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March 05, 2009


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Preston Parsons

Lesslie Newbigin says something very similar. He doesn't cite John 3:16 as the text with a greater missional pedigree than Matthew 18:18-20, but instead cites John 20:21 as the text that motivated missions far before Matthew 28 did: John 20:21 reads "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

I think the resulting notions of mission pretty much line up with what is said here in last paragraph, that of being sent, of self-giving as a form of life, etc. John 20:21 does make the connection between the life of Jesus and the life of the Christian community much stronger, however.

What I find most extraordinary about this is that Newbigin was saying this 20+ years ago.


Preston - Newbigin certainly is a good resource for this. I think the notional of "incarnational mission/ministry" is central. It was the model/foundation of much of the stuff I did on campus when I worked in university ministry. And I think it is something which we need to recover as a church. I find that there is at least a slight shift from "showing Christ" to "being Christ", if I can use that imagery. I'd like to work out more what that is supposed to be for my own life.

Preston Parsons

One of the most helpful chapters I've found in Newbigin is in the classic "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society." In it he is critical of the "save individual sinners for Christ" model of mission as well as the "what is God doing in the world" model. He comes up with a third term that preserves the saving power of Christ as well as social transformation.

Newbigin always grounds mission within the worshipping community, and is thus critical of mission that is too individualistic, as weel as the one that is at signficant risk of becoming disconnected from the reality of a people gathered to worship. In our diocese we are very much working with the "what is God doing in the world" model, and my own desire do move into something based in the ecclesia has ticked off some, I think. But this model makes us into crows, flying off after every shiny thing. We really do lose the discernment of the church, and leave discernment to the world, us hopping on whatever wagon looks like it's going somewhere. (Yeah, two metaphors . . .) I think the result of a missional theology of "what is God doing in the world" is all around us.

That combined with a simple disregard for mission.

In defense of Matthew 28:18-20 as missional text, by the way, is the portion on teaching. It strikes me that in post-Christendom we can hardly rely on the culture to teach Christian doctrine, or the Bible, on the basis of belief. MY sense is that teaching the faith, within and without the church, is more important than ever.


Are people "teachable" (in the best sense, not the patronizing sense - if one grants the distinction)? I wonder if that is one of the shifts which has occured. It reminds me of a story, which might turn into a rambling post.

Thomas Brauer

Preston and Joseph - excellent and helpful comments, both. Thanks for helping me clear up my thinking here.
@Preston - I find it interesting that I was at one time skeptical of Newbigin, only because I attached to him the label of "post-modern." I'm finding it endlessly amusing how now I have learned to embrace my own inner post-modern, and to pursue the good in that world-view. I now very much say yeah to much of what Newbigin has to offer.

I also find your warning of the potential dangers of the "what's God doing in the world" model of mission to be both helpful, and challenging as that is language I use myself. I wonder though if a possible solution to the danger of which you warn is what in the Fresh Expressions movement is referred to as "double listening" (though why they don't call it tripple, I don't know - but that question will be clear in a moment). In double listening, one is actively pursuing what God is already doing in His imminence. This, then is not simply looking for what is 'good' in the world and following it, but looking for God's presence and action and joining that. In order to discern this, one must be listening both (hence "double") to the culture's needs, resources, and direction, AND to the traditions, structures, and teachings of the Church catholic. This listening is done through observation, study, and above all, prayer and participation (hence my question about triple listening). The hope is that if we are listening to the Church catholic, the cultural context, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then our discernment of "What God is doing in the world" is likely to be sound, helpful, and potentially transformative. What do you think? Would this still lead to the kind of Magpie syndrome you warn against?

My hesitation with Newbigin's emphasis upon the worshiping community is that the non-churched and de-churched of the world aren't and can't be there. Moving away from mission as overly individualistic to one that is community focused is essential, I agree. But (and I'm not sure if Newbigin goes as far as I'm going to suggest for the sake of better understanding) if we focus only upon the worshiping community then how can we understand how to "be Christ" with those members of our community who have no access to worship? And isn't an essential element of Mission being Christ for them and among them?

@Joe and Preston - as for the whole teaching thing I lean more to Preston's defense of the Great Commission than to Joe's counter challenge. I absolutely think that people are teachable, but not by us. I too am thinking of a story which might take too long here, but I believe that if we BE Christ, and we know Christ, and we live Christ and others come to Christ through that being, knowing and living, then they are being taught, and will be guided by the Spirit to learn of the doctrines of the faith. Teaching now is, I believe, a thing which happens more and more by invitation, and less and less by presentation. If I make myself available to teach as I live Christ in the midst, then others may invite me to engage in that teaching. If I present myself as the teacher from without, then others are more likely to reject my teaching as irrelevant and without understanding of their context - regardless of whether that is true or not.

So Joe, are people teachable? I think both yes and no. Yes, if they invite that teaching, no if that teaching is imposed. Perhaps 'twas ever thus, but maybe now a little more so than in the past? What do you think?

Preston Parsons

This certainly would help with the magpie syndrome. But our internal discourse about what it is to be the church catholic has become so degraded and corroded that what I see is missional talk about what God is doing in the world without a catholic and scriptural foundation. That is, from where I sit, at least. Hence the importance of teaching the faith *ahem*.

I'm not sure that your reading of Newbigin is fair. He does find strong emphasis upon the community at worship as a body being sent. The disciples at prayer are the ones sent as the Father sends Jesus. To build with Newbigin, the body participating in the sacraments becomes the divine life given and sent for the sake of the world. Without worship, as we would be without a body, we lose our orbit. (Similarly worship of the one sent can become extraordinarily "precious" when we are not engaging in work for the good of the world . . .)

Joe: can you flesh out your notion a little bit more?


I think that you are right, Preston, in the notion that our "catholicity" has become corroded. To put it bluntly, there is sometimes a failure to remember that what God is doing in the world is the church. Now God can and does do things in the world beyond the "church", but if Christ is the head and the church is the body, then certainly the church (in the world) is what God is doing.

I see a connect with Michael Spencer's comment that we are raising a generation of Christians who know nothing about their faith except what they feel about it. Perhaps what I mean is not so much that people are "unteachable" (in the best sense) but that our methods of pedagogy needs to shift, or at least adapt to the state of the students. What that may look like I don't yet know.

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  • Copyright Rev. Joseph Walker, St Timothy's Anglican Church

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