Trinity and Mission

21 05 2011

Here is something I am wrestling with: Does mission arise from within the nature of God or does it flow out of God’s love? Is God a “Missionary God” essentially, or is he a “Loving God” who expresses himself in mission? I admire the works of many who try to make mission bound up within the Trinity, but if it is bound up in the Trinity, then doesn’t mission have to go beyond the restoration of all creation into heaven, and in some sense does mission exist into all eternity? If so, then in what sense will it continue to exist? I think that if we tie mission to who God is essentially, then, in some sense mission must be bigger than just what he does in Christ to restore creation back to himself. So is Mission bigger than we typically think of it, or is it attached to love in a way that makes it understood as we typically think of it? Thoughts…

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8 responses

21 05 2011
Jonathan

Well, since love is a part of the nature of God I’m not sure I understand the dichotomy. If by “nature of God” you simply mean Trinity, then I would say no. God’s choice to restore all things is not “because of” the Trinity, though every person of the Godhead is involved. Rather, God is love and God is righteous, therefore, he chose to devise a plan and carry it out so that his creation might be restored unto himself and evil banished forever.

So I guess I would be on the side of saying God’s mission to restore the world flows from his righteousness and his love. Thoughts?

22 05 2011
Justin Dodson

Yeah, that is the bent that I have as well. I just know that in “recent” (I use this term lightly) conversation, many have been attaching what God does to who God is. So that in some sense the working of God shows something of who he is, essentially or in his nature. So if God is a sending God in relation to the world, then is he “sending” in himself? I just struggle to make that connection, as many are doing, and I just don’t know if I am even representing their view correctly. It’s part of the ongoing discussion of how much we can know of the immanent and economic trinity, and I just struggle to make sense of Mission within this framework of the Trinity.

I do find it interesting that you choose righteousness as a key identifier of God though.

22 05 2011
Jonathan

Do you find my choice of righteousness interesting as a key identifier of God’s nature, or as the impetus for his choice to restore the world? Concerning God’s nature, I might not say it is an attribute of God like love or holiness is an attribute of God, but I would say that because of God’s nature he is always righteous in all of his choices and activities. Thus, because he is righteous in all of his choices and activities, he chose to restore the broken world rather than let it spiral out of control until obliteration.

22 05 2011
drdanebert

Your Post: “Here is something I am wrestling with: Does mission arise from within the nature of God or does it flow out of God’s love? Is God a “Missionary God” essentially, or is he a “Loving God” who expresses himself in mission?”

Some thoughts to carry on the conversation:

1. Using “Faith, Hope, and Love” (and taking them in the reverse order) to work on a theology of the church’s mission is surely fruitful (having both explanatory and pedagogical value). Keep up this exploration.

2. However, I think you should resist the inclination to frame this approach as an alternative or response to grounding the mission of God (and consequently the mission of the Church) in the Triune life of God, mainly for the following reasons:

(i) First, there is a compelling body of rich theological literature that roots the mission of God in the life of God, and the mission of the Church in that Triune life and work. Most recently, as you are aware, in John Fleet, The Witness of God. (And see all the literature cited there; again I recommend Chapter 6, “The Trinity is a Missionary God”). It would be a major theological coup d’état to overthrow this position. It is true that this enlarges our vision of what “mission” in theology and the life of the Church consists of, but perhaps this is what we need to overcome reductionist or high jacked visions. And this vision can surely be explicated and fleshed out in terms of “faith, hope, and love” which leads to my second point.

(ii) Setting these two in opposition is unnecessary. It is a slipping of categories. “Love” is an attribute of God’s perfection; while the Trinity is God’s “way of Being” as Father, Son, and Spirit. At the end of the day, the two go together perfectly. God sends his Son into the world because he loves the world; and God loves in this way because he is by the very nature of his Being (as he is within himself) a “loving,” “witnessing” and “sending” God.

(iii) Certainly there is further work needed on this theme of the Triune nature as the ground for the mission of God and the Church, but the basic theological logic is sound.

Your question, of course, is about this logic.

Your post: “. . .if God is a sending God in relation to the world, then is he “sending” in himself? I just struggle to make that connection, as many are doing, and I just don’t know if I am even representing their view correctly.”

Your post to me on Facebook: “I just have a hard time seeing how we can say God is a “Missionary God”. I just haven’t seen the logic very clearly, and his last quote in here (referring to Fleet quoted on my blog, http://www.drdanebert.com) makes multiple jumps that I was unable to follow. So if you could provide some clarity that would be awesome. I just need a succinct paragraph or so showing how we can jump from what God does to who he is.

Let me comment briefly on the logic of grounding mission in God’s Triune nature, and then deal with your further concern.

a. The Theological Logic for Grounding the Mission of God in His Triune Life

Nearly everything we know about the ontological nature of the Trinity (God as he is in himself) is derived from his self revelation in redemptive history (the economic Trinity). The Church confesses the eternal begetting of the Son (Nicene Creed) and the eternal procession of the Spirit ( WCF, II.3) on the basis of Johannine language (and other specific texts and images: Word, light, image, etc, as well as the entire NT narrative) about the sending of the Son into the world and the subsequent sending of the Spirit (e.g., John 15:26). In other words, we understand the ontological Trinity from the redemptive acts of the Trinity.

So the logic is as follows: God’s sending of the Son and the Spirit into the world to reconcile the creation is clearly missional; and since the functional Trinity teaches us about the ontological Trinity then the Triune God must be a missionary God. There are, of course, necessary nuances, but this is the basic theological logic.

“It is the proper work of the Son to witness to the Father (John 5:32), the proper work of the Spirit to witness to the Son (John 15:26; 14:26), while the Father witnesses to its truth (John 1:18; 5:36; 8:18; 17:26). Therefore, witness is internal to the life of God” (Fleet, 179).

b. Possible Objection

1. Your post: “. . . . if it is bound up in the Trinity, then doesn’t mission have to go beyond the restoration of all creation into heaven, and in some sense does mission exist into all eternity? If so, then in what sense will it continue to exist? I think that if we tie mission to who God is essentially, then, in some sense mission must be bigger than just what he does in Christ to restore creation back to himself. So is Mission bigger than we typically think of it, or is it attached to love in a way that makes it understood as we typically think of it? Thoughts…”

Response: Grounding of mission in the Divine Love seems to have the same putative problem (again, in my view grounding mission in love or grounding it in the divine life are inseparable). If “God is love” (John), and if love is a perfection of his eternal being, than wouldn’t such love (between Father, Son, and Spirit in their perichoretic life), which resulted in the mission of reconciling the creation, continue to function in eternity, only now encompassing redeemed humanity? What will that love, with its sending forth and enfolding the beloved within itself, look like? I would want to argue that both the divine love and the divine mission are “bigger than we typically think of [them].

This is why Fleet speaks of “witness” (and I would add “love” and in this larger sense “mission”) in the eschaton:

“Witness is not something beyond which the community will move in the eschaton. It is the very nature of the eschaton, for it is the very nature of the history that is the human fellowship with the divine (pp. 224-225).

Whew, that was more than I intended. Please feel free to push back on any of this. Blessings.

23 05 2011
Justin Dodson

Yeah, that is really helpful. I didn’t see the way I was putting love and mission over against one another until now. That really helps bring me into the false dichotomy I though I was making, but just couldn’t articulate. I think I’m starting to get the logic of how Flett, Bosch, Gunton, C. Wright, and others are starting to make sense of the ontological/ functional trinity. It’s just straight up mind blowing, and I’m trying to create new categories for thinking, because I realize that I have got to expand some of my categories if this so, especially that of life into the eschaton. I have NEVER thought about it in that sense, so its taking me into uncharted territory! Thanks for taking the time to respond!

23 05 2011
drdanebert

I posted some comments on “The Missional Church in Perspective” at the Ebertblog. This book is available on Kindle and I think it is a significant contribution.

24 05 2011
Jonathan

Dr. Ebert,
So, what is the relationship between ‘mission’ and ‘witness?’ I guess I’m asking for a more concise definition of ‘witness’ and then how that relates to what we commonly call ‘mission.’ Does that make sense?

24 05 2011
Dan Ebert

Jonathan, Words are slippery things, for sure. In the context of my post and Flett’s work”mission” is the larger activity which grows out of the very being of God, which results in his work to reconcile the world to himself (with all that this entails); while “witness” would be a subset of this, which also reflects the inter-divine life of the Triune God. Witness is simply the testifying to another in word and deed of the truth of who God is and what he does. Both the mission of God and the witness of God then are fleshed out in the mission of the Church as we participate in his life, and in his saving purposes in the world, and as we testify to the Triune God and his :”good news” of salvation.

When you refer to what “we commonly call ‘mission’” I am not sure what you are referring to exactly. Terms can sure shift meaning in different contexts.

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