Is Missional a redefinition of Evangelical?

Is Missional a redefinition of Evangelical? April 15, 2013

Something I have been pondering suggests a potential pitfall for missional dialogs that repeat the pattern established by Evangelicals and their predecessors. As demonstrated by my friend Steve Knight and his networks, I believe this is a faulty assumption, but I am concerned about the direction the missional conversation might take.

Is Missional another way to place the primary mode of Christian expression a ‘bring them in for Jesus’ end that Evangelicals have established?

Or put differently,

Is the goal of Christian expression the gathering of individuals to intellectual, confessional or behavioral assent to normative statements established by a Christian majority?

I’m concerned about both equally. I believe Christianity, like Judaism before it, is more about doing the teachings of Jesus more than a collecting of adherents. The onus is on the actual deeds performed in the former as opposed to consensus in the latter.

So Emergent folks, what do you have to tweak in my noggin?

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  • Mike Pancoast

    Can one “do the teachings of Jesus” without a community, a gathering of some sort?

    • mike helbert

      Probably not. But, what that community looks like might be as divergent as there are needs to be filled.

  • To the fellow Mikes and the EV at large, another way to frame this inner conflict is this: “Is Christianity an ethic or a sociological norm?”

  • Or even both or neither? Obviously these are entirely possible. I don’t want to make arbitrary distinctions but my questions speak to the dehumanization of the other in the process of accumulating followers.

    • Is believing you have a goal that gives life, mercy, grace, and justice that others, no matter how wonderful they already are in other ways, would be better off to join automatically “a dehumanization of the other?” Please believe me; I hate many of the methods that have been used in the name of “evangelicalism.” But, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath. Did Martin Luther King dehumanize those of us who are white when he asked us to join the movement toward more civil rights – something that will never happen if we don’t evangelize and create a movement? Do Randy Woodley and the late Richard Twiss dehumanize us when the ask us to join them in caring about justice for Native Americans? On a different level, do I automatically dehumanize my friends when I suggest to them that they might want to join the movement toward more efficient cars? Or on a still different level, if we could start the movement we need to start that moves toward respecting Muslims like Jesus does would we be dehumanizing those we invite to join Jesus and us in this movement? You are being “evangelical” in your article by asking us to move in the direction you think is good and would give more life – why deny this privilege to those you do not agree with? If done honorably, inviting people to join the “Jesus Movement” can be honest and honoring rather than dehumanizing.

  • Michael D. Bobo


    With all due respect, your passionate response somewhat affirms my questioning. And, I’d suggest that Dr. King, Randy Woodley and Richard Twiss allow others to maintain their ethnic and spiritual identities while embracing an ethic of equality and respect for the greater dignity of humankind. As you can tell, I’m not operating within a classically conceived Christian worldview but I would like to challenge a historical pitfall that leads to an unfortunate cultural homogeneity and spiritual stagnancy in many Christian circles.

  • Michael D. Bobo

    Oh, and I can’t help but ask, Ron, what is it about Emergent Village that you enjoy? I checked your church’s site and wondered if you identify with emergent, missional or neither? It was a little hard for me to discern. I’m de-churched so I might be a little out of touch. Thanks for the comment and for probing me on my thoughts.

  • Hi everyone – greetings from the UK! Michael, thanks for your challenge. I’m just throwing out a few random thoughts in response:

    First – “Is Christianity an ethic or a sociological norm?” I’d say neither. It’s a way of life, a state of being, an expression of identity of who we are in Christ. The link I’ve shared is to the Inspire Network, which seeks to nurture the growth of mission-shaped disciples; it doesn’t pigeon-hole people, or seek the make them conform to a set of norms, but to develop a deep-seated, Spirit-filled “mission spirituality” (and it’s growing in the US, too!).

    Second – just thinking about your original questions, it made me think of John Wesley’s sermon “The Catholic Spirit”, where he set out his vision of how Christians with differing views (i.e. who don’t conform to a standardized set of “norms”) should live in harmony. His starting point is 2 Kings 10.15, “Is your heart right, as my heart is toward your heart?”, and he sets out the issue like this:

    “…although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works. ”

    This says to me that Christian community is made up of people who are not all clones of one another, but who (a) all proclaim Jesus as Lord, and (b) whose first question to one another is, “Is your heart right, as my heart is toward your heart?” This doesn’t mean we accept all opinions as being right – as Wesley says, “…this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven”; but it does mean we accept each other as human beings, and it’s into that kind of community we hope and pray people will come in, by the grace of God.

    • Michael D. Bobo

      Brilliant Richard. You’ve helped me tremendously. Thank you for so eloquently expressing this simple but thorough option.

      • Glad it was helpful. By the way, I agree with your comment that Christianity is primarily about doing what Jesus taught. Hopefully how that ties up with people becoming adherents is now a little clearer.

        • Michael D. Bobo

          Now the question of the day…where the hell does that community exist? I can’t seem to find it in America or the interwebs. Any thoughts Richard.