Evangelicals Don’t Own Missional

Evangelicals Don’t Own Missional May 18, 2012

As a post-evangelical (progressive evangelical?), it wasn’t that long ago that I thought almost exclusively in a very narrow, evangelical theological framework. I remember thinking that — since evangelical (as an adjective/descriptor) seemed to be on the decline and missional was in its ascendency — that missional might even replace evangelical as the primary identification for Christians.

That, of course, assumes evangelical is the primary identifier right now and totally discounts or disregards the other ways that Christians the world over self-identify and categorize themselves. I’m glad to say my view of the Christian world has expanded, and while I still appreciate the evangelical world that formed me, I’m no longer under any illusions that that’s all there is.

So I was intrigued to read Dr. Craig Ott’s intro to missional for the Evangelical Free Church in America denominational website, which reinforces the conservative notion that missional just means being missionary in the post-Christian context of North America.

Ott, the GlobalReach chair of mission at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, makes a point of distinguishing the “evangelical understanding” of missional, in contrast to the mainline expression exemplified by the Gospel and Our Culture Network and the emerging church that has (in Ott’s estimation) merely “adopted the language of the missional church.”

Ott’s two main critiques of the mainline/emerging/emergent expression of missional seem to be the lack of “a clear emphasis on proclamation evangelism and global missionary sending.” And on those two points, I think he’s probably right.

'broadcast' photo (c) 2009, quickredfoxandkits - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Proclamation Evangelism
The more dialogical approach of emergent and missional communities has de-emphasized preaching and proclamation to some degree (see Tim Conder’s Free For All: Rediscovering The Bible in Community). However, I’m encouraged by things like the announcement of Phil Snider’s forthcoming book Preaching After God: Derrida, Caputo, and the Language of Postmodern Homiletics, as well as a growing sense within the mainline and emergent missional circles I’m a part of that we need to be proclaiming the Gospel Jesus preached of the kingdom of God (or kin-dom, dream, realm, etc.) more often and better than we are right now.

While I’m more inclined toward the conversational style of more informal faith communities, I’m also encouraged by the existence of things like the Festival of Homiletics (which invited Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt to speak earlier this week) and the Academy of Preachers, which is nurturing a network of young pastors who are gifted in the art of preaching. I can always appreciate a really good sermon, when the Good News is truly good news and is delivered with excellence and passion.

What about evangelism though? Tony Jones says that the emergent movement is “purposefully non-evangelistic,” but I think he means that only in the sense that the movement is not out trying to convert others to the movement. When it comes to calling people to follow Jesus, my emergent friends are some of the most evangelistic I know. It doesn’t look like traditional evangelism, but it’s just as life-changing and meaningful for those who are finding hope in the Gospel these people are living out and that these communities are embodying.

Global Missionary Sending
Most mainline churches have been engaged in global missionary activity, in much the same way that evangelical churches have been doing it for 100+ years. So this critique doesn’t quite land as squarely on them as it does on the newer emerging churches and missional communities, which tend to be more focused on social justice issues in their own cities/neighborhoods.

At the same time, there is a very strong glocal emphasis in these communities, which is articulated in a variety of ways that live out the mantra of “thinking globally and acting locally.” This global engagement is missional, but it is usually not expressed in the same traditional, specific way that Ott is describing as “missionary sending.”

Very few of these new missional churches financially support full-time missionaries living cross-culturally, but instead they adopt places or projects in other countries that they send teams of people to participate in the ongoing efforts of people on the ground. Or they do things like special events that raise funds for organizations doing important work in other parts of the world.

The relative affordability of international travel and communication via the Internet has brought the stories of the people and the causes crying out for God’s justice right to our doorsteps, so there’s absolutely no excuse for new missional faith communities not to be engaged in some way with meeting needs and advocating for social justice for those who are their global neighbors.

What do you think? Is Ott’s critique of mainline/emergent missional churches in regards to proclamation evangelism and global missionary sending accurate? What would you add or change about my response?

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