Sunday, May 01, 2011

Rooting mission in the right texts

Alan Roxburgh's challenge to our missional thinking goes deep. As he introduces his reflections on Luke's gospel, he paints a picture of churches in the west in thrall to a reformation settlement that has placed Matthew 28:18-20 in the driving seat as the key missional text. These are the verses people think of when we speak of the 'great commission'; these are the verses that jump-started the western missionary expansion in the late eighteenth century, that continued to fire delegates at the Edinburgh conference in 1910.

But as Roxburgh points out - as many have done before him - this text is also associated with empire (something Matthew would find richly ironic!). The missionary movement associated with this text was one that went to the world with a package of answers framed in western thought forms, geared to answer the questions western culture had been asking and assuming that this package would suit everyone; it was the classic one-size-fits-all approach to Christian mission.

Roxburgh's discussion of all this is compelling and challenging. His remedy is not to ditch to Matthew 28 but to recognise that there are other powerful mission texts within the gospels that need to be heard. He favours letting Luke 10 shape the way we approach the task God has given the followers of Jesus for reasons we'll explore after we've reflected on Roxburgh's overall approach to the setting of Luke-Acts (that's for the next post).

For now, I want to reflect on another comment he makes about how we as church leaders think about missional texts - indeed many biblical passages. He argues that 'Just as Luke does not offer the gentile Christians forms of adjustment, so our crisis of meaning as Christians will not be addressed with one more set of tactics.' This is sentence well worth pausing at and pondering long and hard. There are so many 'tactics' on offer to help churches in the UK turn the corner and step into growth again. Some are good short-term fixes - like Alpha, cafe church, even Messy Church. But the danger of them is that they assume rearranging the furniture on the Titanic will stop us hitting the iceberg.

Rather, 'we need to allow the story of what God is doing in the world to reform us all over again in a different way. Asking questions and developing new "missional" church tactics will not address this.' (p89). I argued this case in Building a Better Body (chapter 7) but not at such depth as Roxburgh does here.

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