Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Missional, Shmissional

There are many critics of the emerging church and the missional movement.

Many of them simply dismiss anything new or different as heresy. Many of them would have difficulty identifying their own cultural assumptions that have nothing to do with the gospel. Many of them misunderstand the issues to the point that is too difficult to try to straighten out all the misconceptions.

But I read something today that is worth responding to. Phil Johnson says,

"I'm starting to hate the word missional. Apart from the fact that it's useless jargon, I suspect it is often used to disguise a strategy that is actually anti-evangelistic, where the gospel never even enters the picture at all, much less becomes a focus of ministry."

He seems to conflate the Emerging Church movement and the missional movement. He implies that all they are really interested in is "how cool the Church is." He argues that the Church can stand apart from culture altogether: "How about let's forget trying to accommodate the fickle shifts of contemporary culture and worldly thinking altogether?"

He calls for the Church to discard all "vagueness, ambivalence, hesitation, wavering, apprehension, a cloudy message, fickle opinions, obsessive self-criticism, or any of the other qualities postmodernism falsely equates with 'humility.' " What we need is more "certainty."

He suggests that we recover holiness as a priority in the Church. But then he seems to equate holiness with being against "tattoos, cigars, beer, poker, and other stylish emblems of worldly culture."

Now I know Phil to be an intelligent man. Even when I disagree with him (which is rather often), I can usually respect his position. But this time…

  • The emerging church and the missional movement are not the same thing. Sure there is some overlap. And there are many superficial similarities. But anyone who thinks they are the same just hasn't done his homework.

  • If Phil understood what the word missional means, I'm sure he would not be saying that he hates it. He might as well say that he hates the gospel.

  • With just a little more effort, Phil would have discovered that being missional is not about being cool, hip or even relevant. He might even have found out that it is not a reaction to post-modernism.

  • Phil seems to think that he and John MacArthur
    • Are free of all cultural baggage,
    • Live in the same culture as Paul, or
    • Have some kind of timeless culture that all Christians in all places and at all times should adopt.

  • Phil complains about "teachers who invent their own doctrine on the fly and see nothing wrong with the practice." He apparently thinks that theology is like mathematics. Our primary job is to learn our "sums." I suppose I can understand why he might view theology that way, but his "received theology" would not even exist if everyone had taken that view back in the 16th century.

I can respect Phil's passion for the Truth. And I agree with him that the Truth is absolute. But he seems to be confusing his understanding of the Truth with the Truth itself. He must have found a way to avoid the difficulties of 1 Corinthians 13:12.

But back to the essential meaning of missional.

Missional is primarily a shift in thinking about what it means to be the church.

  • It's a shift from attractional ministry to incarnational ministry. Instead of putting on programs and trying to "bring them in," a missional view seeks to "go into" the community and live the Gospel. (This is not in place of proclamation. It is the context for proclamation.)

  • It's a shift from a dualistic view of reality to a holistic view. A missional mindset does not divide life into sacred and secular "parts."

  • It's a shift from a hierarchical view of the Church to a "flat" view of the Church. This was one of the emphases of the Reformation. All believers are priests. We all are called to real ministry.

[If I were as skilled as Phil I'd insert a picture here of a three-inch wide paint brush dripping with red paint.]

There are many foolish (even dangerous) things being said in the Emergent Conversation. But let's be careful to identify them specifically and carefully. It's a dangerous thing to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the forces of darkness (Matthew 12:24).

Pastor Rod

"Helping you become the person God created you to be"


InChains620 said...

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Pastor Rod said...

Thanks, Alex. I really like your template.


Mark O. Wilson said...

Amen Pastor Rod! I appreciate your insightful thoughts. One thing I'd add -- a church can be both attractional AND incarnational. Jesus was.

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for your kind words.

It seems to me that those two things are mutually exclusive. But I subscribe to the philosophy of the old Chinese proverb, "He who says something is not possible should not interrupt the one who is doing it."

God Bless,


Bryan said...

I have to agree with you on this.

SB said...

good stuff man I wrote some similar stuff yesterday-thoguh not as pithy

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for stopping by and for adding your voice to the conversation.


Welcome. Thanks for taking the time to add your comments.

God Bless,