Monday, January 17, 2011

MissionShift Essay #1 and Geoff Henderson Response

This blog post is simply an attempt to interact with several essays related to the subject of missions found in MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millenium." It is one part of the missions discussion found at Ed Stetzer's blog.

Charles Van Egen lays out a very helpful paradigm for anyone moving toward defining and applying "mission" in the local church setting. I appreciated the practicality of his aim. Battling over definitions for the sake of having the best definition of mission is truly a waste of time. But I didn't sense that was his aim, and so applaud him for that. 

His grounding "mission" in the idea of being "sent" by Christ is helpful. Certainly not groundbreaking or novel, but we can't deny or overlook Christ's centrality in this whole process. He is ultimately the one who sends, and the local church, or denominational sending agency, simply recognizes Christ's call as a sender. In addition, the formation of any idea cannot have a better genesis than in God's Word.

Nevertheless it is the height of arrogance to limit one's definition of mission to personal exegesis of scripture. We do bring baggage (not to mention sinful hearts and minds) to the texts of scripture. In order to limit such subjectivity, this exegetical activity has to take place in community, and not just the community of saints this side of heaven. 

As a result, Van Egen takes a stroll down memory lane, at least someone's memory, and explains how saints before us have defined and applied mission over the years. From the Constantinian picture of Christendom-type evangelism, to William Carey's model, to the world council of churches to the "missional" churches today, Van Egen recounts, and sometimes evaluates, how the church has formed and applied its understanding of mission. 

One can see his favor or disfavor of some of these models, particularly disfavor for the World Council of churches which derives, or "redefines" mission, drawing its direction from the world and not from Jesus Himself. In addition, he does identify that the "three-self" church model in America takes a similar u-turn and becomes "self-centered."

After a helpful stroll, with bits of evaluation along the way, he returns to the church at hand, hoping to construct a helpful definition. The definition is quite biblical and encompasses the major thrust of the bible: Jesus is reconciling a people to himself, as well as all things, in order to bring about a complete re-creation. Van Egen's definition is scripturally solid, avoiding the gnostic residue as well as the secularization from a faithless world; he advocates for evangelism in word and deed. 

The only problem I had with it, was that it was too long. 

Things that are too long are by nature un-applicable and eventually discarded. Authors of books would do well to consider this, in my opinion (ironically, Guder's response sought to bring back Barth-certainly there is some helpful stuff by Barth but it is difficult to wade through the endless Dogmatics combing for that which may be very helpful, especially as it relates to missions).

Andreas Kostenberger seems to have offered something somewhat new by listing some guiding principles, although I think 12 could have been shortened down to 5 or 6. If the goal of this whole project is to assist the local church redefining and applying mission,  it is imperative to make things as succinct as possible.  Kostenberger failed to interact with the examples of how the church has defined and applied missions, and is one major weakness in his response.

Van Egen probably should have ended his pursuit with his helpful descriptive principles (instead of a definition) of a "missional" church (pg 24-25), although I undersand when you title an article "Mission: Defined and Redefined," you've got to conclude with a definition! Still, some guiding principles seem the best way to go.

I agreed whole-heartedly with Ed's response as I sensed a fear from some of the essayists, particularly Eitel who began with an example more of syncretism than over-contextualization. He correctly calls much of Eitel's concern, a "slippery slope argument" applied to "any creative missiology" Stetzer considers this Pharisaical approach quite harmful. In addition, The Holy Spirit, scripture and community help us walk on such slippery slopes instead of ignoring them.

And not only is such an approach harmful, but it is equally ignorant. Very few of us realize that missionary practices of any day are always going to be culturally contextualized. Paul's missionary endeavors were super-contextualized to the extent where he took money or worked as a tent-maker, went to synagoues or public intellectual centers, dependent upon whom he was ministering. All churches do this today, as there is no biblical command for length of sermons, time of worship, instrumentation, etc....We apply the scriptural principles of the timeless gospel to our setting.

In considering missiology, I am becoming aware how much of this is dependent, or at least connected to one's ecclesiology-which I guess makes sense, since churches are usually the ones sending missionaries! What you think church is supposed to look like, and why it is supposed to look like that, will largely shape our vision for what "mission" churches look like.

I really can't add much to Ed's response. I know that's not adding anything there, but I felt like he hit all my concerns with the previous essays. I found the other responses thoughtful, and for the most part gracious. But they seemed once again to fall in the "either-or, word or deed, contextualiaztion or anti-contextualization, bible or culture," categories. Stetzer on the other hand, rightly sees the necessity of interacting with not only scripture, but how the church has applied or mis-applied it, even interacting and commending theologians he might not line himself up with, in order to move forward in the mission discussion.

I like reading and reacting. But I wrestled with even participating in this discussion because I couldn't see what the point was. People will disagree over definitions until the cows come home. But if the goal of this project is to help the local church clarify how to follow God's call to love their neighbors and those to whom will yet believe in the gospel and experience the blessings thereof, I'm all for it. 

Such discussion can be helpful for any missions committee as they set parameters for mission conferences, mission trips, missionaries to support, and participating in local missions and mercy. I think the goal should not be definition but guiding principles. Moving forward in missions thought and application will and should always be a journey filled with discussion. 

Since I'm of the Reformed theological perspective, I embrace their battle cry of "Always Reforming." Let's continue reforming our principles and practice, ever mindful of the sender (Jesus) and the conclusion (New Heaven and New Earth).


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