This continues my series on missional church.
Over the last few decades, Lesslie Newbigin’s work, and the concept of missio Dei, has been allied with a recognition that the West has moved into ‘post-Christendom’.
It was [Lesslie] Newbigin who, after returning from a lifetime of work in India as a missionary, saw how pagan Western civilization really was. He began to articulate the view that we need to see the Western world as a mission field, and that we as God’s people in this context needed to adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture – just as we could in India, for instance.
As noted previously, traditional missiology and ecclesiology have assumed the existence, in the West, of a shared culture and worldview which has been heavily influenced by the gospel, whether or not people recognise or accept it. Over the last few decades, that shared, Christianised culture has been steadily breaking down. Complex and contradictory social forces – such as immigration, new communication technology, an acceptance of radical materialism with its corollary of nihilistic hedonism, a rejection of modernistic materialism and search for new spirituality – mean that the values, morals and aspirations of people in the West are far more complex and contradictory than traditional missiology and ecclesiology can cope with.
Missional ecclesiology therefore approaches Western culture assuming that the gospel will be alien and probably unwelcome. It does not assume that people will identify with traditional forms of church, but is willing to experiment with different expressions of Christian community that try to be a contemporary, socio-culturally relevant expression of the unchanging gospel. Missional ecclesiology is fluid, relational, and temporary. Its practitioners tend to favour informality over formality, story over doctrine, experiment over habit, ‘sharing’ over ‘preaching’, and trial and error over ‘proven method’. They seek to build Christian communities through unorthodox activities – like water skiing – and in unusual places – like beaches. This experimental fluidity is an outworking of the missional church’s openness to the Spirit’s guidance.