Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thinking Biblically about Missional Christianity

The Purpose of My Blog, Part 1: A Theological Conversation

As I seek to be a missional Christian in obedience to Christ, I want to be sure I am thinking and acting biblically. If the Bible is indeed God’s word, I must make every effort to conform my thought and practice to Scripture. Whether speaking of church planting models, ecclesiology, contextualization, evangelism, or theology, I must be faithful to the revelation of God revealed in the Old and New Testaments. If the error of the past generation was a lack of commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture, the error of the present one is a lack of commitment to sound biblical exegesis. In the preface to his recent two volume work, Early Christian Mission, Erkhard Schnabel acknowledges this problem. He states,

Missiologists, missionaries and representatives of missionary societies seek to promote interest in crosscultural dialogue and witness and to encourage and develop the involvement of Christians, young and old, in active outreach to non-Christians. As laudable as these endeavors are, their proponents have not always sought to provide exegetical explanations or to engage in theological discussion when presenting models for missionary work and paradigms for effective evangelism.[1]

The Scripture is the basis of our Christian faith. When acting missionally, then, my practice must be biblically sound. Where the Bible commands I must be obedient. Where it gives examples I must learn from them. Where my methodology appeals to biblical precedent, it must do so on the basis of sound exegesis rather than a hermeneutic of convenience. In no case may the methods I use violate the Scriptures.

Current questions in for missional Christianity will need to be resolved with biblically appropriate answers. Application of biblical principles to missional practice must be done through a sound hermeneutic. We must discover the original meaning of the text, bridge between the biblical context and the present one, and make application in line with the intent of Scripture. I must not go to the Scripture to validate my preconceived ideas or preferences whatever they may be. I must allow my ministry and method to be shaped by Scripture itself. Köstenberger contends,

The descriptive nature of New Testament theology entails that we set aside for the time being our concern for the contemporary application of the biblical message. At the proper time, this will, of course, be very important, and, truth be told, this is also what fuels our interest in the present subject in the first place. But unless we are willing to let the New Testament speak to us on its own terms, we only deceive ourselves. We will merely find in the pages of the Bible what we have already determined to find there on other grounds. If we thus domesticate Scripture, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to be instructed by, and even transformed by, Scripture, and we rob Scripture of its authority and preeminence.[2]

I must then take this approach to Scripture when dealing with the “hot button” issues of our day. Not only must I be “critical” in my contextualization,[3] but also in my church planting models, ecclesiology, soteriology, evangelism, worship, discipleship, and every other thing I do.

One of the purposes of this blog will be to seek biblical solutions to the problems faced by those who wish to be missional Christians. My purpose is not to criticize others or examine how everyone else is doing it wrong. Rather, I am striving in my own life and ministry to do things in ways that are consistent with the teaching of Scripture. I hope through conversations with others committed to the same ends to be able to think biblically about fulfilling our mission.

[1] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2 vols. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004), xxiii.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger, "The Place of Mission in New Testament Theology: An Attempt to Determine the Significance of Mission Within the Scope of the New Testament's Message as a Whole," Missiology 27 (1999): 349.

[3] See Paul G. Hiebert, "Critical Contextualization," Missiology 12 (1984): 287-96.

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