Monday, July 4, 2011

Mission and a Trinity-Shaped Imagination

This is the third installment of my weekly Missional Reflections where I quote a theologian and then reflect on how that might challenge our common understanding of being missional. This quote from David Bosch.

“In the new image mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. ‘It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church’ (Moltmann 1977:64). Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.” (Bosch, Transforming Mission, 390)

If we are going to see that the call to mission is much more than doing certain things that we deem as “missional,” the place to start is to reflect upon our current image that we hold of God. We all view God through the lens of our own imagination. We come to God with predetermined thoughts and understandings and expectations of who he is, which can hinder our ability to see God for who God is.
In this paragraph, the author is trying to flesh out the meaning of the Latin phrase missio Dei, which literally means “the mission of God.” But literal translations usually fail to communicate nuance. Missio Dei is a word picture that captures an aspect of God’s core being. Too often, our imagination about God fails to include this as a part of God’s being. We see God as almighty, self-sufficient, and transcendent. And of course this is true. But we don’t see him as a “missionary God” who is a “fountain of sending love.” Therefore, we put the Father’s sending of the Son and the Spirit as something that is ancillary or subsequent to his core being or essential nature.

As a result, we miss the fact that God is going out ahead of the church to redeem creation and draw all men to himself. We put the pressure upon ourselves to do evangelism, to do social justice, to “reach people for Jesus,” to grow the church, etc. God is on mission because love lies at the center of God’s very being. We can trust this because we can trust the Incarnation, the sending forth of God himself into the world. God the Father sent his Son, not an angel, not a prophet. God is overflowing love and out of that love he came to redeem, restore and renew what he cherishes. He invests all of God-self by becoming who we are so that we might participate in his love.

If we go forth on mission without this imagination, we will take on the weight of mission as our own and this is a weight that we are not meant to carry. We don’t “have” to be on mission to save the world. We “get” to be on mission as we walk with the God of flowing missional love.

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