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...it is through conflict and sometimes only through conflict that we learn what our ends and purposes are.
Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virture, p. 164
Jesus' preaching is in fact characterized by a large element of simple fact-telling, of simply telling people with authority what actually is.
Dale Bruner, The Christbook, p. 120
Dilthey worked '...to illuminate the difference between the structure of these sciences of meaning and the natural scientific explanation of events based upon the formulation of theoretical frameworks and the discovery of causal laws.
Georgia Warnke, 'Gadamer' p. 2
The chief reason for writers' inarticulateness on certain subjects is the lack of experience or reading background that can stock their reservoir of ideas.
Edward P.J. Corbett, Classical Rhetoric, p. 24
The task of the theologian, like the task of the preacher, is to write theology in such a way as to persuade modern people.
John Leith, Basic Christian Doctrine, p.9
For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything. The only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Galatians 5:6
Bach's music is much more valuable proof of the existence of God than any of the theological proofs.
Vladimir Fetsmin, Russian Pianist, Newsweek, Aug. 1, 1994
The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning.
Emil Brunner
Those who give the most lip service to the sinfulness of this world are often those who most want to conserve the way things were 50 years ago.
MOI
...He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 22:16
There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barracading a human's mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p.28
“The verbal explanation, as it takes us from one verbal expression to another, in a sense gets us no further.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book, p1
The history of Western epistemology might be described as the quest for a method of reasoning that assures certain knowledge. But philosophers have now come to the conclusion that there is no way to reason that both extends our knowledge and certifies the results.
Nancey Murphy, Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion, p. 53
Without charity, an evangelizing zeal will take on the guise of a will to power, a desire to universalize one's self-image.
Fabien Eboussi Boulaga-Christianity Without Fetishes, p. 68
Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years where we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.
Gandalf, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Bottom line:  Read the first chapter and scan the rest of the book.   

 

“The Missional Church in Perspective:  Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation” by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight J. Zscheile, is important for its rehearsal of the historical development of the missional movement.  Equally important are the key theological concepts of the movement drawn out of this historical retelling.   The book also offers  a helpful way to begin to untangle the variety of uses of “missional” in present literature.  It is, however, much less successful in its attempts to shape the conversation.

 

The authors begin by acknowledging the present confusion in the missional conversation.  They make a point of contrasting their interpretation of the situation with others who have expressed their frustration.  They tell us that they, instead, see the lack of clarity as a display of the “inherent elasticity that allows it to be understood in a variety of ways.”  (p. 3)  They then set out, in part I, (written primarily by Van Gelder) to organize this movement through a historical summary, a critical evaluation of a seminal text in the field and a map of the various uses of the term today.

 

The history of the movement (p. 18-25) is very helpful.  It “connects the dots” from the Reformation to the present.  One interesting aspect of this retelling is the way in which divisions among participants are lamented as the loss of an important perspective in the missional dialogue.  This leads to the hope, expressed in a number of ways in this first section, that the present missional discussion will continue to draw together a wide group of Christians under a new “missional” paradigm.  (p. 34)

 

I found six of the key concepts drawn out of the history very helpful in my own deepening understanding of the missional movement.  It also provided fodder for thought about possible next steps in the conversation.  They are:

 

1)  Church & missons/mission:  connect the ecclesiological and the missional.

2)  Trinitarian missiology:  introduces us to a sending God who is a missionary God.

3)  Missio Dei:  from mission as church-centric to mission as theocentric.

4)  Reign (kingdom) of God:  the already & not yet central to the message of Jesus.

5)  Church’s missionary nature:  mission is not so much the work of the church as the church at work.

6)  A Missional hermeneutic:  derived from Bosch’ “Transforming Mission”

 

This section is probably the most immediately useful part of the book for those who want to help the discussion move ahead.  If one is short on time, one could very profitably read this first chapter in depth and skim the rest of the book.

 

The second chapter is a critical analysis of the seminal work “The Missional Church:  A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America”.  This book continues to play a central role in the spread of the missional conversation.  This chapter is at its best when it is connecting today’s confusion about the term to a lack of clarity in this original work.  Van Gelder makes connections with at least four of the above “key concepts” in this chapter, thus building upon chapter 1.  However, these connections are often haphazard and some of the key concepts are not discussed at all.  For example, he makes the astute observation that Missional Church lacks significant reflection on worship and sacraments from a missional perspective and has no discussion of ordination at all.  This same lack of thought is found in much of the missional literature.  But this observation is not located clearly within the key concepts in chapter 1.  And very little is done to help us move forward in clearing up these issues.  (For example, Miroslav Volf, in his work on the Holy Spirit (mentioned in the second half of the book) dedicates sections of his work on worship, the Sacraments and ordination.)

 

Such tidiness might not be important except for the stated goal of this book:  to deal with a “lack of precision and integration that is resulting from the use of the term ” missional.  But the end of chapter two the difficulties of aligning the historical description with the critique of “Missional Church” leaves the reader in some confusion about tracing the missional discussion or taking steps to move the discussion forward.

 

The third chapter of the book, however, is very clear in its structure.  The mapping of the “missional discussion” is very helpful in offering a handle on the plethora of books on the subject today.  After establishing the main branches of thought, each section lists of representative texts for each, including blogs.  These are followed by solid critiques by Van Gelder and Zscheile.

 

Part two (written primarily by Zscheile) exacerbates the organizational problems of the first part of the book.  It provides basic summaries of some recent missional thinking.  But its usefulness to an open dialogue is limited.

 

Perhaps this problem  can also be traced back to the first section.  Though the authors introduce the book with a gracious analysis of the current missiological malaise, the mapping of that discussion assumes that the confusion is due to an incomplete understanding of the key concepts of the missional movement by many who are writing about it.  The second part of the book seeks to further this interpretation by promoting a particular viewpoint.  This belies what was said in the introduction of the book.  Rather than inviting further dialogue (p. 13), these chapters seek to educate people who, one assumes, do not yet understand the terms they are using.  This does not promote discussion between those who are using the term in a variety of ways.

 

The central focus of chapter 4, though described in the Introduction as “recent Biblical and theological developments” is actually the review of a narrow selection of recent theological works on the social Trinity.   Zscheile laments the fact that the theologians reviewed did not make connections between the Trinity and the missional conversation, leaving us to wonder if our only option is to wait until they make such a connection and write a book.  He draws out the implications of this view of the Trinity for some of the other key concepts of the missional discussion.  But other concepts drawn out by Van Gelder in the first half of the book are not dealt with at all.  It would have been far more helpful for this chapter to have built upon Van Gelder’s work in the first section by extending the discussion of each of the key concepts in the second.  If this half of the book had been organized in this way, they authors could have offered key texts for further study as well as a critical evaluation of each.

 

Chapter 5 reviews a limited selection of works in search of an appropriate definition of culture.  This is a significant discussion for the missional conversation though it was surprising to have so much on it given its paucity of emphasis in the first half of the book.  The discussion here lacks depth and leans heavily on a few anthropological texts with little discussion of the contributions of sociology or of Christian social theory to this important discussion.  It is unclear how the material in this chapter connect with the concepts in the first chapter or how this chapter facilitates discussion among the wide range of people using the word “missional”.

 

It seems that the authors and editors may have been aware of the organizational problems of the book.  Perhaps this is why an introductory page is placed before each of its two sections.  They seem to have been added as a guide to the confused reader.   But these pages end up rehearsing unnecessary and repetitive information which further harms the flow of the book and urges the reader to shift to a skimming approach to the material.

 

Chapter 6 is best read in this way.  The discussion of missional practices in church life has the feel of a corporate/how to type of book which, thankfully, the rest of the book does not share.  It is clear that the strength of the authors is in the tracing of ideas and the summarizing of theological works.  The direct application of these ideas to the church is vague and unoriginal.

 

One is left with a whole variety of questions to pursue on one’s own with little direction from the text.  For example, is the social Trinity the non-negotiable core of the missional movement?  Are there other theological conceptions which would also motivate the same embodied activity from congregations who do not hold such a view?  Also, how will we move forward in making a connection between the Trinity and the missional church?  What is a “missional hermeneutic” and how do we develop this aspect of the discussion?  And how do we develop a missional understanding of worship, the sacraments and ordination?

 

The Missional Church in Perspective is an important book in the ongoing missional conversation.  Its primary value lies in its historical summary of the movement which draws out key theological concepts in that discussion.  Those who desire to be part of that discussion would be best served by reading the first chapter in depth and then use that information as a template to scan through the book for other information on those concepts of interest.

 

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