Are gospels and Acts our primary texts for missiology?

Janet has suggested, as a topic for debate, we discuss whether the gospels and Acts are our primary texts for missiology. I’ve decided to respond in the negative and counter with, the New Testament is our primary text for missiology.

Yes, of course Acts is an obvious place to begin, as are the gospels. But I want to suggest that, if we truly affirm God as a missional God, then we need to be open to understanding all of God’s word as missional.

The Old Testament

Indeed, if we affirm the YHWH of the Old Testament and the Father of the New Testament as the same, we should also be open to what the Old Testament has to say. The gospel of John suggests we be open to reading Genesis 1 more Christologically, and thus missiologically, and missionaries have long seen missional significance in the calling and sending forth of Abraham. And then we also have the story of Jonah, which deconstructs any suggestion that God cares only for those under the covenant. And then we also have the new covenant prophecies.

The New Testament

But, that being said, I am wary of over emphasizing the Old Testament. For just as Jesus is superior to Moses, so the New Testament is superior to the Old Testament, thus I think its important we keep a Christological focus when discussing mission. But given that all the New Testament was written in the aftermath of the resurrection and the sending of the apostles, I think all of the New Testament is pretty primary.

Revelation and the Letters

For instance, my missiology is heavily shaped by Revelation, by the vision of the extraordinary breaking into the ordinary world, by the vision of the conqueror as the vulnerable one, by the vision of a renewed earth and resurrected community, by the warning that the state is Babylon, by the call to come. Where is mission without vision?
My missiology is also heavily shaped by that extraordinary missionary, the apostle Paul. Where would my understanding of multicultural mission be without Paul’s letter to the Galatians? And hey, are there any Calvinists out there? I expect you’d agree Romans shouldn’t be underestimated in missiological / evangelistic importance either.

The Good News

Which brings us, of course, to the good news itself. The messiah spread the good news of the kingdom. The apostles spread the good news of the king. How can we understand how the two messages are one message without exploring how the gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation mutually interrelate?

So, without seeking to minimise the importance of the gospels and Acts for missiology, I say, without the letters and Revelation our reading of the gospels and Acts will be lopsided.

17 thoughts on “Are gospels and Acts our primary texts for missiology?

  1. Ha! Hard to argue with that!
    I suppose I mounted the question for debate because Acts and the gospels describe what Jesus and the apostles spreading the good news of the kingdom actually did. I think we need to work a bit harder in interpretation when looking at the letters (which we assume are directed to very specific contexts in response to very specific issues) and even more so with Revelation, which is a genre with which we are not generally familiar.
    I also had a suspicion that some do not use the scriptures as primary points of reference, despite rhetoric to the contrary… they are strongly influenced by theologians and missiologists across the centuries, and by cultural practices of their own Christian traditions. Some of this is inevitable… sometimes I think there are wonderful insights to be gained by looking back reflectively at what Jesus and the apostles actually did.


  2. It can be argued that the texts we use (especially Acts) are not necessarily normative prescriptions for what should do, rather what was done. They certainly provide us with material relevant to the character of a missionary God and the specific commissions that Christ gave to us.
    Is it acceptable to argue, in part, that a lot of missional strategy, thinking, practise is simply good stewardship of our time and resources and good old fashioned common sense and logical strategy?
    Lastly, does the activity of the Holy Spirit defy our models?


  3. Is the question what ARE our primary texts or what SHOULD BE our primary texts?
    I would argue that alot of people I know think the point of mission is to “preach the gospel” ie convert people and save them from hell.
    Oddly enough, the Bible says Jesus “preached the gospel” before he got crucified. It seemed to be something to do with God’s kingdom being here and now…


  4. Gordon, good point about Acts being descriptive, not prescriptive.
    But I beg to differ on mission strategy being simply good stewardship. Pragmatism has its place, but I feel it has gotten out of hand in some quarters and plunged headlong into idolatrous consumerism. If we wish to avoid syncretism there needs to be a Christological core to our missiology that transcends pragmatic considerations. I would say, sometimes our missiology must defy common sense.


  5. Pastasmissus, as I was answering from my personal perspective, not a wider community one, I did not differentiate between ARE and SHOULD BE.
    As for Jesus preaching the gospel before he got crucified, this is exactly what I was aluding to in my last comments about the good news of the kingdom and the good news of the king. If you focus on the gospels, you only see one side of the coin.


  6. Janet, I suppose what I am saying is, through the letters and Revelation are harder to interpret in many ways, they contain important insights for missiology that we’re not necessarily going to find elsewhere. In fact, I would suggest that, when we recognize the specific contexts of the letters are missional contexts, and the specific issues of the letters are missional issues, that this specific information becomes gold. And the very unfamiliarity of the apocalyptic genre highlights the difficulties of cross cultural contextualization. In some ways the very accessibility of the gospels and Acts can lure us into thinking they are easier than they actually are.


  7. I do tend to agree with everyone… which probably made it a bad “debate question”!
    I’m all for a reflective look at history. However, sometimes I think mission is often attempted out of unreflective expression of a Christian tradition. For example… I heard recently of a Salvation Army person sharing about how someone came to faith listening to their band playing at a railway station. Which is good… but it did make me think that an activity which was quite radical in the time of the Booths is perhaps a little quaint now, and the same amount of “man hours” spent on building relationships in other ways might be more fruitful. I also heard a street preacher recently (ignored by everyone as far as I could see) and thought… great courage, maybe the strategy that worked so well before TV when it was easy to gather a crowd doesn’t work so well now. But this is the tradition of this church, so by jingo, we’ll keep doing it….
    My church tradition once had gospel services every Sunday night… after TV appeared it was hard to get new people into a church building as there were more interesting things to hear/see at home! It really lost missional momentum from that point on, because it struggled with how to do mission outside of that tradition.
    The western world has undergone some massive cultural shifts in my lifetime, and I’m suggesting we need to reflect deeply on the principles of the kingdom in our “primary texts”.


  8. Janet:
    I find it interesting that you brought up street preaching. I recently came across someone who was promoting the idea as something Christians should do more often. Their argument was that if you look at the book of acts, Paul, the other apostles, and others would preach in the marketplaces and other public spots. So this person’s argument was that street preaching was a very Biblical model.
    My immediate thought, however, was that we live in a different time and a different place. During the time of the Greek and Roman empires, the marketplace was a huge public forum. It was commonplace for everyone to preach their religion or express their philosophical views in the marketplace. And you went to the marketplace specifically hear about the latest religions and philosophies. In short, Paul and the others preached in the marketplaces because that was the thing to do in their culture.
    So does the practice make sense today? After all, most of us go to the malls and grocery stores to buy stuff only. We don’t go there to hear the latest philosophy or religion. Nor do we look to hear about these things on street corners, sidewalks, or anything else. So does this “Biblical” pattern make sense in a culture that no longer views marketplaces and other public squares in the same way?
    Anyway, thanks for letting me think out loud. And my apologies to Matt for getting a bit off topic.


  9. Missiology is, by definition, study and reflection on the practice of Christian mission.
    So when you reflect on the effect of TV on Sunday evening evangelistic services, you are doing missiology. That is what missiology *is*.


  10. Jarred, not off topic at all. I think this is the contemporary equivelent of street preaching. What we are doing right here. This is our public square. This is our marketplace. This is where people go to find the latest.


  11. What I find particularly important in what Jarred wrote above is that the marketplace was where people expected to be hearing about religion and philosophy. Paul wasn’t chasing people down or stoping them as they were heading back home; he spoke to people who were interested.
    It pains me to see people aggressivly going after people in evangalism. What good does it do a person to hear of Jesus when they are cornered? It just makes the whole thing look like a joke. And I may be betraying my Lutheran beliefs, but I simply don’t think that the Gospel message can be adequatly summed up in a five minute presentation. I think Christianity’s theology is much richer and deeper than something I can just memorize and repeat on the side of road to passing cars.


  12. Emily
    Which is why I think the blogosophere is more the “marketplace” today than the street corner. People only come here if they are interested in coming here, interested in exposure to new ideas, interested in browsing. Which is very different from the contemporary use of street corners, which are not “places” to gather so much as “spaces” to be rushed through on the way to more interesting places.
    I find that how people practice evangelism depends very much on how they understand the role of church in culture. If they have a Christendom perspective, and assume everyone in our “Christian” society “should” be Christian, then they’re going to be more anxious when people reject Christianity. If, however, they have a post-Christendom perspective, and accept that people are free to choose, and expect that (as Jesus warned) many will not, then they are not going to be so surprised when people reject Christianity. This is where I appreciate the writings of the anabaptists, who were amongst the first to explore a post-Christendom perspective. A question for reflection is, how much of contemporary “missional” writing is grounded in chruch growth expectations that are themselves are grounded in Christendom assumptions?
    As for the good news, actually I think it can be stated very quickly: Jesus lives! Jesus is Messiah! Of course, unpacking that, and unpacking the implications, can take a lifetime.
    What you are referring to, the five minute formula of contemporary evangelism, is not actually the gospel as far as I’m concerned. It’s actually a crash course in soteriology, which, though important, is not the same thing as the gospel.


  13. Dang! I’ve spent so much time on the Shapevine Missional Frameworks Course the past couple of days I missed the start of this blog. I’m up waiting for a web chat with Alan Hirsch due at 1.00am Sat Morning as part of that. Then off to Black Stump a few hours later for the day.
    I think the whole Biblical Text, plus what has been written since is pretty worthwhile.
    Being personally biased toward texts with a social justice bent, I tend to like Jimmy’s (James) text alot, as well as drawing from prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah alot, as well as Luke’s Gospel. But those are more personal preferences, and I utilise the others a lot as well for reference, preaching, chatting about as well.
    Street preaching – in the late 60’s and early 70’s had quite a lot of good missional & evangelistic impact. The Jesus People Movement did it a lot, and sometimes very well.
    In July while getting on a ferry in New York Harbour just before a massive storm which hit – we were on the edge of a tornado which hit New Jersey – I heard some preacher share a fiery hell and brimstone, make them fear God-type sermon which just turned people waiting in the queue to board off and many just thought that he was a bit fruit-loopy.
    Personally I think good street preaching may have some missional possibilities again today.
    But what Lucy and I heard in New York 2 months ago was not all that well communicated, constructed or received, and it did not sound like Good News – just some loud pronouncement of judgement being blasted through a megaphone turned up to maximum volume for `blast effect’.


  14. There is only one kind of evangelism (if you want to call it that) and that is incarnation. That is how God did it through His Son and that is how we should do it. I would’nt say that Jesus wants converts or even other Christians at the best of times, but he wants disciples, followers, and apprentices. Driving past a lot of churches here in the UK, you come cross things like these “What is missing from ch__rch? A: ‘u’,’r’.” We have turned Jesus’ Go into come in rather it would be better translated as “As you are going…baptise, teach,….” (Matt 28:19-20)
    I would say that there is a continuity and a discontinuity between the Testaments. I think that Jesus Christ as the Word (the word became flesh) should be our primary text. The best kind of theology is applied theology.


  15. Matt your statement has made me think:
    “sometimes our missiology must defy common sense.”
    I will be thinking about that for a while now, thanks!


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