God’s church doesn’t have a mission, rather God’s mission has a church. I can’t underestimate the potency this change of perspective has had on my understanding of God’s mission on earth and my place in it. It has deepened and enriched my understanding of God’s fundamentally missional nature. It has also challenged some of my assumptions of evangelism. Alan Hirsch’s discussion on discipleship and evangelism helped solidify God’s deep involvement in missions, and thus how engaged we must be in people’s lives when being missional. From all that I’ve learned, there are four main disciplines I’m drawn to when I consider how I am to join in God’s mission for my life. Those would be the disciplines of friendship, inculturation, mercy, and reconciliation.
When it comes to friendship, the main thing I have taken away from this course is the importance of meeting people where they are at, and to love them for who they are. Along with that, an essential part of friendship is seeing where God is already in someone’s life and encouraging and honoring those realities. A way to orient our lives to foster these sorts of relationships is to have a deep sense that, “Belonging precedes believing”. This perspective challenges us to get to know someone on a deeper level. Thus, you are to welcome people into your life where they are at, and cherish them for who they are, and not for who you think you can change them into. This means hanging out and spending time opening up to people, even before they share our religious beliefs.
I think one thing that made it difficult for me to appreciate people for who they are now, was an inappropriate understanding of 1 Corinthians 15:33. I think sometimes as Christians we interpret this verse as saying, “Don’t have non-Christian friends, and if you must have non-Christian friends, make sure you convert them so they don’t cause you to fall.” There is much wisdom in picking positive influences for friends, but if we are to reach the world we are going to have to engage intimately with non-Christians. “Converting” someone is more than telling them the story of Jesus and having them make a confession, it involves a transformation of the way they live. St. Patrick gave us wonderful insight into effective mission when he insisted that membership to a community is an invitation that precedes doctrinal allegiance. We need to be diligent in finding how Christ is already working and manifesting himself in someone’s life, so we can fan those flames.
We get to know people for who they are by doing life and living with them. Now obviously, the hope is to bring people into a relationship with Christ and have Jesus be the Lord of their life. The art of witnessing Christ to someone is always done with the Spirit’s guidance and prompting. It is done through honest and sensitive conversation, presenting the gospel as purely as possible with as few presuppositions as possible. The key thing about friendship though is that we let people know that even if they don’t convert to Christianity, we will still love them and invest into their life. The goal and desire for all people, especially our friends, is to have them know Christ as 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us. That being said, knowing Christ isn’t a prerequisite to love and care for someone though, so knowing Christ isn’t a prerequisite to befriend someone either.
The discipline of friendship is key to a missional life. In hopes of amplifying it, we need to be practicing and employing the practice of inculturation. The practice of inculturation is more than just a practical tool to get people to understand Christ, it is a gospel centered way of mission. Before this class, inculturation was something I was always hypersensitive about. It felt like we were “watering down” the gospel and not giving “pure” Christianity. I have come to see that although I may have had some legitimate concerns, I was much too closed off to the diversity of the gospel. Indeed, the fullness of the gospel won’t be seen and experienced until each culture has appropriated Christ within their own particular culture.
Paul gives us a beautiful depiction of inculturation in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. His charge is that we must become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. This means stepping in and being immersed by another’s culture and witnessing to them through their own culture. We must be careful here not to think that we, as westerners, have the pure gospel and thus present someone with this pure gospel out of a vacuum. The reality is that our context has influence on the gospel. Since the gospel we know has been enculturated, we shouldn’t be too afraid to enculturate the gospel when witnessing to others. By not micromanaging how the gospel must be expressed or conceived, we allow the gospel access to its full power to meet the particular needs of a culture.
Biblical inculturation runs much deeper than Paul’s teachings, it has been embodied by God throughout the whole history of the bible. When we study the scriptures, we see how God has allowed his word to fit and be understood within the current Hebrew culture. This is why often times you need to understand the culture behind a text to understand the passages. God revealed himself to a certain people, at a certain time, with a certain culture. This doesn’t mean that the Hebrews have a superior culture or that others can’t understand God within the context of a different culture. It does mean though, that when we spread the gospel to other cultures, we need to let go and trust that the Spirit will guide them in how to correctly appropriate the gospel while maintaining the integrity of the gospel. If God revealed himself through the practice of inculturation to the Jews, then we can practice inculturation in mission.
Inculturation shows people you value their uniqueness, and mercy shows you value their worth. The discipline of mercy has two large misconceptions, two that I was a victim too and am still working through. The first is that mercy is in some way a violation of justice. Grisez provides an insightful analysis of mercy and displays that mercy upholds the requirements of justice. Mercy isn’t just a blind amnesty towards someone’s wrongs. That isn’t mercy, that’s injustice. A key function of mercy is that you give something not owed to someone. To do this faithfully, you must acknowledge and know what is owed to them, and then also give them something not owed to them. Grisez argues that we need to really scrutinize our retributive tendencies and question whether that is really justice. Instead of thinking someone deserves to be wronged for wronging someone, we need to start seeing how what justice demands is for restoration of the situation.
The restorative aspect is the second part to overcoming the first misconception of mercy. Mercy is going beyond the requirements of justice in order to overcome something bad. The point of mercy is to overcome the effects of sin in the world. Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us that God being rich in mercy, because of his great love, made us alive again in Christ even though we were dead in our trespasses. God’s mercy overcame our sin and brought us back from the brink of destruction and disillusion and has shown us life and joy. By showing mercy we bring restoration to destruction, we bring death to life. We can do this in relationships or human beings and nature by giving necessary nutrients to those that are malnourished. So, we see that mercy isn’t about ignoring wrongdoing, but is about overcoming wrongdoing and the effects of sin by bringing life and restoration to situations of death and destruction.
The second misunderstanding of mercy is that mercy is just about giving things to people in need. This is definitely a part of it, but it is incomplete. The discipline of mercy is to be motivated by our remembrance that all people share the same status before God. Thus, in the way God treats us is the way we are to treat others. Especially the impoverished, because we were impoverished before God, and his mercy towards us was always to bring us protection and restore our dignity. Proverbs 14:31 is clear that showing mercy to the needy is how you honor God, and neglecting this duty shows contempt for God. Showing mercy to the needy is more than just giving them food and clothing. God shows mercy on us by providing for us with material things, but then he also stands alongside us and goes through the struggle with us. Mercy requires that in addition to being generous to the impoverished, we are to not isolate them in their sufferings and are to walk alongside them until they can walk out of their oppression. Too often I thought mercy was only about giving money to the homeless on the street, forgetting that it’s also about me spending my time helping that person find a job and stable source of income.
Reconciliation is a hot topic of discussion right now, and this class has shed some light on the topic for me. Mainly, I have grown to appreciate the depths to which God was and is committed to reconciliation. He cares about more than just spiritual reconciliation but also restoration of people’s material lives. Wright dedicates much of his book showing how God has been thinking about and working towards reconciliation from the moment of the fall. Wright studies Paul and sees Paul’s insight into the reality that Israel’s mission wouldn’t be complete without bringing the nations into God’s covenant. From the beginning of God’s covenant with Abraham, it was always about his descendants being a blessing to the nations, and this blessing was to draw the nations towards God. The same is to be said about the gospel and us. Our mission is to bring the gospel to the nations, so they may be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:19 displays God’s passion for reconciliation in that God reconciles the entire world to himself. It’s easy to think that this reconciliation is mainly a spiritual matter and that God’s emphasis is about reconciliation of relationships and souls. Wright shows that God’s heart for reconciliation is more tangible than just restoring relationships and hearts. Wright points to the Jubilee to show that God also is concerned about the material existence of people and wants to bring restoration to those areas. God’s heart to bring reconciliation extends to the socio-economic and political realities of people. In these areas as well, Christ came to bring restoration and to lift people out of abuse and marginalization.
Reconciliation is a constant concern of God, and if we are to be faithful followers, we must also be always looking to bring reconciliation. It’s important that we keep the integrity of God’s full agenda of reconciliation. This includes physical and spiritual concerns. We need to preach Jesus, but also give voice to the voiceless. We need to show the joys of being released from sins, but also the joys of being released from debt. Reconciliation often happens on an individual level, but Christ came to reconcile humanity and not just individual humans. In the same we need to look to see how reconciliation needs to be experienced in a group atmosphere and not just with individual people. This means knocking down stereotypes that isolate and confine people.
As this class comes to an end, it is a deep desire of mine that the content of this paper doesn’t just stay a paper but becomes embodied in my life and directs my daily decisions. Having a rule of life for these practices as they pertain to mission will give me structure in how I can implement these practices in a real way. I will look at them on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis.
My daily prayers are consumed in my own problems and concerns. I want to add an emphasis on asking God how he is wanting me to practice the discipline of friendship with my coworkers each day. How can I get to know them better and show them I care for them for who they are? This will require me to take more breaks from my work to eat lunch and spend time with my coworkers and have more than just surface level conversations with them. Each week I want to make a habit of making at least one day of my daily reading of scripture to be read through a missional hermeneutic. Beyond that, I want to be sure that each week I’m intentionally having at least one deep and intellectually rigorous conversation with a friend of mine. The aim of these conversations is to have myself and a friend critically analyze the way we are thinking and see how good thinking can lead us to God.
I want to practice the discipline of mercy in a very tangible way monthly. Right now, I am a sponsor for a child through Compassion International. I want to be sending at least one letter or email a month to my sponsor child updating her on my life here and asking her how her life is going, and in what ways can I pray for her and serve her. Lastly, at least once a quarter I want to be intentional about practicing reconciliation within my friendships. Like most people, I am poor at keeping in touch with people. At least once a quarter, I want to make at least one phone call to all my close friends I don’t live near and don’t see frequently. This may not be much for each individual person but is more than what I am doing now and is a clear way for me to ensure our relationship stays strong and close.
As I reflect on the CIQ in relation to mission, God is showing me ways that emphasis on clear thinking can be missionally minded. I see my call in God’s mission as bringing academia to life. To me, this means I am to be an example that shows academic thinking and contemplating about God is more than just thinking but has practical implications that should make us more like Christ. In relation to mission, this means studying Christ and seeing how missional he was, and the ways he was missional. It means having fierce theoretical debates over how we are to conceptualize the disciplines we have learned this quarter, while remembering any conclusions we come to must be actionable and able to be embodied. Embodiment isn’t the end though, we are to embody these disciplines with the purpose of bringing people to Christ.
Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections on Christian Mission Today. Maryknoll: Orbis Books (USA), 2011.
Grisez, Germain Gabriel. Living a Christian Life. Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 1993.
Muck, Terry C., and Frances S. Adeney. Christianity Encountering World Religions: The Practice of Mission in the Twenty-first Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bibles Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.