According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, June 10, 2011

“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 1

Perriman's "Missio Dei" articles (Parts 1, 2, 3) seem to me a good example of what a "whole bible meta-narrative" might look like as we enter into this postmodern age of "grand storytelling" (not in the mythic sense, but in a true historic sense). It proposes what seems legitimate origins, plots, storylines, conflicts, resolutions, and conclusions to the purposes of God in this world utilizing biblical covenants, themes, salvific events and progress, personal/tribal/national narratives, redemptive histories, eschatological hope, apocalytic progress, and secular human history as supports for its arguments. Old and New Testament Introductions and thematic Biblical-Theological Studies have said as much and I would expect yet more contextualized "Grand Narratives" to come forward as theologians revisit church and world movements post-Messiah (or pre-Parousia!).

To this I question Barth's claimed influence, Constantinople's "Christianized" empire, or Europe's "Christianizing" cultures beyond anything more than gross acclamations among other critiques. But Perriman's overall theme and concluding thoughts show themselves to be a good working propostion,  in that the world has now heard the gospel of Jesus and that the church is in the early postmodernistic stages of expanding the Creator God's rule and reign over all aspects of human culture and civilization. It is then, a narrative theology that restuctures the church's mission, and one that could align itself with the propositions and practices of the newly arising "emergent church culture."

Overall, we should not be suprised that popular church movements bear some relationship to the worldly culture that we know and to grand propagandized themes (in a positive sense) "reforming" its at-large enterprise or activities. For Christian movements are just that, and hopefully, if they are reflective of the "better themes of the bible" (like grace, forgiveness, peace, harmony) we can find personal identification with them and with past historical truths that previous church ages have uncovered, testified of, and submitted to. This then keeps such a movement from being overtly "sectarian" or altogether "cultic" and misleading.

R.E. Slater
June 9, 2011
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 1

Andrew Perriman
Monday 10 January 2011

The idea that the mission of the church is in the first place the mission of God or missio Dei has its origins in the thought of Karl Barth. A good summary of its development can be found in David Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (389-93).1

Barth’s argument that mission must be understood as an activity or attribute of God himself was first proposed in a paper given at the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932. The full concept was articulated in 1952 at the Willingen Conference of the International Missionary Council. Mission was understood to derive from the Trinitarian nature of God: the Father sends the Son; the Father and the Son send the Spirit; and the Trinitarian God sends the church into the world as a dynamic embodiment of divine love towards creation. Bosch encapsulates the paradigm shift involved:
Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission…. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa…. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love. (390)
Mission, therefore, can no longer be seen merely as the practical extension of the church: it has to be understood fundamentally as a representation of God:
The primary purpose of the missiones ecclesiae can therefore not simply be the planting of churches or the saving of souls; rather, it has to be service to the missio Dei, representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God, holding up the God-child before the eyes of the world in a ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. In its mission, the church witnesses to the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign and the powers of darkness and evil…. (391) 

Keep to the right…


This shift of focus away from the activity of the church towards the activity of God, however, exposed a critical bifurcation in the argument, a fork in the road—and many theologians took the concept of missio Dei in a direction altogether unintended by Barth and the German missiologists. Bosch traces the development back to Vatican II (391-392). If the church participates in the mission of God, the possibility arises that the mission of God in the world may be thought to happen more or less independently of the church. In effect, the connection established at Willingen between the mission of God and the sending of the church could be undone and the missio Dei restated in rather different terms.

The outcome is that “the church encounters a humanity and a world in which God’s salvation has already been operative secretly, through the Spirit”. The mission of God comes to be understood as the Spirit-driven betterment of humanity, and the church may—or may not—choose to align itself with this historical process. Bosch quotes P.G. Aring: “We have no business in ‘articulating’ God. In the final analysis, ‘missio Dei’ means that God articulates himself, without any need of assisting him through our missionary efforts in this respect” (392).
This development led many to question the usefulness of the missio Dei concept. Bosch argues, however, that it still serves to safeguard the critical theological insight that mission is “primarily and ultimately, the work of the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, for the sake of the world, a ministry in which the church is privileged to participate” (392).

The missional incarnational development


These tensions remain in evidence—many would complain, for example, that Brian McLaren took the wrong turning in Everything Must Change, with its apparent eclipse of the church and reinterpretation of the kingdom of God as a process of global social transformation. But the current popularity of the missio Dei concept amongst progressive and emerging churches probably has more to do with the theological support it lends to the argument about incarnational mission. If the church participates in the sending of the Son, then mission should have the same same basic incarnational structure. This accounts for the emphasis on following or imitating Jesus, and is readily translated into a broad range of centrifugal missional practices. So, for example, the Missio Dei community in Minneapolis describes itself as “following Jesus’ way of hospitality, simplicity, prayer, peacemaking, and resistance”.

This is what the whole thing looks like in colour:


All this has been by way of introduction. The question I will consider in the next part has to do with the relation of the concept to scripture. How does the Bible define the mission of God? And in particular, should we be thinking in terms of a single overarching definition or does the missional activity of God need to be contextualized historically? My guess is the latter….

________________________________

1. See also C.J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (IVP Academic, 2006), 62-65.


“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 2

Perriman's "Missio Dei" articles (Parts 1, 2, 3) seem to me a good example of what a "whole bible meta-narrative" might look like as we enter into this postmodern age of "grand storytelling" (not in the mythic sense, but in a true historic sense). It proposes what seems legitimate origins, plots, storylines, conflicts, resolutions, and conclusions to the purposes of God in this world utilizing biblical covenants, themes, salvific events and progress, personal/tribal/national narratives, redemptive histories, eschatological hope, apocalytic progress, and secular human history as supports for its arguments. Old and New Testament Introductions and thematic Biblical-Theological Studies have said as much and I would expect yet more contextualized "Grand Narratives" to come forward as theologians revisit church and world movements post-Messiah (or pre-Parousia!).

To this I question Barth's claimed influence, Constantinople's "Christianized" empire, or Europe's "Christianizing" cultures beyond anything more than gross acclamations among other critiques. But Perriman's overall theme and concluding thoughts show themselves to be a good working propostion, in that the world has now heard the gospel of Jesus and that the church is in the early postmodernistic stages of expanding the Creator God's rule and reign over all aspects of human culture and civilization. It is then, a narrative theology that restuctures the church's mission, and one that could align itself with the propositions and practices of the newly arising "emergent church culture."

Overall, we should not be suprised that popular church movements bear some relationship to the worldly culture that we know and to grand propagandized themes (in a positive sense) "reforming" its at-large enterprise or activities. For Christian movements are just that, and hopefully, if they are reflective of the "better themes of the bible" (like grace, forgiveness, peace, harmony) we can find personal identification with them and with past historical truths that previous church ages have uncovered, testified of, and submitted to. This then keeps such a movement from being overtly "sectarian" or altogether "cultic" and misleading.

R.E. Slater
June 9, 2011
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 2

Andrew Perriman
Tuesday 11 January 2011

In The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative Chris Wright follows David Bosch’s analysis and comes to the same basic conclusion—that the phrase missio Dei remains valuable because it expresses a major biblical truth: “The God revealed in the Scriptures is personal, purposeful and goal-orientated” (63). He sums up the overarching mission of God in these terms:
…from the great promise of God to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 we know this God to be totally, covenantally and eternally committed to the mission of blessing the nations through the agency of the people of Abraham.
This commitment of the missional God may then be located within a biblical metanarrative that moves from creation, through human rebellion, to the extensive “story of God’s redemptive purposes being worked out on the stage of human history”, culminating beyond history “with the eschatological hope of a new creation” (63-64). In other words, the mission of God from Genesis 11 through to the end of history is the blessing of the nations, by which is meant the redemption of humanity.

The problem with this conventional construction is that not only the bulk of the biblical narrative but also, in effect, the whole of human history is placed under the single heading of “redemption”. There are two assumptions entailed here that do not normally come up for discussion in missiological conversations. The first is that the mission of God never changes—that the living, dynamic God of history always engages with humanity with fundamentally the same objective in mind. The second is that this unchanging objective is always and simply to be understood as a work of redemption.

Neither assumption is simply false, but as far as the interpretation of scripture is concerned, both are overstated—they have been inflated to the level of absolute and total definition, and in the process a narrative theme of critical historical, theological and, I would argue, canonical significance has been squeezed out.

It is correct to state i) that the mission of God in scripture is worked out, as Chris Wright says, under the rubric of the blessing of the nations through the agency of the family of Abraham, and ii) that this mission at a certain juncture and in a certain sense included the “salvation” of both Jews and Gentiles. But there is a thick, but neglected, narrative seam running right through scripture, which needs to be written back into our missiology and our account of the mission of God—and, for that matter, into our understanding of the authority of scripture. This narrative determines in an unexpected way the conditions under which the promise to Abraham would be fulfilled; it also contains within itself the core biblical argument about salvation. But as a historical narrative it has a beginning, a middle, and an end; and this opens up the possibility that subsequently the missio Dei may need to be stated in different forms under different circumstances.

Every knee shall bow: the victory of YHWH over the nations


The main storyline in scripture, I would argue—the storyline that best accounts for the shape of scripture, that best holds its disparate materials together—is not the redemptive one. It is rather the story of the conflict between YHWH and the gods of the nations, which is concretely a conflict between the people of YHWH and the nations, culminating in the acknowledgment of the rightness of Israel’s God throughout the pagan world. According to this storyline the missio Dei would be the struggle of Israel’s God—that is, of the one good creator God—to establish his sovereignty over the nations. It is grounded in the intention to bless the nations, and it includes the “salvation” of people from the nations; but it is constitutive of the biblical narrative in a way which these other elements are not.

The story begins with the response of God to the presumption of the builders of Babel, which is a precursor of Babylon: first, judgment on the large-scale self-aggrandizement of humanity, then the calling of Abraham to be the father of a new creation. Israel emerges as a nation by way of an intense conflict with the gods of Egypt. The rivalry between YHWH and the Canaanite and other regional deities escalates throughout the period of the kingdoms, and reaches its climax in the Babylonian invasion and the exile as YHWH’s judgment on an idolatrous people. Isaiah expresses the hope that Israel will be restored, but more importantly this act of salvation will be a demonstration to the nations that “there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour”. “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Is. 45:22-23).

So Paul’s argument in Philippians 2:6-11 is that it is through the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus that this conversion of the pagan world will come about: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. I made the point in The Coming of the Son of Man that the parousia motif, the symbolic account of Jesus’ “coming”, is a prophetic statement regarding the final vindication of Jesus and of those “in him” in the context of the church’s struggle with Greek-Roman paganism. It defines the moment when Jesus will defeat the “man of lawlessness”—the arrogant and blasphemous pagan ruler who makes himself equal with God—and will deliver the church from its afflictions (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-12). Finally, we have the account of divine judgment on Rome in Revelation, when the “kingdom of the world” becomes the “kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15).

As soon as we begin to ask how this language works historically, it becomes apparent that the core biblical story, the story that determines the missio Dei, is not open-ended. It is contingent, it is constrained, it is contextualized. It unfolds between the judgment of God against Babel which was Babylon to the overthrow of “Babylon” which was Rome. The background or overarching story of creation and the renewal of creation shows through in places, but in the foreground is the drawn-out conflict between YHWH and the gods of the nations.


This narrative, however, is enacted not at a mythical or metaphysical level. It is enacted in the historical existence of a people, which is where the salvation motif comes into play. Plan A for Israel was that it would keep the Law, that it would be blessed by YHWH, that its prosperity and political integrity would be safeguarded, that it would be a model of righteousness, a blessing to the nations, a light to the Gentiles, and that YHWH would be acknowledged amongst Israel’s powerful neighbours as the one true God.

Plan A failed because Israel proved to be as much the helpless slave of sin as the rest of humanity, so Plan B came into effect. Plan B was that the victory of YHWH over the gods of the nations would have to be achieved by way of a protracted narrative of failure, judgment and suffering—a theme that runs at least from the Song of Moses (Deut. 32), through Isaiah 53, Daniel 7 (and the stories of the Maccabean martyrs), through the cross of Jesus, the crisis of second temple Judaism, to the sufferings of the apostles and of the churches persecuted by Rome.

So what is actually achieved in the biblical story—from the first emergence of Babylonian-style empire to the victory of the suffering people of God over the “Babylon” which was Rome—was the acknowledgment of YHWH as the one good creator God. A crucial part of this story, of course, is told by the writers of the New Testament prospectively or prophetically—the New Testament is a work of eschatological hope. But it is told in a way which makes it clear, I think, that this foundational missio Dei comes to an end in history; and this naturally raises the question of what comes next....