[I have been working on a rather lengthy paper and I will be posting it, as a series, over the next little while. I find the topic intriguing, and hope that others do as well.]
Becoming the Father through a Spirit-Empowered Cruciformity: Prolegomena to a Narrative Spirituality of Mission
Premised upon the resurrection of Jesus and the biblical story of the missio Dei (which moves from the Father’s mission of creation and covenant, to the godforsakenness of exile, to the Son’s mission of ending exile and establishing a new covenant, to the Spirit’s mission of new creation, to the trinity’s mission of perichoresis and theosis), the mission of the Church’s members, as parts of the body of Christ possessing the eschatological Spirit, is to become subversive gospel-bearers living cruciform lives directed towards places of godforsakenness, so that they can not only become agents of God’s new creation, revealing the Father, but also, through the community of faith, reveal the trinitarian fullness of God.
Christian Missiology as Biblical Theology and as Spirituality
Given the ways in which the church in the West has largely capitulated to mainstream cultural influences, and given the fracturing and compartmentalization of life that occurred, and continues to occur, with the rise of modernity’s secularity and postmodernity’s neo-paganism, it should come as little surprise to discover that the various disciplines of Christian study have also become deeply fractured. Today it is rare to discover a systematic theologian, who is also a committed missiologist, or a missiologist, who is a committed biblical scholar, or a biblical scholar who is a systematic theologian, or a person, who rigorously combines all three of those disciplines. Each one of these disciplines –- systematic theology, biblical studies, and missiology –- spirals into an increasingly specific, introspective solitude, and it is increasingly difficult to grasp even the basics of all three of these fields and hold them together in a stimulating and coherent manner. Indeed, within the halls of Christian higher education one can either pursue a degree in systematic theology, or biblical studies, or missiology – and each of these degrees come with their own separate chairs and faculty. Even those who desire to unite these disciplines will encounter a great deal of resistance in their efforts. Theologians, biblical scholars, and missiologists are playing increasingly divergent language games, and, despite their best intentions, they find that they have less and less to say to one another –- in a large part because the language of one is increasingly incomprehensible to the language of another.
However, such a fracturing is not only disastrous for each of these individual disciplines; it is also disastrous for Christianity as a whole. Christianity must reject the fracturing of life, and asserts that life, as a whole, belongs to God, is lived before God, and finds its unity in God. Therefore, any complete missiology, to be truly Christian, must also reflect a sustained engagement with both systematic theology and biblical studies. A Christian missiology will be an exercise in biblical theology. Unfortunately, what follows is not such a complete missiology. Rather, it is an attempt to sketch a missiology that is moving in that direction. By formulating a missiology through engagement with some significant theologians and biblical scholars, whose missional reflections have been largely neglected, this paper hopes to provide a challenging, provocative, and stimulating prolegomena to a complete missiology. In this regard I hope to highlight three scholars in particular: Jurgen Moltmann, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and N. T. (Tom) Wright. Engaging with these biblical and theological voices not only fills out our missiology, it also prevents missiologies from falling into two rather tempting, but erroneous mentalities. I am speaking hear of the hyper-pragmatism, and the closely related grand reductionism that can otherwise so easily overwhelm Christian missional efforts. Biblical and theological voices refuse to allow us to make the gospel too appealing or efficient, and they certainly deny us the right to presume that the gospel can be reduced to four “spiritual laws” or any such thing.
Furthermore, this paper does not only engage with particular scholars, it is also written from a place of missional engagement with the inner-city ghettos of Vancouver and Toronto. Indeed, all missiologies are written from within particular contexts and so a Christian missiology will also be a spirituality –- it will be a map to a particular way of following Jesus within a particular time and place. Therefore, all Christian missiologies will have contextual, experiential and contemplative elements. Indeed, there is no such thing as a purely objective, general missiology or theology. All theological endeavors always contain an element of subjectivity and are always shaped by the time and place in which they are written. For this reason there will always be an ongoing plurality of Christian missiologies rooted in various contexts. However, far from seeing this as a weakness in our theologizing, this must be seen as a part of bringing together the experiential and intellectual elements of life, elements that are wrongfully played against each other.
Yet, one must be quick to add that there are better and worse places to root a Christian missiology. Too often missiologists and theologians have been rooted in places of power, wealth, privilege, influence and compromise, and, in their attempts to formulate general principles of Christian faith and action from those places, they have often ended up condoning and engaging in decidedly unchristian activities (the ways in which Christian missionary efforts aided European colonialism is perhaps the best known, and most widely accepted, example of this). Therefore, although not being in a place completely free from corrupting influences, I believe that being rooted in a spirituality that emerges on the margins of society, actually provides a much better place for the development of a Christian missiology. Missional spiritualities that arise from the margins should be given a place of privilege within the Christian context – after all, Christ himself is rooted on the margins of society, and although God often rejects the prayers of the wealthy, he always remembers the poor. Consequently, I hope to write this prolegomena, first and foremost as a member of Vancouver’s downtown eastside, and only secondarily as a student at a Christian graduate school.