7’s Interview: What is missional theology?

(Below is an micro-interview (called the sevens) of me by AJ Swoboda about missional theology. Below is a short explanation and my responses.  But see the entire post for more.)

What are the Sevens interviews? Sevens are a unique series of micro-interviews, conducted and published on the blog of A. J. Swoboda, that seek to accomplish the following three goals: (1) Sevens seeks to introduce the latent thinking of cultural leaders and influencers to Christian leaders, readers, and learners. (2) Sevens, as well, will attempt to create a network of people who really should know each other. (3) Finally, Sevens is a venue to further dialogue of learning and exposure. It will never seek to end the conversation, rather, to begin it.

The Sevens interviews are called micro-interviews. The interview itself is conducted over the span of two or three days (via email). To begin, the interviewee determines at the forefront an area of conversation they would desire to have a conversation about. For instance, an interviewee may choose to want their interview to be centered on Theology, or Mission in the City, or God and Science. The interviewee names it. Once the interviewee has determined their area of discussion, the initial question is posed (Q1). After the interviewee responds, the second question will be offered. So on and so forth. There are seven questions. No more. No less.

We ask that each answer to the questions must be no more than 250 characters (with spaces). This serves two purposes. First, it forces the interviewee to formulate their answers in a “Twitter-esque” format that the reader will find easy to engage and process. Second, again, it seeks to beckon dialogue rather than end it. The interviewee will be encouraged to dialogue with those who have responded to their interview.

Q1: What is missional theology?

What is narratively implicit in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and propositionally explicit in John, missional theology makes central: God is a sending God on a mission. This mission is not an incidental act but the essential being of God, such that mission for all others is not a mere matter of commission but participation. Not distant as judge nor everywhere as justice, God works missionally in the proclaiming and presencing of the just ways of God.

Q2: What is a picture of this that might make sense to any reader? (i.e. a movie or book image?)

After racking my brain, the best image that comes to mind is Christ’s baptism—but most depictions are too tame: No longer contained, the Father tears open the heavens and through this “gracious gash” pours forth the Spirit. And just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, the Spirit also rests on the one bringing new creation, the Son coming out of the waters. From now on the Triune God is loose in the world—the mission of re-creation.

Q3: It sounds like the church is missional like Christ. Is it possible for the church to NOT BE missional?

Yes, to follow Christ is to be missional like Christ. But for some this means if a church (or person) is not missional it (she) is not the church (or a Christian). This feels very works oriented to me, that I must be missional or I’m not in Christ.  This leaves no place for grace. Rather I think every church must be moving into mission (i.e. sanctification).  But of course there is still room for missional works of faith, as James reminds us.

Q4: What are two of the greatest enemies to being missional?

The two greatest are a big idea and a little God. It seems like a big idea (ending world hunger, transforming a city, including the excluded) often keeps us from a simple conversation, taking time to care for someone, or offering a word of encouragement.  And having a little God makes us scramble around because everything must change. Rather everything has changed in Christ, and thru the Spirit everything is changing.  Mission starts close by.

Q5: it sounds like mission is simply being present. What’s one way someone can we practically do this kind of missionality?

How about two? First, know/be yourself: are you an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or teacher?  Be missional in that way (don’t be someone else’s gifting). The Spirit has given you a specific way of being missional (in community of course). Second, find a place to live out of: a shelter, a coffee shop, a neighborhood, or a campus. Don’t manufacture missionalness (a contradiction). Unfortunately, being more specific is impossible.

Q6: What does missional evangelism look like in these sorts of places?

We need to practice affirming the things/people around us and seek to flourish them on the way to new creation, rather than pointing the fruits of the fall. Too often we preach pessimism, rather than holding out hope. Missional evangelism begins in hope (not despair), joy (not sadness), love (not hate).  And while it will circle back to sin, the fall, death, it need not start there.  After all, God is the God of the living, not the dead!

Q7: Geoff, I call this being “born again”, not “born against.” Is there a way to allow the gospel to prophetically critique culture while affirming other elements of culture that reflect God’s kingdom?

I think we need to leave behind the idea of prophetic critique and move back to the posture of witness. For me, prophetic critique is more Old Testament and reflects a Christendom perspective. It seems the more dominant category in NT is witness. We need to witness to what God has done (in Christ) and is doing (thru the Spirit), and look for how God has already given witness to Himself in culture. Critique and affirmation follow from there.

One Reply to “7’s Interview: What is missional theology?”

  1. To make a meaningful answer to my question possible, I need to give some brief explanation of my “location” (ala Ken Wilber): I was raised Evangelical (close to but not fully fundamentalist), Biola U. and Talbot Sem. educated; later (age 40-44) PhD student at Claremont in Psych/Theology/Rel.Ed. About a year after that (ca. 1995), in a deeply informed and gradual way, I consciously departed from Evangelical theology and “traditional” Prot. theology with it. But thru the years since then, I’ve stayed somewhat informed on the Church world, studied Christian origins intensely, and have just recently re-identified as “Christian”, but very progressive this time, for theological reasons very deeply considered and processed.

    My personal sense of mission is fairly specific: to help other Christians continue growth processes and come to more consistent as well as motivating and inspiring understandings of God, Christ, the Bible, etc. (trouble is those, to me, are largely “non-traditional”).

    So almost all, if not all of the above comments I can “go with”, as they lack affirmations of “authority of Scripture”, “bodily Resurrection” (which I think MAY have happened but likely did not, and that it doesn’t really need to matter), “substitutionary atonement”, and such.

    My theology seems best “labeled” as Process theology, although I’m not a deep or consistent student of it… but it is the best-developed and thorough alternate interpretation of what God is and is doing that draws from Scripture without enshrining it or putting it in an artificial special category. In addition to Scripture, it draws substantially from science (empirical stuff) as well, AND also very importantly, at least in Griffin’s and some versions, includes as important data, observations from what has been sidelined/ignored by both theists and most scientists as “paranormal”.

    So my question, having read a number of things, followed some blogs, etc. by “missional” and/or “Emergent/ing” folks, finally is this: Do some (or most?) people using the missional moniker know much about Process and, if so, do they tend to pay it attention and fell that a person such as myself could be considered missional? That is, with my being clearly NOT in traditional theism, nor affirming the creeds or great “confessional” statements or supernaturalism in general (rather holding to that complicated thing called “panenthism”–seemingly the only way to synthesize the polarities of supernaturalism and materialistic naturalism, both of which have important features but “fatal” limitations).

    P.S. If you are familiar, I think a good expression of where I am re. the Bible would be the book “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally” by Marcus Borg. (Borg seems to be comfortable with Process but I’m not sure how much he may [or not] lean directly on it.)

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