Ed Stetzer: What Does “Missional” Really Mean?

Missional. Depending on your perspective, it brings warmth to your soul or a shiver down your spine.

Part 5: Defining and Living the Missional Mandate

I must confess I have taken a longer hiatus than intended from my Meanings of Missional series. Now, I’d like to return to the meat of the discussion as we seek together to define—and more importantly to live—the missional mandate.

Theological Understanding of the Sending

We have talked together about the way many of those who embraced the concept of the missio dei—or, at least, embraced the expression—seemed to propel the church out of the missionary conversation entirely. Needless to say, those were extreme views. And it would be silly to assume that proponents of the missio dei hold such views today. But, it is also silly not to consider what happened when the missio dei got confused. This was not a theoretical happening. In the 1950s and ’60s, this view shipwrecked much of the world mission enterprise. We need to be careful to avoid the error by taking the best of the discussion and guarding from the errors.

In my last post, I talked a lot about H.H. Rosin. Interestingly—and I will just touch on it here and come back to it in later posts since the topic is becoming increasingly important—H. H. Rosin and some others expressed concern about the Trinitarian nature of mission, which is resurfacing in modern missional conversations. In his analysis of the missio dei, Rosin seems to take issue with the assumptions surrounding God’s nature and his mission. He is concerned about the Trinitarian rooting of some of the ideas.

Rosin wrote:

In Trinitarian terminology, mission must be distinguished clearly from (aeterna) procession:

One understands the sending to be a message stemming from an inner-divine order, from one divine person through another to creation. (H.H. Rosin, Missio Dei, Interuniversity Institute for Missiological and Ecumenical Research, 1972: 2.9)

Thus, you can see the controversy when Hoekendijk defines, “Mission, sending, is first of all an intra-Trinitarian term. Mission is a movement within God Himself.’ (Feier der Befreiung, “Was ist Mission?” In: Kontexte 4, 1967, 126; as cited in Rosin)

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.