Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Slippery-Ness of Missional

Terms and labels are slippery things. Don Carson, in his lecture, “What is Evangelicalism?” says of the term “Evangelical,” “There is a sense in which the topic really isn’t all that important. Labels come and labels go. And I am not quite ready to be crucified for a label.” I would say the same thing about the label “missional.” I am not about to die for a term. However, there are some important aspects of the concept of being missional that I believe are important for the church.

As I noted in my last post, the term “missional” is being used by a variety of people in a variety of ways. This has caused some to wonder if the term should be used at all. As I mentioned, Tullian Tchividjian, the new pastor at Coral Ride Presbyterian Church, has been heavily influenced by Tim Keller’s thoughts on the missional church. Yet, because of the variety of ways the term has been used, he has chosen to use the term “missionary minded” instead. My friend, Dr. Dominic Aquila, who is the President of our local seminary, New Geneva Theological Seminary, has written a rather severe critique of the term. Dr. Aquila’s primary concern stems from how the term has roots in the Gospel and Our Culture Network and how it has been used by liberal and neo-orthodox theologians. Certainly, with our history as Presbyterians, we should be concerned about Trojan horses bearing neo-orthodoxy.

However, not everyone who uses the term "missional" is liberal, neo-orthodox, or emergent. Many terms that are dear to us are slippery. Most people associate Presbyterianism with liberalism. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of Presbyterian churches in the United States are part of denominations that have a strong liberal and neo-orthodox bent. The large Presbyterian body is often in the newspaper for discussions about women as elders, ordaining homosexuals, even redefinitions of the Trinity. When I identify myself as a Presbyterian, I have to qualify the term in a way that is very different from the term’s meaning in popular usage. So, while many people believe that Presbyterian equals liberal. That is not the case. The same is true of missional.

We can say the same thing about the the term “evangelical.” In his lecture on the term, Dr. Carson demonstrates that the term means different things to different people and different things in different parts of the world. He mentions being in Columbia. There, the term refers to people who go door-to-door like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. He goes on to say, “If I lived in New York City with my dear friend, Tim Keller, I would never call myself an Evangelical, unless I were in a very friendly group because, by and large, in Manhattan evangelical means the Christianized version of the Taliban. It roughly means right-wing, stupid, ignorant, bomb-throwing people, and I don’t think of myself that way. So, I wouldn’t call myself an Evangelical there unless I had a lot of time to explain my position. . . . This is true of almost all labels. There are many, many contexts I would never call myself Reformed. In many parts of the deep South, Reformed basically means you don’t like evangelism. And I don’t think of myself like that, either.” Interestingly, Dr. Carson teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is known as a Reformed scholar.

There are many who wear the term "Evangelical" today that I would not call evangelical. There are even some who write for the leading evangelical magazine that I would hesitate to call evangelical. It seems that evangelical doesn't always mean evangelical any more. It also is apparent that evangelical means different things to different people.

So, all terms have baggage. One must be careful in using such labels that he defines the term and understands how they are being used in a particular context. Still, it is impossible to talk without labels. Labels provide a short-hand for explaining larger ideas. If I could not use the terms “reformed,” “Presbyterian,” or “evangelical,” then I would have hand them the Westminster Confession of faith, the PCA's Book of Church Order, and then add the following statement: "I believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture, that Scripture is infallible, inerrant, and our only infallible rule for what we are to believe and how we are to live. Furthermore, I believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Etc..." Frankly, it is much easier just to say that I am Evangelical, Reformed, and Presbyterian, even though all of those labels have problems.

So, do we need the label "missional?" That will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

History of the Term Missional

There is some debate over the history of the term “missional.” I first heard the concept, although not the term, when I went through the Inquirer’s Class at Perimeter Church (PCA) in 1983. In the class, Randy Pope makes the point that the church is supposed to be both a home to her people and a mission to her community. That is, the purpose of the church can be divided into two parts: 1) A home – this includes worship, nurture, edification, training, etc.. and 2) a mission – the church exists to announce the gospel to its community.

The first time I heard the term "missional" was in listening to and reading information on ministry from Tim Keller. I loved both its corrective to some of the problems I saw in the seeker-church movement as well as its emphasis on reaching the lost with the gospel.

According to an article in Christianity Today, the term “Missional Church” was first used in the book Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending Church in North America, edited by Darrell Gruder in 1998. However, D. A. Carson claims that Tim Keller coined the term “missional” in 1989 (he makes this claim in his lecture Keeping Up the Conversation).

However, it appears both are wrong, Ed Stetzer, who is a missiologist in residence at LifeWay (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Church. You can read his blog here) says that the first use of the word (at least in the way it is used today) occurred in a 1983 book by Francis Dubose called God Who Sends. Dubose was a professor at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, a Southern Baptist Seminary which, according to Al Mohler, "trains clergy in the most conservative branch of a conservative church." Stetzer probably has done more research on the historical use of the term than anyone. He recently spoke at Dallas Theological Seminary’s conference on “Beyond the Church Doors: Developing a Missional Culture in Your Congregation.”

From Stetzer’s sketch of the history, the term was first used at a Southern Baptist Seminary, popularized further by The Gospel and Culture Network, and even further by Tim Keller, and has been used widely by such diverse groups as the Southern Baptist, a keynote address by Randy Pope at the PCA’s General Assembly, Dallas Theological Seminary, the emergent church, and Mark Driscoll and his Acts 29 Network. Furthermore, I as noted above, I have seen the term used positively by such conservative stalwarts as D. A. Carson, John Piper, and Tullian Tchividjian (the successor to James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, PCA, although Tullian prefers the term "missionary minded").

So, if the term is being used so widely by a variety of people in such varying contexts, some question if it is a helpful term. I will address that in a later post.

The Meaning of Missional

As some have pointed out, the term “missional” has been used by various people in different ways. The question is, at Village Seven, what do we mean by the term missional? Since I have been heavily influenced on this by Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), let me start by giving his five characteristics of a missional church:

1. Discourse in the vernacular. That is, we want to speak in common language, not in Christian jargon (more on this in a future post). Furthermore, it seeks to avoid “we-them” language that speaks disdainfully of unbelievers and those who differ from us.

2. Enter and retell the culture’s stories with the gospel. This means understanding the hopes, dreams, fears, and concerns of the people in our culture and then addressing these issues with Scripture and the gospel.

3. Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation. In our grand Calvinistic/Kuyperian tradition, we want to train people approach all of life from a biblical worldview and to engage the culture from this biblical worldview.

4. Create a Christian community that is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Because the gospel turns the world’s values-system on its head, we want a Christian community that demonstrates this. This shows itself in our love for neighbor, our concern for holiness, and our compassion for those who are hurting.

5. Practice Christian unity as much as possible on the local level. The church should display the unity for which Christ prays. That does not mean we obliterate theological distinctions. Rather, we maintain our distinctions but unite with other brothers and sisters over the cause of the gospel.

I heard one person say that the missional church where the Christians understand their calling to “go and be” rather than “come and see.” It is a church that understands that part of its calling is to be a mission to the community in which God has placed it.

The Missional Church is Different from a Seeker Church

It is important to note that a missional church and a seeker church are vastly different. In fact, many of those who call themselves “missional” are reacting to some of the trends they saw in the seeker-church movement. A seeker church attempts to attract non-Christians by putting on great programs. Usually, this involves having separate services for believers and unbelievers. According to Bill Hybels, these seeker services are modeled on programs like a Billy Graham Crusade. They seek to put on a great show with an evangelistic message.

In missional churches (at least those who use the term in the PCA), non-Christians are invited to come to worship services where the focus is truly worship. That is, it is not a presentation or show about Christianity, it is not an evangelistic meeting. Rather, it is an invitation to come and experience the Christian community and Christian worship from the inside. So, while missional churches work hard at making their services intelligible to non-Christians, they also work hard to keep the focus and liturgy set on the worship of God and not a presentation for unbelievers. Tim Keller addresses this issue further in this video from Desiring God.

The Missional Church is Different from the Emergent Church

For an excellent critique of the Emergent Church movement, listen to D. A. Carson’s lectures on The Gospel Coalition’s website. You can find it here. In this audio, you will notice that Dr. Carson quotes Keller’s use of the word “missional” favorably, but is critical of how emergents use the term. This is helpful because it shows an important distinction that missional, rightly defined, is good. However, like many other terms (e.g. Reformed and Evangelical), it can be used in ways that no evangelical (another slippery term) would want.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What is a Missional Church?

Over the next several weeks, I will be blogging on the three distinctives (beyond our theology, polity, and values) that we want to characterize our church. The three distinctives are 1) A gospel community, 2) An authentic community, and 3) a missional community. I will not be taking these ideas in order, but will bounce between them but will start with what it means to be a missional community. However, before I give my thoughts on what each of these mean, let me direct you to some excellent resources on the topic.

While there are varying definitions of what it means to be missional, around Village Seven, we are using the word in the way it is defined in this paper by Dr. Tim Keller. Also, Desiring God Ministries (the ministry of John Piper) has posted this interview with Dr. Keller on what it means to be a missional church.

The following articles and MP3s do not all use the word "missional" but they touch on some of the themes of what it means to be missional. However, one should read the paper above by Tim Keller first before moving to these other articles.

Living a Magnetic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Denis Haack
Advancing the Gospel into the 21st Century by Tim Keller
The Gospel and the Poor by Tim Keller
Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper - In this MP3, Piper shows that a missional church must be concerned about missions.
What in the World is Missional Church? by Jonathan Leeman on the 9Marks site (Mark Dever's ministry) is a helpful critique of the missional movement.

The Church: A Gospel, Authentic, and Missional Community

The leadership of Village Seven is working on its strategic plan. While there are many practical steps that need to be determined in order to formulate this plan, there are some more foundational characteristics of the church that must always be kept in view.
First, the church must know and understand its mission. At Village Seven, our mission is to be a life giving church to Colorado Springs, the West, and the World. Beyond our mission, we have four core values—worship, teaching, nurture, reaching. Furthermore, in terms of theology, we are Reformed. In regard to church government, we are Presbyterian. Our mission, values, theology and polity all are components in making us who we are as a church.

Besides these, there are other important distinctives of who we desire to be as a church. These distinctives are 1) Gospel-based community, 2) an authentic community, and 3) a missional community. There is much overlap between these three. As people understand the gospel, they will become more authentic in their relationships, and more missional in their living. At the same time, as people live in community and live with a sense of mission, it will drive them back to the gospel. Therefore, in order to achieve one, we must aim at all three.

Gospel Community
We desire to be a community of God’s people that are living in line with the gospel. This means that we want to live based on the understanding that we are fully loved and accepted by God based on the finished work of Jesus Christ (Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone). We always want to grow in our understanding of the gospel that reminds us that we are more sinful than we ever dared to imagine and in Christ, we are more loved than we ever dared to hope.

As a result of this understanding, we are completely secure because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We can be honest about our sin in full repentance because we know God’s love for us is not based on our performance. We can embrace fellow sinners because we know that we, too, are broken and sinful. This understanding of the gospel enables us to be bold, yet humble, secure, yet vulnerable; repenting, yet joyful.
Authentic Community
Being a gospel-based community frees us up to be an authentic community. Instead of maintaining a fa├žade of righteousness, we are free to be honest about our sin because our security is found in Christ’s righteousness, not our own. As an authentic community, we are learning to let down our masks. We want to be passionate in our pursuit of holiness, but honest about our sin. We want to be a community that lets other people in our lives, to see the dirt, hurt, and ugliness of sin so that we can minister to one other out of the gospel. So, we desire to be transparent with one another, to love one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to forgive one another—all because that is what Christ has done for us.

Missional Community
As a gospel-based community, we are passionate about continuing Jesus’ ministry of redemption. Therefore, we want to love our city and our world even as God so loved the world. Just as Christ gave Himself up for us, we desire to give ourselves up for the world, to join in His suffering to take his ministry of reconciliation to those in need. Therefore, we want to follow Christ’s pattern of ministering to the world in both word and deed. As the body of Christ, we desire to bring healing where sin has brought hurting. In the words of a great hymn, we want to join with Christ in making his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Happy Birthday John Calvin

Friday, July 10, is John Calvin’s 500th birthday. Mentioning Calvin’s names draws mixed responses. People seem to either love him or hate him. Yet, any student of history and/or theology would agree that Calvin has had a profound impact on western civilization and the development of the church.

While it seems that most people have a strong opinion about Calvin, few know much about him. Some of this is due to the fact that he is not as dramatic a character as some of the other Reformers. Some good movies have been made about Martin Luther, particularly the relatively recent Luther, staring Joseph Fiennes and Peter Ustinov. John Knox’s life would make a good movie as well. However, a movie about Calvin would have little success selling tickets at the box office (or even a church). He was a pastor and a scholar, which is not the stuff of which movies are made.

Still, since Calvin played such an important role in the church and culture, learning about his life and influence would be worthwhile for most Christians. Recently, I read Robert Godfrey’s John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor. I found it very helpful and enjoyable. Also, it is relatively brief.
If you prefer listening to reading, Dr. Frank James has a good 4-part lecture called “The Calvin I Never Knew.” It is available from Reformed Theological Seminary on I-Tunes and is free.

While Calvin is probably most famous for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is a treasure trove of theology, what I have appreciated about Calvin over the years are his commentaries. His commentaries are still helpful and very relevant today. That is because he interacts seriously with the text in a pastoral way. While I love Luther’s commentary on Galatians, exegetically, Luther’s commentaries can’t touch Calvin’s. If a person is wrestling with the meaning of a biblical passage, Calvin is always a good source of help and clarity.

While I am sure Calvin would prefer that we not honor him (just as I am sure he would not like the term “Calvinist”), it is good for us to honor those who have gone before us, who have enriched our lives with their teaching and their sacrifice. John Calvin certainly has enriched mine.