missional theology

The Whole and Heart of the Gospel | Cardus

I found this summary from Ray Pennings (HT: Kevin Young) of Reformed theological positions on cultural/social engagement to be particularly helpful in identifying the predominant understandings churches tend to have of gospel and culture.  Below is the core of the article:

Neocalvinism focuses on the comprehensiveness of the gospel claim. “Every square inch” belongs to Christ, and the full effects of the cross—as fully conquering sin, including its effects in the groaning creation—are emphasized. “Grace restores nature,” and although we will have to wait for the new heaven and the new earth for this to be fully realized, worshiping the Lord Jesus as King today means acknowledging and living out of that kingship. That means challenging the presuppositions of secular reasoning and working carefully with both the books of creation and revelation.

The “two kingdom perspective” that has become associated with Westminster Theological Seminary in California brings at least two valuable insights to the conversation. Negatively, it warns against the hubris that sometimes can accompany an attempt to define “the” Christian position on various contemporary issues. There is inevitable ambiguity that characterizes Christian life in a fallen world. Positively, it brings a very strong ecclesiology into the conversation, emphasizing the calling of believers to focus on their place in the church and the bride of Christ, and to emphasize the transcendence of the gospel.

Neopuritans (which I prefer as a term to describe that group which Time magazine described as New Calvinists) focus on the sovereignty of God and the glory of God. In so far as one can discern a coherent political philosophy uniting the diverse group of writers commonly associated with this group, Albert Mohler’s focus on love as a unifying principle comes as close as any: “Love of neighbor grounded in our love for God requires us to work for good in the City of Man, even as we set as our first priority the preaching of the gospel, [which is] the only means of bringing citizens of the City of Man into citizenship of the city of God.” In practice, this perspective results in an approach that is more individualistic than corporate, focuses more extensively on responding to the needs of our neighbours through the diaconal ministry of the church, and relies on being an example, resisting cultural trends and intentionally working towards a Christian counter-culture.

This survey of perspectives would not be complete without acknowledging a fourth approach which, for lack of better term, I will label as “Old Calvinism.” (The variants of this argument almost inevitably suggest that there is something about the “old paths” that is being lost in the process of cultural engagement.) One example of this approach is John MacArthur, who has essentially come to the conclusion that engaging the city inevitably leads the church to worldliness and that when the church attempts to engage the culture, the culture is usually more effective at influencing the church. MacArthur has argued that Christian political activism has four results: it (1) denigrates the sovereignty of God over human history and events, (2) uses fleshly and selfish means to promote biblical values, (3) creates a false sense of morality, and (4) risks alienating unbelievers by viewing them as political enemies rather than a mission field. Promoting godly living and the fruits of the Spirit is a mission “far more good and profitable to men than any amount of social and political activism . . . [Christians] are content very much to let the worldly people deal with the worldly things of this world.”

I have certainly been wrestling through these issues myself, and have had some exposure to each theological stream.  The difficulty in understanding this particular issue is that the arguments for each position are predominantly born out of extensions of philosophical theology or from an extension of applied biblical theology.

If I were to peg what position I most closely align with, it would probably be the “neopuritanism” camp at this point, which is less of a well-informed biblical position, and moreso based upon observations of ministry around me and the actual practice of my life.  While I would agree completely with the neo-Calvinist perspective theologically, I practically tend to view the transformation of culture as a derivative of transformation of the individual through the power of the gospel.  This certainly gives me some things to chew on however…

Care to chime in? I’d love some thoughts in a comment!

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Book Review | Total Church


The second book I read over my vacation was Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester.

The overall perspective of the book is applying to the church the two foundational principles of gospel and community.  As a short synopsis, it is an excellent basic theology primer coupled with an application into a decentralized, organic multiplying church movement in theory and practice.  It packs a lot of punch for such a small book!

Here’s the table of contents:

  1. Part 1: Gospel and community in principle
    1. Why gospel?
    2. Why community?
  2. Part 2: Gospel and community in practice
    1. Evangelism
    2. Social involvement
    3. Church planting
    4. World mission
    5. Discipleship and training
    6. Pastoral care
    7. Spirituality
    8. Theology
    9. Apologetics
    10. Children and young people
    11. Success

Total Church was an excellent read from cover to cover, and chock full of material that is very useful for the theology and practice of gospel-centered missional communities.  Below are a few points that I found particularly beneficial from the book.

First, the book is an excellent, balanced correction for the professionalization of ministry and calling for the participatory nature of the body of Christ.  This case is made on several fronts, from developing leaders to planting churches to pastoral care.  Perhaps the best view of this comes in the chapter on pastoral care, and the championing of the community as the best place for counseling, even in some very difficult issues.  They make the basic argument that great damage has been done to the community of believers with the over-prescription of individualistically focused professional counseling.  In removing counseling from gospel community, you are removing elements of accountability, but also relationships which provide the necessary support for enduring through difficulty.

Secondly, I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on evangelism, and particularly the role of the gospel community as a validation of the truth claims of Scripture.  They do an excellent job (although with somewhat cheesy illustrations) of demonstrating the power of the gospel community in contextualized evangelism, and the many weaknesses of more individualistic methodologies.  Succinctly, they argue that the declaration of the gospel in word makes infinitely more sense as the gospel is demonstrated in the practice of a gospel-centered community.

Timmis and Chester also do an excellent job in the chapter on social involvement of instructing on the supremacy of the gospel word in gospel deed ministry.  In working through issues of justice and mercy, they continually exalt highly the truth of the gospel and champion maintaining the centrality of the gospel word in this kind of ministry.  I think what struck me so much about the chapter is that they do not diminish the importance of either social engagement or gospel proclamation, while calling clearly for both in proper relation to one another.  They simply did not engage the “which one is more important” argument, and the chapter rang refreshing and true.

Finally, the chapter on apologetics contained a very useful synopsis of basic philosophical concepts necessary for presuppositional apologetics, and it applies a gospel lens to answering challenging, but typical questions we often face as believers in the West.  I would highly recommend it if you would like to read a brief introduction to some major apologetic themes that will be immensely helpful (think of it is a very short Reason for God).

I would highly recommend that anyone read this book, as it will be beneficial from a variety of different perspectives.

In a post coming soon, I want to compare some of the concepts in Total Church with those in Vintage Church, as they were certainly interesting to read back to back.


Culture Making and Plant Growing | 9 Marks

Greg Gilbert does an excellent job of providing a parallel analogy in order to show the relative strength over at the 9 Marks Blog in his post discussing a review of Crouch’s Culture Making.

I haven’t read Culture Making, and therefore have no basis for whether or not Gilbert’s conclusions about the book are correct, but I enjoyed how he uses clear thought to demonstrate why we should think clearly about how an author proves a point.

Again, this post is in no way an attempt to validate Gilbert’s conclusions or to vilify the work of the incredibly intelligent Andy Crouch, but more to look at Gilbert’s clever use of parallel analogy in making his case.

The quote is below:

“when he tries to convince us that culture is central to the biblical storyline, and the evidence amounts to facts such as that Adam and Eve made clothes (making something of the world!), Noah made a boat, Acts has alot of cities in it, and the heavenly Jerusalem is encrusted with cut gems rather than raw minerals (again, human craft-work), isn’t that an example of elevating incidentals to an importance they were never meant to have?

I mean, if I really put my mind to it, I think I could make a case—very similar to the one Crouch makes that Scripture is about “culture”—that actually, the Scriptural story is about……plants.  It’s plants and more plants, all the way down.

Think about it.  The first living things in the world are plants.  Adam and Eve are placed in a garden (full, one assumes, of plants) and their sin is fundamentally about the misuse of plants (right?).  Not only so, but it is a plant, the fig, to which they turn when they want to try to cover up their sin.  The tabernacle was made out of wood, which at least started out as a plant, and plant products were central to the rituals of the sacrificial system.  Noah’s ark was made out of plants, as was that other arc, and Jesus himself for the first thirty years of his life (10/11ths!) was a plant-products-craftsman.  And then, lo and behold, on what does Jesus die?  Yep, a plant—or at least what used to be a plant, a tree.  The apostles travel on boats made of plant products.  And for that matter, what do the women mistake the risen Christ of being?  A gardener! (Plants again.)  And then, what is the climax of the New Testament?  The river of life, flanked on either side by—you guessed it!—large plants!!

Amazing, isn’t it, how central plants are to the Bible’s story.  Obviously God loves plants, and therefore obviously he wants his people to be careful, attentive, passionate plant-growers.  That’s our calling.


Read the whole thing here.

This is a great reminder that although what we read may sound right on, upon further investigation it can be made to be completely foolish.  We ought to heed the words of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:14-15:

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Rightly handling the word of truth means trying diligently to say what Scripture says, and understand what it means without twisting it into an opinion loosely informed by Scripture.  Careful and precise reading and thinking are important when seeking understanding of the Word of God!

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Book Review | Vintage Church

Although it wasn’t the first book I read on vacation, I’m going to start with Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.

I have grown to thoroughly appreciate the ministry of Mark Driscoll, and am consistently thankful that he preaches the gospel faithfully to his church, as well as faithfully ministering through the international platform that God has given him.  This book is the result of his biblical study of ecclesiology and the 10 years of practice in “doing” church at Mars Hill, in response his experience that so many practitioners of church he was surrounded by had very little biblical basis/knowledge of what they were doing.

The book is broken into chapters by a series of questions posed about the nature of the church, from which you can understand the gist of what Driscoll and Breshears are teaching:

  1. Preface
  2. What Is the Christian Life?
  3. What Is a Christian Church?
  4. Who Is Supposed to Lead a Church?
  5. Why Is Preaching Important?
  6. What Are Baptism and Communion?
  7. How Can a Church Be Unified?
  8. What Is Church Discipline?
  9. How Is Love Expressed in a Church?
  10. What Is a Missional Church?
  11. What Is a Multi-Campus Church?
  12. How Can a Church Utilize Technology?
  13. How Could the Church Help Transform the World?
  14. Appendix: Sample Church Membership Covenant

The book is essentially a reformed baptist understanding of the mature church (the right preaching of the Word of God, the practice of the ordinances/sacraments of communion and baptism, and the exercise of church discipline under qualified leadership – elders and deacons) applied to our immediate context of American Evangelical Christianity.  Toward this end, the book is an excellent synopsis of the theological positions which Mars Hill church has adopted (as well as The Austin Stone, my home church).  It is far from comprehensive, however, and if you desire a robust reasoning and biblical defense for the positions, or a historical understanding of the development of these doctrines, you will be left wanting.

There were three particularly helpful sections in the book for me to read.  The first, on a practical note, is talking through the concept of first among equals in eldership, and that effective leadership from an elder team requires recognizing unique giftedness of individual elders and the practical leadership within a team of equals.  They do an excellent job of fleshing out the nature of positional leadership as an elder, and the varying degrees of influence as an elder, and how the dynamic interplay of positional leadership and influence can easily be skewed in one direction or another.  Their model of eldership does a great job of balancing both ideas, and maintaining room for leadership within a peer team.

Secondly, I am tremendously thankful for the practical insight into the development of multicampus church, and their honest presentation of what has and has not worked for Mars Hill.  As our body continues to move toward multisite, the chapter within this book will be immensely helpful as we think through leadership structures, technology, and where/when we extend into new campuses.  If you are a multicampus church, believe God is moving you toward multicampus, or are simply interested in the practicality of multicampus, then I suggest you read this chapter.

Thirdly, chapters 7, 8, and 9 on unity, discipline and love are an excellent discourse on the essential nature of the body of believers, and the biblical perspective of the local church as a body.  I am thankful that they spent as much time working through these issues as they did, because so often the focus on ecclesiological discussions drive toward leadership, government, and sacramental theology.  These three chapters together provide a pastoral and practical understanding for everyone in the church as to how the body should function biblically and practically to display Christ’s magnificence to the world around them.

On a final note, I continue to be thankful that everything Driscoll writes includes the Gospel and Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  He never fails to hold high this central truth, keeping it rightly at the center of all applied doctrine.  He very much understands that what becomes assumed often becomes forgotten, and it is always encouraging he doesn’t assume the Gospel.

Has anyone else read the book?  Care to share your thoughts?

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Calling | TheResurgence

I thought about posting an excerpt the following post, but it’s short and you should just read the whole thing.

The Confusing Language of “Calling,” Part 1 | TheResurgence

This goes in line with what I wrote in an earlier post commenting on Passivity in the Church. The root of passivity in the Christian walk I think is the lack of identity as God’s called and sent people. As a college minister, I frequently hear questions about calling to a job/life decision–“should I be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer? What am I called to do?”–which are all significant questions.

I have found, however, that students predominantly have exchanged the idea of basic obedience to our effectual calling and new identity as Christians with their specific vocation to a job.  The result has been that, more often than not, a job is THE determining factor in how an individuals life is oriented.

This isn’t a student’s fault, however, but in many ways the result of cultural syncretism with the American dream.  We (myself included) often cannot see outside of our own culture to understand that our personal vocation is fundamentally subservient to the call to global discipleship (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 24:14), and therefore don’t orient our lives toward God’s purposes.

What if this generation of students asked the question “how can I obey God with my gifts and skills to reach panta ta ethne, or all the people groups?” rather than injecting God into their life trajectory?  The call to discipleship is most often a radical departure from the plan we have for ourselves, and requires asking a fundamentally different set of questions.

I pray this generation would be the one who understand their identity, asks questions based on that identity, and obeys God radically to the ends of the earth!