Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.
The doctrine of God is absolutely central to all of the church’s life. Ironically, however, we seem to have the most difficult time allowing this doctrine to drive our practice. How does such a lofty and majestic doctrine speak to concrete and even mundane practices? How do God’s Trinitarian nature, His creativity and His sovereignty affect our strategies and methods? To begin with, here are several:
God as Trinity
One of the central tasks of proclamation is to communicate the gospel across cultures and across languages. We are called to communicate the precious truth of a God who took on human flesh, who lived and died and rose again, and who will return and bring with him a new heavens and a new earth. And we are called to do so with people who speak different languages and who live in cultures far removed from our own.
This challenge lies at the heart of missiology. Entire forests have been chopped down to make way for the books, articles, and essays on cross-cultural communication and contextualization. But nearly all of these publications fail to recognize that the success of this enterprise rests squarely on the shoulders of the Triune God. In fact, the Trinity is a model of accomplished communication. The Triune God is God the Father (the One who speaks), God the Son (the Word), and God the Spirit (the one who illumines and guides and teaches); God the Father speaks through His Son and we as humans are enabled to hear and understand that communication by His Spirit. The Trinity is a demonstration, contra Derrida and others, that accomplished communication is possible.
God as Creator & King
It is God who created this world in which we minister and God who gave us the capacities to minister. As Creator, he gave us the world in which we now live, and it is a good world. It is ontologically good and-although it is morally corrupt-we ought to use any and all aspects of God’s world to bring Him glory. We are able, like Abraham Kuyper, bring the gospel to bear upon the arts, the sciences, and the public square. We may, as Martin Luther urged, bring the gospel to bear upon our multiple callings-workplace, family, church, and community. In short, we have the great opportunity to give God glory across the fabric of human existence and in every dimension of human culture.
Indeed, it is God who made us in his image, capable of being spiritual, moral, rational, relational, and creative. Although it is Jesus Christ who is Himself the image of God (Col 1:15), we human beings are made in the image of God. Moreover, salvation includes the conforming of sinful men to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29), in which we are remade into the image of our Creator (Col 3:10). The gospel, therefore, affects all aspects of man in the image of God, and further all aspects of man in the image of God ought to be used to minister in God’s world.
Furthermore, it is this same God who claims sovereignty over all of his creation, and directs His church’s mission to extend across all of creation. He is the Lord over every tribe, tongue, tongue, people, and nation-over every type of person who has ever lived across the span of history and the face of the globe. And he is the Lord over every facet of human life-over the artistic, the scientific, the philosophical, the economic, and the socio-political. “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps 24:1).
God and His Name
The Scriptures describe how God does all that He does for the sake of His name, for His renown, for His glory. He created man for his glory (Is 43:7) and chose Israel for His glory (Is 49:3). God delivered Israel from Egypt for His name’s sake (Ps 106:7-8) and restored them from exile for his glory (Is 48:9-11). He sent our Lord Jesus Christ so that the Gentiles would give Him glory (Ro 15:8-9) and then vindicated His glory by making propitiation through His Son (Rom 3:23-26). He sent the Spirit to glorify the Son (Jn 16:14) and tells us to do all things for His glory (1 Cor 10:31). He will send his Son again to receive glory (2 Thess 1:9-10) and will fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Hab 2:14; Is 6:1-3). Indeed, all of this is so, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10).
Indeed God in all of his blazing glory stands at the center of the universe. He is the fountainhead of all truth, all goodness, and all beauty. And it is the increase of His glory that is God’s ultimate goal and man’s ultimate purpose.
One implication of this for mission is that we have the great joy of proclaiming that God’s goal to be glorified enables man’s purpose, which is to be truly satisfied. The Psalmist writes, “O God, You are my God; early will I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1). Man’s deepest thirst turns out to be God’s highest goal-for man to bring glory to God in all that He does. The road toward pleasing God and giving Him glory and the road toward knowing deep happiness are not two roads; they are one. The message we bring to the nations is one that, for them, is profoundly good news.
Another implication of this for the missional Christian is that if our ultimate goal is God’s glory, then we are set free from unbridled pragmatism. Our ultimate goal is to please God, not to manipulate or coerce professions of faith, church growth, or church multiplication. And so, we are directed away from the temptation to engage in evangelism and discipleship that subverts the gospel or the health of the church, and are free to proclaim the gospel God’s way and leave the results to God.
Finally, and this point will be expanded upon at a later time, mission finds its origin in God. Mission is God-centered rather than man-centered, being rooted in God’s gracious will to glorify Himself. Mission is defined by God. It is organized, energized, and directed by God. Ultimately, it is accomplished by God. The church cannot understand her mission apart from the mission of God.