Dave Gullett

a miscellanea

The Ghost of Missions Past: Reflections on MissionShift, Part 1

Renowned researcher and blogger Ed Stetzer is hosting a new discussion about the future of missions in this new century. This discussion is framed by the essays and responses in Mission Shift (B&H, 2010) edited by Stetzer and David Hasselgrave. The editors brought together several of the best writers in missiology to interact around these issues and through his blog, Ed Stetzer is bringing the discussion to anyone who is interested.
And interested we all should be since our concept of what mission (or missions) is formed directly from what we believe about the the Gospel and shapes how we live that Gospel out in each of our lives.
The opening essay in the book, written by Charles Van Engen, begins with the contemporary understandings and misunderstandings of the word and then traces the development of the concept missions from its origins in the Bible, through Constantine, Carey and into the 20th century arriving at how it has been redefined by various groups today. Dr. Van Engen then proposes an understanding of missional and mission that seeks to clarify the key characteristics necessary for a church to be considered missional. He concludes his essay by suggesting the need for churches to “write their own definition of mission”, he shares his own definition born of decades of effort, and calls us to be “God’s missionary people” more and more in the future.
Following the first essay are five responses, including one by Stetzer himself. The first of these, by Keith Eitel, who seems to be primarily concerned about how being missional could lead one to cease to be Biblical, leaving aside Biblical principles for pragmatic reasons under the guise of contextualization. He rejects missional-ness for the sake of trendiness and at the expense of gospel proclamation and “concern for the eternal destiny of human souls.”
The second response is from Enoch Wan. Wan sees holding to a Trinitarian view of mission as key to understanding the best definition of the term. He shows that one must consider both the institutional and the individualist aspects of mission to see the complexity involved. He puts forth his own definition focusing on the Trinity.
In response to the essay and the first two responses, Darrel Gruder espouses missional hermeneutics as the focus for the concept of missions and the work of Karl Barth as a foundation for a deep understanding of mission.
Andreas Kostenberger frames the fourth response around twelve theses that acknowledges the importance of the historic development of mission while seeing its ultimate authority in the Scriptures. His response with is emphasis on biblical theology, sound hermeneutics and a focus on the Trinity as the key areas that should frame our concept of mission form the strongest response to Van Engen though he stops short of addressing the missions / missional discussion.
The fifth and final response to Van Engen, was written by Ed Stetzer, one of the editors, and forms a response to the previous writers. in his response he exposes some flaws in the responses and interacts with them better than they themselves perhaps interacted with the original essay.
In reading the essay by Van Engen and the five responses a few critical issues seem to stand out to me.
First, the need for a definition of mission is as debated as the sources or authorities on which such a definition might be based.
Second, Biblical authority as the foundation for all we do is simply essential, but it is not exhaustive. We have much to learn from every source.
Third, Historical theology shows us that the church’s understanding of every area of theology has grown deeper and more robust over time. Our understanding of mission is no different.
Fourth, historic missions practice has evolved as well reflecting that changing understanding.
Fifth, contextualization and the debate surrounding it will continue to be a crucial issue for the church as the mission of the church goes forward. However, it cannot be considered with out an understanding of the other issues in missions.
All of these areas (and more) have something valuable to say about what the mission of the church is and what it is becoming.
And we should not fear what they have to say to us.