualized
language in Scripture determines the theological perimeters of the concept.
(2) Mission as sending refers to the outreach of God from the lovingkindness
and purposefulness of his nature.
(3) This expresses itself basically in the providential sendings reflective of his
goodness, the judgmental sendings reflective of his justice, and the salvific
sendings reflective of his love.
(4) The climatic expression is the sending of Jesus into the world for the
redemption of humanity.
(5) The Christian and the church are created out of this missional purpose and,
therefore, in it have their being and sense of identity, source of religious
knowledge, standard of morality, system of values, and total directive for life.
(6) This purpose at its heart is twofold: to be sent to witness to God’s loving
nature through ministry and to be sent to witness to God’s salvific work
through evangelism.
(7) All Christian and ecclesial functions find their ultimate expression in the
rhythmic return to God of the worship of loving service which has its motivation
in the loving impulse of the divine sending.
(8) The sending judges the elitist idea and paternalistic practice of mission and
places every Christian and every church in the world at the heart of the
missional calling and task.
(9) Finally, it focuses on the praxis of mission; for we are sent into the world to
bear a life-witness to God’s redemptive concern for all people everywhere in
the face of issues which affect their daily lives.Dubose, God Who Sends, pp159-
Francis DuBose via Brad Briscoe

Brad has done an excellent job summarizing God Who Sends by Francis DuBose,
the first book I can find to use the term “missional.” His summaries come in
several parts linked below:

• God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest
• Being Sent and the Pentateuch
• Being Sent and the Historical Books
• Being Sent and the Prophets
• Being Sent and the Gospels
• Being Sent in Acts & Epistles


Each "missional" thinker who roots their ideas in the historical debate over
"church and mission" takes an "off ramp" somewhere off the IMC highway so
they don't end up where the IMC movement led (see above). If the ideas of
Dubose, Van Engen, and Guder (et. al.) are rooted in the church-mission
conversation (and they all indicate they are to some degree), it is helpful to
know where and why they rooted their ideas.

Dubose roots his idea in the "sentness" of a "missionary church." That impacts at
least one stream of the missional conversation which I will call that the
“missionary” stream.

Next time, we will look at the second early adopter of the term (Chuck Van
Engen) and where he roots his missional ideas.

Part Four

There are many definitions. Some people are not happy that we would try to
create a definition at all. Others think it is already defined.
But, as Rick illustrates on his site, there are lots of ideas about what the word
means. Some have expressed concern that the focus is becoming, "what
missional means to me." A valid concern. But, in all the discussion of what it
means to be missional, I thought the best thing was to ask those who first used
the word. (Crazy idea, eh?) And, we ought to also understand the theological
and missiological discussion that the early users say undergirded their work.
Much as I did with Francis DuBose, I laid out my quest to better understand the
various uses of the word “missional” and asked Chuck Van Engen for his insights.
For background, see Preface, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Chuck shares the concern that the word is bing used to mean so many things:
The word "missional" is now being used in so many senses -- many uses that
have more to do with revitalization, re-engineering church, revival -- and little
or nothing with mission the way I define mission. "When everything is mission,
nothing is mission.” Some folks think that my God's Missionary People that
came out first in English in 1991 was the beginning of the original "missional"

Missional, Mission, and Guilt


It can be a driving motivator for some. It can also bend good sense and cause
obsessive overcompensation. In the years after the Willingen Conference –or
more pointedly, the years after the failure of the church during World War II – a
kind of “Theology of Guilt” overwhelmed more balanced perceptions of
missionaries, mission and the missional church, resulting in an – shall we say it?
– anti-missionary idea of missions.

Upon seeing and graciously reviewing this post, Chuck Van Engen

This was particularly true of mainline (or oldline) Protestant denominations in
the US. Everyone was reading Bonhoeffer at the time. Presbyterians stopped
using the word "missionary" and spoke of "fraternal workers" And mainline
mission agencies talked about "global sharing of resources" rather than speak
about "mission." (The Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals were in
another conceptual world at the time.)
“Missional” and “mission”

Chuck has written a marvelous essay on missions for a book I am co-editing
with David Hesselgrave. The book title is Mission: God’s Initiative in the World.
I look forward to sharing that work with a much wider audience when the book
is published. The chapter is, at this point, titled “Mission Described and
Defined” An easy title, but a much more difficult task.

But since Van Engen has written extensively concerning the missio dei debate
that swirled through missiological circles in the days following Willingen (see
his 1996 book Mission on the Way), I wanted to add his comments on this issue
to our discussion.

Chuck is credited by many as the first user of the term missional in the way we
use today. Milfred Minatrea indicates Van Engen is the first in Shaped By God's
Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. That is not surprising
because Chuck was the first to use it in a way that was widely distributed.
Though Dubose was first, fewer people would have heard of Dubose.
In an e-mail Chuck Van Engen wrote (refer to my last post to understand the
references to the International Missionary Council):

My understanding of ‘missional’ derives from what I would call a ‘classical
understanding’ of mission: that women and men, through personal faith and
conversion by the work of the Holy Spirit, would become disciples of Jesus
Christ and responsible members of Christ's church. It is the understanding of
mission that the early SVM and the International Missionary Council assumed
and followed.

This is a more historical and more foundational view of "missional" than even
the ‘majority report’ of Willingen. The shades of what I call ‘mission from a
guilty conscience’ after WWII and the holocaust affected everyone at Willingen.
Chuck roots his missional ideas in what he sees as the biblical idea of mission.
Chuck indicates that he chose not to continue to participate in the Gospel and
Our Culture Network because his “missional” was nuanced a bit differently.
Van Engen wrote me:

I was part of the initial group that met with George Hunsberger to begin to
think about the "Gospel and Our Culture" Network. I stepped out of that very
early because I thought it was beginning to look like a throwback to the
"Missionary Structures of the Congregation" of the 1960's WCC and NCCC. In the
early 1960's this movement did not stimulate new mission outreach in the way I
would define "mission" because it was primarily interested in examining the
local congregation internally. That emphasis of the 1960s showed little
understanding of the cultures outside the church and not much contextual
analysis for re-evangelization and conversion of people of many cultures in No.
America. In the "missionary structures of the congregation" of the 1960s there
was little practical actual missionary perspective, action, or praxis offered for
local congregations to be God's Missionary People. Johannes Blauw (also within
the WCC at the time) wrote The Missionary Nature of the Church in 1962 with a
much more "missional" (in my sense) view of the Church, a work that was
ignored in the WCC and the NCCC interest in the "missionary structures of the

(For “When everything is mission, nothing is mission,” Van Engen cites S. Neill,
Creative Tension. London: Edinburgh House. 1959, p. 81; quoted by Johannes
Blauw The Missionary Nature of the Church. G.R.: Eerdmans, 1962, p 109)
Blauw’s work was also significant in the writings of Francis Bubose, though his
concern was to use the word “missionary” in a bit different way than Blauw
(which is why he ‘first’ coined the term missional).

And this is specifically my series: How we interpret and use the term
“missional” says as much about our presuppositions as it does our reasoned
conclusions. And, please note, Chuck is not criticizing the views of GOCN, just
indicating that he was going a different direction with his missional ideas.
Part of that was built on a concern for the "Missionary Structures of the
Congregation" and where those ideas went... based on their understand of the
missio dei.

Van Engen expressed his concern on the subject of "missionary structures" and
the missio dei here. He expained:

The concept of missio Dei that appears to be used with regularity among
Evangelicals today was first articulated by Karl Barth in 1932 and, following
Barth, by Karl Hartenstein in 1952. It was associated with a trinitarian view of
mission at the IMC conference in Willingen, 1952. The concept was popularized
by Georg Vicedom in 1958, became rather common currency in the ecumenical
movement after Mexico City, 1963 (see Henry Van Dusen 1961; Georg Vicedom
1965). It was used as the conceptual foundation for the WCC and NCC
discussion about “the missionary structures of the congregation” in 1963 (cf.
Colin Williams 1963, 1964 and World Council of Churches 1968). In conciliar
theology of mission the ship of missio Dei was eventually loaded with so much
baggage it nearly sank.

I have removed some content (not reference) footnotes from this quote, so see
the original for those. It is well worth your time.
H.H. Rosin and the definition of missio dei

It was Chuck Van Engen who directed me to the 1972 study prepared by H. H.
Rosin entitled “Missio Dei: An Examination of the Origin, Contents and Function
of the Term in Protestant Missiological Discussion” (Interuniversity Institute for
Missiological and Ecumenical Research. Leiden 1972). This was a Dutch study
commissioned to help resolve just the kinds of issues that have arisen around
our current term ‘missional.’

In it Rosin cites the meaning of the term in Latin, but points out that the Latin
term was used far more in German texts than in English, and that it had
already been invested with so much new content that the original meaning(s?)
of the word had already been altered by usage. He attributes the first real
usage of the term to Georg Vicedom, who used the term constantly in his book
entitled (appropriately enough!) Missio Dei (1958).

It’s interesting that Vicedom attributed the term to Willingen, when in fact the
term missio dei can’t be found in any articles or documents of that conference.
But Willingen did not use the terms missional or missio dei, it was there that a
minority position began to emerge which swelled into a majority position.

What was this position, exactly?

In essence, those espousing the missio dei concept understood mission as our
participating in the sending of God. Fine, one might counter, but isn’t that
what the church had been doing for 1900 years? Not to this view. Instead, the
concept of the sending (missio) became focused as being derived from the very
nature of God, and not from the church. That is, mission was put in the context
of the Trinity, as opposed to ecclesiology or soteriology. Mission is not,
therefore, primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. Mission
is a movement of God to the world, the church being the instrument for

There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.
Andrew Jones, who is one of my most frequently visited bloggers, reflects on
his blog,

'Mission Shaped Church' became popular in the United Kingdom. The book of
the same title ties the history of the name to missio dei. Lesslie Newbigin did
not use the missio Dei terminology very much but certainly helped in the
formation of its thinking and impact on mission in a post-modern, post-
Christendom society. Missio Dei, meaning the Mission of God, was coined by
Karl Hartenstein in the 1950's, immediately after and in response to the
International Missionary Council missions conference at Willingen, Germany. It
tapped into the Trinitarian emphasis of Barth and Hartenstein in the 1930's and
moved the thinking beyond the ecclesiocentrism and individualism of the time.
The emphasis was put on God's mission rather than ours—we participate with
the Triune God in what he is doing.

In other words, in the post-Willingen world missiologists returned to prior
decades and brought Barth’s ideas and emphasis back into the conversation.
Future IMC meetings would adopt the emphasis more specifically. For example,
George Vicedom popularized the missio Dei concept in the Mexico City
Conference (1963) and in his text The Mission of God (1965). Jaques Matthey
says, “Missio Dei has helped to overcome the ecclesiocentric approach which
had been highlighted since the thirties (Tambaram). Missio Dei has been and
can be a constant reminder that the church is not the ultimate goal of
mission.” Jaques Matthey’s address at the 50th anniversary of the World
Mission Conference Mission Festival and Congress, August 16-21, 2002
So -- where before, the classical concept of mission had been from God through
the church to the world, now there were advocates of the belief that God
addresses the world directly – and some took that too far to believe that the
church is therefore not essential to that mission.

Now, it is important to note that concept of Trinitarian mission does not
necessarily lead to the sidelining of the church. I think that it should not. But,
whatever you say about whether it should, it still did.
The role of the church and evangelism in the missio Dei
Use whatever metaphor you want: The church was benched in favor of other
players like ‘liberation’ and ‘justice. The church was sidetracked like an old
boxcar without the wheels to match speed with God’s modern supertrain. (Van
Engen reminded me that Donald McGavran said the "(airplane) of missions had
been hijacked.")

The church was put out to pasture, to stand idly, chewing reflectively as it
watched God encounter the world directly through many avenues – the other
major world religions, the political aspirations of oppressed peoples, even the
midnight raids of guerilla freedom-fighters.

This is definitely not your father’s missions or mission anymore.
There was little talk about evangelism and church planting anymore, instead
the shift away from ecclesiocentrism, well, kept shifting… and shifting… and
shifting… and the church was soon excluded... and mission was eventually lost.
Hence, Van Engen's concern that our view of missional be rooted in the
"classical view" of mission. As he explained the "source" of his definition:
My understanding of ‘missional’ derives from what I would call a ‘classical
understanding’ of mission: that women and men, through personal faith and
conversion by the work of the Holy Spirit, would become disciples of Jesus
Christ and responsible members of Christ's church.

I will share Van Engen's full definition in my next post (more options for Rick's
growing list of definitions, I am guessing).
Since I am trying to make my posts a bit shorter (good advice, Maynard!), on
this note we’ll pause – and come back to the discussion in the next post. I will
share more from Van Engen and Rosin at that time.

Feel free to reflect on Van Engen, ask questions, or just give your thoughts...
but, it seems to me that Dubose was focusing on the "missionary" aspect of
missional, and Van Engen is focusing on the "mission." Both are essential and
important, as is a rightly understood missio dei, in our understanding of

Meanings of Missional - Part 5

I must confess I have taken a longer hiatus than intended from my Meanings of Missional series.
For those of you new to the discussion, refer to preface, part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. 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 “onesided
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

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.

Copyright - Ed Stetzer

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 March 2011 19:07  

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