Missional theology is a conceptual framework for understanding Christian theology, the biblical narrative, and the church. Missional theology provides a fresh lens for examining God’s involvement with the world. It is gaining traction in churches from various church traditions that are open to change and are looking for new ways to “do church” in cultural settings that are resistant to organized religion and deaf to the gospel message. 

The “mission of God” is the central interpretive motif of missional theology. The mission of God is God’s eternal purpose to create, enjoy the created world and the people God made, redeem the fallen world through the cross of Christ, and consummate the redemptive act of the cross in Christ’s return and the ushering in of the new creation. The mission of God has foci in both creation and redemption.

Other elements of missional theology’s conceptual framework are elements brought to the missional conversation by evangelicals, in particular (although not exclusively evangelicals). These are biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism, activism, and respectful association with Christian tradition.  These elements make up the “evangelical ethos.” (Stanley Grenz, Renewing the Center [Baker, 1992].

The evangelical ethos is the shared experience of evangelicals who embody their faith through faithful living characterized by the values represented in the elements: the trustworthiness of the Bible, the necessity of personal salvation, the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a lifestyle of personal piety and service, and association with a particular denomination (association that is not compelled to defend its tenets as Christianity’s singular or superior doctrinal formulation). “Christian tradition” is understood as the core doctrines of the Christian faith as expressed in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. For evangelicals, Christian tradition also includes the evangelical ethos and its commitment to the divine authority of Scripture.  This commitment echoes the Protestant ethos of “forming and always re-forming” the way the church “does church” in light of Scripture.  

This focus on the evangelical ethos with its appreciation of Christian tradition is what paves the way for evangelicals to cooperate across many denominations who self-identify with evangelicalism. It is also what makes possible the missional conversation and the missional theology flowing from it. Missional reflection is essentially about renewing evangelicalism (or, more broadly, Western Christianity) for mission and impact in contemporary society.

Using the missional interpretive methodology as a guide, the elements of the evangelical ethos below are modified with adjectives that capture the values of the missional conversation, what could be called the “missional ethos” in evangelicalism today.

Contextual biblicism – recognizes that all readings of Scripture require interpretation; that the Bible is a contextual document; that there are and will continue to be multiple and diverse interpretations of Scripture which edify and guide local expressions of the church.

Communal conversionism – recognizes that evangelism placed in the context of the mission of God is about the conversion and redemption of whole societies and individuals within those societies.

Mission of God-focused crucicentrism – recognizes that God’s mission throughout biblical history leads to the cross and ultimately to its fulfillment in the redemption of all of creation.

Missional activism – recognizes a redemptive activism that seeks to bless society and rectify unjust systems; it recognizes this activism as the missional partner of evangelism.

Ecumenical traditionalism – recognizes that no single tradition can represent the whole of Christianity for all other traditions; that diversity in the church is a gift, just as unity in Christ is a gift; both are necessary in God’s mission to redeem the world.

Susan Disston was assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary.

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