Grace and Mission

missionalAny full accounting of the Christian faith has to include a story of grace, and how it works. Grace is a fancy old word for a gift, and it’s one of the most important words in the vocabulary of faith.

The Grace of Life

Most theologies of grace speak primarily of the grace of salvation, and principally mean how God saves us from our sins (and God’s judgement) through Jesus. While I think we still have some thinking left to do about the meaning of the atonement, an emphasis on God’s saving grace is a good thing! A missional theological lens doesn’t abandon this view of salvation, but broadens it—beginning with the beginning. Grace is not a newly developed attribute of God, although it is particularly demonstrated by Jesus. Rather, grace is present in the whole story of God.

In the beginning, we see God’s grace in the generosity of creation. God creates the conditions and space for life, and then gives life—this is how the story starts, and we do well to keep this gifting of life close as we consider what God is doing in the world. The story of grace offered in Jesus is not a departure from the story of God, it is instead the fruit of God’s commitment to stand by the gift of life given in creation. The core of grace is God’s refusal to abandon the creation to death.The core of grace is God’s refusal to abandon the creation to death. Click To Tweet

It is amazing how little Christian theologies reflect on this gift of life, when so much of God’s story revolves around God’s determination to stand by that gift and preserve it. A fully missional theology of grace begins with the conviction that God’s gift of life is good. This is central to God’s story and ours—we live, and this is grace!

The Grace of God’s Reign

God’s grace doesn’t end when human evil breaks the ordered justice that is conducive to life and flourishing. Rather, God acts to heal our brokenness, beginning with our sin and extending to other forms of brokenness in our world. When a fractured community is reconciled, an anxious heart finds peace, or a body experiences healing, these are experiences of grace. People are freed from oppressive powers and lay down their compulsions by the grace of God, and this too is part of God’s plan to redeem creation.

The missional story of salvation begins not simply with Jesus’s death, but with his life, in which the kingdom of God draws near. When we talk about the “kingdom of God”, we’re talking about how God reasserts God’s will in the earth, reordering it by justice and love, o that life can flourish as it was intended to. God’s reign is marked by justice, peace, and wholeness. The arrival of kingdom wholeness is a gift—it is the grace of God’s reign.

The arrival of kingdom wholeness is a gift—it is the grace of God’s reign. Click To Tweet

The Grace of Mission

A further piece of grace in the missional story is obvious enough, but is the gift of mission to God’s people, both generally and to individuals. It’s often the case that people who receive God’s grace in the scriptures also receive some sort of commissioning, some invitation (or command) to join God’s mission. Peter (Luke 4) and Paul (Acts 9are the most obvious examples here, but those stories are really more normative than you might think—God extends one grace (forgiveness) with another grace (mission). Often, when I’m reading Paul’s letters, he seems to make no distinction between the two kinds of grace. They just represent the way God relates to Paul.

I want to unpack that idea of the grace of mission in a couple of ways, just for clarity’s sake. Think about the graces of inclusion and contribution:

The Grace of Inclusion

The grace of inclusion is the idea that God seems willing to invite pretty much everybody to participate in the mission. Luke’s gospel delights in this, as the religious elites are amazed to see the likes of Levi, Zacchaeus, and some disrespected women become part of Jesus’s movement in the world. Paul himself perceives this element of grace, saying in effect, “I was the worst, but God saw fit to allow me a place in the mission.”

The Grace of Contribution

In a similar vein, the grace of mission is not just that unexpected people are invited to become missionaries, but that God delights in providing the people what they need to participate. God gives gifts, (graces) to people so that they will be able to contribute to the life of the church and to the kingdom’s work in the world. Not only does God give missionary permission or invitation to people, but God provides the means for their meaningful work in the world. This provision is a powerful aspect of God’s grace that we don’t necessarily catch when we use “gift” to talk about something God gives us to use but shift to “grace” when we’re thinking about some theological change God brings about.

It’s all gift, all grace.

Agents of Grace

With these understandings of God’s grace, it’s important to note that a missional view of grace, humans who receive these forms of grace become agents of grace themselves. They become people who generously extend God’s grace to others in all its forms. They help people flourish and live, acting as agents of life in the world. They practice forgiveness, and stand for wholeness. not only do they participate in God’s mission themselves, but they welcome others into it as well. In living generously, the grace of God that has become wrapped into their story is unleashed on the other people around them, seeping into the cracks of the broken world. Missional Christians become people of Grace, modeling in their own lives what they have received from God.

 

A Missional Bibliography

Missional Bibliography

As Missional Theology matures, it’s producing a growing body of literature. It can be a lot to sort through, so here I’m collecting those resources that I’ve found helpful, with some comments along the way. I’ll start by providing a handful of foundational texts that I think are indispensable, and then point towards some other useful works along the way. I’ll be updating this page over time, so let me know of the ones I’ve missed in the comments!

Foundational Texts

41B0WZFUGgLMissional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America Darrell Guder and Friends, 1998. This is the mothership, people. It’s a foundational text, and if you really want to study the missional church, you have to read it. The good news is it reads pretty well, even after a couple of decades. For me, reading this was like finding the spring that fed the stream I’d been drinking from for years.

 

51A+xI24b+L Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness by Lois Barrett and friends. This is essentially the same gang of writers as Missional Church (Guder 1998), and in this text they try to put a little more flesh on their ideas. It’s based on case studies, and is a quick read—much less dense than Missional Church.

 

 

713WtZZZHKLThe Missional Church in Perspective by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile, 2011. This another piece from one of the original collaborators (van Gelder) that strikes me really as an extension of Missional Church. Since it’s a fairly easy read, I’d think of this as going into the essential toolkit. Part of what this book does is to frame the how the missional conversation has forked and taken different turns since 1998. Since different people use missional language to mean different things, a book that takes high view of the conversation, mapping it out, becomes very useful. This book is also useful for sending you in new directions, expanding your reading list.

61iIyu7Mm5LThe Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission by Leslie Newbigin (1995). This is a key predecessor to Missional Church, and no missional reading list is complete without it. Newbigin, upon his return to the Western World, helped it to see its own identity as a mission field, and provided theological language for our engagement with our neighbors.

Other Missional Books

Staying is the New Going by Alan Briggs (2015)

Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. David Bosch (1991) One of the significant predecessors to Missional Church, Bosch gives a thorough account of the trajectory that led to the missional movement.

Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw (2013)

The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church by Michael Frost (2011)

The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (2003, 2013) The revised editions has some pretty useful reflections in the introduction. This is a passionate and useful text, even if I have a couple of reservations about the way they ditch the trinitarian emphasis in favor of a heavy Christology.

Surprise the World: Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost (2015) is a great little book that would be useful for a small study group. Very readable.

The Continuing Conversion of the Church, by Darrell Guder (2000) This book provides a perspective on what’s happening inside the missional church, and why that formation is key for the mission of God. I love this text’s fundamental premise.

Called to Witness: Doing Missional Theology, by Darrell Guder (2015) collects essays Guder published on the missional church after the landmark publication in 1998.

A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story by Michael Goheen (2011). I haven’t read this personally, but my friend Greg McKinzie sent me a note suggesting it’s a worthy contribution from the reformed neck of the woods.

Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (The Gospel and Our Culture Series (GOCS)) by Michael Gorman (2015). Gorman’s expertise is in missional hermeneutics (how we read and use scripture), and I think they’re fantastic.

Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation by Michael J. Gorman (2011). This is an earlier piece on Revelation, and I love it. It’s very readable, but will leave you chewing.

Missional. Monastic. Mainline.: A Guide to Starting Missional Micro-Communities in Historically Mainline Traditions by Elaine Heath (2014)

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch (2009)

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight (2011) provides the sort of biblical backdrop that fuels the missional movement.

The Trinity and the Kingdom, Jurgen Moltmann (1993). Moltmann fits the description of a theologian whose writing has deeply impacted the missional movement, even if not explicitly missional.

Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition by Alan Roxburgh (2010) There’s been a lot written about missional leadership—Roxburgh is a trustworthy guide.

Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood by Alan Roxburgh (2011) this is a pretty central text, and is probably one of the better introductory piece out there. It may end up getting moved to the foundational list above.

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan Roxburgh (1997). This is a more academic piece than Roxburgh’s other writing, and is sort of a forgotten little book, unfortunately.

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Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren (2009)

Doing Local Theology: A Guide for Artisans of a New Humanity Clemens Sedmak (2003). This is a jewel of a book with an unfortunately hokey cover. I advise you to defer judgment.

The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit Craig Van Gelder (2007)

A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf (1996) Volf isn’t explicitly a missional theologian, but his work seems to be an important piece of the conversation, in my view. 

A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Miroslav Volf (2013)

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher Wright (2006) Like Gorman, Wright is a significant figure in missional hermeneutics. His focus has typically been in Old Testament Studies, and that provides the backdrop for this book, which is a landmark work for the field.

Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright (Revised in 2013) is excellent, and the book makes a fantastic case for a missional understanding of how scripture fits into the story of God. If you haven’t cut your teeth on Wright yet, you should, and this is a great place to start.

Missional Web Hubs

Missio Alliance has one of the best missional blogs around the web. Most of the articles here are at a popular level, though often by respected missional leaders.

Missio Dei is an online academic journal with articles about missional theory and practice.

The Journal of Missional Practice has a vision “to be like a table around which theologically informed practitioners gather with others to share the stories of what they are doing and discerning on the ground and in the local.” I’d say they pull it off.

Mission-Shaped Church (2004) is a church of England publication I’ve heard good things about, and I know it’s been influential in the Anglican Fresh Expressions circles.

Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (American Society of Missiology Series) by Bevans and Schroeder (2004) is a recommendation I recently got via twitter (hat tip to @MuellerBSSabrina), bu I haven’t had the chance to peruse it yet. Let me know if you have.

Missional Podcasts

Theology on Mission is a regular podcast featuring David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. (iTunesOvercast)

Missional Hospitality with Alan Roxburgh is episode 2 of the Fresh Expressions Podcast.