Yesterday I began with the question, is the word missional still useful? The concern I raised is that the word is so “elastic,” to borrow Gelder’s and Zeischle’s terms, that within the ecclesiastical conversation it does not bear any useful meaning. When one pastor says to another pastor, “I would like for our churches to be missional partners,” or one homiletician says to another homiletician, “I’m working on missional preaching,” is there any specific meaning conveyed?
In essence, as I noted yesterday, I think we need a stable and core meaning of what “missional” means. The most fundamental thing about missional, in my opinion, is what it says about God–not what it says about the church. Mostly when we talk of missional we’re talking about the church: what the church should do, what questions the church should ask, what the church should care about, etc. But the starting point of a missional theology is not the church, but God. A sending God. “Who is God?” is the core question in a missional theology.
My own missional theological answer to that question is, God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus the Son is sent by the Father into the world to accomplish the redemption and transformation of creation. The redeeming work that is begun in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and in a sense is completed there, is brought to final completion by the power of God’s Spirit, which the Father and Son send into the world for that purpose.
Now I believe this is the God we know through what is revealed in Scripture, in the life of Israel and the Church, and fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it is the only God we know. This is an important point in the sense that a common theory is that God is a static being possessing certain perfections, whose activity in the world is separate from his being as such. That may work well as a theory of God, but I do not think it is the God we meet in the Scriptures of the Church or in Jesus Christ. The God we meet there is what he does, his identity is revealed in his history, his being and his action are one. (This is, as I understand it, the substance of John Flett’s work with Barth in The Witness of God.) God may be more than what is revealed, but it would pure speculation. If you ask me, “Who is God?”, the only answer I feel I can give is something like: God is the one who brought Israel out of Egypt, who raised of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, and who sends witnesses to proclaim salvation in his name.
Now why should this be the starting point of the missional conversation? Because missional theology posits that the being of the church corresponds to the being of God. (Maybe most theologies posit this in one way or another?) If one’s theology of God does not have this core sense of sending, then the mission of the church will only ever be tack on the “true” identity of the church.