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Missional Mondays: Tony Stiff 3

posted by Scot McKnight

The missiological shift like the situational shift of the missional church is filled with stark contrasts between how mission was conceived in the traditional church a hundred or so years ago and how it ought to be conceived today in the Post-Christian West. Michael Goheen who is one of the leading scholars on Lesslie Newbigin’s life and thought spoke at an Acts 29 church planting conference. Goheen filled out what the stark contrasts are between traditional church and the missional churches understanding of mission:

StiffA.jpg

Goheen’s helpful comparison could be expanded upon (indeed he does so elsewhere in his writing). Lesslie Newbigin in Mission in Christ’s Way offers a helpful understanding of the nature of mission in relation to the Kingdom of God and the Spirit of God;


The church is
only true to its calling when it is a sign, an instrument and a foretaste of
the kingdom. But, on the other hand, talk about the kingdom is mere ideology if
it is not tied to the name of Jesus in whom the kingdom is present and if it
does not invite men and women to recognize that presence, to do the U-turn..
.”

Perhaps it is
unfortunate that the history of mission is so often written by missionaries.
They over-estimate their role. It is the Holy Spirit who is the primary
missionary; our role is secondary. Mission is not a burden laid upon the
church; it is a gift and a promise to the church that is faithful. The command
arise from the gift. Jesus reigns and all authority has been given to him in
earth and heaven. When we understand that, we shall not need to be told to let
it be known. Rather, we shall not be able to keep silent
.”


StiffB.jpg

The missiological shift for the missional church seeks to
offer a missiology for our Post-Christian Western culture by reconsidering as
Goheen & Newbigin did above the nature of mission itself, and the
relationships between the church & mission. I hope you can see the pattern
forming: the situational shift from Christian to Post-Christian is causing new
contextual theologies to reform our understanding of the church. As these
contextualization’s are coming into shape the theological shift from viewing
God as having a mission to being a missionary God is also reshaping and
reviving the original missionary character of the church. Which in turn is
causing the missiological shift above.

 

Discussion Questions:

 

1.   
Read and discuss John 20.21. How did the Father send the Son in
mission? How does the Son send the church in mission? Who does the Son promise
would empower and accompany the church in mission (read John 17; Acts 1-2)?

2.   
How does mission of the church relate to the proclamation and presence
of the Kingdom of God in Jesus ministry?

 

 



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rebeccat

posted November 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm


Funny, I recently had a conversation about churches and aesthetics. The person I was talking to was highly critical of modern churches, particularly suburban mega churches and what they saw as a lack of reverence an such displayed in their buildings and worship. I pointed out that one of the advantages of such churches is that because they do tend to be fairly bland and comfortably familiar, people could walk in without feeling intimidated or out of place. The person I was talking to said that this was a misplaced concern because church is for believers and is not a mission. They very much saw the church (eklesia) and mission (evangelism) as two completely different, separate things. I really had to stop and think about this idea because it was so foreign to me. No doubt many churches have gone too far in being bland and comfortable, and being “seeker friendly” can become an excuse to hand the work of mission and evangelism over to the professionals who run the church and plan services. However, it seems to me that missions and church should be all tangled up together. I guess the person I was talking to just came from a much more traditional perspective than me!



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Travis Greene

posted November 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm


This post is fantastic.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted November 16, 2009 at 4:30 pm


I’m not sure I buy the “traditional” rubric as “conservative = word and liberal = deed” (as opposed to the “missional” rubric of mission being both word and deed). While I don’t dispute that some conservatives and some liberals may well be defining mission in this way, it didn’t take some new movement (be it “missional” or whatever) to suggest that mission was both. Good conservatives and liberals in the otherwise “traditional” church have realized this ages.
Seriously, the rubric sounds more like what conservatives and liberals think about each other (and, perhaps, how current “missionals” complain about both) than any actual reality.



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Mark Farmer

posted November 16, 2009 at 5:07 pm


Yes, Scot, the shifting situation in the West is fueling the missional church paradigm. But I wonder if Michael Goheen knows Ralph Winter’s article, “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission”? http://www.uscwm.org/resources/pdf/booklets/twostructures.pdf
Winter made the case that from the NT through the middle ages and into the present God used two different structures, churches and missions, for two different primary tasks. Churches care for, lead to faith, and strengthen the faith of any and all comers. Missions, on the other hand, have very much higher membership requirements to try to assure success in the task of spreading the kingdom of God to people groups who have no church in which they feel at home.
My observation after five years back in the U.S. following 23 overseas is that to the extent that churches, at least “mega-” ones, attempt to be “missional,” they fall short in the pastoral care and nurture of many. Their cross-cultural missions often seem ill-conceived, ill-prepared, and ill-supervised for want of experience and training. Failure to appreciate the different primary tasks and personnel requirements of churches and missions leads to a weakening in both areas over the long term.
Goheen’s comparison chart oversimplifies a complex reality to such a degree that it is more misleading that helpful.
Finally, it is inaccurate to say that the “traditional” mission paradigm was words and not deeds. No one who knows the history of missions could imagine such a statement.
PS – Thank you, Michael Goheen, for throwing down the gauntlet and sparking such an important discussion!



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Tony Stiff

posted November 16, 2009 at 7:43 pm


Rebeccat – great story, thank you for sharing it.
Travis – thanks!
Mark Baker-Wright – I understand your point. It is a broad-brushed analysis, I agree. But I think its a fair one as long as one allows for there to be both conservative and liberal churches who are exceptions to the rule. I prefer to think in term of trends or cultures within each community.
I think its inevitable when trying to talk about trends in groups to treat some within the groups unfairly. For instance even Hans Frei’s classic work “The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative” doesn’t offer a water tight analysis of every church or theologian caught up in the bible battles. What his work in hermeneutics and Goheen and Newbigin’s works in missionary ecclesiology do is offer their readers a way to get their heads around social trends in communities. As long as their analysis is understood along those lines I think its helpful.
Mark thank you for your helpful push back.
Mark Farmer – I’m the one that composed this piece. I’m not sure what Goheen’s thoughts are on Ralph Winter’s article. I wouldn’t want to speak for him but thank you for referencing it. I do know that Darrell Guder is also a very well missional church writer and speaker (teaches at Princeton) has clearly argued that an essential part of the missional churches witness in a Post-Christian setting is the life and character of its community within. In other words how we love and care and nurture one-another is part of our witness. I think Goheen would probably agree wholeheartedly with that way of responding to Winter.



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Mark Farmer

posted November 16, 2009 at 9:45 pm


Thanks, Tony, for setting me straight as to your identity. I was wondering who Tony Stiff was, and supposed that you had authored a book that Scot was discussing! I wholly agree that mission needs to characterize the local congregation, and nurturing fellowship the mission team. But to blur the helpful distinction between what Winter calls the modality (local congregation) and the sodality (mission team) I think is ultimately unhelpful.
(By the way, do you know Michael Goheen? Is he any relation to Bill Goheen, former director of InterVarsity’s Student Training in Missions program?)



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Tony Stiff

posted November 17, 2009 at 8:53 am


Mark I don’t know if Michael is related to Bill, sorry. I have a question for you Mark: did the early church in the book of Acts have a modality/sodality dichotomy? Or do you see that as a latter development?
I understand the pragmatic point, but I don’t think it squares well with the biblical witness that treats the local church as God’s missionary people. Perhaps the ‘gift of evangelism’ that Paul speaks about could be an example but just like the rest of the gifts in his list the local church is called to embody and practice each gift, some however have a greater measure of the Spirit working that gift through them.
This may be something we just have to disagree about, pragmatically and biblical-theologically. My thoughts for what they’re worth.



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Phil Henry

posted November 17, 2009 at 10:13 am


Scot, thanks for the post. I love Newbigin’s stuff on mission, and would have enjoyed hearing this presentation. You’ve done a good job summarizing some key principles here in this essay. In your conversations with Michael, does he interact at all with any of Newbigin’s less orthodox theological values, and how they helped, in his mind, to inform what his views on mission were?
Keep up the good work.



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Rick

posted November 17, 2009 at 11:37 am


Tony-
Great post, and study guide. I have taken up your recommendation of reciting “As the Father has sent Me, ….”
The concept of “Church doesn’t have a mission but is a mission” is huge.
I would like to hear your thoughts on the relation sacraments have to mission that RJS posted about today.



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Tony Stiff

posted November 17, 2009 at 9:11 pm


Thanks Rick! I have left a comment on RJS’s post. I thought he did a great job, the long Wright quote was really stimulating (as he always is).



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Tony Stiff

posted November 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm


Rick I’m a bit embarrassed here. I thought “she” did a great job.
Sorry RJS. (thank you Scot).



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