What does “missional” actually mean?

Since starting my work at Biblical back in 2008, I have asked that question numerous times and, now that I have been here for several years, I am being asked the same question.

My experience here at Biblical and my reading (LOVE those Christopher Wright books!) have led me to believe that one possible answer may be found in what I like to call “The Parable of the Two Librarians.”

Susan and I have had the privilege of four sabbaticals in Cambridge, England, during one of which my research subject was the causes of theological change at Christ’s College, one of the constituent colleges of Cambridge University.  In 1590, Christ’s College was one of the leading Puritan institutions in the world.  By 1680, it was one of the leading Latitudinarian institutions in the world.  What happened?  That’s what I wanted to try to discover.

In my research, I worked with two librarians – the librarian at Christ’s College and the librarian at the “UL” (the University Library).

The librarian at Christ’s College acted as though it was his mission in life to protect the books at Christ’s from people.  Every time a person touched a book, there was the chance of damage to the book.  If not damage, then at least dirt and grime from the hands touching the book.  There was never an outright refusal to hand over a requested volume (so long as the request slip was completely accurate!).  But there was a clear sense that he (and the library) would be much happier if I would just go away and let the books and other materials stay exactly as they had been for four hundred years.

The librarian at the UL acted as though it was his mission in life to get the information in the books “out.”  When he discovered my research subject, he suggested materials for me to read that I didn’t even know existed.  He communicated positive eagerness that the question I was asking be answered.  Now, he did take precautions.  Did he ever!  I was not allowed to bring any writing instrument of any kind into the reading room – he provided (for me and all the other researchers) #2 pencils and blank paper (this was YEARS before laptops and IPads).  I was never left alone with a manuscript . . . a librarian or sub-librarian was always present and always watching.  But the sense one had was that the most important thing was the result of the research and that, to me at least, made all the difference. 

 I have come to believe that “missional theology” embodies the spirit of the UL librarian.  Every kind of precaution imaginable is taken to preserve the precious and priceless original source material.  But the ultimate goal is not preservation; it is propagation.   More than anything else, we want to get the knowledge of Jesus as Savior and Lord “out,” so that He receives the honor and worship that is His due.

 But what exactly is a “missional” seminary?  And is Biblical the only missional seminary?  Tune in tomorrow.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical.  He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan


0 # Rajashekhar Devarai 2012-03-15 23:56
Dear Sam,
Thank you for posting Parables of two librarians. The two librarians you described I think were working in two different sets of library philosophies. Today the Library philosophy has undergone sea change. Librarianship has emerged today as a full fledged profession. Sharing of information has become a new religion for the librarians world wide. Have a look at one of my papers and comment ....
Best wishes
Lbn Raj Devarai
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