Was I Taught the Missional God?

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed is beginning a new discussion on another book, Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God.  I have not read or even heard of the book, but from McKnight’s introduction it touches on many themes that I have been thinking about recently.  The premise of the book is that ‘…the Bible is about our missional God and… our task is missional…’  That is nothing new for me in and of itself, but then McKnight asks the question

If the heart of biblical theology is the God of mission who forms a people to participate in God’s mission, can any theology or praxis lay claim to being biblical that does not front and center shape things through the lens of “missional”? Think about this. Was your theology taught this way? Did you learn the Christian life this way?

Growing up in an evangelical environment, mission (or evangelism, as we would have preferred to say – mission seemed to be reserved for going to Africa or something) was important.  It was an individual’s task to ‘spread the gospel’.  Spreading the gospel meant primarily getting people to an understanding they were sinners and needed Jesus, and the outcome usually meant some form of assent (usually in the Jesus prayer).  I have already posted my views on the problem with this narrow understanding of spreading the gospel, so no need to rehash that here.  While I was never presented with an understanding of the ‘missionary God’, I don’t think anyone I grew up with or any of my teachers would have disagreed with that even if never really thought about.

Where I wonder if many in my evangelical circles would have been brought up short is this emphasis on God forming a people for mission or the church as a community deriving its identity from mission.  I was taught evangelism as individual activity (with perhaps at times a ‘team’ approach), but never as a particularly community function.  Not having read the book McKnight offers, I quote Martyn Atkins book, Resourcing Renewal

If God is encountered and experienced as supreme missionary, going before, searching out, inviting and receiving in, abiding with, then those very characteristics will be found in the Church of such a God.  If God is known as One who is always self-giving, and urging and bringing shalom, then so will the Church be, and so on.

This, of course, assumes that the church reflects God, where the emphasis for so long has been how an individual reflects God (Nick at Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth has had a discussion on this recently).  The community focus of how God forms us has been a theme I have been thinking through since seminary, even if not the focus that Atkins speaks of.  Which brings me to thinking about my more ‘formal’ theological training.

Was I taught theology that emphasised God as missional?  While my theology professor, Geoffrey Wainwright certainly believed that God calls us to mission, his primary focus was on teaching the classic creeds.  This would include mission, but mission wasn’t the paradigm through which we learned theology.  All that he taught me allows me to think about God in a missional way and provided the ways of speaking of God that looks to emphasise the missional God when preaching to my congregations.

Where I think my understanding of the missional God began to form was in my New Testament classes, especially in how the church reflects God’s mission.  Richard Hays’s thrust was the God who seeks to create a community to witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  While personal, one-to-one evangelism was a part of it, the main focus was how the community lived its life together reflected the new creation that would come into the world one day at the return of Jesus.  The mission of the church seeks to bring in more people into the saving community through the announcement of the gospel.  In Jesus’ ministry, he set out to bring people into a community focused on him.  Where Paul went and preached, he immediately organised people into communities that would then carry on the work of mission after he left.  I don’t think Hays ever used the term ‘missional God’ in the way that Wright and Atkins did, but it would be hard not get that Hays believed in the God who seeks out the lost.

One of the reasons I am thinking this through is I am here with churches who have for decades been the place where people come.  I wonder if I have made too many assumptions about their beliefs in God.  Do they understand God as mission-focused?  How do I get them to see this?  How do I then turn this into an understanding of mission-shaped church?


4 thoughts on “Was I Taught the Missional God?

    Nabil Haroun

    All prophets of God preached the same simple truth of the One
    Sovereign God.

    Who Is Allah? Who Is God?

    Allah is God. The name Allah is the Arabic word for God. More
    precisely, it is the One Eternal Creator, Lord of the whole universe.
    It is the same Arabic name for God that is used in the Arabic Bible.

    It is pronounced almost the same in other Semitic languages: “Eloha”
    in Hebrew, and “Allaha” in Aramaic. According to Jesus (peace be upon
    him), God is One, with no partner whatsoever. I quote the following
    verses from the Bible:

    Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship
    the Lord your God, and him only.'” (Matthew 4:10)

    “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that
    God is one and there is no other but him.” (Mark 12:32)

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel,
    the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'” (Mark 12:29)

    Who Is Jesus?

    Jesus is one of a long string of prophets of Allah sent to all nations
    throughout history, starting from Adam, who received the first
    guidance from Allah, to the final one, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon
    them all).

    According to the Bible, Jesus was sent particularly to the Israelites,
    to set them back on the proper track of Moses. The Gospels record
    these words of Jesus:

    “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of
    Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)

    “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not
    come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you: ‘Till
    heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass
    from the law, till all be fulfilled.'” (Matthew 5:17-18)

    The Qur’an, which Muslims consider the direct revelation says what

    *{The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my
    Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him
    Allah hath forbidden Paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers
    there will be no helpers.}* (Al-Ma’idah 5:72)

    Jesus was a full human Prophet of God, as he emphatically declared:

    “As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the
    truth that I heard from God.” (John 8:40)

    “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He
    was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the
    people.” (Luke 24:19)

    Again, the Qur’an also affirms Jesus’s prophethood:

    *{And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the
    messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed)
    before me in the Torah}* (As-Saff 61:6)

    In all aspects, the Gospels portray him as a human who was born and
    circumcised (Luke 2:5-7, 21, 40, 52, 11:27); who suffered hunger and
    thirst (Matthew 4:2, 11:19, 21:18); who got tired and slept like any
    human being (Matthew 8:20, 24-25, Luke 8:23, Mark 4:38, John 4:6); who
    was subject to human feelings of fear, astonishment, and sadness
    (Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33-34, John 11:33, 35, 38); and who prayed to
    his Creator like any human believer does (Mark 1:35, 14:35, Luke 5:16,

    Logically speaking, having no father does not mean he was the son of
    God. Adam had neither father nor mother, yet both Adam and Jesus are
    bondsmen of Allah created by His will and power, by His word “Be” —
    Adam from earthly dust, and Jesus in the womb of Virgin Mary.

    This is precisely and unequivocally defined in the Qur’an as follows:

    *{The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created
    him from dust, then said to him: “Be”. And he was.}* (Aal `Imran 3:59)

    So neither Jesus nor Adam is a son of God. References to Jesus in the
    Bible as son of God should not be taken in the literal sense, rather
    in the metaphoric sense of affection and nearness to God.

    Jesus himself affirms that we are all “sons” of God in this sense:

    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of
    God.” (Matthew 5:9)

    “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see
    your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

    Similar references to human beings as “sons of God” are also used in
    the Old Testament:

    “You are the children of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 14:1)

    Finally, in his own words, Jesus declared himself as the Son of Man:

    Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but
    the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

    “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man
    must be lifted up.” (John 3:14)

    Can We See God?

    Our human capabilities are limited by the nature of our senses: vision
    in a certain wavelength range (4 to 7 X10-7 meters), hearing in a
    certain frequency range (2.500 to 4,000 cycles per second). Even the
    power of our instruments, however advanced, is limited in two ways:

    scale: by the huge universal dimensions in light years
    nature: to our detectable electromagnetic wave systems. So we cannot
    see or detect anything different from or beyond (in nature, time, or
    space) these systems: neither the angels nor any non-earthly being,
    nor God the Creator and Dominator of all His creation.
    This is affirmed both in the Qur’an and in the Bible:

    *{No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is
    above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things.}* (Al-
    An`am 6:103)

    “Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his
    shape.” (John 5:37)

    Are God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit the Same?

    First: who is the Holy Spirit? A careful reading of the Gospels
    clarifies that the Holy Spirit is the Angel Gabriel.

    Compare the two narrations of Matthew and Luke:

    Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother
    Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found
    with child of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 1:18)

    And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city
    of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name
    was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
    (Luke 1:26-27).

    This accords with the Qur’an:

    *{Then We sent her our angel [literally, spirit], and he appeared
    before her as a man in all respects. … He [the angel] said: “Nay, I am
    only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a
    holy son.”}* (Maryam 19:17,19)

    So God the Lord, Jesus the human prophet, and the Holy Spirit Gabriel
    are each separate. The doctrine of the Trinity was never preached by
    Jesus, nor by his followers for three centuries. The word “trinity”
    is nowhere in the Bible. The whole concept was derived from the words
    of John, who never met Jesus.

    The myth of trinity gradually crept into Christianity, influenced by
    pagan beliefs and Greek mythology, and was adopted by Council of
    Nicaea in 325 CE.

    The following steps are straightforward, and can be taken without any
    intermediary or clergy. It is something between you and your Creator,
    yet in the way He ordained. You can find the necessary details in the
    links provided below; and you could better still refer to a
    trustworthy Islamic Center for guidance and support.

    Best wishes for you on this most blessed trip to the pure Divine

  2. I appreciate these thoughts and questions, Will. That Atkins quote just brings to my mind our union with Christ. If Jesus is who he is (and he is!) then it makes good sense that we should seek to respond as a missionary people.

  3. Thanks, Meg. I think you’re spot on. In particular, if we claim as the church to be the body of Christ, the body of the church should be doing the same as the body of Christ in his earthly ministry.

  4. Pingback: How we not be part of the Mission? « aGCb: theology, missions, & SEC football

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