Scot McKnight’s Definition of Missional Is Similiar (But Different) Than Mine – Because I’m Not Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight =/ SteveKnight

Scot McKnight (an entirely different person than Steve Knight, the author of this blog) has given us his definition of missional, in the context of an excellent review of Don Everts’ new book Go and Do: Becoming A Missional Christian:

“Missional is not a new, fancy, PC, shorn of its weaknesses version of the word ‘evangelism.’ Neither is it equivalent to social justice, and neither is it what many missionaries do. And it’s not counter-cultural, anti-church churches or house churches or outside the box churches. Yes, ‘missional’ has been captured by many who are former ‘evangelism’ people who know this term is more acceptable. But this term has a special meaning, has been worked on hard by scholars like David Bosch, Lesslie Newbigin (picture), Darrel Guder, John Franke, and David Fitch, and I’d like to offer a brief sketch of what it means:

“1. It’s about God’s mission in this world.
2. It’s about God’s mission in this world in Christ.
3. It’s about God’s mission in this world in Christ in view of the Age to Come/Kingdom of God.
4. God summons humans to participate in God’s mission by becoming oriented to God’s mission, to others, and to the world — in the context of the (local) church.

“The result of this is very, very important: nothing can be called missional until the mission of God is defined, which means nothing can be called missional until it is connected to Jesus and the kingdom of God/the Age to Come, and nothing can be missional if it is not shaped through the local church. Missional gets its start when we discern what God is doing in this world and particularly what God is doing in our community and what God is calling the ecclesia to do in light of that big mission of God.”

In the comments, Scot clarifies how he sees “missional” being indivisibly tied to the local church: “The kingdom vision of Jesus morphs … into the ecclesia of the early church. So forming local kingdom communities, churches, is the core of what missional will be and where missional is designed to play out.”

I think Scot’s definition is somewhat idealistic (“Nothing can be called missional until …”), because missional is already being defined by people every day from across the theological spectrum. (Evangelicals have a tendency to co-opt and define terms for everyone like this. I don’t hate on them for doing it, I know it’s just the way they’re wired!)

I absolutely agree with him, however, that missional has a history (as defined/described by all the theologians he mentions) that needs to be read and understood in order to really grasp how it is fundamentally different from traditional “mission” or “missions” (or “evangelism” or “social justice,” as he states). The world would probably be a better place if the term missional were reserved for the more narrow application that Scot is describing, but that’s just not the world that we live in (yet — *wink*).

I would also prefer to see Scot’s definition be more action-oriented (e.g., “missional means participating with God in God’s mission”) rather than just descriptive (“It’s about …”, “God summons humans …”), but overall I really think Scot’s definition is excellent.

Even though Scot is an entirely separate human being from myself (he’s evangelical, I’m post-evangelical/progressive, etc.), I like his definition quite a bit. But what do you think?

  • Tripp Hudgins

    >>Scot clarifies how he sees “missional” being indivisibly tied to the local church: “The kingdom vision of Jesus morphs … into the ecclesia of the early church. So forming local kingdom communities, churches, is the core of what missional will be and where missional is designed to play out.”<<

    I'll be honest, this is where Scot and I part ways a bit. The "local church" is a tool. He has too high (optimistic?) a theology of the local church for my tastes. I find that many local congregations aren't organized enough. They are collectives and people (Christians) organize themselves outside the local congregation to do the work of the Kingdom (See: non-profit agencies, special events, etc). He would say, if I recall, that such action is not mission though it may be altruistic. Altruism and mission are not the same thing. It's that move that loses me.

    • Steve Knight

      thanks, Tripp! I hope Scot will write more about that. The part I omitted (and replaced with …) is where he said he planned to write more about that at a future time. I hope that’s sooner rather than later!

  • Scott Frederickson

    I too like the definition for what it says, but I would like to hear a more explicit understanding of the role of the Spirit. As it reads, I assume that # 3 comes about by the work of the Spirit, but I do not know for sure. This is important to me, because as Steve K notes there is not a lot of participation in this definition, although he does acknowledge the importance to “discern.” Precisely the activities that make God “missional” are the ways through the Spirit that humanity discerns. A little more attention to that detail, and we’d have a great start.

    • Steve Knight

      good point, Scott!

  • Brian

    I like Scot McKnight’s definition. It fits well with my understanding. Even though I am a big fan of virtualization of other kinds of constructs, I don’t think it works well for the definition of a local witness which I think is needed to support Scot’s definition. Our success or failure in the venture is more a reflection of our brokeness than intended design, and should not be used to judge the definition.
    I agree with you that churches across the theological spectrum are defining what it means to be missional. And I think you will agree that these definitions do not all coalesce into a single acceptable definition. So I’m uncertain how the evangelical variant is so different from all of the other variants. I would would argue that evangelicals that use the term missional are not consistent in their usage either.

    • Steve Knight

      good thoughts, Brian, thanks for commenting!