Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Acts and Mission 56

posted by Scot McKnight

Paul.jpgI’d like to sketch a couple of more general points about the first missionary trip of Paul and Barnabas, and hope this can be put into the larger missional theology that the Book of Acts inhabits. I’m concerned about Acts 13-14, which clearly also sets the tone for Acts 15.

I wonder how Paul would have seen, upon reflection, missional work. 
First, the missional work of Paul and Barnabas, or better yet the missional work of God through Paul and Barnabas as agents of the earliest church in Syrian Antioch, is shaped by and accountable to the leadership — “disciples” — at Antioch. Paul and Barnabas are not on their own doing whatever they want. Antioch both sent and expected report from the two missionaries. Along with this is the importance of recognizing that missional work is not self-promotion; when someone gave Paul too much credit Paul went into hysterics. The work was not about him; it was about God.
Second, the missional work was laced up with persecution — everywhere they went they met opposition to the gospel work and they faced that persecution with courage and wisdom. Alongside this persecution is the courage and resilience and savvy of the missionaries. 
Third, this missional work involved cosmic battle. The gospel confronts systemic evil and spiritual forces. Paul was learning from experience, no doubt.
Fourth, missional work from first to last is gospel declaration with Paul. In conjunction with that gospel declaration is compassion ministries but it can’t go without observation, especially in a day when many of us are arguing for a more robust gospel and more robust form of kingdom work, that Paul’s missional work begins with gospel declaration. 
Finally, and this builds on the fourth point, Paul’s gospeling leads him to focus on churches instead of the community itself — he shows little concern with Pisidian Antioch or Iconium in and of themselves but with the churches as missional outposts in those communities. To be sure, Paul would have seen the churches as embodiments of gospel but the point deserves our attention. His focus is ecclesial, and Paul is intent on strengthening such ecclesial settings with leaders.

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Muller Oosthuizen

posted November 5, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Brilliant observations, especially in this time with so many vulnerable house churches & vibrant young leaders. These insights will sober & filter a LOT of my plans 4 2010.
How do you read Paul’s embodiment of humility?

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posted November 5, 2009 at 6:49 pm

authority; persecution; spiritual battle; declaratiopn; ecclesial focus before local context.
Not words or themes perhaps that spring to mind concerning contemporary Western discussions of church and mission? From your comments on the need to combine declaration with kingdom work, do I sense a call for a ‘swing back’ on the pendulum from too much deconstruction? – towards a reconstruction that holds things together in ways more consistent with the full story of Scripture?

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Scot McKnight

posted November 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Patrick, well, well, well…
I hope I’ve emphasized on this blog the need for accountability, esp to the Great Tradition.
I’ve not done much with persecution … that’s for sure.
Both gospel and social action … themes in Embracing Grace and in A Community called Atonement.
And community has been important to what I’ve said.
But you’ve got me wondering about myself: tell me more of what you are thinking.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Sorry Scot
I expressed that badly, it was not meant critically or aimed personally at all and I can see how reads that way. I’m deeply grateful for your work and how you do hold those things together in ways that are gracious, scholarly and constructive. No, I was more thinking of how in all reactions the pendulum swings in one direction, and there comes a stage when it there is a sense that it needs to swing back a bit. I was more wondering if you were sensing the need for some swing back and where that might be .. Does that make sense? I guess for example your comments on the need to keep evangelism central in any movement – that sort of thing.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 6, 2009 at 7:42 am

Patrick, I guess some of this depends on who needs to swing. But, overall, I’ve seen a polarizing in the last few years: some want to emphasize social justice and have very little interest in evangelism (gospeling). Some will say that their missional justice work “is” gospeling but gospeling is measured both by fidelity to telling the Story of Christ and by conversions. Some of us want to see more of both. The right wing reactions have been both imbalanced — social justice has nothing to do with gospel work — and balanced — let’s do both.

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