Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Does missiology precede ecclesiology?

St Len of NextReformation asked:
Do you think missiology precedes ecclesiology, or it is the other way round?

I want to quickly answer "yes."

And even though that will be my "final answer"; I can't make it quick.

The "obvious" and "right" answer that my evangelical training almost requires me to answer : ecclesiology precedes. Getting one's theology "right" will issue in "right" missiology; being precedes doing; realizing our identity is horse; "doing" anything is "cart." But yada, yada, yada...that may be too dualistic (Alan Hirsch: "Dualistic expressions of faith always result in practical polytheism"), Western and reductionary.

The "obvious" and "right" answer that my early pastors (very mission-minded) almost require me to answer: missiology precedes. Missional life is so fundamental and inextricable to our DNA that it must precede, functionally form...and judge...any ecclesiology. But yada yada yada..that may be too purpose-driven (God help me) and shame-based.

SOOO...The obvious "right" answer has to be a heathily holistic "yes." It works, warps and woofs both ways in a reciprocal, helical, "semper reformanda" relationship; so which element is prior would hinge on context.

Which of course could be the most dangerous and wrong answer of all.


I am struck by the pattern of creation..three days of forming; followed by three days of filling what has been formed. Sky formed first; only then stars to fill it. If ecclesiology is about being appropriately formed (finding an appropriate wineskin), such may have to "come first" that all that flows out of it (mission and working missiological constructs) and fills it is surrounded by the appropriate architecture and encoded in the fitting atmosphere.

But Hirsch has been abducting me back towards my preferred "missiology precedes" answer: "Outward thrust...seeds the gospel" (25)..and "Put the 'M'[missional] in the equation first,
and EC [Emerging Missional Church] will follow." (72). A haunting and daunting quote; I think I have bought it.

But I cycle/swing back: "Mission exists because worship doesn't" (John Piper). At worst, that motto could endorse "attractional" church. Can't go there. Been there. Done that. Thrown away the T-shirt with the paradigm (and the building, literally) . But what if we were honest and Hebraic in our worship life? Such organic authenticity alone would "automatically" form us to be/do "missional"... ironically and irenically, in an attractive way.

In Matthew 28's account of what we have called (probbaly unhelpfully) "The Great Commission," the command (grammatically speaking) is not at all in the "go," but in the "make disciples" (missionizing). One could even translate: "Since you are going anyway, be missional." This frees us from the evangelical idolatry of numbers and 'blood on our head if we don't" resultolotry. It allows us to rejoice at our fruitful "inutility" (as Ellul might have it).

Yet another verse in this passage has been confusingly translated.
"Some worshipped him but some doubted" is the standard spin on v.17. But it could reasonably be styled, "They all worshipped him, even though some of those worshippers also doubted as they worshipped." This implies what Bono intuitively knows: "uncertainty can be a guiding light"; and Anne Lammot effortlessly articulates:"The oposite of faith is not doubt but certainty". Go ahead and be missonal... even (always) before you have got it all figured out "ecclesio-logically",..even (gasp) Christologically..

So, again, If I had to pick an answer, it would be yes..missiology tends to precede and produce ecclesiology; philosophically, epistemologically, and practically speaking. I find quantum physics hugely helpful here; especially 'reverse causality," which accords with what Ladd has well emphasized about the Kingdom entering this age "from" the future; time working 'backwards," etc. This will be fleshed out (incarcarnated) in smaller, organic, networked and non-hierarchical (all lessons from physics again; the universe is such) ways and means...

...Meaning that counterintuitively to our modern mindset, doing can precede being; missiology can even (creatively) create ecclesiology.

I asked a friend today the question at hand. She immediately answered, "Missiology, of course. God told Moses he was being sent; before God even told Moses what his (God's) name was."

Holy smoke, she's right!

Bono nails it again (in a sermon he has preached around the world); "God may be with us in our mansions on the hill...I hope so....but God is with the poor. And God is with us, if we are with the poor."

We find our ecclesiology as we find and follow our missiological tug.

In the process, we might even find God.


  1. Christology




  2. In Matthew 28's account of what we have called (probbaly unhelpfully) "The Great Commission," the command (grammatically speaking) is not at all in the "go," but in the "make disciples" (missionizing).

    Sorry, old man, can not agree with your thoughts..nor your spelling..

    you must “go” in order to “make” and you can not “make” unless you “go”. Those two words are much more than than their single meanings: they are married to one another. The purest form of synergism

    you try to correct this huge mistake in the next line

    One could even translate: "Since you are going anyway, be missional."

    However, since [“go”--“make”, “make”-- “go”] is the primary motivate of the sentence to begin with; further attempts to add--- really detract from the sentence..Translation may not be your cup of tea.

    Love God, Love neighbor is all we need.

    by the bye-- I still agree with much of what you say and at times enjoy what you say!.. I just disagree with your lack of balance, your obsession of bono and a few other items....

  3. Christology, missiology, ecclesiology -- all these are human attempts to make sense of what God has done, is doing and will do.

    We are saved by Christ, not by ologies, however erudite.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!