So far in this series, I have been trying to articulate what I understand the core meaning of “missional” to be. In the last two posts argued that anything missional needs to be begin with God (and specifically not with the church). We need to begin with a sense of who God is and what God is doing in the world, the two being closely and inextricably related. Moving out from a sense of God and God’s mission, I think a definition of “missional” moves next to a sense of the arrival of the kingdom of God and the dawning of the new creation.
This flows directly from the foregoing understanding of what God is up to in the world. In the person and work of Jesus Christ, God has accomplished the redemption of creation and begun a new creation. The new creation is begun in Christ as he is the first fruit and a new Adam. In a sense, the new creation is also completed in Christ, as God has put all things under his feet (Ephesians 1 and 1 Cor 15). We live in this in-between time, when the new creation is begun in Christ and eternally completed in him, and yet is temporally being brought to consummation and fulfillment by the power of the Spirit. This work of fulfillment and consummation appears to us as the coming of the kingdom of God and the dawning of the new creation.
The arrival of the kingdom of God and the dawn of the new creation is the temporal and historical outworking of God’s mission. It is what we experience here and now, what we participate in, and what we bear witness to. In what way is God’s mission and purpose in the world made known to us? Moreover, one could also say in what way is God himself made known to us? God and God’s mission is made known through the presence of the kingdom and the new creation. When we see people and communities following God’s will and way, as those who have been reborn and empowered to live a new life, we see the kingdom. When we see points of light that shine God’s grace and truth into the darkness of the present age, we see the dawning of the new creation.
Now, at least two qualifications are in order here. First, the arrival of God’s kingdom is not a steadily progressive thing. In the great progressive era of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some thought that all of history was one steady movement toward the perfection of God’s new creation. The twentieth century alone, with its war and bloodshed in “Christian” nations, dispelled that hopeful notion. God’s kingdom arrives in fits and starts, in moments and flashes, often hidden, usually on the margins. Second, the arrival of God’s kingdom is not in our control. We cannot program when the new creation dawns any more than we can make the sun rise; likewise,there is no method for producing people that follow God’s will and way. The arrival of the Kingdom is always a free work of God’s Spirit, and the most we can do is cooperate with God’s Spirit. The most we can do is be guided and led by the Spirit, and cultivate those practices and habits that help us to do that.