In Case You Missed It

1) Nathan Finn, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies, offered his response to the movie, “Selma.” This was the second of a two-part review by SEBTS faculty. Read part 1 by Walter Strickland here.

2) Nathan Finn also wrote an interesting piece on the Baptist Student Union and the Vietnam War for the Anxious Bench.

3) At Pastors Today, Rob Hurtgen reflected on the “third rail” of a pastor’s ministry, his health. Some strong encouragements here.

4) Scot McKnight, Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, helpfully reflected on the relation of the Kingdom of God and politics from Romans 13.

5) Interesting edition of Questions & Ethics from Russ Moore: How should a church respond to a single woman who had a child through IVF?


What is the Missional Gospel? Part 4: The Emerging Missional Church

What is the Missional Gospel? Part 4: The Emerging Missional Church

By Keith Whitfield

Brian McLaren announced in 2004 at “The Billy Graham Center Evangelism Roundtable” that “we are in need of radical strategic rethinking of our current strategy as gospel-oriented Christians seeking to follow the Great Commission” (“The Strategy We Pursue,”). He argues that this need is urgent and apparent given the low church attendance by people in our culture, the number of Christian kids dropping out of the church after high school, the “mean-spirited, afraid, racist, and isolationist” attitudes of many Christians, and finally, the biblical mandate to make disciples. It is time for the church, according to him, to “Admit we may not actually understand the good news, and seek to rediscover it.” This conviction is repeated by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, in Adventures in Missing the Point (2007), where they call for the church to “reboot” its understanding of the gospel.

The Gospel in the Emergent Missional Church

The emergent church maintains that viewing the gospel as facts to believe in order to save one’s soul and go to heaven misses the point, so they propose an alternative approach. Their proposal is:

the gospel has something to do with the kingdom of God and perhaps the Kingdom of God is not equal to heaven after death, but rather involves God’s will being done on earth, in history, before death, in the land of the living (A Generous Orthodoxy, 3).

This position is built on their view that salvation is not mainly about the individual. The ultimate goal is being formed into and knowing Christ in the here and now. In Everything Must Change, McLaren writes, “All who find in Jesus God’s hope and truth discover the privilege of participating in his on going work of personal and global transformation and liberation from evil and injustice” (80). Salvation is then not primarily about having one’s sins forgiven, but it is about being rescued from maladies, distress, fear, violence, and enemies.

This approach to the gospel shines light on the emergent missional church’s position on the atonement. They are critical of the traditional evangelical view of the gospel and salvation that is “atonement-centered,” or at least, they are critical of how this view overemphasizes penal substitution as the “center” of the doctrine of the atonement. The emergents have moved away from substitutionary atonement being the center of their understanding of salvation and the gospel, because they moved away from salvation being from sin and alienation from God. McLaren explains why Jesus is important when he writes, “Jesus came into the world as the Savior of the world . . . . Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted in human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated” (Everything Must Change, 79)

In a biographical statement, McLaren confesses,

But as precious and indispensable as this perspective [reconciliation to God and inheritance of eternal life] is for me, over the years a feeling grew within me, usually vague but sometimes acute, that I was missing something, perhaps something important. Jesus’ cross in the past saved me from hell in the future, but it was hard to be clear on what it meant for me in the struggle of the present. And more importantly, did the gospel have anything to say about justice for the many, not just the justification of the individual? (A Generous Orthodoxy, 48)

This sentiment has not just shaped McLaren’s view of the atonement, but it has also shaped the view of the atonement of many proponents of the emergent model. What makes this a workable view of the atonement is that their “primary reference point is no longer their former alienation but their present and future identification as part of God’s new order, which was inaugurated with the first coming of Christ” (Emerging Churches, 54). They argue, therefore, that the gospel is not restricted to a message about individual assurance of eternal destiny. The cross of Christ offers an example of sacrificial love as well as the means for reconciliation to God. They say that the kingdom is the path to the cross and the kingdom is the pathway Christians walk throughout their lives with the cross, as those who have died to self with Christ to live in his grace and power. This, for them, is a retrieval of the gospel.

How does God save in this view? God saves by judging, by forgiving, and by teaching. Through Jesus, God intervenes into history as savior. He judges by naming evil for what it is and confronting self-denial and delusion. McLaren described the process in these words,

The consequences of our bad behavior loom over us, we hear God’s judgment and realize we’ve done something stupidly wrong and we have second thoughts about what we’ve done. As we repent, as we become truly sorry, as we have a change of heart, God goes further by forgiving us, thus bringing salvation in an even fuller sense. Salvation is what happens when we experience both judgment and forgiveness, both justice (exposing the truth about our wrong) and mercy (forgoing the negative consequences we deserve) (A Generous Orthodoxy, 95).

The judgment is first for those who are doing evil against others, and can also be for those who are being saved. God judges by revealing the evil character and actions of people through the light and truth of Jesus. Jesus both judges and brings forgiveness. McLaren says, “This is the window into the meaning of the cross,” namely, that Jesus takes the worst humanity has to offer and after experiencing it, He offers grace and forgives. Then, the third way that God saves is by teaching us. “[B]ecause we are so often ignorantly wrong and stupid,” says McLaren, “Jesus comes with saving teaching, profound yet amazingly compact: Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus says, and love your neighbor as yourself” (A Generous Orthodoxy, 97).

Evangelism in the Emergent Missional Church

The proclamation of the gospel in the “emergent missional church” is not primarily informational but relational, and inviting people into a relationship with a King and with members of a Kingdom whose foremost concern is wholeness for a broken world takes priority over sharing how someone may have security in their eternal destiny. The gospel, McLaren explains, starts “with God’s concern for the world, in which God creates a community called the church, comprised of persons who stop (or repent of) being ‘part of the problem’ and choose instead to join God as ‘part of the solution’-thus simultaneously entering a mission and a community in which one is accepted by grace, through faith in Jesus” (“The Strategy We Pursue”). The focus is to create a culture of the kingdom and to allow God to do the work. It is this conviction that sets the course for the emergent missionals. They are critical of what they view as a preoccupation with eternal salvation of the conservative evangelicals because of its overemphasis on beliefs, and at the same time, they are critical of the liberal Protestants because their good deeds serve their civil religion. They, however, seek to find the balance in defining the gospel by their conception of the kingdom of God.

Their focus is on recruiting people who will follow Jesus by faith as disciples and who will participate in God’s mission in the world. Their approach to the gospel results in a collapsing the difference between “evangelism” and “social action,” which is reflected in McLaren’s proposal to “Recenter the Great Commission in the Great Commandment.” Thus, the gospel is contained in words embodied in good deeds. The logic of this statement is tied closely to their view of the gospel as the realized kingdom of God.

Evangelism is the calling to become a part of the kingdom of God by becoming disciples of Jesus. This position opposes the missionary vision that the church is taking God to the world. Rather, it is God who pursues redemption of everything in creation that needs direction and repair, and the church is an active participant in God’s mission. This vision of evangelism re-envisions the church as a community that shares in a mission with God, but a mission that God is already working out in the world. When the church refocuses its attention to becoming a community and being deployed to serve, it then becomes a community that is open and welcomes strangers as Jesus welcomed sinners.

Keith Whitfield is pastor of Waverly Baptist Church in Waverly, Virginia, and a doctoral student in theological studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This post is fourth in a series of six articles.

What is the Missional Gospel? Part 3: The Ecumenical Missional Church

What is the Missional Gospel? Part 3: The Ecumenical Missional Church

By Keith Whitfield

The ecumenical missional church arises from a growing dis-ease with an approach to church that they claim was inherited from Christendom. Their concern with this approach to the church is that it views the church as a place and a “vender of religion.” Breaking from this, they attempt to return to the gospel to set forth a new vision for the church and recapture the essence of what it means to be the church. They call for the church to adopt a “missional vocation,” called and sent to represent the reign of God.

The Gospel in the Ecumenical Missional Church

Their understanding of the gospel is centered on Jesus and his announcement that the reign of God is at hand. The coming of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection are interpreted as eschatological events in which the power and presence of the kingdom of God breaks into human history. The kingdom of God is defined as:

a world characterized by peace, justice and celebration. Shalom, the overarching vision of the future, means ‘peace,’ but not merely peace as the cessation of hostilities. Instead, shalom envisions the full prosperity of a people of God living under the covenant of God’s demanding care and compassionate rule. In the prophetic vision, peace such as this comes hand and hand with justice. Without justice, there can be no real peace, and without peace, no real justice (Missional Church, 91).

Thus, their view of the gospel is closely identified with their conception of the kingdom of God, which they argue rescues the gospel from an over emphasis on “personal salvation” as the main goal of redemption. The ecumenical missional church almost always (perhaps even without exception) deals with the idea of personal conversion and forgiveness of sin as the aim of the gospel with the qualifiers “not just” or “not merely.” They consistently deemphasize personal conversion by suggesting that the gospel is “more importantly something else.”

What you have in the cross and the resurrection is the future reign of God breaking in as a sign of the world’s future, while creation waits to be fully and finally reconciled to God. As Craig Van Gelder explains,

Jesus makes his death and resurrection central to inaugurating the redemptive reign of God. The cross event is the watershed of human history. In this decisive moment the forces of evil are defeated and the full power of the redemptive reign of God through the Spirit invades human space. In this invasion, Jesus anticipates the creation of a new type of community, community created by the Spirit (The Essence of the Church, 76).

This view of the gospel and the kingdom of God emphasizes that Jesus entered human history with power to reign, and he reestablished kingdom life on the basis of redemptive power by way of a cross and the resurrection. Jesus introduces a new reality into human history, which is both a gospel reality and kingdom reality. The kingdom is the reigning presence of God, and the gospel is the means by which the reigning presence of God was established and continues to reign. They depend upon Peter Stuhlmacher’s explanation of how the cross establishes the reign of God, who says:

Jesus decides to do the utmost he is capable of doing on earth: to offer himself to spare his friends and foes from the judgment of death. By means of his death Jesus does not appease a vengeful deity; rather, on his way of the cross he is the embodiment of the love of God, as sketched in Isaiah 43:3-4, 25. This love wants to spare the impenitent daughters and sons of Israel, as well as his feeble disciples, from having to perish because of their doubts about his mission and the consequences of their reserve toward Jesus’ message. (Quoted in Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, 43; See Stuhlmacher, Jesus of Nazareth – Christ of Faith, 52)

Evangelism in The Ecumenical Missional Church

The gospel is the news that the Jesus events are God’s acts to heal the broken creation. The church is part of this mission of God. The disciples of Jesus are sent out as witnesses and to adopt the missional way of life.

Witness involves proclamation, community, and service, as the essential dimensions of the mission to which the Christian church is called and sent. The spirit-empowered church demonstrates the life, service, and devotion of God’s people, putting on display the reality that God’s rule has in fact broken into the world. The life of the community serves as the primary means of witness. The church is called out and set apart for public witness in order to demonstrate to the world the presence and power of the reign of Jesus.

The church is a place where peace, compassion, and justice reign. The Holy Spirit forms this community. When the Holy Spirit is poured out, God’s promised reign of love and hope is actualized. The characteristics of God’s reign are incarnated in a new humanity, a people who are called, gathered and sent to represent the gospel of peace to the world.

The focus of evangelism is not personal conversion but the ongoing conversion of the Christian community. Guder writes,

The church is constantly being reevangelized, and by virtue of that it is always being constituted and formed as the church. The essence of what it means to be the church arises perpetually from the church’s origins in the gospel: it is in every moment being originated by the Holy Spirit as it hears the gospel and is oriented by ‘the present reign of Christ in which the coming completed reign of God . . . is revealed and becomes effective in the present’ (Missional Church, 87).

Evangelism is the “entire manner in which the gospel [or, the kingdom of God] becomes a reality in man’s life” (The Continuing Conversion of the Church, 24). It is the process of making known, witnessing to, and inviting response to Jesus’ reign. Reception of the invitation grants the benefits of the kingdom of God in this life, but might not be required for the life to come. Rather than trying to recruit or co-opt those outside the church to an invitation of companionship, the church witnesses that its members anticipate with hope God reigns with love and intends to do good for the whole earth (Missional Church, 149).

The ecumenical missional church’s approach to being “missional” could be captured as “sent to represent.” They represent the reign of God as a community, as servants, and as a messenger. In summary, for the ecumenical missional church, the church on mission is a sign of the Messiah’s coming and sign of the hope for the renewal of the human community through the final reconciliation of all things to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Keith Whitfield is pastor of Waverly Baptist Church in Waverly, Virginia, and a doctoral student in theological studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This post is third in a series of six articles.