#GodWhoSends: The Struggle With Defining Missional

In his seminal book God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission, Dr. Francis M. DuBose describes the challenge he saw in defining “mission”:

God Who Sends by Dr. Francis Dubose“Why the need for a fresh quest? The simple answer, which is profound in its implication, is that we do not have an accepted definition of mission. …

“A major problem in defining mission stems from the fact that, except for a few instances in the Revised Standard Version, the word mission does not appear in our English Bible. Mission means sending. This is the dictionary meaning and the usually recognized definition by mission writers. However, most missiologists in their writings and the Christian community in its general speech do not use the term sending in common reference to the idea which we usually mean, imply, or assume by the use of the term mission or its plural form missions. …

“Theological studies which address themselves in some way to the meaning of mission suffer mostly from the lack of a hermeneutic. They have not established clear principles of interpretation in arriving at their concepts. … The Scriptures are used, sometimes extensively. However, the approach has been essentially proof texting without a clear, consistent hermeneutic. …

“Closely related to the theological problem in defining mission is the administrational problem. Indeed, a part of the theological problem is the lack of a clear biblical theology of mission administration. … When we confuse theological and administrational concepts or when we use biblical terms to convey nonbiblical concepts of administration, we cannot hope for a clear biblical understanding of mission.

“The problem of definition is not simply a theoretical one, the concern only of scholars of mission and mission administrators. It is one which pervades the life of the churches even where there is usually a strong positive feeling about the missionary enterprise. In such circles there is often a strong mystique of mission but not usually a clear understanding of idea of mission. (sic)”

What do you think? Is it encouraging or discouraging to realize that this problem of definition goes quite far back? I guess for me it is actually somewhat encouraging, because the fact that we’re still struggling with it comes then as no real surprise. Reading back over Dr. DuBose’s thinking may be helpful in unraveling the twists and turns in defining missional for our time. I’ll keep you posted …

Post your thoughts/reflections in the comments and/or tweet them using the hashtag #GodWhoSends

  • Brian Cordell

    Not that surprising. Consider the problem of defining “gospel”. I suspect that many of us work with a definition of both terms that reflects our current understanding that changes as we see new aspects of each.


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