What is missional?

Just been reading Scot McKnight’s summary of the Three Central Missional Conversations according to Alan Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren. My transliteration:

Conversation 1: Understanding the West is now a mission field

Conversation 2: Rethinking the gospel in terms of God’s mission

Conversation 3: Recasting the church as a contrast community

And Scot’s addition:

Conversation 4: It’s home brewed nature

Personally I think this summary has a lot going for it, especially Conversation 1. Because if you don’t get that you’re not going to get any of it.

8 thoughts on “What is missional?

  1. The review was interesting to read. While I agree with you that the first conversation is important, I’m extremely interested in the second one, especially when you consider the full description that McKnight offered:
    “…rethinking the gospel itself in terms of what God’s dream is and what God is doing in this world instead of the gospel that satisfies my needs and meets my issues.”
    This is one of those areas I personally think much of Christendom has done poorly in them. The vision of church and God’s plan for the world I’ve often seen presented seems poorly thought out, shallow, and with little substance.
    I also note that while it’s important to see the West as a mission field, I think it’s equally important to have a mature and well-thought out idea of what that mission is and what it should look like when it’s “accomplished.”


  2. I suppose I’m sufficiently postmodern to want to question 2 and 3. I don’t understand 4.
    Concerning 1 – when *wasn’t* the West a mission field?
    The early Franciscans and Dominicans knew it. John Wesley knew it. Billy Sunday knew it. Billy Graham knew it.
    But 2 and 3 are the biggest problem.
    One of the first things one learns in missiology is multiculturalism. It is dangerous to make cultural assumptions about other people, and to assume that we all have the same worldview.
    Modernity tends to make those assumptions. Modern writers pretend to objectivity, and make oracular pronouncements as though there was one grand narrative and everyone is familiar with it. So when you say “Re-” as in “Rethinking the gospel” there is a huge unquestioned assumption that everyone is thinking about the gospel in one way, that the writer knows what they are thinking, and knows they should be thinking another way.
    Postmodernity suggests that we should not make such assumptions, but that we should rather begin by stating our own presuppositions, in order that others can see how far they fit in with their own.
    I’ve just been involved in a rather frustrating interchange on Usenet (it was hardly a dialogue or discussion) with someone who calls himself a 1st century Christian. He stated that Jesus was baptised as an “adult believer”. I asked him what he thought Jesus believed in, and in an interchange of 20 messages each way, he still hasn’t told me. It seems to me that he is being evasive, but he seems to think that the answer is so obvious that I am simply being perverse in asking it. To him, it is blindingly obvious that Jesus was an “adult believer”, and asking “believer in what?” is beside the point. But to me it is a prerequisite to any further discussion. We need to understand the terms we are using before we can have a meaningful discussion.
    So when Scot McKnight talks about “rethinking the gospel” I want to ask what he thinks “thinking the gospel” means in the first place, before we start rethinking.
    “Rethinking” suggests that we must change the route or the destination, but it is meaningless unless we know the starting point. If I tell you that in order to get to Brisbane you need to go east, would you believe me? It’s east of where I am, but if you travelled east you’d be going further away from it, so the starting point is important.


  3. And many involved in the missional conversation would agree with you Jarred.
    Christendom was a very unmissional state of affairs. It presumed everyone was Christian, that the Western world was essentially Christianized, and if anyone disagreed … well, such misconceptions just had to be ‘corrected’. Conversation 1 identifies this as a mistake, Conversation 2 identifies this as a abomination and betrayal of the gospel. Conversations 3 and 4 are about what mission should look like here and now.


  4. Steve, concerning conversation 1, some knew but many have yet to realize it even today. Concerning conversation 2, the conversation is framed as a western one, not a global one, as the west is seen as the culture that’s been slow on the uptake about home mission. But you’re right, defining our starting points is important. The conversation that hasn’t been explored deep enough in my mind is how “missional” and world mission fit together.


  5. Matt,
    In January 2001 there was a discussion at the Southern African Missiological Society about a movement called “the gospel and our culture”, based on the work of Lesslie Newbigin. I haven’t heard much of that movement since then, but one of the issues raised was what they meant by “our culture”, and they said it meant “Western culture”. Some of us suggested that they drop the “our”, because it was misleading, but the advocates of the movement were reluctant to do that. I took that to mean that their mindset was shaped by Western imperialism and lost interest in the movement, and so did many other South African missiologists. I haven’t heard much of the movement since then, so I assume it has largely fizzled out. Its web site by John Flett in New Zealand doesn’t seem to be maintained any more.
    But I think it is a pity. Globalisation means that Western culture influences the whole world, and so there needs to be dialogue between those who are concerned about Western culture, and those concerned with other cultures. But their insistence on calling it “our” culture spoke of a narrow chauvinism.


  6. I think many would contend that the Missional movement is the love child of the gospel and our culture movement. In any case, many Missional voices are indepted to Lesslie Newbigin, though I would not count myself among them.
    This is one of those ‘glocal’ issues: the west is pondering how the world effects it; the world is pondering how the west effects it. These ponderings are all, to a certain extent, related. The missional movement, as I understand it, is best identified with the first half of that equation (hence the resistance you encountered), the world missions movement with the second half. I think there is room for mutual recognition and interplay without conflating the two.


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