What Difference Does it Make?
This post is part of a series on the Bible as a missional text, to catch up see the intro post here.
I am grateful for the friends, old and new, who read this blog and dialog with me on Facebook, in coffee shops, via email, on the phone or over dinner. And I love that you are such an incredibly eclectic group. Conservative evangelical, bleeding-heart liberal, and everywhere in between; agnostic, atheist, and those who are part of other religious traditions; academics and practitioners (and even a few academic practitioners); clergy and laity; country folks and hipsters; Republicans and Democrats; missional monastics and back-row pew dwellers.
I’ve received numerous questions about this issue of the Bible being a missional text; questions I’ll try to address in this series. The struggle has been that the questions, like my conversation partners, are all over the place.
“I still have no idea what this missional word means…now you want to use it to describe the Bible. What the heck are you talking about?” (I only touch on this one briefly in this series – for a longer answer to that question see this post).
“How exactly is the Bible a missional text?”
“Okay, so what does a missional engagement with Scripture look like in practice?”
“Are you trying to say that every passage has a missional orientation?”
There is at least one more group of questions. Simply and eloquently stated, these are versions of, “So what?” and “Who cares?”
And those are honest, practical questions we need to be asking. Why does any of this matter? Does it change anything in real life? Does it actually help us or just give us another context for rambling speeches and blog posts? (As if I needed an excuse?)
On a fundamental level I believe that missional is a theological principle rather than a strategy for church planting, church renewal, or something else. And not simply a theological sidebar, but an aspect of understanding the revealed nature of God. The word missional is simply a tool. Yet it is one that helps us address what we see in the relationship of the Trinity; the calling of Israel and the formation of the church…so it’s a pretty useful tool. It helps us recognize that the Incarnation of Jesus wasn’t a new thing for God, but the seminal expression of how God has been operating since the act of creation.
Appreciating Scripture as a missional text is, in part, a needed corrective to perspectives that have allowed us to develop a culture that sees faith as an individualistic and privatized practice; which describes discipleship in terms of membership (and that, merely in terms of attendance and contribution)…or else views discipleship as a feature which only applies to the paid version of the faith app…and who pays for apps when the free “lite” version is sufficiently awesome?
It matters because we can no longer afford to miss how from beginning to end the Bible is about God making space for the Other and then pursuing the Other to invite them into that space…and then calling the Other to become agents of that same space making adventure.
A missional engagement with Scripture matters because it reminds us that we do not read as detached voyeurs. We are invited into the Story as active participants – even if we considered ourselves outsiders when we started reading.
It matters because we are too quick to view the Bible as a list of ways that we can keep people out, keep ourselves in, and somehow feel good about it in the process.
And honestly, the missional nature of Scripture matters because it grounds our sending in something more substantial and sustaining than a fleeting desire for activism.
When the mystique and glamor of actively connecting with broken and hurting people begins to wear thin – and make no mistake, it will…right about the time you realize that “broken and hurting” kinda sucks – what keeps us moving forward? Obviously the first answer is the Holy Spirit. Next comes our community…wait, you are only attempting in this in community, right? Seriously, that’s important. But what happens when we begin to doubt if we ever heard the Spirit to begin with? (Yes, this too is going to happen. Here’s a description of one such time for me.) What happens when circumstances cause you to question whether your community sees you as anything more than another commodity to be consumed or traded? (…yep, that one’s real too.)
There’s another vital component. One that reminds us of the Spirit’s guidance when we forget and points us back to our community even if they’ll likely burn us again…and we them. This piece is so important that its actually the point and process of the entire book of Deuteronomy.
Story. Like the rabbits in Watership Down (such a great story), our Story sustains us because it reminds us of who we are and why we are; where we come from and where we’re headed. The Bible tells us the story of the God of Mission inviting humanity into the mission of God, transforming those who are sent into ambassadors of transformation wherever they go.
A narrative has several characteristics. It comprises a story that is moving somewhere; it gives a social group a story that tells where it is going and what the group will look like when it arrives. There is purpose and quest within the narrative calling a group in a specific direction and toward a particular goal…Because narrative creates and sustains social community, it’s the glue, the atmosphere of all social life. The key to innovating missional community is formation of a people within a specific memory and narrative. – Alan Roxburgh, The Missional Leader, 70-71.
If we can keep our minds wrapped around that aspect of Scripture, then I don’t care if we ever use the word missional again.
…but you’ll probably encounter the word a few more times in this series at least.