Is mission the mother of theology?

Andrew Jones (Tall Skinny Kiwi) is asking a question today:Is mission the mother of theology?

Missiology or Theology? Chicken or the egg? Is missiology a slice of the theolgical cake or a foundational layer? And what about the sequence that goes missiology-christology-ecclesiology? Or as Alan Hirsch has laid it out, Christology-Missiology-Ecclesiology. How would you sequence it?

This is something that is worth the time to think about, and there is some good conversation going on in the comments of the Andrews post.

Here’s my initial reaction:

Mission and theology are dangerous starting places. If we start with mission, we will become quick fodder for substituting church growth for success and/or social justice for holiness. If we start with theology… well then we become entangled with all sorts of doctrine and dogma that makes no sense in everyday life and gives no hope or meaning to this life.

I’m in total agreement with Alan Hirsch that we need to start with Christology. However, I believe that instead of a linear progression from missiology to Ecclesiology, or even to theology, we need to see that Christology leads to Christology.

Let me explain it this way: picture a globe with lines of longitude on it. each of these meridians touch both the north and south polls. So, in the same way, missiology, theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, etc… all come from Christology and lead us to Christology. I know the analogy breaks down because missiology, theology, and the rest do intersect and lead us one to another. However, without Christology as the starting place and the goal, these things just have no point.

Mission leads us to the words Jesus vested in his followers: “As I have been sent, so I send you”. Mission also leads us to the finished work of salvation in the death and resurrection.

Theology has no other starting place than Jesus because he is the fullness of the invisible God. And the more we come to think well about God the more we are going to be shown the Lamb on the throne.

Ecclesiology can not actually exist without the understand that we are the Body of Christ. Then again, if the Church does anything other than show the face and love of Jesus to the world it misses the point of its existence.

Eschatology becomes nothing more than fortune telling if we don’t understand the words of the prophets are fulfilled in Christ. And what hope does the day of the Lord bring if it is not the revelation of Jesus who is our salvation and gives us grace?

As others have said in TSK’s comment thread, it’s much more holistic and circular than “1 leads to 2 leads to 3”.

To my initial reaction, I will add…

I do believe it is important to think about the relationships between mission, theology, ecclesiology, and the rest. We do need to intentionally build one on another in a healthy fashion… a fashion that starts in Christ and leads to Him again and again. To that end, I submit this path from one poll to the other:

Christology> Pneumology> Missiology> Ecclesiology> Eschatology> Theology> Christology

(I know there are other “ology”‘s, but I think these six pretty well cover the majors.)

Let me explain my “path” a bit:

  • We see Jesus, and he talks about the Spirit, our mission, our hope, our identity, and the nature of god that is revealed in all of these.
  • The Spirit empowers us to understand the words of Jesus (and the scriptures that speak about Him) and to rightly do the mission He has set entrusted us with.
  • The mission knits us together as a people with an identity and shapes how we live as the People of God.
  • Being the people of God is being a people of hope. The hope that we seek to give shape to in our identity as the people of God is ultimately focused on the Shalom that Jesus is coming to re-establish.
  • Understanding that the “end times” are really the beginning of life as God originally intended it should force us to want to understand this God who has revealed himself through the incarnation… which leads us back to Christ.

So, that’s what I think about that. Any thoughts?

  • Jeff Osborne

    Alan, I think you have some good and well-thought-through things to say. But, I must admit that, being human, I am distracted from your message by numerous clerical and spelling errors that permeate your post. While your ideas have a high-quality ring, the presentation gives me an unwanted feeling that it is coming from a seventh-grader. Sorry! I must be honest that such a mix makes it hard for my natural self to take you with the seriousness that you deserve. Suggestion: Do proof-reading before posting; either by you or by someone else who may be more of a stickler for such things.

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