Hastings is unflinching in his commitment to root all reflection on the nature and life of the Church in trinitarian theology. He claims,
What ails the church with respect to its spirituality and ecclesiology is above all our poor theology proper. If the contemporary church truly grasped and lived by the truth that mission is the mother of theology and theology is the mother of mission, that is, if the church were intoxicated with the triune God, it would be transformed and a powerful transformer of culture. (250)
I might insert, as a quick aside on that last bit, the anti-Kuyperian, dare I say Anabaptist?!, nature of this claim. The transformation of culture is not a project external, or in addition to the life of the Church, but a result of truly investing ourself at exactly that one point. In other words, it isn’t the Christians have a mission to transform culture, it’s that truly living as the Body of Christ is God’s means of transforming culture. I digress…
Hastings goes on to clarify that given that the relationshop b/t the members of the Trinity are characterized, not by subordination, but by mutual submission.
By analogy the missional church will be known as a servant of the kingdom without concerns about subordination… Missional churches will therefore not understand themselves to be in competition with other local churches, but as interdependent communities. (255)
Catch that? This may be one of the most pivotal points of reflection for those churches who fancy themselves “missional.” Understanding and practicing mutual submission, both internally and externally, as a church community, is endemic to truly embodying a missional ecclesiology. I submit (see that?!) that this may be one of the most important litmus tests in defining and identifying what it means and looks like to be missional.
Hastings move on from here to a discussion of mission as theosis (roughly, taking upon a divine nature). There’s no way I can summarize his excellent discussion on this topic. Essentially, he’s advocating for a (Bathian) perspective whereby we understand mission as a participation in the life and love of God as opposed to, among other things, an act that merely follows from it. For Hastings,
The primary distinctive of the Western evangelical tradition has been its narrative of individual conversion and lively spirituality. What has not been emphasized as much is the eccelsially mediated nature of faith and the ecclesial dynamic of conversion… The failure of many evangelicals to habe an ecclesial identity and communal character begins with the individualistic language of conversion. (285-286)
Instead, the author suggests,
The missional church will therefore preach a gospel that includes conversion’s ecclesial dynamic. It will consider conversion not just a crisis of belief but a process of belonging. It will also engage new converts in serious catechizing… (286-287)
Then, and in solidarity w/ Latin American theologian Rene Padilla (whom he quotes at length), Hastings offers a beautiful vision of Christian mission which, on account of its trinitarian and kingdom orientation, circumvents the dichotomy of “evangelism” and “social justice” that continues to plague Western evangelicalism. He suggests that, rightly conceived, Christian mission…
… will be mission to the whole person, to whole communities for bringing in the shalom God intended for the whole creation. Participational mission involves the pursuit of justice, compassion, and evangelism. The church in Christ as last Adam calls humanity toward its destiny. Therefore it takes seriously the claims and commands of the sovereign Lord on every human being, and defends the human rights of all, and brings the gospel to bear on all of life. (288)
Next, the author draws our attention to the role and mission of the Holy Spirit in and through the life of the Church.
The modern world has told us to trust in our techniques, to take control in order to achieve success. However, in the church the opposite is true: the church can only be the church when it submits control to the Spirit. This is that the kingdom of God is about – submission to Gpd’s perfect reign. (300-301)
The author moves on to note the importance of the Spirit in the process of moral formation for the gathered Church, but I have to say, given the trinitarian and kingdom orientation of the rest of the book, I think a huge opportunity to discuss the specifically ethical dimension of God’s life and mission and its significance for the life and mission of the Church, indeed our very understanding of salvation, was missed. Next book maybe?!
Hastings concludes the section and book with a chapter on forgiveness. In keeping with the rest of his reflections, he draws attention to how the Protestant tradition has mutilated what can only be rightly understood as an ecclesial practice, relegating it to an individualistic experience. He means for us to revisit the notion of forgiveness as intrinsically participational.
Our failure as evangelicals to acknowledge the human instruments of forgiveness is a consequence of the way in which Western individualism has made salvation a “Jesus and me’ experience… I want to plead for a more eccelsial understanding of salvation and ongoing filial confession. The salvation moment/process is always mediated by the church. Furthermore, there is something about our communal orientation as persons made in te image of a triune relational God that makes us experience forgiveness psychologically only as we confess to another and receive words of absolution from one another. This authority is what Jesus gave to his apostles for the church they were birthing. (314-315)
To sum up, I think this is a uniquely important and helpful book for those of us committed to missional theology and ecclesiology. I offer three, very brief, reasons.
- Too often missional language is co-opted by those seeking new packaging or pragmatic solutions to the waning influence of the Church. This book adds to a growing body of work that repudiates such a move.
- Even for those who propound solid missional ecclesiology, often it fails to find a proper and firm basis in theology, let alone trinitarian theology. Hastings, especially where he draws from Barth (inasmuch as he can be considered to be a primary example of doing theology in defiance of many of the trappings of Christendom) and non-Westen theologians such as Orlando Costas and Rene Padilla, provides a robust and engaging trinitarian theology as a framework out of which he develops a missional ecclesiology.
- Even if not explicitly, Hastings makes it clear that the discipline of missiology is of unparalleled significance for not only developing faithful theology and ecclesiology, but for nurturing and sustaining the life and witness of the Church. In other words, thinking and living missiologically is a prerequisite for truly knowing and following a triune God who is, in God’s very character, missionary.