Theology and Missional Church: How Shall We Respond to Our Seismic Culture Shifts?

imagesTheology is vitally important. To listen to many progressively oriented voices these days you’d  think that theology really doesn’t really matter, only love for our neighbors. Christians who are serious about the once-for-all revealed faith must understand that this is a false contrast. Both theology and love matter. Indeed, they matter profoundly. Good theology will actually help you to understand what love is and then how to properly love God and others. Good theology fuels the fire of true love in action.

I am inclined to believe that a major problem at this point is a false contrast between the word theology and the biblical idea of true love. Some believe that theology is not important because theology is, to their way of thinking, only about being right in one’s views regarding various truths. But sound theology is really about humbly submitting both our mind and heart to the living God. The living and true God has revealed himself in Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). To reject theology altogether is a colossal mistake. Theology is not about mere human opinion regarding God, Scripture, sin and salvation. It is one of the important ways that the church has tried to love God with both the heart and mind uniquely engaged in considering and confessing God in the mystery of his revealed truth. Ultimately both theology and love are about obeying and following God’s will.

Because I serve the church as a minister of word and sacrament, and because I have a unique calling to serve the church widely across North America, I believe I have been given a unique responsibility to devote considerable amounts of time to thinking about theology, especially about the theology of the church. I am thus led to ask: What does a theology of the church look like when Christians take seriously the fact that North America is now itself a massive, growing mission field? Asked in a different way: “What does theology have to do with our mission, when all of that mission is rightly invested in those who are still outside the church of Jesus Christ?” These questions lie at the heart of my use of the word missional in the subtitle of this blog site where I refer to my words as: “The Reflections of a Missional-Ecumenist.” These same questions permeate the vision that I set forth through the ACT3 Network day-in and day-out.

North America’s increasingly secular culture is clearly apparent to anyone who is paying attention. I have come to believe that the question about how we should respond to rampant secularism may divide Christians more than any single issue in our time. Should we work politically and socially to reverse the huge cultural shifts that continue to gain massive momentum, especially among our youngest adults? Should the church, and especially the leaders of the churches, engage in ideological battles in the public ways that are specifically aimed at protecting, or (perhaps) restoring, Christendom culture? I addressed some of these questions a few weeks ago in writing about the Supreme Court’s two landmark decisions regarding same-sex marriage.

In the West religion has clearly been privatized. I have never argued that this is acceptable though some see my understanding of mission in these (incorrect) terms. Modernity has displaced churches from a prior role of importance and power. In the face of this challenge large numbers of churches, and Christian leaders, have over-accommodated the mystery of revealed faith to modern ways of life. This has happened on both the left and the right, politically and religiously.

images-1Enter the idea of the missional church. This term, so despised by some because it has been overused or badly misused, and despised by others as a form of compromise with the spirit of the age, actually suggests that the real answer to our present crisis will not be found at the level of program, method or ideology. The real answer lies in clarifying the church’s true identity and then in calling us (together) to be missio Dei (the mission of God).

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