Tony Jones has a great reflection on his blog today about labels such as “neo-Reformed,” “Emergent,” and “missional.” It comes in response to the intriguing “Why This Book?” video put out by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw to promote their new book Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier.
“[Missional]’s a term that basically anyone can use for what ever purpose they want — from a stalwart Southern Baptist neocon like Ed Stetzer to an Anabaptist pacifist like David Fitch. And then you’ve got the neo-Barthian camp like Darrell Guder and John Franke. They’re all ‘missional,’ and so are a dozen church planting networks like TransFORM, Forge, and the Parish Collective.
“So here’s a test. Imagine a Christian leader saying this: ‘I’m not missional.’
“No one’s going to say that. Not a PC(USA) pastor, and not a PCA pastor. Not a just-war Augustinian, and not an Anabaptist pacifist. Scot McKnight will say he’s missional, and so will Brian McLaren. So will the pope. So will I. …
“So my prediction is that people will keep using the term ‘missional’ and defining it in their own ways. And I think that’s fine. But let’s all remember that with such a broad term that ‘missional’ — like ‘evangelical,’ or even ‘Christian’ — what it really means lies in the definition of the speaker, and the interpretation of the hearer.”
I think Tony is absolutely right about the negative aspects of a broad term such as “missional,” and to caution about how to interpret and understand it when you hear it, see it applied to someone or something.
I’ve written and spoken about that before. Missional is a “big tent” sort of term that means different things to different people wherever they happen to land on the theological spectrum.
At the same time, I actually think there are still many, many people who would not say they are missional, simply because they have yet to become engaged with any sort of missional theology. I’d hazard to guess that while “missional” as a buzzword has been picked up pretty widely in evangelical circles (see Rick Warren’s recent appropriation of the term), the majority of average Christians in the U.S. (and globally) are still pretty unaware of it.
So, who isn’t missional? A lot of people.
Having said that, I still maintain that the missional shift is one of the most important and significant things happening in this era of emergence within Christianity. While it may seem “played out” already to many of us religious professionals, I think we’ve yet to see the real impact of it on the culture at large. It takes a while for these kinds of changes to really take hold and take effect. In other words, the best is yet to come.
What do you think? Is Tony right? Or am I right? Or are we both right but for different reasons? Or maybe we’re both wrong? Sound off in the comments!