Protestants and Missional

No one questions that the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have a high(er than average) view of the church; it is the Protestants who struggle with forming a robust ecclesiology that is not just liturgical but also missional. As I said before, what we need is a good textbook that is theologically conversant with a variety of ecclesiologies so that missional can be given a good solid intellectual context. That book is by Graham Hill, a professor at Morling College in Sydney, and his book is called Salt, Light, and a City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology.

In your view of missional, which of the three below is most helpful? What does missional look like to Russell, Moltmann, and Webster?

But “Protestant” can mean different things so Hill examines a liberationist/feminist voice (Letty Russell), a liberationist/European voice (Moltmann), and an evangelical voice (John Webster). I’d encourage you to read these three voices in one sitting and then stand up and tell us what you think “Protestant” means! This is why the Catholics and Orthodox sometimes say they alone have a robust ecclesiology.

Letty Russell’s proposal is by way of an image: the table in church in the round, or a round table. It gathers round the table, serves through the kitchen table and practices welcome at the welcome table. Her ecclesiology encodes a theology of welcoming the marginalized in a feminist tune, though she fits into a clear liberationist theology and not simply a feminist theology. The church is to be a household of freedom. A strong theme of justice comes through; salvation is experiencing the welcoming of justice. She’s for inclusivist language in the Bible and where it is sexist it too needs liberation. Leadership is partnership not hierarchy and coercion. Hospitality shapes the round table. All are welcome; each has a voice.

Jürgen Moltmann’s proposal for church is that it is a messianic relational koinonia. Everything begins with christology, and ecclesiology is shaped by christology; an ecclesiology not connected to one’s christology fails to do good ecclesiology. So the church is the eschatological exodus community as it has been liberated and looks forward to the kingdom of God. Also it is the community of the cross. He’s not into the classic four “marks” of the church; where Christ is there is the church. Christ is present in the apostolate, in sacraments, and in the community life of the people. But the church is also relational — it has relationships to the Trinity as it partakes in the intercommunion of the Trinity, as it relates to the world etc.. He leans toward a more free church or congregational mode of church. The Spirit transforms the community into the Body of Christ, into the koinonia. Yes, too, the church is the eschatological community: it is the people of the kingdom.

John Webster’s theology wants to ground ecclesiology in the gospel, and his gospel takes on a classic, sophisticated soterian form. God, salvation and ecclesiology are connected; the perfection of God, the gracious, saving work of God, the Word of God each forms the church into a fellowship resulting from that grace of God. All through the work of Christ — life, death, resurrection and glorification. He pushes hard against immanentist leanings today: making God and church into the same, or too close to the same. He’s got a strong note of transcendence, both in God (Father, Son, Spirit) and Word of God. The divine Word creates church, as the church is the hearing church. The Spirit’s invisible work manifests itself in genuine visibility.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • mjk

    By way of comparison, it would be interesting to me to see Orthodox and Catholic ecclesiologies given the same treatment, of summary in 100 words or so. I would love to see the relative robustness illustrated in that way. (Though, perhaps that is a self-defeating task.) Any takers?

  • scotmcknight

    They’ve already been sketched in this series, mjk.

  • http://rising4air.wordpress.com MikeK

    Hill’s book is perhaps the best survey of ecclesiology that attempts to canvass those constructions through a contemporary lens of “missional.” The typical omissions that I usually critique are made as well. It is, as Scot has described, bending more toward an academic reader or seminarians.

    Nevertheless: this text is the best survey from a “missional” perspective.

  • RobS

    I’ll toss out two quick ideas. First, celebrate the fact this is being discussed and understood more — although I certainly prefer the latter two views (the first one seemed devoid of “Christ” and maybe that was just the synopsis, but asking and understanding how Jesus Christ should be central to a missional attitude is key I believe).

    Certainly with the Protestant groups, we’ll see more de-centralized churches that may be able to work in a variety of ways in a variety of local cultures and do some good and build the kingdom for God. I know my church can’t fund and support large projects like hospitals, but it can help support a local food pantry or homeless shelter.

    The second idea is the one of “concern” where the church becomes a non-profit or a do-good organization that leaves Christ on the sideline. Basically a “country club for good” where Jesus Christ is completely replaced by men & women’s efforts to “do justice” only without naming the Name of Christ.

    Understanding how this whole “Missional Culture” goes together is an interesting and still developing challenge for the church. JR Woodward (Pastor/Church Planter/Author) has a recent book on this topic, which I haven’t read, but might be enriching: http://jrwoodward.net/book/

  • Travis Greene

    Well, in defense of Protestantism, you could also read Dorothy Day and Antonin Scalia and then try to explain what Catholicism is.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    “As I said before, what we need is a good textbook that is theologically conversant with a variety of ecclesiologies so that missional can be given a good solid intellectual context.”

    Maybe we all WANT that, but what we NEED to be Christ’s church is nothing more than simple, childlike faith that he is with us, evidenced by unity and love.

    I crave intellectual books. I strive to know all I can about God and what He would have us do. But, in the end, I have to admit that Solomon was right. My cravings and strivings are like an endless chasing of the wind. To live is to do the work that go has given: Be firmly rooted in the soil of this world, but live by love.


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