Over the next few weeks I am going to be posting my review / summary of the book The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, edited by Darrell Guder. I can’t promise that it will be a perfect summary and I can’t promise that it won’t make more sense unless you’ve actually read the book. But, I feel like this book is a great introduction to this whole “missional thing” so I hope you’ll enjoy. Here’s part I of many parts (I will actually finish this series because I have already written all the posts) – Part I

As stated, missional theology is contextual. This means that we must always be careful to take into consideration the culture in which we are living as we seek to be a “missional church.” For example, the church “must always constantly examine how it has been shaped by its context and ask God to convert and transform it” (14). This leads us to the next main section of the book: “Our missional context: Understanding North American Culture.” As North Americans, we live in a unique and changing culture. This section seeks to examine that context and see how the church can and should function in its context. The authors highlight three major “motifs” that shape the modern church in North America. First, they make point out that we have had a change in how we view truth. A number of factors (for example, Galileo’s understanding that the earth rotated around the sun) have pointed to a need to reassess “the usefulness of the Enlightenment’s confidence in empirical reason as the basis for knowledge.” (23) The second key factor is that “the primary goal of the enlightenment was to formulate a new basis for individual identity as the key to increasing personal freedom.” (23) The third major motif of modernity in Western Culture was that of social contract theory which “underlying this constellation of theories was the basic motivation to free persons in modern society from arbitrary restrictions.” They theorized “the full potential of human life could be realized” when “persons enjoyed true freedom.”

These three motifs helped make up modernity which missiologist Lesslie Newbigin called “the most pervasive culture of the world and one of the most resistant to the Christian gospel.” (25) Of course, the world has not stopped with the modern era and the world has moved to a postmodern era. In this era, the motifs are “relative truth,” the “de-centered self” and a “pluralist society.” The authors note that “our culture’s ways of determining truth, defining the self and shaping society present to the church both critical challenges and significant opportunities.” (44)

That the church exists in North American is a historical reality. (46) While this statement by the author seems like an obvious fact, it is important to point it out because “there is no way to erase the board and start over.” It’s the reality we live in and we can’t get away from it. “Any effort to develop a missional ecclesiology for the North American context needs to take seriously the church as it presently exists.” (46) They point out that in this context, we have lived in a “functional Christendom” (49) that is rapidly eroding in a transition into a post-Christian context. “Notions of shared public morals gave way to personal decisions of expediency, pleasure, or private judgment. Expectations of privileged position gave way to irrelevance and marginalization. People now longer assumed that the church had anything relevant to say on matters beyond personal faith. Public policy became increasingly secularized, as public morals became increasingly personalized and privatized.” (54)

If this is the culture the church now exists in, it should be clear that, as has already been stated, “this is the time for a dramatically new vision. The current predicament of churches on North America requires more than a mere tinkering with long-assumed notions about the identity and mission of the church…there is a need for reinventing or rediscovering the church in this new kind of world” (77) The first thing they emphasize is that we need to regain our understand of the church being a “people” rather than a “place.” (79) As we move toward and understanding of the church being a people we can more easily understand it as a sent group of people. The churches that are thinking of themselves as missional think of themselves differently. “Unlike the previous notion of church as an entity located in a facility or in an institutional organization and its activities, the church is being reconceived as a community, a gathered people, brought together by a common calling and vocation to be a sent people.” (81) While this movement of re-imagining church as a sent group of people is great in theory, it is very hard to work out in reality. The authors point out that even the grammar we use to refer to church still carries a lot of baggage and the way our churches operate still are much like that of “a place to go” rather than a sent people.” (83) A result of thinking of the church as a “place to go” helps cultivate the idea that the church is a “vender of religious goods and services.”