The Emerging View of the Church in Society: Alan Hirsch/Michael Frost and the Danger of De-Ecclesiologizing The Church in Mission

This is my last of three treatments on the theology of the emerging/missional church. As I said on the three previous posts here, here and here,  I’m currently winding down my book project  The End of Evangelicalism? by writing an epilogue probing the possibility what a new faithfulness might look like to emerge “from the rubble” of evangelicalism. I applaud the emerging and/or missional church movements. But I contend they must avoid three dangers, three traps if they (we) are to elude the traps that evangelicalism has itself already fallen into.  That’s when I came up with these three clumsy terms, de incarnationalize, de-eschatologize and de-ecclesiologize. Today, I’m examining one of my favorite persons in the missional church movement – Alan Hirsch and his co-writer Michael Frost. I love these guys. I hope they take what I wrtite here as an act of love and appreciation for what they’re doing.  Here’s some of what I wrote (edited for a blog post with citations etc. deleted) on third of the 3 traps using Hirsch and Frost to illustrate what such a danger might look like.


Emerging/Missional leaders have criticized evangelicalism’s practice of the church as too defensive and inward looking. The evangelical church, they say, has become an organization set off over against society as opposed to being a people in and among society in God’s Mission. Missiologists Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost,  two of the main leaders of the missional church movement in N America, have challenged evangelicals in this regard to embrace a “missional ecclesiology” in N America.

Early on in their writing, Frost and Hirsch chided the N. American church for its obsession with attracting people to come to its services and programs. In The Shaping of Things to Come, they labeled the N. American church as fundamentally “attractional.” It is structured primarily around a building which is to be the center of all its various services and programs. This “attractional” modus operandi has engulfed all of the church’s functions including evangelism. According to Hirsch and Frost, we even seek to reach the hurting and those seeking faith by inviting them to church to a program we built to meet their needs. For Frost and Hirsch, this notion of the church is fundamentally flawed. It depends upon the social orbit of Christendom society where the societal expectation is that the church would be the center for all things having to do with God. This Christendom world, however, is slowly passing away. Today, this attractional “indrag” works to close off the church from the hurting and the poor and the ever-increasing world of non-Christians.

For Frost and Hirsch, the N. American church is carrying on the bad habits of Christendom. We still believe we possess power and influence in our culture “to compel them to come to us.” We organize ourselves into hierarchical business like structures that centralize the church’s operations instead of dispersing it into the world. In order to preserve our own culture, we divide what is sacred (the church) from the secular (the world). It is a power play requiring those who believe to come to church to meet God.  As a result, the church is self-enclosed trying to defend its own view of the world. It has not only withdrawn from Mission, it has become antagonistic to it. In many ways then, Frost and Hirsch agree with just about everything I have written in The End of Evangelicalism? concerning evangelicalism’s practice of “the Christian Nation.”

In response to this state of affairs, Hirsch and Frost preach a dispersed notion of the church where it inhabits its neighborhoods and contexts of everyday life. Recounting some the core themes of missional thinkers, they unfurl how the church is to live missionally as an extension of the Mission of God in the world (not as a church that does missions as a program). We are to follow Christ and the incarnational model of God’s sending the Son into the very context, rhythms and language of everyday human life. We are to live inhabit the context and witness to the Kingdom. These are “the forgotten ways” of Jesus and His disciples, which bred the first mission into the world. It is only after we inhabit and identify with those we are with that the church can then take shape in terms of its programs and services. To do the reverse is to revert to the attractional ways of Christendom.

This brief summary does not do justice to the contributions of Hirsch and Frost to the burgeoning missional church movement in N. America. They have provoked the church, especially the evangelical church, to rethink its position in society and take up the posture of Christ in the world, who came humbly, vulnerably to serve, seek and save the lost. They offer us a practice of church that shapes us out of the dispassion and protectionism that has plagued so much of our churches. Their work is helping to shape among a politic of faithfulness for mission in our time.

Nonetheless, there is a potential ideological trap that lies within the missiological practices of Hirsch and Frost. It is the trap of de-ecclesiologizing the church’s relationship to society. By the word de-ecclesiologize, I am not referring merely to Frost/Hirsch’s resistance to the institutionizing of the church. Indeed some of that might be warranted. I refer instead to the separating of the practice of the church from any continuous work of the incarnate Christ in history as extended in the forms of the church by the Holy Spirit. If this happens, I contend that the church is set adrift from any determination in Christ and the work of Christ in the world. It becomes de-ecclesiologized.

This trap is not immediately apparent in Frost and Hirsch. On the contrary, they have written extensively in sympathy with theme of The End of Evangelicalism?: the restoring of Christ to the center of a politic of Mission in the world. The central task of their book ReJesus is to “reinstate the central role of Jesus … in the life and mission of God’s people.” They do not wish to separate the practice of the church from Christ, they seek to “reinstate” it. They often summarize their approach to this issue with the formula: “mission must precede ecclesiology and that Christology must precede missiology.” For Hirsch and Frost, this phrase requires that Christ must come first and be the source of the church’s formation in the world. It is Christology which drives Mission from which the church is birthed in the world.

It is this formula, however, and the assumptions behind it, that reveal the potential for the de-ecclesiologizing of the church in their ecclesiology. Implicit in this formula is that we (anyone) can know/encounter Christ determinately apart from the ongoing form of the church. The continuous forms of the church, including Eucharist, the preaching and interpretation of the canon of Scripture, the fellowship of the gifts, are therefore dispensable for Mission. Jesus forms the church directly in Mission and the church is de-ecclesiologized in Mission.

Hirsch and Frost of course are following the founding theological mantra of missional church theology, that “it is not the church that has a mission to bring God’s salvation to the world, it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” That the church should be defined as an extension of God’s Mission in the sending of the Son should not be questioned. Yet for Hirsch and Frost, this doctrine means that the church carries no continuous form from context to context. According to Hirsch, first comes entering the cultural context, identifying with its people, getting know, understand and live among the context. Only then, after one’s life takes shape in the culture, after redemption has taken hold in the culture, can the church take on forms. The church, as Alan is fond of saying, “comes out the back of mission.” The forms in which the church takes shape in the world are all a matter of post facto development after “we” have inhabited a context. The questions however remain: who are the ones who engage the context prior to being the church? Does not this missiological engagment assume the prior existence of the church? And how does one know Christ in this context apart from the continuous forms of the church to carry on His presence in the world?

Hirsch and Frost imply in ReJesus that it is through “a direct and unmediated relationship” between the individual believer and Christ that He is known in the context (ReJesus 55). They go to great lengths to “debunk the many false images” of Jesus that have existed in the church down through the ages. They then seek to “go back to the daring, radical, strange, wonderful, inexplicable, unstoppable, marvelous, unsettling, disturbing, caring, powerful God-Man” (ReJesus 105,111). They recognize here that we must allow all the various images of Jesus in the gospels to drive our encounter with the world. There is a serious attention given to the texts of Scripture in defending the “wild Messiah” Jesus they advocate as the basis for Mission in the world. There remains the question however, how do we seek after this Jesus without ourselves becoming victums of another encultured view of Christ? this time the Wild Messiah as portrayed and argued for by Hirsch and Frost. For Frost and Hirsch it is a fresh encounter with the living Christ which over comes the forms of the church instead of being made manifest in these same forms as Christ has given them to the church. The danger here is that Christians are left without a basis for our very connection to the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in the Triune history. We become a bunch of individuals seeking a personal mystical experience of Christ via our own interpretation of the gospels. We become individual worshipers of a self-described Jesus devoid of the means to be immersed in the work of the Triune God in the world.

The church however has been given practices from Christ and in continuity with Christ as the Sent One to embody Christ in the world by the Spirit. Within these practices of the Eucharist, the preaching of the Word, baptism, the fellowship of the “gifts” through mutual submission, ordination, service to the poor (Matt 25), the presence of Christ in mutual discernment (Matt 18:15-20) the body of Christ is materialized in the world. These various practices must be contextualized for each place we inhabit God’s Mission. Yet it is here in these practices that we learn that the incarnation is more than a principle to be applied as a missiological method – it is a reality extended in and thru the church. These practices should not separate us from the world, they should incarnate us as His body in the world. To somehow separate these practices from the extended work of Christ in history into the world via the Spirit is to risk setting up on high an ideological picture of Jesus as the possession of each individual. Instead through these simple ecclesial practices, we are enabled as individuals to submit to and participate in the full Trinitarian Mission of God of which the church has been sent and is a part. In these ways, missiology does not precede ecclesiology, missiology is ecclesiology and vice versa..

The danger in all of this is that the church falls into the trap of becoming ideologized. Without the forms of the church, we Christians are left without a source of political formation in the world. Without a practice to be formed “in Christ,” we as individuals instead gravitate around compelling causes, which often can be used and manipulated for ulterior purposes, whether it be the building of a large organization or the accumulation of power for purposes devoid of Christ. If the church has no stance from which to engage the world, discern the issues, and engage God’s work in the world, it is susceptible to disappearing as it is contextualized out of existence. It can then become an ideology or worse, the instrument of an ideology. Either way the church loses its faithfulness. “Mission” becomes an ideological banner because it too is undetermined by a concrete practice in the world. It in essence becomes a concept to be applied. We can be lured to put it to the service of the pragmatics of making the church more successful in terms and for purposes that have little to do with God’s Mission. In all these ways, de-ecclesiologizing the church’s place in the world makes the church susceptible to the trap of becoming the instrument of ideology, repeating (what I show in the End of Evangelicalism?) the evangelical mistake of “the Christian Nation.”

Hirsch and Frost rightly want to guard against the Western habit of imposing a form of imperialism on the host cultures we seek to inhabit. They want to guard against the church thinking its got it all figured out before it lands in a culture. They want to guard against the tendency for the church to think that the Holy Spirit is only working in the church and its practices. For all of this Hirsch and Frost are to be applauded. With Frost and Hirsch, we should understand that the practice of the church needs be contextualized although not discarded. The church has failed often in its history at this. We need to realize that God’s Mission is at work outside the church, that Jesus is Lord over all things, and the church exists to inhabit, discern and be responsive to His work, not our own pre agendas. The church has failed at this. We need to listen to Hirsch and Frost. Yet we must do so while taking heed to avoid the trap of de-ecclesiologizing the church stance in society.

There is no question in my mind that Hirsch and Frost are leading post evangelicalism towards a new faithfulness for Mission. They teach us how to be Christ’s body, His very incarnate reality in the world. They teach us the ways of compassion, of being among the poor and the needy, they teach us how to be an hospitable witness that embodies the justice of Christ in the world. These are truly the beginnings of a politic of faithfulness. If there is to be such a politic in our future however, we must avoid the trap of de-eccelesiologizing our belief and practice of the church in society.


What do you think? Does Alan and Michael fall into the trap of de-ecclesiologizing the church? Have I fallen into the error of Catholicism (please describe what that might be for you eh?)? Does this matter?

Posted in Ecclesiology, Missional Ecclesiology, Missional Theology, Uncategorized
27 comments on “The Emerging View of the Church in Society: Alan Hirsch/Michael Frost and the Danger of De-Ecclesiologizing The Church in Mission
  1. Echoes of my post on the weekend, "Why Christology is Not Enough" tho you are clarifying the issues.
    If we completely write off the human, institutional form we are falling into one side of the gnostic error. The temptation is huge, however, and I guess this is why Belcher and others are advocating a "third way." Come to think of it, that is really the direction of Todd Hunter in both his recent books also.
    I've been reading in Mike Breen and Bob Hopkins lately, "Clusters." They argue that there is indeed a via media out there, existing between "attractional" and "incarnational" – they call it "engaged," and they see it as a viable imagination wherever there are echoes of Christendom (most places in North America, less so in Europe). They define "attractional" as the "COME" church, "incarnational" as the "GO" church, and "engaged" as a transitional phase that "GOs" and invites to "COME." The motive of their attempt is missional, and they are looking for a way to genuinely release and empower people without losing the center of covenant and accountability, retaining the biblical functions as we find in Acts 2.
    A second point they make strongly that relates to your questions above, they argue for IN/UP/OUT and "OF." It's this latter one element that is so easily lost when we leave inherited church behind – the sense of catholicity, but more than its sense some means of practice that enables ongoing exchange and immersion in the memories that are rooted in other communities.

  2. winn collier says:

    Thank you, David, this is an important sound to hear these days, I think.

  3. Bill says:

    I had not read Hirsch quite the same way – the direct and unmediated relationship between individual believer and Christ. – along with the idea that church comes out of the back of mission. You ask whether missional engagement assumes the prior existence of church, and in light of your summary, it would seem the answer for Hirsch and Frost must be no. Your thoughts are spot on, as usual, but it almost seems to me that you would take the posture of ecclesiology precedes missiology rather than missiology is ecclesiology, though I hear you saying that ultimately church is mission (maybe imposing my thoughts as I don't see the individual being able to fathom the relationship apart from church and thereby being formed for purposes of mission)

  4. Peggy says:

    Having just posted a bit on this new book myself, I find that I understand what you're saying — but think it might be a case of "methinks he doth protest too much".

    The organic/missional church is frequently confronted with those who are afraid of both this and "heresy" — as if the Holy Spirit is not able to teach and lead competently. Perhaps it is a holding-on to the security of "history" rather than being able to have God lead us on down the road to a new place.

    For many (most?) of those for whom organic and/or missional are where the Spirit is leading, it is precisely because the forms of church they have experienced have been so toxic that they must move away. That does not mean that they are going as "individuals" — they are going as disciples of the wild Messiah. They are being gathered together so that they may engage the incarnational/missional pulse in the situation in which they find themselves.

    Hirsch and Frost are not anti-church. I believe that they are not convinced that the institutionalized church that many hold to is the "right" form of church. My experience is right with them — moving away from 40+ years of practice into something very other. And I have had to move away so that I might see clearly enough to peal away the "laminations" of the institution in order to free the living organic body.

    Perhaps many forms of the church have, like Eustace, wandered into the dragon's lair of consumerism and patriarchy and numerous other disractions … and has awakened to find that is has turned into a dragon itself. Today's fantasy world would welcome a friendly dragon that is powerful and flies and breathes fire with which to vanquish all its foes. But, again like Eustace, it will find that the Body of Christ is a human reality … and keeping and feeding and trying to carry a dragon along a wild sea-faring journey is just not practical. And so the Dragon that was Eustace follows Aslan and submits to the Lion's claws in order to be un-dragoned and the boy trapped inside is set free to journey with his companions again.

    There is much to be gained from the continuity of the church's history. But it is too easy to set up the form as an idol and find Jesus outside that door knocking….

    …or so this wee abbess thinks!


  5. Mijk V. says:

    Hi Peggy,

    Your last paragraph is dead on. Something in our fallen nature tempts us toward calcifying our traditions into idols. I think Frost and Hirsch are amazing cultural exegetes and help our churches in the West see where we might be getting crusty.

    Your response to concerns over heresy is the same that I heard Al once give, and exemplifies a significant problem in his thinking. Trusting in the Holy Spirit to teach and lead as if it is something that happens independently from particular people in particular places at particular times (i.e. history) is to adopt a dualism à la old school Protestant liberal theology. Frost and Hirsch identify with, in part, Von Harnack`s quest to free Christianity from centuries of superstition. Somehow in their critique of Von Harnack, however, they failed to realize that they are repeating Harnack`s mistake by basing their endeavor on the same faulty set of assumptions. Namely, that history and tradition are different than, and often obfuscate, truth or some kind of "core essence." With this approach, I'm not sure how they expect the biblical canon or the Nicene understanding of Christ to survive this sort of ahistorical deconstruction.

    • Peggy says:

      …well, it's never an either/or, is it? It is both/and — both the church and the Holy Spirit are working together to keep the mission of God moving forward. There are those who do not have access to the history of the church…and the Holy Spirit is more than capable of helping them, eh? Respect for the traditions is wonderful … but so is sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit.


  6. James says:

    I think you're spot on. I had some similar thoughts running through my mind as I read ReJesus, especially the section where, as you noted, they identified a list of "false Jesuses" and then offered there own "wild Messiah." Who's to say their version of Jesus is not just as culturally limited as another's?

    For me, this is why we need tradition, not that we must follow it blindly, but so that we can test what we think the Spirit is saying to us through scripture against how other Christians, down through the centuries have heard the Spirit speaking through scripture. We need that historical consciousness, so that we are reminded of our own cultural limitations, and don't end up fashioning a mission after our own image.

    Of course I'm giving away my own evangelical-catholic leanings here, but further to the point, we can't simply skip over 2000 years of history and get back to the "real Jesus," as the history of doctrine is simply a matter of cultural encrustations which need to be peeled back. The christological and trinitarian dogmas of classical Christianity, for example, were not mere speculations, but the response of the Church to distortions of the gospel. If we don't pay attention to the theological struggles of our predecessors, we are in danger of repeating their mistakes. Of course their views must be critiqued in light of our reading of scripture today, but I thought (in my reading), ReJesus was a bit flippant in dismissing theological development.

    I'm getting off a bit onto doctrine vs. your focus on practices, but the general point is similar, I think.

    I look forward to reading the book when it comes out.

  7. fitchest says:

    Ok… I get the rejection of the forms of the church as being toxic … I get we have been abused by misuse of structure … I get and support what Alan and Michael are workingt towards here … the last few paragraphs are pretty clear on that eh?
    I get that the Spirit leads anew …and I am fine with the Spirit speaking to individuals … .The question is how does a politic of faithfulness take shape in the world? i.e a way of life together shaped out of our life with God thru Christ into participation in His mission?
    Who is the “we” that Alan and Michael are encouraging to become incarnational? did it exist prior to and out of what?
    On what basis are we formed into a people of distinctive mission? Scriptures? ok, where did they come from? and how might we interpret them?
    To me, the problem at the core here reveals an evangelcial individualist epistemology that – eventually – dooms us to becoming the same kind of evangelicals all over again …
    My final question> How can we dehistoricize our relationship to Christ (separate it from historical development of forms continuous with Christ and the apostles) and still stay faithful to the incarnational (God entering history) reality of Christ?
    Len, I’m with you, this epistemology eventually creates conditions for a mission extracted from the economic workings of the Trinity . i.e. the Missional God.
    All this to say, even if I have this one bone to pick, one danger I’m trying to give warning to, I still love the work of Alan Hirsch … the guy’s a great bro!
    David Fitch

    • Peggy says:

      Thanks, David…I appreciate your love and support of Alan — and we are all entitled to have our "bones" to pick ;^) And I can appreciate raising a warning flag. I just hope folks know the difference between a warning flag and error. Thanks for hosting this conversation!

  8. After reading your post I went back to work ;-) One of the very next things I read was a quote in Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology, that seems to sum up my take on the issue (and to be the basis for my reading of Frost and Hirsch). It is a recollection of a statement made by an Asian delegate to the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. The delegate is reported to have said something like this:

    “You have sent us your missionaries, who have introduced us to Jesus Christ, and for that we are grateful. But you have also brought us your distinctions and divisions: some preach Methodism, other Lutheranism, Congregationalism or Episcopalianism. We ask you to preach the Gospel to us, and to let Jesus Christ himself raise from among our peoples, by the action of his Holy Spirit, a Church conforming to his requirements and also to the genius of our race. This Church will be the Church of Christ in Japan, the Church of Christ in China, the Church of Christ in India; it will free us from all the isms with which you colour the preaching of the Gospel among us” (Erickson, Christian Theology, 1138, emphasis mine).

    Of course the issues of foundation that you raise continues to be a need even in situations like this. For example (based upon this example alone), there must be clear foundations for what the Gospel is, who Jesus is, how we understand the Holy Spirit, etc.

    So it appears that we need a middle ground. People do need to encounter the Jesus of the Bible (in as many ways as we can understand him based upon our cultural situation). But this encounter brings them into the Church (with all of its rich and varied history, belief, and theology). The secret is how to help this church remember the multitude of other cultures that exist and use means to introduce them to Jesus as well.

  9. John Teeling says:

    Wow! Great job, David. I love Jesus' Church and His Mission and any discussion aound these topics. I am still believing that the westernized 'local church system" has shipwrecked a long time ago – we're just seeing the washed-up pieces more and more now. And dare I say, more and more in the future. You said, "We must avoid the trap of de-eccelesiologizing our belief and practice of the church in society." but is de-eccelesiologizing of the local church system a trap or may it be a good thing? I am still dealing with the shipwreck of my own vision of community and my vision of Jesus' desire that we would be one. I think that functionalchurch's response regarding the asian group is really the issue: preaching the gospel with humility not from a ego, ethno, or whatevero centric point of view.

    David, your final question: How can we dehistoricize our relationship to Christ (separate it from historical development of forms continuous with Christ and the apostles) and still stay faithful to the incarnational (God entering history) reality of Christ?

    I don't know have an answer to your question. However, I would suggest that we de-kingdomize local church systems and fiefdoms. Also, de-general-pattonize the model for Christian leaders in the world. I may have a better answer in the future as I de-toxify myself by inhaling the reality of Jesus Christ's crucification, death, burial and resurrection over and over again. BTW: Your posts are refreshing. Thank you.

  10. tedstur says:

    Since I am involved in global missions I often marvel at how little exchange is being done by missioligists and theologians on topics like this.

    Within the missions world there is a challenge to any sort of historical ecclesiology. "Insider Movements" and other forms of "highly contextualized" forms of Christianity are the current rage with many. They spring in part from the book Churchless Christianity, by Herbert Hoefer which was written some time ago about movements in India which had no connection to the historical Christian church. The resulting "church" forms were radically different than what we encounter in the West.

    Today there are proponents of missionary efforts which focus on divorcing the message of Christ from "Christendom" – that historical (oftentimes institutional) practice of Christianity in the West. Reading these posts reminds me that the discussion among the emerging church advocates is very similar to these Insider Movement advocates.

    The significant difference is that it is being held in a post-modern context instead of a Muslim or Hindu context. The Muslim oriented C-Scale seeks to rank identity and forms of the church along a continuum where 1 represents less contextualized forms and 5 highly Islamic forms (6 is reserved for secret believers living under persecution). It would be interesting to see somebody develop the "P-Scale" which would rank how postmodern a particular church form might be.

    • i agree with what i see dr. fitch is trying to get at in an earlier comment about the underlying epistemologies and how that affects everything. i believe there are some frequently unexamined assumptions about the C-scale and i didn't want to let that go by without some push-back.

      the C-scale has its uses, and someone doing the P-scale for postmodern cultures might lead to some very interesting research and development and practices. however, it seems to me that the C-scale has the problem of assuming a two-dimensional linear scale of contextualization. i see that as a flawed assumption. when we were asked in a seminary missions course which church for/by Muslims is "the most biblical" of C1 through C6, my response was that all were somewhat biblical and somewhat unbiblical, but in different ways. i guess that wasn't the answer the teachers were looking for, though …

      instead of all the forms of contextualizations on the same scale/line, i'd like to advocate for a multi-linear/three-dimensional volume system which shows the overall dimensions of cultural relevance and resistance in multiple directions. that would let us compare and contrast the cultural distance between multiple kinds of contexts … compared to each other AND to universal biblical mandates.

      so, i'm working to develop a system based on epistemologies, not theologies or culturologies or surrounding religious contexts, if that all makes sense. back to the epistemology issue, i agree that people of different disciplines need some cross-pollinization. if we're still dividing missiology from theology, we'll never get to a true paradigm shift toward a holistic, (re-)integrated systems approach to all God intends for us to be, do, think, imagine, value, relate, reflect, etc.

  11. @adampenner says:

    Great insights David…

    While I agree with you theologically about the epistemological nature of community (i'm anabaptist), I tend to see the opposite to be true in reality. Let me explain…

    You seem to be saying that Church "forms" that H and F are critiquing provide epistemological necessity for theological inquiry/expression. However, I feel this is too reductionistic. Aren't our communities interpreting through a much more robust mixture of "forms", human personality, divine gifts, traditional interpretations, cultural contexts? H and F are (I think!) suggesting that when Church "forms" (Attractional) are the organizing principle of these complex inputs, the structures will subsume and compromise mission (I'm an Ellul fan, if you can't tell). H and F seem to be suggesting that we place Mission as the organizing principle (by use of the term "communitas") which itself binds and shapes the community as an epistemological reality. Of course, you cannot divorce "mission" from all of our own opinions about what "mission" constitutes, but I prefer it to "forms" as an organizing principle. And… on the street… it seems to be working to catalyze, shape, and discipline dynamic communities of faith.

  12. alan hirsch says:

    This has been a profoundly stimulating post Dave and others. Its hard to know how to respond. I guess I should just say that the issue is like chicken and egg debates. I do believe mission is prior to ecclesiology because that draws from the Missio Dei when is in eternity. But I don't believe in a church-less mission. Also understand that Frosty and I are probably correctives to the system. I think we can do well to let go a little of our ecclesiological concerns, and the tyranny of the cultural forms, in order to find ourselves on the creative adventure of God's mission again.

  13. Tiggy says:

    My goodness, do you really think anyone outside the church gives a shit? This very discussion is symptomatic of the church's getto mentality. The majority of Christians don't even spend any time with people who aren't Christians – they would rather be closeted away in their nice safe buildings with their nice safe Christian friends. They're an inward-looking irrelevance, a bunch of frightened people huddled together for security. There's a whole world out there full of people created by God – go and love them unconditionally.

    • fitchest says:

      Do you think this – go and love them unconditionally – happens naturally?
      David Fitch

    • tedstur says:

      Tiggy, people outside the church care a lot.

      When the Moral Majority decided that their mission was to reclaim government, they cared. When the church in Europe decided to care for the poor, sick, and dying during the great plagues they cared. When Martin Luther King Jr. rallied the black church to racial justice, they cared. When the church put Galileo in prison, they cared. Soon, the Chinese government will notice the huge church within their midst, and they will care.

      This to me is part of the problem we have. We can be isolationist in a number of ways. One way is what you suggest (hiding within the walls of the church). Another way is to avoid this discussion in the name of "irrelevance."

      Ideas have consequences and they are worth discussing as long as it doesn't replace "going and loving them unconditionally."

  14. Thanks David for these engaging analysis and profound questions!

    From what I gather and understand (I stem from a german context, so my understanding is impaired by the cultural boundaries) I would see two issues adressed here:

    The first being the "chicken and egg" question mentioned by Alan before – do we need the church to be in contact with the triune god (let us not focus too much on Christ in this discussion). Yes we do and no we don't! The examples are manifold that churches plant churches or churches foster the development of others. Then there is the issue of Systematics – the existing church does have a strong theology which founds most of the missional initiatives as far as I am concerned. Then there are churches and missional communities which open the bible and construct their communities around the principles they find there. China would be an example for this. Sometimes existing churches are rather like a "common enemy" and the resulting missional communties are defined by "being different from the existing church" – there is a lot of sociology issues to be found there. But all of them are practical questions.
    Of course we would not know about christ in the world without the body of christ, which Alan and Michael love dearly as they state in "Shaping of Things to come" and their other books.

    Which brings me to the second and deeper issue of theology. To be honest, David, you sound a little bit like my old Professor in practical theology: A little to afraid of a change which has taken place since Bosch's "Transforming Mission" – Missiology is becoming rapidly the base from which theology is rebuild. A systematic theology build up upon the foundation of the missio dei is sadly lacking (the german speaking world is engaging in this at the moment, maybe there is a missio dei systematics in the years to come…).

    But the fact remains – we need to rethink and consequently rewrite theology on the basis of the mission of god. Every systematic topic will need to be reformulated along that lines. And yes, ecclesiology is among them. This will be a process, but I think one that cannot be stopped. If we need to de-ecclesiologize along that way, we must embrace this task gladly. The church is there and will be. What many people fail to see is that this is affecting all things, if we recognize the meaning that mission presents to life. Many have written about the kingdom of god – in order to transform reality together with god into his kingdom we need a new set of systematic theology.
    I hope this contributes to this engaging discussion here. I am looking forward to your responses…

  15. fitchest says:

    bjoernwagner … thanks for visiting and commenting. I actually think Bosch's "transforming Mission:" is more sophisticated than that. He realizes the foundations of modernity have been crashing and burning in large parts of the West … he is not easily dismissive of the historical … for me the categories are hardly Systematic versus Missiological …they are Story, Narrative (dare I say traditioned life) versus arbitrary vapid mystical individualism … which again I suggest leads to no Mission … because the Mission is Incarnational … only in the sense it is Trinitarian … that is generated from within the Father sending the Son .. which is extended by the Spirit … and the church being sent in that procession … to me THAT IS BOSCH … amen?
    and of course I agree with u that theology is always being written .. and of course ecclesiology needs to be contextualzied … DID I SAY SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY? … no my beef is an epsitemological one … one that sets us bac into the bad habits of modenrnity and evangelialism all over again …
    The fact that many misunderstand what I am saying here ..indicates to me we are all still deeply entertwined within these habits that we can't see them …
    So I take my shot at exposing some of these problems … peace …

    And Alan !!! blessings bro .. you and I have been at this one before .. no surprise … let the revolution carry on!
    So thanks for the charitable approach to me …

    • Hi David,

      thanks for replying! I did get you wrong on that – I totally agree with this (and your remarks about Bosch):

      "they are Story, Narrative (dare I say traditioned life) versus arbitrary vapid mystical individualism "

      if the thrust of your argument goes along that lines then I simply can't see it in your post above, but I have to be honest – I did not read your book nor too much of your blog in regards to this. So I am a bit of an amateur here…

      To tell you a little about us germans: We are struggeling with these epistemological issues for some time now and are right now on the verge of returning to a more community based stance in life. But we are a post-christendom society for more than 30 years now and in large parts of our country church doesn't exist. This is not an exageration. It simply isn't there any more. But I have still to learn what you mean by

      "one that sets us bac into the bad habits of modenrnity and evangelialism all over again … "

      all of the missio dei and a movement that is just emerging in germany called "society transformation" is about thinking and doing church differently – along the forgotten ways if you know what I mean. There is a book in translation into english by one of our theologians Johannes Reimer – I do not know what the title it will have, but some of the material we are working with in germany is due to the language barrier not available to the english speaking world. I wish it would be different…well…I am looking forward to your shot at exposing the problems, but already have a hunch, that Alan is right: We might find us not so far apart as we think – and all of us would be glad to discover that, wouldn't we? Unity is the one marker that we all need in the future – therein lies the major counteraction to that "arbitrary vapid mystical individualism" you were refering to…peace Björn

  16. alan hirsch says:

    Dave, you are a fine friend, a fine theologian, and this is a matter of nuance. I don't think we are too far apart on this at all. Besides, you're smarter than me!

    • Peggy says:

      hehehe, Al you and Dave and Brad are all so much smarter than me ;^) that I can even engage is testimony to the Spirit's ability to empower and enlighten….

  17. Barb says:

    Lots of good thoughts and discussion here – and lots that echo thoughts that I've had over the years. I reckon people are not too far apart as Alan says – but I don't think the issue is between the people in this discussion. My thoughts go to the second, third, fourth generation beyond the people in this discussion. As always, correctives are sometimes not heard in the context that they are spoken in but rather in isolation which means by the time you get to third or fourth generation away from the people who offer the correctives you get an out of balance theology and practice. My observation and concern is that completely unintentionally a deep lived ecclesiology is often lost by the people who hear some of this discussion. This is of course largely because of the individualised perspective of our Western world – but the discussion that we are talking about is heard by people entrenched in that world and we reinforce it. Don't have any answers really – the corrective is/has been necessary … As Alan says, the discussion is one of nuance and I suspect there is deep lived ecclesiology for most people deeply entrenched in the discussion – the question of how do we help people "taste" that depth of ecclesiology in the discussion as we share it might be a part of the practical outcomes of our concern.

  18. mick says:

    I appreciate both Alan and your writings, tho I've not read all of either. This is more confessional but I just think that if I "repent and believe" again that the kingdom is now come near in Jesus – I mean really be open to the Spirit's coming into my life and let Christ, his love and power rule and manifest itself in my life daily, as he wills – that he would be lifted up. I think if many of us gathered together in our steepled little (or big) buildings were praying for his Spirit to come and fill us and make us his holy people willing and ready to let him pour himself out thru us into the world wherever we are, we might not have to worry so much about the container. Why can"t we both go to church AND be the church at the same time? I do believe the Spirit is leading us away from church as merely a socio-political institution. But the Spirit-wind blows where it wills and we must not get ahead of him by thinking we can anticipate his next move and/or that he can only work one way at a time. Let God decide in every neighborhood when it's time to chuck an old wineskin for a new one.

    • Sylvia says:

      Mick, your comment pretty much sums up what I find the most practical solution for me, as I endeavor to share my faith with others both in the U.S. and in Mexico. I enjoying reading and thinking about the issues behind being a disciple of Jesus, but in the end I must go out and do something about it. I must not wait until I have it all figured out. – -"really be open to the Spirit's coming into my life and let Christ, his love and power rule and manifest itself in my life daily, as he wills – that he would be lifted up. I think if many of us gathered together in our steepled little (or big) buildings were praying for his Spirit to come and fill us and make us his holy people willing and ready to let him pour himself out thru us into the world wherever we are, we might not have to worry so much about the container. Why can"t we both go to church AND be the church at the same time?

  19. Btw. have you seen Andrew Perrimans Post in regards to yours?

    I think he is doing a good job, as far as I am able to comprehend the discussion that is being presented here (which I might not be doing too well…)

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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