Friday, April 21, 2006

The Missional Church by Tim Keller

I ran across this short article by Tim Keller. It is a solid, short explanation of the "Missional" Church. Here's a little teaser for you:

In the West for nearly 1,000 years, the relationship of (Anglo-European) Christian churches to the broader culture was a relationship known as "Christendom." The institutions of society "Christianized" people, and stigmatized non-Christian belief and behavior. Though people were "Christianized" by the culture, they were not regenerated or converted with the Gospel. The church's job was then to challenge persons into a vital, living relation with Christ... (more here)


Tim Nixon said...

After reading the article on the Missional Church, I came away a bit disturbed.

I found the overall flavor of the article to lack many essential truths of and to disregard the power of the Gospel. The assumption seems to be that the church as we know it was built on the culture as it was as a certain time, and now we must, “…adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community,
and service--so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it.” I am in no way defending poor practices of any church, but the ‘missional’ church seems to be no more than a reaction.

In the author’s five (5) elements defining the ‘missional’ church, I see additional problems:

1. Discourse in the vernacular

“The missional church avoids sentimental, pompous, 'inspirational' talk . Instead we engage the culture with gentle, self-deprecating but joyful irony the gospel creates. Humility + joy = gospel irony and realism.”

“The missional church avoids ever talking as if non-believing people are not present. If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited.”

The Gospel has always been counter-cultural and the culture has never, or will never understand it without the express power of the Holy Spirit.

"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him."
1 John 3:1

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
1 Cor.2:14

By definition, the church is made up solely of believers. So in “church” meetings we should be teaching and preaching the Word of God to believers, not the lost (sorry about the word lost, don’t mean to offend anyone but that is the term Jesus used). It is that same believer who goes and engages the lost with the purpose of evangelism and discipleship. As a baby church plant, we encourage our core team to meet 3 new people each week, to develop relationships, meet their real needs (not just their felt needs) – and those real needs may be physical but certainly are spiritual. We engage the lost in small study groups in our homes that present the Scriptures plainly, openly, and unashamedly. We trust the Holy Spirit to work as he desires to bring those people to a saving commitment to Jesus Christ. And he is faithful.

2. Enter and re-tell the culture's stories with the gospel

“In "Christendom" it is possible to simply exhort Christianized people to "do what they know they should." There is little or no real engagement, listening, or persuasion. It is more a matter of exhortation (and often, heavy reliance on guilt.) In a missional church preaching and communication should always assume the presence of skeptical people, and should engage their stories, not simply talk about "old times."

The reason we exhort is because this is the Biblical pattern we are commanded to obey.

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 1 Timothy 4:3

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2

holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. Titus 1:9

When the author speaks of “old times”, is he inferring some sort of irrelevance based on age? If so, what could be more relevant than the very words of God?

Why do we think God needs our great help and wisdom in declaring His truth? Certainly there are various ways of learning and thus the skilled preacher uses different teaching styles from time to time. But the Scripture doesn’t need me to redefine the message to somehow become more relevant to the culture. It never will be. It is a hopeless proposition.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 2 Timothy 3:16 (my stories are not inspired)

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (the culture’s narrative does not pierce to the soul)

3. Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation

The argument here is that to “train people just in prayer, Bible study, evangelism--
private world skills…” is not sufficient and we must train them on cultural practices.

I would argue that the problem is exactly that we have failed to “train people just in prayer, Bible study, evangelism--private world skills…”

If our churches took seriously the mandate to preach and teach the Gospel, our congregations would be in the world making a difference. If we could get believers away from Christian radio, Christian businesses, Christian schools, Christian gift shops, Christian ad nauseam – and into the Word of God – they might discover that lost people really do matter to God and should matter to them.

4. Create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive.

I probably agree with this point more than the others except the Gospel already is counter-cultural. It doesn’t matter if you are Modern, Post-Modern, Emergent, whatever. Even in Peter’s day the church butt heads with the culture. And Peter had the remedy –

For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 1 Peter 2:15

But we can’t live the remedy if we don’t know the Word.

5. Practice Christian unity as much as possible on the local level.

I must admit, I struggle greatly here. I see Pastors all around me who fit the profile of 2 Timothy 3:1-9. Verse 5 makes it very clear to me, “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”

My bias must be in the direction of the truth, not in the direction of cooperation.

BReformed said...

Well said! Finally, a voice in the wilderness.

Didn't Jesus say, "See to it that no one misleads you" (Matt 24:4)? It seems like we are being coaxed to follow teachers who are bent on "purchasing oil from the dealers" (Matt. 25:9), given the Missional, Post-modern, Emergent, Purpose Driven, Seeker Sensitive, Willow Creek stuff we keeping hearing about as nauseum.

Tim Keller, in another of his papers ("Post Everythings"), makes it clear what he believes:

"recognize that post-everythings love art because they love the material world. Abraham Kuyper's understanding of Reformed Theology enables us to say to post-everythings, 'Christianity is not just a way for you to get peace, love and groovy vibes in Heaven. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview. You can be Christian artist, dancer, manager, or minister and these are all ways of living out the gospel.' When post-everythings hear that, they get extremely excited."

They get "excited"?? The implication here is that they get excited because their fleshly desires are accommodated by the gospel!

What preacher wants to be responsible for setting people up to falsely think they can do this or that in Christ's name, only to find that their hearers are rejected by Christ Himself (Matt. 7:21-23)?

That's what we are doing if keep on this Missional post-modern, emergent, Purpose Drive broad-road.

Nowhere in Kellers' thought is this Biblical statement: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him."

These incessant appeals to sensuous Christianity are not biblical.

You do not attract people to the Kingdom of God on the basis of their fleshly desires. That is utterly contrary to scripture. What's more, as Jim Stitzinger from Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA) stated, "Whatever you bait them with is what you will have to feed them later."

The appeals must be made no less than John the Baptist or the Apostle Peter in Acts 2. The issue is repentance, and living a life of holiness, conforming to the image of Christ.

That is the liberating, exciting news that must be preached, to all generations, in all cultures, for all time!

Kurt said...

This is the kind of discussion this blog is designed to evoke! Thank you all!