The Missional Church in Perspective – Van Gelder and Zscheile – is the first book that explores the development of the term “missional” by documenting the broad historical and theological contributing factors, and thoroughly exploring the recent literature. In fact, it ventures even more widely than this, in exploring also the conversation in the online world, and in the academy.
Part 1: The History and Development of the Missional Conversation.
This section serves as the main survey to date, and anchors the book primarily in the the great text published in 1998 by the GOCN: Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. And this is no ordinary survey, but a lucid and rich exploration of the six main themes in that text, as well as an exploration of the dischordant elements. Beginning on page 53, the authors note a lack of integration in key themes in the 1998 book, and weaknesses (or omissions) in the Trinitarian rooting (the classic east vs the west).
This section also raises a fundamental question reaching back to the discussion of missio Dei in the 1960’s – an issue that is not directly addressed in the text of 1998. There are two approaches to the missio Dei, broadly speaking: a specialized view that understands God as working in the world through a redeemed people who are called and sent, and a generalized view that understands God as working in the world beyond the church through secular history. In part this divergence hinges around how we conceive of the relationship of the church to the kingdom of God.
The authors nuance this divergence, breaking the two views into two sub-approaches each, and then offering a third, integrated view (56-57). The integrated view, which they prefer, runs as follows:
The church participates in God’s continuing creation and redemptive mission. People in the church pursue God’s mission in the world both as cocreative creatures engaging with God in the Spirit’s continuing work in all creation and by bearing witness to the reign of God. (The authors expand on this integrative perspective in chapter 4.) Various authors (chapters) of Missional Church came down in various places on their general approach to missio Dei, with chapters 6 and 7 (Dieterrich and Roxburgh) arguing the integrated view.
Equally important, Missional Church (1998) developed a variety of approaches to the relationship between church and culture (59ff). One respondent to the 1998 text felt that the overall approach was a counter-cultural model, but in reality there was no such unifying theme. Roxburgh’s contribution made it clear that the church is deeply embedded in culture, where Hunsberger’s contribution emphasized the responsibility to build a contrast society.
In chapter 3 (MCiP, p 70), taking a cue from Ed Stetzer, the authors chart the recent literature as a part of a missional tree. In that illustration, the 1998 book serves as the trunk; church and missions/mission Trinitarian missiology, missio Dei, reign (kingdom) of God, church’s missionary nature, and missional hermeneutics serve as the roots. The recent literature is grouped by theme to serve as the branches described by four verbs: discovering, utilizing, engaging, and extending. The key issue is found in two related questions: the extent to which we are dealing with human agency, and the extent to which God’s agency is operative and discernible within human choices.
A variety of authors, traditions and studies are related to these branches: each branch and its associated subbranches are explored in relation to the “biblical and theological themes” that inform them and in relation to recent and representative literature (69). The dividing line between branches revolves around the extent to which one starts with the mission of the church and the extent to which one starts with the mission of God.
As an example, many conversation partners are utilizing missional; these authors are actively attempting to identify implications of God as a sending God as key to understanding the role of human agency. In the sub-branches of utilizing can be found people like Will Mancini, Reggie McNeal, and Ed Stetzer. On a related sub-branch are found Frost & Hirsch, Gary Nelson (Tyndale) and Mark Driscoll. Odd to see these men on the same sub-branch! The connecting point is the emphasis on Christology over Trinity, and the implications that this is missiology as an applied, rather than a theological, discipline (78-80). (For more on the implications of the starting point, and my argument that Christology is too narrow a root, see part 3 of my ReJesus Review).
Related Video: Roxburgh and Van Gelder, “What is Missional Church?“