“The word ‘missional’ over the years has tended to become very fluid and as it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they themselves were doing, be they missional or not. So, do we dispose of it and come up with another term? I think we need to keep it, but reinvest it with deeper meaning.” The Forgotten Ways.
When Newbigin returned to Britain after his years in India he saw that the culture had become deeply secular. It was he and the thinkers around him who coined the term, ‘”missional.” Was their most important insight that the culture had become secularized and the western context was now a missional context? Or was his real contribution something else? Tom Allen wrote on Alan’s blog,
“Could I suggest that Newbigin saw something about the UK on his return that is much more significant. In my discussions with him he was among the first to see that God was at work in the culture and to challenge the idea of society being ‘secular.’ This is revealing when discussing whether ‘mission-shaped church’ is an adequate alternative for ‘missional’ as an Anglican who contributed to the initial work on the report. I believe it is flawed – it tends to focus on what the Church should be doing (in a rather earnest way) which is a relatively small part of the picture rather than focusing on what God is doing and joining him, individually and as a Church. Mission-shaped church is already proving to inhibit our missional thinking here so I would hope that others will not adopt it.”
Tom reminds us that the discussion of “missional” is conditioned by a certain view of history, a lens or paradigm that determines how we circumscribe God’s activity in the world. We western believers are generally dualistic: God is at work in the Church, but not in the broader culture. We lack a working kingdom theology and in the heritage of Christendom also lack a working concept and practice of the church as an alternative culture. Todd Hiestand addressed the former issue in his paper, “The Gospel and the God Forsaken.”
“Karl Barth helpfully points out that the church is a part of world history; the gospel takes place in ‘world occurrence.’ Somehow I grew up with the assumption that there were two histories of the world: biblical history and world history. While this was likely never explicitly expressed as truth, it is what I instinctively learned. World history was somehow profane and corrupted and biblical history was holy and redemptive. But, Barth shows that this dichotomized view of history is unhelpful to mission. The church would be guilty ‘of a lack of faith and discernment if it seriously saw and understood world history as secular or profane history.’ Instead, he states that we simply cannot separate the church from world history. He writes, ‘[The church's] history takes place as surrounded by the history of the cosmos and is everywhere affected and determined by it. Conversely, it is not without significance for the cosmos and its history that its own history takes place.’