It’s been about two weeks since I wrote part 2 of this series on the core meaning of missional. As a pastor, I am constantly surprised at how short the weeks are and by how much can happen in the few days between Sundays! To get back up to speed, in the previous posts I suggested two things: 1) for the future of missional theology and practice, we need to have a stable sense of what “missional” means. If the meaning is too vague or generally applicable, it will naturally and rightly fall out of use as a term. 2) The core meaning of missional should begin with God. This is to say, first, that it should not begin with the church as so often is the case. Second, that it is also to say (IMO) that it should begin with the specific God who is revealed to us in the history of Israel, in the church, and chiefly in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Following on that thought, I think the second aspect of a core meaning of missional relates to what God is up to in the world. This touches on the specfic sense of the missio Dei, the mission of God, which is the font and origin of missional theology. Succinctly, I think the mission of God is the new creation. If one wanted to sketch the broad outlines of that mission, as chapter headings in a story, it would be creation, redemption, and final transformation. To put it into the “missional” language of sending, the Father sends the Son into the world to accomplish the redemption of fallen creation and begin a new creation, and the Father and Son send the Spirit to continue and complete the work begun in the Son, transforming the old creation into new creation. This work of transformation happens now as the Spirit leads people to realize their redemption in Christ and live in the power of the Spirit according to ways and patterns of the new creation. And this work of transformation happens later, in the “last day” when the Spirit brings to completion the work that has been begun.
In a sense, what I have labeled here at “part 3” could also be called “part 2b.” That’s because to say that we must begin with God and to say we must attend to what God is up to in the world is to say, in a sense, the same thing. In so far as it is revealed to us to know, God is what God does. To attend to God is to attend to God’s work of creation, redemption, and transformation. I think being missional means, at its very root, being constantly formed and shaped by an awareness of this God, the God who is accomplishing this purpose in and through history. It is through this lens and in this awareness that we approach the church, our lives as individual Christians, and indeed the fundamental identity of the human person and the nature and destiny of the whole created order.
Nine times out of ten, when someone says missional, we think immediately the church, of a way of looking at the church, of a way of being the church and of being a Christian. But much deeper than that, missional is a way of understanding God and God’s work in the world. It must mean that long before it means anything for the church or for Christians individually.
p.s. If you haven’t noticed yet, I am a Reformed theologian of a Barthian stripe! Others will certainly characterize these things differently!