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The Missional Church: Reformed Heritage?

My thought for the day. According to some research I am currently involved in [buying old books on ebay], the "missional" emphasis of the emerging church may have its foundations in Reformed theology. This will be interesting news to some, especially to those who feel [wrongly] that Reformed thinking is diametrically opposed to missional thinking. I might be wrong, but I think Reformed thinking was one of the brightest sparks to ignite it. Heres what i am thinking.

The watchdog blog Fide-o recently called all Emergents to collect some statements on what the emerging church phenomenon was about. Unfortunately, I was traveling at the time and internet-less when I arrived home to a new house without a connection. Even worse, the statements collected and commented on a few days ago on the post "Because I said so" were not very good and certainly not enough to convert anyone from a Constantinian model to something more emerging-missional. A few days ago I left a contribution in the comment section on that blog post but it hasnt appeared yet. So I thought I would post it here, along with a short explanation.
[update: they told me there is a problem with comment moderation on Blogger accidentally deleting them. Comment control was one reason i left Blogger for Typepad. Hey - thanks guys.]

"The Emerging Church Phenomenon has placed a renewed emphasis on the sovereignty of God in the area of missions - in particular a focus on the Truine nature of the missionary God, His attributes as well as His actions as impetus for mission, and the incarnation of Christ as a model for a biblical, holistic missionary encounter with the emerging culture."
Andrew Jones, ignored comment on Fide-o blog."

RottwielerBTW - Why is the DOG analogy so popular on Reformed doctrinal sites? Maybe its because dogs guard existing spaces while cats explore new spaces. I think I prefer cats. Cats seem more apostolic than dogs. More adventurous. More curious. But why create another division - who wants to see dogs chasing cats around anyway?

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During my frightfully long time away from broadband, I managed to read a few books - those brown things with paper inside - those door stops with leaves and pictures on the cover - you know. I actually found a few old ones on ebay and amazon to keep me busy. One of the themes I was chasing down was the impact of Reformed thinking on "missio dei' and subsequently, the renewed interest [yeaaa long tail!!!] and current understanding of "mission-shaped church" (UK) and "missional church" (USA).

Most interesting was "Missons Under The Cross" (1953, ed. Normal Goodall) and "Christianity on the Frontier" (1950) by Dr John Mackay (President of Princeton Theological Seminary). Dr Mackay was the Chairman of the International Missionary Convention when they met for the fourth world congress in Willingen in 1952 - the series of meetings where the idea of mission (preferred over "missions") was hammered out and gave birth to the term "missio dei" a short time after.

In Christianity on the Frontier, Dr Mackay had written a chapter in this book called "Contribution of the Reformed Churches" in which he offers the various areas of impact stemming from Calvin's Institutes.
"True to the central meaning of "theology", Reformed doctrine is a doctrine of God, begun and pursued in the light of God. The sovereign God, whose redemptive purpose constitutes the scarlet thread of Holy Scripture, whose Son is the saviour and lord of life, and whose church is the true bearer of history, is the theme of Reformed theology, in the same way that the concept of His sovereignty is its organizing principle." (page 88)"


In 1952, Dr Mackay's address to the Enlarged Meeting of the International Missionary Convention, of which he was the Chairman, was entitled "The Great Commission and the Church Today". In this address, Mackay deals with the theme of the convention, The Missionary Obligation of the Church, and makes his appeal again (a common theme in his writings) to Calvin's motif of the flaming heart as a symbol of Christian devotion. He also makes clear that "the Trinity is in the Great Commission, not by implication merely, but directly." (pg 133, Missions Under the Cross) and gives a statement that embraces the heart of the missional idea:
"A truly apostolic Church can never be satisfied with merely sponsoring missionary interest or in giving birth to "missions". It must itself become the mission."

You can follow my thoughts on how that idea developed into what we call "Missional Church" at the post entitled "What I Mean When I say Emerging-Missional Church." But I should really finish off this thought.

Am I saying the the missional emphasis of the emerging-missional church has its roots in Reformed thinking?
Yes I am. The emerging-missional church has placed a stronger emphasis on the sovereignty of the Triune God in the area of mission, an emphasis with a clear heritage back to the 1950's. The idea of "missional church' has always seemed Reformed to me. Especially the idea that God is sovereign over his missional aims and the role of the church is more participation than innovation. Sometimes I wonder if we are reverting to the days of William Carey who argued for the use of "means" for the work of missions in response to those insisting that God would sort it out Himself. Except the emerging-missional church might be on the other side of the table from William Carey.

Now thats an interesting thought.

I close with a prophetic quote from the Reformed Dr Mackay at the Willingen Convention.
"When the Christian Church as a whole recovers a sense of of missionary responsibility, and is imbued throughout its ranks with missionary ardour, certain things will happen. Christian thought will become concerned not merely with a theology of missions, but with a theology of mission. The role of the missionary society, and the meaning of missionary vocation will be re-thought. The spontaneous expansion of the church will be regarded as a natural thing to hope for and promote." (Missions Under The Cross, pg 141)

Related thoughts of mine:
Whatever and Missio Dei
Thoughts on Missio Dei
What I Mean When I say Emerging-Missional Church

And of others:
The Missional Church, by Tim Keller