I’m more than just a little saddened to tell you that my first attempt at this post was erased. Afterward, I wondered if maybe it was a good thing though. These chapters are so packed that it is difficult to summarize without giving you way too much info for a summary/review. I thought about just typing up a chapter outline, but only a few readers would find an outline to be interesting reading. But, I hope this second attempt is concise and yet rich. Again, the good info below belongs to Tennent, and I hope I haven’t misunderstood or misrepresented him in any way.
The term mission had nothing to do with men preaching the Gospel to other cultures until the 16th century Jesuits started using it in that novel way. Before then, it had always referred to acts of the Triune God in securing the redemption of man, namely, in the sending of Jesus by the Father and the sending of the Spirit by the Father and the Son. That was what the term mission meant for 1600 years. On that basis, Tennent begins chapter 2, entitled “A Trinitarian, Missional Theology” by explaining the difference between Mission as God’s redemptive work planned from before creation and missions as the various ways in which mankind have gone about making disciples of all nations. Tennent argues that the first is the example for and foundation of the second. He quotes Georg Vicedom as saying that we are participating “in the Father’s mission ‘of sending the Son.’” Also, missions must be based on, flow out of, and be carried out in light of Mission…or the missio dei.
Tennent then spends a couple of pages looking at the history and usage of the term missio dei, particularly how the relationship between Mission and missions played out in the 20th century. For the mainline churches of the WCC stripe, God’s redemptive work was found in a coup overthrowing a dictator, much more than in the church sending men and women out to proclaim the Gospel. In essence, they removed the church and the gospel from missions. The Eastern Orthodox churches of the day, adamantly opposed to separating missions from the church, went the other direction and began to meld the two together, so much so that the liturgy was mission, worship was mission…that is, if any non-believers were around to hear. The removed the world from missions. Evangelicals of the day were stressing important points such as the emphasis on evangelism, conversion, and church growth as well as opposing the social gospel of the mainline denominations; however, they failed to see what the missio dei had to do with the social and political spheres of life (therefore truncating the gospel), and their missiology was built more on “pragmatic, sociological principles, rather than a positive theological vision of Gods’ work in the church.”
After this synopsis, Tennent puts forth a proposal for what must be included in a biblical missiology:
- Firmly built on the foundation of Trinitarian theology
- God centered
- Church focused
He will expound throughout the book on these points. At this point, Tennent introduces the reader to two major influences on his currect thinking: Leslie Newbigin and Kwame Bediako. Newbigin argued that we must start with the Trinity if we are going to talk rightly about mission in the world and Bediako, influenced by Lamin Sanneh, shed light on how the persons of the Trinity each play a part within the missio dei. Tennent, building on these foundations, argues for 3 Acts within the “redemptive drama.”
Act 1: Divine Initiation in Creation and Preparatio Evangelica: THE FATHER is the initiator of mission, the Creator who sows Gospel seeds into the fabric of cultures.
Act 2: Historic Transmission fot eh Gsoepl through the Church: THE SON is the sent one of the Father. Sent into the world, into a real time and place, into a particular culture, becoming a particular man. “In a similar way, the church is sent out by Jesus Chrsit to proclaim and embody the redemption that has been wrought through Christ, but it must intersect with the actual histories and narratives of those to whom we are sent” as Christ did. The church is carrying on the mission of the Sent Christ.
Act 3: Indigenous assimilation of the gospel in a particular context: THE HOLY SPIRIT is at work, “convicting the world regarding sin, empowering the preaching of the gosepl, and bringing people to faith in Christ” and he continues to be working in the people long after the missionary has gone home. “It is God the Holy Spirit who is charged with assimilating the gospel into the life and experience of the communities who receive the gospel.”
Seeing missions in this way, according to Tennent, reminds us that missions isn’t just about some random person making a personal decision to follow Christ, as important as that is. It’s larger than that and eternal. The Triune God has been, is, and will be working within the hearts and culture of a people long before, during, and after the small part called missions has taken place. And it is all consumed under the rubrique of the missio dei. This is the great work of God that we are invited to play a small part in. By remembering that it is, at the end of the day, God’s great work keeps the church humble, and looking to God, ie. God centered. But realizing that God has called us to the small role, humbe but grateful cast-members in His unfolding drama keeps us church focused. It is HIS mission, but He desires to use US, his people, the Church.