Written by Todd Mangum
Tuesday, 23 October 2012 00:00
Recently, a group of traditional, original-language-program students submitted to me four questions they said were questions they commonly had and heard among their student colleagues. I thought it might be good to share the questions — and my answers — with you.
Q. Please explain what is Missional Theology and why this has become a new focus at Biblical Seminary.
A. “Missional theology” is the phrase used to describe the conversation and movement that began to take root around 50 years ago. Missional insights initially were prompted by Christian missiologists and missionaries who asserted that “the mission of God to reach and restore the world” is not just a part of theology or a part of the church’s ministry, but is the heart of theology and ministry.
Lesslie Newbigin was one such influential figure who typified the start of the missional movement. A missionary to India for 40 years, he found that when he returned to England, his once “Christian country” had become “post-Christian,” in need of the very missions work he’d been doing in India. While Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the methods necessary to engage people afresh with Christ’s message and mission are ever changing, as varied as the contexts and cultures of the human world.
As theologians and biblical interpreters and scholars grappled with the insights being proposed by missiologists, a fresh and bigger view of God gradually began to emerge. Christian thinkers and leaders began to see more clearly that the God of the Bible is not just a passive God who basks in worship, but is an active God on a mission — a mission that He has undertaken at great cost (giving His own Son to accomplish it). And part of what unfolds in tracing the mission of God through the progressive revelation of the Bible is a recognition that God considers establishment of justice, mercy, and kindness as central to His purposes and central to the “good news,” the Gospel, and not just by-products that emanate from something else that is central. This is true in both Old Testament (made clear especially by the prophets — see Micah 6:8) and New Testament (made clear especially by Jesus — see Matthew 23:23).
Biblical Seminary was in a way poised especially well to tap into the insights of “the missional turn.” Though we were founded originally as a Reformed fundamentalist school, the school’s founders consisted of Allan A. MacRae, an Old Testament scholar, and Dr. Jack Murray, an evangelist. Biblical was founded to merge in a unique and unusual way the depth and rigor of academic biblical scholarship with practical outreach and passion for the lost. These twin concerns have always been integral to Biblical’s “DNA.”
And yet, on the other hand, the focus of “missional theology” puts everything in fresh light. The gospel is found to be richer, deeper, and more far-reaching than the “ticket-out-of-hell” to which it’s commonly reduced in other evangelical approaches. Missional theology encourages ministers, Bible readers and theologians to interact with God and follow God as a Divine Person, rather than as a composite of finely nuanced philosophical concepts as He too often is conceived of in traditional systematic theologies. And missional theology emboldens the minister and leader of God’s people to recognize that what we as God’s people do is more important to God than just what we profess to believe.
Some of the adjustments of “missional theology” are slight and some aspects of missional theology have always been present to some degree in the best of evangelical theology. We recognize that. Even still, at Biblical, we believe the nuances of missional theology taken together make for a remarkable improvement in: 1) reading the Bible; 2) doing theology; and 3) engaging in ground level ministry and evangelism.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.