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Sunday, May 11, 2008

frost defines missional at pgf, pt. 1

At Wednesday night Bible study this past week, we started watching the video of Michael Frost speaking at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) conference in 2007 in Houston. He is from Australia and was tasked with defining what it means to be “missional.” This is a word that is very in vogue these days, and Frost directly challenges using it as any kind of “add-on” program. Rather, he insists, it is a revolutionary, vibrant, and fundamental shift in how Christians see things. In this particular presentation, Frost describes three shifts – 1) seeing God differently; 2) seeing the Church differently; and 3) seeing the world differently. Last Wednesday night, we watched the first 15 minutes or so, through his treatment of seeing God differently.

What follows are some of the key statements (in my opinion) and some of the questions we discussed around those statements.

God is not far and distant, but is a “missionary” and a “sent and sending God”

This is a very helpful observation, though Frost seemed to short the notion of God’s holiness in an effort to communicate God’s sentness. To my thinking, God’s utter holiness (being separate because of His nature and character) highlights God’s sentness because it makes that sentness all the more extraordinary. In my own explanation of this idea, I also found myself talking of God’s “self-sending” rather than “sentness” because the latter suggests that someone other than God sent God among us. With these qualification in place, I find this description of God’s character to be very helpful and challenging, and something relatively new to the thinking to which we have become accustomed. It prompted me to emphasize God’s character in this week’s sermon on Pentecost.

God is in Babylon

Frost said that the people of Israel didn’t really understand God’s self-sending character until they were in Exile. It was there, away from Zion, that they also encountered God and found that God was there in their lostness and separation. For us, the idea that God is found, not in holy places, but in our places of greatest need and lostness, is a marvelous declaration of the Gospel as what it means – good news. I’d like to explore that idea – that God is in Babylon – and explore what Babylon is in a modern context. I think it would surprise and challenge us, who are so wired to “come meet God at church.” We need to realize, for our own selves and for others, that God is in Babylon.

God is in search of man, in a Trinitarian kind of way – this is the “missioning God”

Frost summarized God’s character by saying that God is in search of man, out of love for His creation. This assertion became particular powerful when Frost explored the biblical description of the self-sending character of the Triune God. I looked up some of the references behind Frost’s summary: the Father sends the Son to redeem (John 3:16); the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26); and the Father, Son, and Spirit send us (John 15:27; 17:18). Our mission and God’s mission are not grounded, then, in an assignment from God, but in the very character of God. Accordingly, Frost defines the Latin phrase mission Dei not as the “mission of God” but as the “God of mission” or the “missioning God.”

How can we not be propelled into the world?

This is the question Frost asks us, rooted in the character of God, which is demonstrated throughout scripture. Frost specifically mentions the ripping of the curtain in the Temple, and we looked at Ephesians 2:19-22 as an example of how God has invited us to participate in the implications of Christ’s work. We are growing into a Holy Temple in the Lord, being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Frost summarizes: the Temple of God is now us!

Where are we headed the next two Wednesdays?

Seeing the character of God differently will change the way we see the Church. And seeing God as a self-sending, missioning God will cause us to see the world differently.

2 comments:

Viola said...

Robert,
I liked a lot of this but wondered about the searching God? Wouldn't a pursuing God be better? I am thinking here of "the Hound of Heaven." I have trouble with God searching when he already knows where we are. But then again I have to think of the Shepherd who went out to find the lost sheep. But then of course a metaphor can go too far, if the Shepherd is God He Will find the sheep. Those questions really do open one up to a lot of discussion. Good post.

robert austell said...

Viola,

I agree with your critique completely - it's not like God is searching in vain and can't find us!

I am going through Frost's talk from PGF in segments on Wed. nights at church. And I find myself having to qualify things he says. It is nonetheless challenging me (and hopefully my congregation) in helpful ways.

In this post (and the ones to come) I am putting quotes from Frost in italics, then trying to provide my own reactions (and corrections, if need be).

I would want to ask of the parable of the lost sheep - what is Jesus teaching through that? It is not primarily about the extent of the metaphor of how easy or difficult it is for God to find something, but perhaps more of God's interest in the lost... and by implication, our interest (or lack of interest) in those for whom God cares.

Whether Frost said that clearly enough, that's where he would press the church with language of God in search of man.

I would also push back on Frost in a number of other places - God also SEEKS those who worship in Spirit and Truth. :)

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