The Absurdity of Emergent Rhetoric on Mission

This past Sunday I was reading the “Faith and Values” section of The Lexington Herald Leader and came across an interesting article entitled “Evangelicals must rethink mission.” It was written by Chuck Queen the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY and the title immediately piqued my interest. You can read the article in its entirety by clicking on the link above as only excerpts and critique will be given below.

He begins by urging us to rethink mission an then points the reader to Luke 4:18-19 and explains that Jesus is not mandating “a triumphalistic missionary enterprise that seeks to impose a particular set of beliefs and culture on people who have a different set of beliefs and culture.” Rather the mission of Jesus “was a mission to the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, and the spiritually blind. . . . Jesus realized that spiritual oppression from sin could not be separated from economical, political, and social oppression from the powers that be.”

I agree Jesus did not come to impose a particular culture; however, I always find it odd to hear individuals claiming “Jesus was concerned about the total person” and then reducing his ministry to a mere social ministry. How can Jesus minister to the total person if He comes only to shape their sociopolitical circumstances and not their belief structures as well?

The article continues:
Jesus’ vision for humanity was that of a world under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails. When a crowd of people tried to get Jesus to stay in their town Jesus said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (God’s vision for the world) to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Jesus intended his community of disciples (the church) to be an outpost for the kingdom, reflecting the values and characteristics of God’s new world. But the church is not the kingdom, though it is part of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is much broader and wider than the church. So catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.

The kingdom of God as it pertains to humanity is about human beings becoming more truly human; that means becoming the persons and communities God intended for us to be. It is not about propagating a particular brand of belief or doctrine. For Christians, Jesus is the representative, quintessential, revelatory human being on what it means to be human.

At this point I am beginning to wonder if he is just stringing together quotes and pithy sayings to make his version of Jesus sound cool. It is quite ironic that he speaks of Christ’s global vision and global kingdom, even going so far as to describe it as a place “under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails,” and yet he has the audacity to claim that the kingdom is not about doctrine. Maybe he thinks his readers are not listening or are too dumb to notice that he is giving us a doctrine of the kingdom.

As for the kingdom being larger than the church I agree the kingdom is global, as Abraham Kuyper has so vividly stated, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine’(1)!” However, Queen oversteps his bounds by claiming that “catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.” The church as the body of Christ is an outpost of the kingdom and a witness to the redemption and reconciliation that will extend to the whole of God’s creative order. Such an outpost is necessary because it exists amidst a world in need of reconciliation and redemption; a world of rival kingdoms and rival kings. What is the use of such an outpost within Queen’s theology where both those within and those without are members of the same kingdom? Maybe a kingdom divided against itself can stand after all.

Again I agree Jesus is the ideal human; however, we must frame this within the larger context of the imago Dei. Humanity was made in the image of God, that image was holistically and pervasively corrupted by the fall. Jesus comes as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and so redeemed humanity is being restored into the imago Christi. It is in this sense that Jesus is the ideal human, He is the ideal human in that He is the exegesis of God; in Christ we have the attributes of God demonstrated in concrete form. This is a problem for Queen as it undercuts his theologically amorphous version of God. Queen’s god cannot have his attributes concretely demonstrated because he cannot be described by “a particular brand of belief or doctrine.”

Now for some tidbits on Jesus:
For Christians Jesus is the way that leads to truth and life; though he is not exclusively the way for all people. A God of love would not be so stingy as to exclude vast numbers of humanity who happen to be born into non-Christian cultures.

Is it just me or do you recall Jesus arguing to the contrary of Queen’s statement? What does he mean by “God of love?” Whatever he means he is not using this in the sense that Scripture does (see here for a more thorough treatment of this.)

After all of this he concludes:
The mission of the church is to proclaim, teach, manifest, and work for the kingdom of God, not get people to believe what we believe about Jesus. And yet, as Christians, we invite people to be disciples of Jesus because we know that by following Jesus, God’s dream for the world can be realized.

What is the point? Who cares? If it does not matter what one believes about Jesus then why talk about him at all? If there are other, broader, more kingdom oriented ways to realize “God’s dream for the world” then why limit ourselves to the narrow perspective of Jesus and the church?

This is what makes emergent rhetoric on mission so absurd. After all their talking all and arguing that mission is not about doctrine but “peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice” we are left with nothing. We have an inconsequential Christ, a narrow and largely irrelevant church, and a god who is so theologically amorphous that he is hardly worth knowing.

Chuck if there is salvation outside of Jesus then why should your church waste their time looking like bigots by promoting some narrow-minded Jewish messiah who is practically useless to the rest of humanity?

(1) Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998) 488.

My Thoughts on Catalyzing Community

Please read Eric Bryant on Reaching the “Hard to Reach” for the background on this post. I hope that what follows does more to build off of what Bryant has written than to tear it down. I read his blog, his books, and have heard him speak on several occasions. I appreciate the evangelistic thrust of his writing and his continued emphasis on xenos; while we do differ at points I hope this post conveys that appreciation.

Principle #1: Christ Creates Community. (Bryant’s 1st Principle)
I mean this in two ways. First, Christ creates all things and all things are a reflection of His, i.e. God’s, attributes. So in this sense all community is a reflection of the intertrinitarian community. Second, as we are specifically speaking of the church we must also understand that Christ has created the church as His body to physically bear witness to Himself. Bryant argues that “cause creates community” and this is true; however, various causes create various communities which reflect the nature of the cause. Here we are forced to be more specific and focus upon the creator of community and subsequently the giver of cause, Jesus Christ.

Principle #2: Christ Transforms Humanity. (Bryant’s 2nd-5th Principles)
I appreciate Bryant’s 2nd-5th principles and my only critique is that, once understood within the biblical framework of the imago Dei, they become the same principle. Man was created in the image of the triune God this image was marred in the fall and now redeemed humanity is being transformed into the image of Christ. We must “develop authentic friendships with those [we] know” (Principle 4) because we were created in the image of a relational God and are being transformed into the image of a relational Christ. We must “meet the needs of those around us” (Principle 2) because we have been made in the image of a God who provided for those needs in the garden and are being transformed into the image of a Christ who met those very needs during his earthly ministry. Finally, we must “reach out to Xenos” (Principle 3 and 5) because we have been made in the image of a missional God and are being transformed into the image of a missional Christ who came to seek and save the lost. I think it is important to remember that these things take place within the context of relationship, not a “Christian” welfare system or environmental agency. We meet the needs of those whom we have relationships with as those needs become apparent to us and as we understand the context in which those needs can be properly met. Furthermore, we must understand that changed individuals create changed culture and so our approach to environmental and social issues comes through engaging individuals with the gospel and not through engaging social policymakers through legislative process.

For a further explanation of the imago Dei I recommend reading this essay.

Principle #3: Christ Leads His Church. (Bryant’s 6th and 7th Principles)
And we are His disciples whom He commanded, with the Great Commission, to make other disciples who will in turn make disciples who will do likewise. This process will not be complete until Christ calls a people from every tribe and language and people and nation. We must not be prone to self-centered spiritual myopia, but must look beyond ourselves and our circumstances toward what God is doing and is going to do among the nations. Then we must live and work towards the fulfillment of this great vision. Bryant’s 6th and 7th principles have a similar thrust; however, I want to focus beyond what God is doing in your particular locale to what God is doing throughout history and around the globe.

Extended Critique―Principle #5: Allow people to belong before they believe.
Under this principle Bryant writes, “We should never allow our convictions to become a litmus test for friendship. In fact, we should actively pursue friendships with people – even people with whom we may disagree. Go to www.mosaic.org/faq for more on the staff process at Mosaic.” In a sense this is redundant and simply expounds what is means to “reach out to Xenos.” Furthermore, I thoroughly agree that “we should never allow our convictions to become a litmus test for friendship” and that “we should actively pursue friendships with people – even people with whom we may disagree.”

Eric has commented below and I think his comments thoroughly clarify this point. Also I would recommend reading The Suicidal Missionary where in a comment following the post he exclaims, “I am calling for the proclaiming of the gospel AND embracing of all those who need to repent.” I think that is the heart of what it means to allow people to belong before they believe.

The Temptations of Christ

Below is a three part series by Dr. Russell Moore on the temptations of Christ from the chapel services at SBTS. Dr. Moore’s biblical-theological understanding of Scripture always provides keen insights that you will not find anywhere else. These sermons are as insightful as they are convicting I hope that you enjoy them and share your thoughts.

The Incarnation: Miracle, Majesty, and Mission

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

I want to briefly look at the incarnation from a slightly different perspective this Christmas and I hope that it is a benefit to you, particularly in the way you understand and live out the missio Dei. It will help if you understand one of the central presuppositions to my theological method. In his work, According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy, commenting on Genesis 1, explains, “There is no suggestion of a self-evident standard of goodness and harmony outside of God . . . God, who is the source of both, must define them by setting forth an arrangement that is the expression of his goodness and harmony” (93). When God declares the creation to be good He is in fact declaring its conformity to and expression of His intrinsic goodness. As such I would understand all theological study, from hamartiology to ecclesiology, to be a study of the attributes of God, as He has seen fit to reveal them. For example, by studying soteriology we can see the sovereignty and gracious disposition of God. With that said my primary concern here is to briefly examine what the incarnation reveals about the character of God, particularly as it pertains to the missio Dei.

The incarnation demonstrates the unmatched sovereignty of God as He brings His plans to fruition and His purposes to pass (Genesis 3:15; Micah 5:2; Acts 4:24-28).

The incarnation demonstrates the humility of God (Philippians 2:5-11) lest we read this verse and think that humility is merely a character trait of Christ and not the entire Trinitarian community it is important to note the definitive other centeredness of God; God the Father has given Christ “a name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9), God the Son glorified God the Father (John 17:1-5), and it is through God the Spirit that we worship God the Father and the Son (Philippians 3:3).

The incarnation demonstrates the immeasurable and lavish grace of God (Ephesians 1:4-15). Concomitant with grace is God’s longsuffering patience (I Timothy 1:15-16).

The incarnation demonstrates that God is a relational being; this is seen in both Christ’s numerous prayers to the Father (Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32ff.) and in His relationship with His disciples, family, and friends (John 2:2, 11, 12; 11:1-44).

The incarnation defines the missio Dei as Christ declares, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21; see also Luke 19:10; John 13:31-32; 17:1-5). This is a profound statement and one that has not received due consideration at that. Just as God the Father has sent Christ so He also sends His Church. This is a clarion call for the modern church to rethink both its theology and methodology. Indeed, it is a call to not only an incarnational Christology but an incarnational ecclesiology/missiology as well!

There are those who would argue against such an incarnational ecclesiology claiming that it diminishes the theological significance of the incarnation of Christ. Would we say the same thing of Paul? Would we argue that II Corinthians 5:18-21 diminishes reconciliation? Not in the least. Rather, we would rejoice that just as “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself” now, as ambassadors, as representatives, as mediators sent on behalf of Christ, God is “making his appeal through us.” Do you grasp the significance of the incarnation and an incarnational ecclesiology as it pertains to our ministry of reconciliation? Christ who, “in his body of flesh by his death” reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21-22) now sends the church so that through her God may make His appeal. In the same way the church incarnates, gives flesh to, the sufferings of Christ as Paul both exclaims (Colossians 1:24-29) and promises (Romans 8:17; II Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 1:29-30) and the author of Hebrews exhorts (Hebrews 13:11-14). In the same way we see that Epaphroditus gives flesh to the service and love of the church at Philippi (Philippians 2:25-30).

So let us rejoice at the incarnation and rejoice even more that God has not left the world without a physical witness but that He continues to make His appeal and reveal Christ’s sufferings through His church, whom He has sent just as He sent His Son.

Dead Orthodoxy — Dead Orthopraxy

Lately I have been thinking about the easy-believism that is so prevalent in American churches and their general disconnect between faith and practice. I generally see this occurring on two fronts, each of which is equally dangerous, yet one has been largely ignored as of late.

A Dead Orthopraxy

The first front is made up of liberals and emergents; theirs is a gospel that radically alters the lifestyles of those who embrace it yet it ultimately lacks sufficient doctrinal content to truly be considered a biblical gospel. While they may in many senses be considered orthodox in praxis this movement’s impetus is a set of social concerns and not the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ and as such their orthopraxy is a dead one. To phrase it simpler their gospel restructures their lifestyle yet it fails to transform their belief structure. This movement has received prolific critique lately and as such it is not the focus of this post. If you are unfamiliar with the emergent church then I would recommend the following link (here).

A Dead Orthodoxy

The second front has largely been ignored recently and as such presents a far subtler danger. This second front is comprised of some conservatives and fundamentalists; theirs is a gospel that radically alters the doctrinal beliefs of those who embrace it yet it ultimately lacks sufficient doctrinal content to truly be considered a biblical gospel. While they may in many senses be considered orthodox in belief this movement’s impetus is a set of truth claims and not the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ and as such their orthodoxy is a dead one. Again, to phrase is simpler their gospel restructures their belief structure yet it fails to transform their lifestyle. While these churches will affirm the basic tenets of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” their conduct argues to the contrary. I think several examples of this will suffice to prove my point.

  • They deny the manifold glory of God by failing to teach and laboring to learn the deep things of God (Mark 12:30; II Peter 3:16-18)
  • They deny the lordship of Christ by endorsing the salvation of countless voluntarily inactive members (Hebrews 10:25).
  • They deny the sanctifying work of the Spirit by failing to discipline members in sin (Matthew 18:15-17; I Corinthians 6:9-12).
  • They deny the efficacy and infallibility of the Scriptures (Isaiah 55:10-11) by failing to shepherd the flock (I Peter 5:1-5) and by refusing to engage in biblical counseling and “referring” their church members to secular psychologists (II Timothy 3:16-17).
  • They deny the fundamental essence of the church by allowing inactive and sinning members to continue in membership (I Peter 2:9).
  • They deny the interdependent nature of the church by failing to exhort the congregation to hold one another accountable (I Corinthians 12:12-13; Colossians 3:16).

These churches have been given a pass for far too long. Their verbal assent to the doctrines of Scripture apart from the proper practice thereof is far more than institutionalized hypocrisy, it is a false gospel.