Those who know me will be aware I have an aversion verging on allergy to the word missional used as a ubiquitous adjective to anoint the latest programmes and strategies with biblical merit and mandate. I am absolutely and overwhelmingly convinced that mission lies at the heart of the church. The rhythm of worship and witness compels the pracvtice of mission. Worship draws us centripetally to the centre of our life in Christ, and then we are thrust centrifugally outwards to bear witness to the grace, love, mercy and reconciling purposes of God in Christ.
And therefore I am persuaded that an entire approach to Christian dogmatics could, and perhaps should, be founded on the mission of God. Such a Dogmatics would be constructively elegant in its use of fundamental doctrine s drawn from the classic Christian traditions, would be essentially centred on the graced nature and salvific purposes of God, and would be ecclesially innovative and pastorally evangelistic, as the eternal saving purposes of the Creator and Redeemer God are worked through in the context of our own times and our own calling under God, and applied in an exploration of the essential practices of the community of the Christlike God.
I am currently reading my way through Michael Gorman's new book, Becoming the Gospel. Paul Participation and MIssion. I've read Gorman's earlier books and he is now a go to writer I have personally found a valuable and trusted guide through the New testament texts, in particular the letters of Paul. A major emphasis in Gorman's interpretation of Paul up till now is a word he virtually coined, or at least established as a powerful interpretive key to the letters of Paul - it's the word cruciformity. His book Cruciformity. Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross is a careful and persuasive exposition of Paul's theology and practice in terms of the cross; all of Christian life is cruciform, formed and transformed through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. The existence of the church, and the life and lifestyle of individual Christians is cruciform, shaped and conformed to the image of Christ crucified and risen.
From that starting point came a second book, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, in which Gorman developed further the conception of Christian existence as life liberated from sin and death through new creation in Christ. In that new creation the individual Christian and the community of the church are being shaped towards and come to embody the reconciling love and restorative forgiveness, and renewing grace and transformative justice and mercy of God. Once that quite dense sentence has been absorbed it is then easier to grasp the subtitle of this second book: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology. The theological content distilled into each of those words makes them potent with ideas and possibilities that enrich and expand our understanding of Paul's theology of Christian existence. I personally found this book profoundly helpful in the search for conceots that might aid my understanding and articulation of my own journey in Christ.
It's no coincidence that Michael Gorman is a Methodist, who has deep roots in Wesleyan theology in which such notions as theosis, participation, kenosis and conformity to the image of Christ so deeply inform the understanding of justification and sanctification, and of anthropology and ecclesiology. Much of what Gorman is exploring and expressing is a Pauline justification for a particular understanding of the dynamic of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the revolutionary impact on the individual of the work of God in the human heart. I have to confess a deep affinity with much Wesleyan theology and spirituality, though not uncritically. So I have to confess also that much of Gorman's work is already congenial to me, takes me into familiar theological territory, provides substantial exegetical warrant for much that I already believe, and hope more and more to grow into.
However what makes this third book so important, and worth a number of reflective review essays, is the word mission, and yes, the word missional, used theologically, carefully and always embedded in its exegetical and theological foundations in the biblicsal text. On page 9 is a succinct summary of what this book is about. In later posts I'll reflect on a chapter at a time, but for now here is Gorman's nutshell statement:
"To put it simply: the cross of Christ reveal a missional, justifying, justice-making God and creates a missional, justified, justice-making people. Because the cross reveals a missional God, the church saved and shaped by the cross will be a missional people."