Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church


Mis­sio Dei is a Latin the­o­log­i­cal term that can be trans­lated as “Mis­sion of God”, it refers to the work of the church as be­ing part of God’s work. So the church’s mis­sion is a sub­set of a larger whole mis­sion that is it is both part of God’s mis­sion to the world and not the en­tirety of God’s work in the world.[1]

This de­f­i­n­i­tion pro­vides a sim­ple in­tro­duc­tion to the con­cept of mis­sio Dei which is es­sen­tially that the work or mis­sion of the church is a sub­set of the work of God in the world, rather than some­thing with an in­de­pen­dent ex­is­tence. The use of mis­sio Dei has evolved con­sid­er­ably over the last fifty years, there­fore this es­say will start with a brief his­tor­i­cal overview of the term be­fore con­sid­er­ing the im­pli­ca­tions and use­ful­ness of con­tem­po­rary us­age, fo­cus­ing (not ex­clu­sively) on the Evan­gel­i­cal wing of the church[2].


The term mis­sio Dei, it­self has a long his­tory and can be traced at least as far back as Augustine[3]. It was Aquinas who first used the term to de­scribe the ac­tiv­ity of the tri­une God; the fa­ther send­ing the Son and the Son send­ing the Spirit[4]. In a mod­ern set­ting; Karl Barth, in a 1932 pa­per, set out the idea that mis­sion was God’s work and that au­then­tic church mis­sion must be in re­sponse to God’s mis­sio. This idea was picked up by Harten­stein who used the term mis­sio Dei to dis­tin­guish it from the mis­sio ecclesiae; the mis­sion of the church[5]. How­ever, it was at the 1952 Will­in­gen meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Mis­sion­ary Coun­cil that the con­cept of mis­sio Dei was fleshed out in de­tail. The term mis­sio Dei was not ac­tu­ally used at the Will­in­gen meet­ing though it was used by Hartenstein[6] in his sum­mary of the conference.


The meet­ing at Will­in­gen in Ger­many took place at a dif­fi­cult time in the life of the Church. The Sec­ond World War had been re­placed by the cold war and the church was com­ing to terms with the ex­pul­sion of mis­sion­ar­ies from China.[7] Against this pes­simistic back­ground Will­in­gen fleshed out the the­ol­ogy of mis­sion that Barth, Harten­stein and oth­ers had been mov­ing to­wards. In his re­port of the con­fer­ence Harten­stein de­scribed mis­sion as “par­tic­i­pa­tion in the send­ing of the Son, in the mis­sio Dei, with an in­clu­sive aim of es­tab­lish­ing the Lord­ship of Christ over the whole re­deemed creation[8]. Ac­cord­ing to Go­heen, there are two new par­tic­u­lar em­phases on mis­si­o­log­i­cal think­ing which emerged from Willingen.

First, mis­sion is first and fore­most God’s mis­sion. The church does not have a mis­sion of its own. Rather the pri­mary em­pha­sis is on what God is do­ing for the re­demp­tion of the world. There­after, con­sid­er­a­tion is given to how the church par­tic­i­pates in God’s re­deem­ing mis­sion. Sec­ond, God’s mis­sion is de­fined in terms of the Tri­une char­ac­ter and work of God.[9]

The Trini­tar­ian em­pha­sis was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant. “Mis­sion was un­der­stood as be­ing de­rived from the very na­ture of God. It was thus put in the con­text of the doc­trine of the Trin­ity, not of ec­cle­si­ol­ogy or soteriology.”[10]. En­gelsviken sug­gests that this em­pha­sis on a Trini­tar­ian ba­sis for mis­sion is a more im­por­tant out­come from Will­in­gen than “the some­what am­bigu­ous phrase mis­sio Dei.”[11] While there was sub­stan­tial agree­ment on the use of ter­mi­nol­ogy and the Trini­tar­ian na­ture of mis­sion, the Will­in­gen par­tic­i­pants were un­able to agree on the ex­tent of God’s mis­sion and the Church’s role within it.


“In Will­in­gen and pe­riod fol­low­ing, two ma­jor – and some­what com­pet­ing – ap­proaches to mis­sio Dei emerged. The first one, a dom­i­nant view in the Will­in­gen meet­ing, un­der­stood mis­sion as God’s evan­ge­liz­ing ac­tion through the church. The sec­ond, which raised se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion to the dom­i­nant Will­in­gen view was de­vel­oped later… It con­ceived mis­sio Dei as God’s ac­tiv­ity in the sec­u­lar world over and above the church, say­ing, ‘the world pro­vides the agenda.’”[12]

Go­heen de­fines these two points of view as Chris­to­cen­tric-Trini­tar­ian and Cosmocentric-Trinitarian[13]. (Philip[14] uses the terms church-cen­tric and world-cen­tric). The Chris­to­cen­tric sees God’s mis­sion as cen­ter­ing on the work of Christ through the Church, whereas the Cos­mo­cen­tric view (of which the Dutch mis­si­ol­o­gist Hoek­endijk was the most promi­nent pro­po­nent) sees God’s mis­sion as be­ing ac­tive in all of the cos­mos. For Hoek­endijk, the church is an appendix[15]. to God’s work. “When one de­sires to speak about God’s deal­ings with the world, the church can be men­tioned only in pass­ing and with­out strong emphasis.”[16] For Hoek­endijk, God is at work in the world which then has an ef­fect on the church, as op­posed to the clas­si­cal view which saw God at work in the church and through the church to the wider world.[17] The stress on God’s mis­sion through the wider world and not just the church was such that New­bi­gin could write that “Mao’s Lit­tle Red Book’ be­came al­most a new Bible.[18]

Through the 1960s an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple from a va­ri­ety of con­fes­sional back­grounds adopted Hoek­endijk’s views[19] to such an ex­tent that at the 1968 Up­p­sala con­fer­ence of the WCC “the church was of­ten ridiculed and … the church it­self was seen as an arena for mission”[20]. “By con­se­quence, evan­ge­lism prac­ti­cally dis­ap­peared from the mis­sion agenda of main­line churches in the West and North”[21].

Through the decade of the 1960s there was an in­creas­ing po­lar­iza­tion be­tween those who took op­pos­ing views of the role of the Church in mis­sion. Broadly speak­ing, Evan­gel­i­cals con­tin­ued to be­lieve in a dy­namic role for the church in mis­sion, whereas those with an ec­u­meni­cal per­spec­tive tended to fol­low Hoek­endijk’s Cos­mo­cen­tric model. This dif­fer­ence in views led to a split “be­tween the evan­gel­i­cal churches and the ec­u­meni­cally aligned churches and or­ga­ni­za­tions and thus to one of the biggest po­lar­iza­tion processes in the church in the west since the Sec­ond World War”[22]. One con­se­quence of this split was the es­tab­lish­ment of the evan­gel­i­cal Lau­sanne move­ment as a coun­ter­point to the World Coun­cil of Churches[23].


In the in­ter­ven­ing years, new in­sights have been read into the con­cept of mis­sio Dei, lead­ing to a slight blur­ring of the ex­tremes of in­ter­pre­ta­tion. How­ever, these two broad un­der­stand­ings of mis­sio Dei –Chris­to­cen­tric and Cos­mo­cen­tric – can still be dis­cerned in the lit­er­a­ture. For this rea­son we will ex­am­ine the way in which the dif­fer­ent views of mis­sio Dei have an im­pact on teach­ing about the King­dom of God, the Church and other religions.

Missio Dei and the Kingdom of God

Vide­com pub­lished a book en­ti­tled Mis­sio Dei in 1965; in this book he closely tied mis­sio Dei to the King­dom of God. How­ever, Vide­com used King­dom of God in two dis­tinct ways; the rule of God over the whole of cre­ation and the restora­tion of re­la­tion­ships with God and hu­man­ity through the death of Christ. This in­con­sis­tency facilitated[24] the di­ver­gence in un­der­stand­ing of mis­sio Dei which de­vel­oped dur­ing the 1960s.

If the King­dom of God is seen as be­ing God’s rule over the whole of cre­ation, then its re­al­iza­tion is pri­mar­ily in terms of so­cial and eth­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. This view sees the ad­vance­ment of the King­dom as in­clud­ing the whole of his­tory with the Church as a wit­ness or per­haps a par­tic­i­pant in its re­al­iza­tion. This view clearly aligns with Hoek­endijk’s view of mis­sio Dei. The al­ter­na­tive view of the King­dom ac­knowl­edges that God rules over all of his­tory, but sees the King­dom as specif­i­cally re­fer­ring to the im­pact of the re­demp­tive work of Christ. In this view, which fits a Chris­to­cen­tric view of mis­sio Dei, the Church is the peo­ple who be­long to the King­dom and clearly must play a cen­tral role in its inauguration.

Missio Dei and the Church

His­tor­i­cal, de­nom­i­na­tional mis­sions were func­tioned as Eu­ro­pean-based na­tional churches ex­tend­ing their bound­aries into un­reached parts of the world[25] with their own in­sti­tu­tional ex­pan­sion and sur­vival as priority[26]Mis­sio Dei brings a cor­rec­tion to this view by putting God, not the church or de­nom­i­na­tion, at the cen­tre of mis­sion. Mis­sion is the orig­i­na­tor of the Church, not the other way round[27].

As we have seen, Hoek­endijk placed a strong em­pha­sis on mis­sion be­ing God cen­tered: “Church-cen­tric mis­sion­ary think­ing is bound to go astray, be­cause it re­volves around an il­le­git­i­mate centre”[28]. This strong em­pha­sis led to a vir­tual re­pu­di­a­tion of any role for the Church in mission.

By way of con­trast, Newbigin[29] sug­gests that the Trini­tar­ian na­ture of mis­sion im­plies an im­por­tant role for the Church. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and com­mu­nity lies at the heart of the Trin­ity and there­fore must lie at the heart of Trini­tar­ian mis­sion. The call to con­ver­sion is a call to be­come part of a com­mu­nity, the Church, and comes from that com­mu­nity. Oth­ers ex­press sim­i­lar thoughts: “Both the church and the mis­sion of the church are tools of God, in­stru­ments through which God car­ries out this mission.”[30] “Mis­sion is thereby seen as a move­ment from God to the world. The church is viewed as an in­stru­ment for that mission”[31]. In this view, the whole pur­pose of the Church is to sup­port the mis­sio Dei[32] and Church struc­tures ex­ist in or­der to serve the com­mu­nity in mission[33].

Missio Dei and Other Religions

While the Church is key to God’s work in the world, Mis­sio Dei  teaches us that we need to see God on a broader can­vas than just through the work of the church.

“Mis­sion as mis­sio Dei nec­es­sar­ily rel­a­tivizes West­ern un­der­stand­ing of mis­sion. God can­not be re­stricted to what has been and is hap­pen­ing in West­ern cul­tural Chris­tian­ity. God’s work is uni­ver­sal in its impact”[34].

See­ing God at work in a uni­ver­sal sense im­plies that Chris­tians need to have a hum­ble ap­proach to other re­li­gions. For some, who adopt the cos­mo­cen­tric ap­proach to mis­sio Dei, this means that they see other re­li­gions as be­ing able to bring sal­va­tion in the same way as Christianity[35].

“The Mis­sion of the Church is not God’s only mis­sion. It is not even his only world-wide mis­sion… Few of us Chris­tians know much about God’s mis­sion in the Is­lamic ven­ture, God’s mis­sion to In­dia and nowa­days to the world through the Hindu venture”[36].

Those who take the Chris­to­cen­tric view agree that we need to en­ter into hum­ble di­a­logue with other faiths, how­ever they also stress that it is im­por­tant to “do jus­tice to our Trini­tar­ian faith” and “to point peo­ple to Christ”[37].

Evangelicals and Missio Dei

Mis­sio Dei is a the­ol­ogy which em­pha­sizes both the im­per­a­tive for mis­sion and the Sov­er­eignty of God. It is sur­pris­ing, there­fore, that Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians (es­pe­cially those of a Re­formed back­ground) who tend to em­pha­size the same things, have ap­par­ently paid lit­tle at­ten­tion to mis­sio Dei[38]. Lee[39] says that evan­gel­i­cals lag be­hind ec­u­meni­cals in de­vel­op­ing a mis­sio Dei the­ol­ogy, though he does not ex­plain why that might be so. Wick­eri says that con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cals’ “un­der­stand­ing of mis­sion is quite dif­fer­ent to the mis­sio Dei”[40]It is no sur­prise that when evan­gel­i­cals do talk about mis­sio Dei, they adopt a Chris­to­cen­tric view rather than fol­low Hoek­endijk’s line[41]. It could well be that the strong sep­a­ratist strand which is of­ten a fea­ture of Evan­gel­i­cal life means that they are re­luc­tant to adopt a term which is in some way ‘tainted’ by lib­er­al­ism or sec­u­lar­ism. The di­vide in Evan­gel­i­cal cir­cles about the role of so­cial ac­tion in mis­sion also im­pacts their adop­tion of mis­sio Dei.  Chai says that the Evan­gel­i­cal mega-churches in Ko­rea see mis­sion purely in terms of sal­va­tion and so sug­gests that they do not take mis­sio Dei se­ri­ously[42]. How­ever, there is in­creas­ingly a strong Trini­tar­ian as­pect in Evan­gel­i­cal mis­si­ol­ogy. This is il­lus­trated by the Iguas­sou de­c­la­ra­tion: “All the per­sons of the God­head are ac­tive in God’s re­deem­ing mission”[43]..

Trinitarian Mission

The fact that mis­sio Dei is used as a term to cover such a wide range of mean­ing does de­tract from its use­ful­ness. Kirk[44] says “mis­sio Dei has been used to ad­vance all kinds of mis­si­o­log­i­cal agen­das”. Pos­si­bly, be­cause of the con­fu­sion which this lack of de­f­i­n­i­tion en­gen­ders, the term is ac­tu­ally used less fre­quently in cur­rent lit­er­a­ture as com­pared to twenty or thirty years ago[45].

There are a num­ber of weak­nesses in the cos­mo­cen­tric un­der­stand­ing of mis­sio Dei. The un­der­stand­ing of the King­dom of God as cov­er­ing the whole of hu­man his­tory does not seem to re­flect Jesus as­ser­tion that the King­dom ‘drew near’ through his min­istry (Mark1:15). Equally, the ap­proach that sees other re­li­gions as be­ing mis­sions equiv­a­lent to the mis­sion of the Church does not do jus­tice to Jesus claims to unique­ness, nor the Trini­tar­ian na­ture of God. How­ever, per­haps the great­est weak­ness in the cos­mo­cen­tric ap­proach is the idea that God’s king­dom is be­ing in­au­gu­rated through a con­tin­ual im­prove­ment in so­cial and eth­i­cal con­di­tions. In the 1960s against a back­ground of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance and colo­nial-in­de­pen­dence this may have seemed at­trac­tive. How­ever, hind­sight re­veals these im­prove­ments to have been false hopes, amount­ing to lit­tle more than a dif­fer­ent form of West­ern re­li­gious imperialism[46] which did not do jus­tice to the Bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive of fall and redemption.

De­spite the breadth of in­ter­pre­ta­tion ap­plied to the term, Bosch de­fends the con­cept of mis­sio Dei. “…it can­not be de­nied that the mis­sio Dei no­tion has helped to ar­tic­u­late the con­vic­tion that nei­ther the Church nor any other hu­man agent can ever be con­sid­ered the au­thor or bearer of mis­sion. Mis­sion is, pri­mar­ily and ul­ti­mately, the work of the Tri­une God, Cre­ator, Re­deemer and Sanc­ti­fier, for the sake of the world.”[47] Kirk em­pha­sizes the Trini­tar­ian na­ture of mis­sion. “When Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties speak about God, by de­f­i­n­i­tion they speak about Fa­ther, Son and Holy Spirit. There sim­ply is no other God. There­fore to speak about mis­sio Dei is to in­di­cate, with­out any qual­i­fi­ca­tion, the mis­sio Trinitatis”.[48]

De­spite the real dis­agree­ments which con­tinue to ex­ist, there is, ac­cord­ing to Kirke[49] and Richebacher[50] a de­gree of con­sen­sus is ap­pear­ing about the the­o­log­i­cal un­der­stand­ing of God’s mis­sion. “Dur­ing the past half a cen­tury or so, there has been a sub­tle, but nev­er­the­less de­ci­sive, shift to­ward un­der­stand­ing mis­sion as God’s mission.”[51]

Plac­ing God at the cen­tre of mis­sion also in­volves a re­ori­en­ta­tion of think­ing; “a shift from church-cen­tered mis­sion, to a mis­sion-cen­tered church”[52]. “The the­ol­ogy of mis­sion has be­come mis­sion­ary theology”.[53] In other words, the agenda for mis­sion­ary thought and ac­tion is de­fined by the char­ac­ter of God, not the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Church. The im­pli­ca­tions of this in the life and prac­tice of the Church are far reaching.

“evan­ge­lism is God’s work long be­fore it is our work. The Fa­ther pre­pares the ground, the Son gives the in­vi­ta­tion and the Spirit prompts the per­son to re­spond in re­pen­tance and faith to the good news.”[54]

The Trini­tar­ian na­ture of Mis­sio Dei brings all three per­sons of the God­head into fo­cus in mis­sion­ary the­ol­ogy. This has not al­ways been the case, for ex­am­ple, Go­heen sug­gests that be­fore Will­in­gen, Leslie New­bi­gin did not give any at­ten­tion to the role of the Fa­ther in mission.[55]

The Father in Mission

The over­whelm­ing mo­tive for mis­sion is the com­pas­sion and love of God for his creation[56] and the end point of mis­sion is the King­dom, the reign of God over his peo­ple. These twin themes from mis­sio Dei es­tab­lish the mo­ti­va­tion and at­ti­tude of the church in mis­sion. Mo­ti­vated by God’s love, the Church should not seek to dom­i­nate or im­pose it­self upon other peo­ple or or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­ual church groups or or­ga­ni­za­tions should not seek to ex­er­cise their rights to the detri­ment of oth­ers or of God’s mis­sion. “God’s reign can­not be re­duced to a hu­man level or made to serve hu­man purposes.”[57] The his­toric con­fu­sion of the Church’s mis­sion and the sec­u­lar po­lit­i­cal process in Chris­ten­dom is ex­cluded by mis­sio Dei. With this in mind, Wick­eri raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the align­ment be­tween the Church and the po­lit­i­cal state in the United States to­day, es­pe­cially in the light of the war in Iraq[58].

The tri­umphal­ism of much of the world mis­sion move­ment is drawn into ques­tion in the light of mis­sio Dei[59]There is also rea­son to ques­tion some as­pects of Amer­i­can man­age­r­ial mis­si­ol­ogy. Though, gen­er­ally, there has been a step away from the idea of Church-cen­tric mis­sions; groups such as AD-2000 seem to be ig­nor­ing this trend. The elab­o­ra­tion of mea­sur­able and achiev­able goals, which is part of this mis­si­o­log­i­cal ap­proach, could be seen as plac­ing hu­man tech­nique and mea­sure­ment at the cen­tre of mis­sion rather than God’s big­ger agenda. Be­cause God is the cre­ator of the whole world, sal­va­tion is not lim­ited to the sal­va­tion of souls but in­cludes the es­tab­lish­ment of a new heaven and a new earth.

The Son in Mission

The in­car­na­tion lies at the heart of God’s mis­sion and pro­vides the con­tent, model and the in­spi­ra­tion for the church’s mis­sion (John 20:21).

“The mis­sio Dei has al­ways been the Gospel, good news about God’s good­ness re­vealed in God’s word through Is­rael’s ex­pe­ri­ence, lead­ing up to its cli­max and cul­mi­na­tion in Jesus Christ.”[60]

The heart of the church’s mis­sion is to com­mu­ni­cate this Gospel of Christ’s in­car­na­tion, death and res­ur­rec­tion. But the mes­sage must be com­mu­ni­cated in a man­ner which is con­sis­tent with the char­ac­ter of Christ. The in­car­na­tion demon­strates that God’s mis­sion is not de­pen­dant on any one hu­man cul­ture or language.[61] Suf­fer­ing, too is an in­trin­sic part of the mis­sio Dei, rooted in the suf­fer­ing of the Son. “Mis­sio Dei al­ways leads us by way of Gol­go­tha, by the way of suffering”.[62] In be­com­ing a man, Jesus be­came poor and spent a lot of time with the poor, and fo­cus­ing on the needs of the poor is an in­trin­sic part of God’s pur­poses for the Church. Richebacher says that poverty is the most im­por­tant sign of the mis­sion­ary church be­cause Jesus’ mis­sion was ful­filled by be­com­ing poor[63] and while we may not agree that this is the most im­por­tant sign, it is clearly an ex­tremely im­por­tant one.

The Spirit in Mission

Christ sent his Spirit to em­power his church for mis­sion and to en­lighten those who are out­side of the King­dom. This means that the church must be re­liant on the Spirit both for its own ac­tiv­i­ties in mis­sion and for the ef­fect of its work. There should be no place for or­ga­ni­za­tion or plan­ning which ex­cludes the role of the Spirit.

“Mis­sion is not just some­thing that the church does; it is some­thing that is done by the Spirit, who is him­self the wit­ness, who changes both the world and the church, who al­ways goes be­fore the church on its mis­sion­ary journey.”[64]

New­bi­gin[65] sug­gests that young churches, planted by mis­sion­ar­ies from other cul­tures, should find their eth­i­cal guid­ance from the Spirit rather than from the teach­ing or mores of the mis­sion­ar­ies. In this way, the Gospel will have an au­then­tic en­counter with the new cul­ture and al­low the de­vel­op­ment of lo­cally rel­e­vant Chris­t­ian tra­di­tions and avoid­ing the im­po­si­tion of the mis­sion­ary culture.

The Usefulness of Missio Dei

We have al­ready in­di­cated the use­ful­ness of the mis­sio Dei con­cept in pro­vid­ing a frame­work for plac­ing God (in par­tic­u­lar, the Trin­ity) at the cen­tre of our think­ing about mission.

The Trini­tar­ian fo­cus of mis­sio Dei, com­bined with the fo­cus on the King­dom of God res­cues the church from sim­ply be­com­ing an agent for so­cial and eco­nomic change on the one hand or fun­da­men­tal­ism on the other[66] and pro­vides a frame­work for mis­sion in which the false di­chotomy be­tween so­cial ac­tion and evan­ge­lism in mis­sion can be erad­i­cated. “The core of mis­sio Dei is evan­ge­lism, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the Gospel”[67] but this does not mean that we can turn our backs on the world and its needs. The call to con­ver­sion is a call to be wit­nesses to Christ by demon­strat­ing his love and con­cern for the world[68]. An em­pha­sis on mis­sio Dei could be of great help to Evan­gel­i­cal churches in en­abling them to over­come the sort of sim­plis­tic view of mis­sion of which Chai com­plains, above.

Schri­eter[69] sug­gests two pos­si­ble do­mains in which mis­sio Dei be­comes a use­ful con­cept in a post-mod­ern world.

“… the unity in di­ver­sity of the Trin­ity will be a key for a the­ol­ogy of re­li­gious and cul­tural plu­ral­ism that is the mark of post­mod­ern thought and civ­i­liza­tion. Sec­ond, Trini­tar­ian ex­is­tence pro­vides a strong the­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tion for mis­sion as a di­a­log­i­cal process of giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing … speak­ing out prophet­i­cally and open­ing one­self for critique.”

The con­cepts of mis­sion in a plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety and prophetic di­a­logue are ones which Evan­gel­i­cals need to ex­plore in more depth. The tra­di­tional declam­a­tory – con­fronta­tional, even – evan­gel­i­cal ap­proach to mis­sion is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly less cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate as plu­ral­ism ex­pands. There is a real need to dis­cover ways in which the truths of Chris­tian­ity can be ex­plored in a so­ci­ety which re­jects claims of ab­solute truth and which sees all re­li­gious opin­ions as be­ing equally valid. Med­i­ta­tion on the na­ture of the Trin­ity could be use­ful in ex­plor­ing these ideas.

Mis­sio Dei, not only pro­vides a the­o­log­i­cal key for mis­sion in a post-mod­ern age, it could also pro­vide a mo­ti­va­tional fac­tor in a West­ern church which strug­gles in­ter­nally with the chal­lenges of post-mod­ernism, plu­ral­ism and glob­al­iza­tion. In­ter­est in mis­sion is de­clin­ing among Evan­gel­i­cal churches in the West[70]. In part, this seems to be due to the im­pact of a post-mod­ern mind­set which sees all hu­man nar­ra­tives as be­ing of equal value and im­por­tance. In this con­text, Chris­tians be­come re­luc­tant to ‘im­pose’ their views on oth­ers. Equally, many West­ern churches of­fer a vast panoply of op­por­tu­ni­ties for Chris­t­ian ser­vice with mis­sion be­ing sim­ply ‘what some peo­ple do.’ Mis­sio Dei el­e­vates mis­sion from the level of hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties, rightly show­ing mis­sion as be­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in some­thing which God is al­ready do­ing. Evan­ge­lism is thus no longer el­e­vat­ing one hu­man opin­ion over and above an­other equally valid one. There is a clear di­vine sanc­tion for mis­sion and evan­ge­lism (as well as a mo­ti­va­tion for an cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive ap­proach) which are no longer sim­ply ac­tiv­i­ties of the Church, but are, rather, the prin­ci­ple rai­son d’être of the Church.

Over the past two hun­dred years, Evan­gel­i­cal mis­sion­ar­ies, mo­ti­vated for the most part by the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) have played a key role in spread­ing the Chris­t­ian mes­sage around the world. The call to ‘go and make dis­ci­ples’ was nec­es­sary in an age when the ge­o­graph­i­cal spread of Chris­tian­ity was so lim­ited. How­ever, the great com­mis­sion with its stress on ac­tiv­ity plays into one of the weak­nesses of Evan­gel­i­cal­ism which so of­ten stresses ac­tiv­ity over and above spir­i­tu­al­ity. Gur­der speaks re­proach­fully of peo­ple who are not ac­tively ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the bless­ings of the Gospel, seek­ing to en­gage in mission[71]. There is a need for some evan­gel­i­cals to step back from a fo­cus on ac­tiv­ity and the tar­get dri­ven ap­proach of much of their mis­si­ol­ogy and to re­dis­cover a theo­cen­tric view of mis­sion which em­pha­sizes char­ac­ter and spir­i­tu­al­ity over and above ac­tiv­ity. Mis­sio Dei and re­flec­tion on what many see as the key verse for Trini­tar­ian mis­sion, John 20:21 could pro­vide the miss­ing dimension.

The un­de­ni­able fact that mis­sio Dei can still cover a wider range of mean­ings does place a po­ten­tial lim­i­ta­tion to its use­ful­ness as a the­o­log­i­cal term. Equally, its as­so­ci­a­tion with sec­u­lar­ized mis­si­ol­ogy means that some Evan­gel­i­cals will be re­luc­tant to use it to de­scribe their own ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, there is no doubt that the un­der­ly­ing no­tions of theo­cen­tric, Trini­tar­ian mis­sion are ones which need to be ex­plored fur­ther in Evan­gel­i­cal circles.

Visit Ed­die Arthur’s blog: kouya.​net


Be­vans. S. B. & R. P. Schroeder. Con­stants in Con­flict: A The­ol­ogy of Mis­sion for To­day. Mary­knoll. NY. Or­bis Books. 2004

Bosch, D.J. Trans­form­ing Mis­sion: Par­a­digm Shifts in The­ol­ogy of Mis­sion.  New York: Or­bis Books. 1991

Chai, Soo-Il. Mis­sio Dei — its de­vel­op­ment and lim­i­ta­tions in Korea: In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion, 92 no 367, p 538-549. 2003

Dowsett, R. Dry Bones in the West, in Global Mis­si­ol­ogy for the 21st Cen­tury: Re­flec­tions from the Iguassu Di­a­logue, ed. W. D. Tay­lor. (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2001) pp. 447-462

En­glesviken, T. Mis­sio Dei: The un­der­stand­ing and mis­un­der­stand­ing of a the­o­log­i­cal con­cept in Eu­ro­pean churches and mis­si­ol­ogy.  In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion Vol. 92 Is­sue 367, 2003

Go­heen, M. ‘As the Fa­ther has sent me, I am send­ing you’: J.E. Lesslie New­bi­gin’s mis­sion­ary ec­cle­si­ol­ogy’ 2001 http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/dissertations/1947080/inhoud.htm

Guder, D. L. (ed.) Mis­sional Church: A Vi­sion for the Send­ing of the Church In North Amer­ica. Cam­bridge. Eerd­mans 1998

Guder, D. LThe Con­tin­u­ing Con­ver­sion of the Church. Cam­bridge: Eerd­mans, 2000.

Hoffmeyer, John FThe Mis­sional Trinity.  Di­a­log: A Jour­nal of The­ol­ogy, Vol. 40 Is­sue 2, p108, Jun2001,

Kirk, J.A. What is Mis­sion? The­o­log­i­cal Explorations. (Lon­don, Dar­ton, Long­man and Todd, 1999)

Lee, D T-W. A Two Thirds World Eval­u­a­tion of Con­tem­po­rary Evan­gel­i­cal Mis­si­ol­ogy. in Global Mis­si­ol­ogy for the 21st Cen­tury: Re­flec­tions from the Iguassu Di­a­logue, ed. W. D. Tay­lor. (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2001) pp. 133-148

Matthey, J. Grezen­los – Bound­less. 50th an­niver­sary of the World Mis­sion Con­fer­ence. Mis­sion Fes­ti­val and Con­gress. Mis­sio Dei: God’s Mis­sion To­day. (Re­flec­tors Re­port). http://​www.​wcc-coe.​org/​wcc.​what/​mission/​willingen.​html

New­bi­gin, L. The Open Se­cret: An In­tro­duc­tion to the The­ol­ogy of Mission. (Lon­don, SPCK 1995)

Philips, T. V. Ed­in­burgh to Sal­vador: Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Ec­u­meni­cal Mis­si­ol­ogy. (Delhi In­dia, IS­PCK 1999) http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=1573

Pachuau, L. Mis­si­ol­ogy in a Plu­ral­is­tic World. In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion Oc­to­ber 2000 http://www.religion-online.org

Recker, R. RCon­cept of the Mis­sio Dei and in­struc­tion in mis­sion at Calvin Seminary. :. Source: Calvin The­o­log­i­cal Jour­nal, 11 N 1976

Richebacher, WMis­sio Dei: the Ba­sis of Mis­sion The­ol­ogy or a Wrong Path. In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion, , Vol. 92 Is­sue 367, p588-605,  2003

Smith, W. C. Mis­sion, di­a­logue and God’s will for us. In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion, No. 307 pp. 360-374. 1988

Suess, PMis­sio Dei And The Pro­ject Of Jesus: The Poor And The “Other” As Me­di­a­tors Of The King­dom Of God And Pro­tag­o­nists Of The Churches. In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion, Vol. 92 Is­sue 367, p550-559, 2003

Sun­der­meier, T. Mis­sio Dei To­day: on the Iden­tity of Chris­t­ian Mis­sion. In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion, Vol. 92 Is­sue 367, p560-578, 2003

Tay­lor, W. D. ed. The Iguas­sou Af­fir­ma­tion. in Global Mis­si­ol­ogy for the 21st Cen­tury: Re­flec­tions from the Iguassu Di­a­logue, ed. W. D. Tay­lor. (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2001) pp. 15-21

Wicker , P. LMis­sion from the Mar­gins: The Mis­sio Dei in the Cri­sis of World Chris­tian­ity. In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Mis­sion no 369. pp 182-199. 2004

[1] Wikipedia: the on­line en­cy­clopae­dia. www.wikipedia.org

[2] In or­der to get an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the de­vel­op­ment of the the­ol­ogy of mis­sio Dei, we will need to con­sider the work of some au­thors who use the con­cept with­out hav­ing re­course to Latin terminology.

[1] Wikipedia: the on­line en­cy­clopae­dia. www.wikipedia.org

[2] In or­der to get an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the de­vel­op­ment of the the­ol­ogy of mis­sio Dei, we will need to con­sider the work of some au­thors who use the con­cept with­out hav­ing re­course to Latin terminology.

[3] En­gelsviken p.482

[4] Hoffmeyer

[5] Be­vans and Schroeder p.290

[6] En­gelsviken p.482

[7] Bosch p.370

[8] En­gelsviken p.482

[9] Go­heen p.117

[10] Bosch p.390

[11] En­gelsviken p.482

[12] Pachuau

[13] Go­heen p.117

[14] Philip ch.5

[15] Sun­der­meier p.560

[16] Quoted in En­gelsviken p.488

[17] En­gelsviken p.489

[18] New­bi­gin p.18

[19] Richebacher, p.592

[20] Be­vans and Schroeder p.291

[21] Matthey

[22] Richebacher p.594

[23] Richebacher p.593

[24] En­gelsviken p.483

[25] En­gelsviken p.487

[26] Guder 1998 p.5

[27] Be­vans and Schroeder p.298

[28] Quoted in En­gelsviken p.488

[29] New­bi­gin p.76

[30] Quoted in En­gelsviken p.482

[31] Bosch p.390

[32] Bosch p.391

[33] Be­vans and Schroeder p.299

[34] Guder 2000 p.20

[35] Sun­der­meier p.567

[36] Smith p.366

[37] Richebacher p.597

[38] Recker p.192

[39] Lee p.143

[40] Wick­eri p.193

[41] En­gelsviken p.491

[42] Chai p.548

[43] Tay­lor p.17

[44] Kirk p.25

[45] En­gelsviken p.490

[46] Richebacher p.593

[47] Bosch p. 391

[48] Kirk p.27

[49] Kirk p.25

[50] Richebacher p.595

[51] Bosch p.389

[52] Wick­eri p.187

[53] Guder 2000 p.20

[54] Kirke p.78

[55] Go­heen p.129

[56] Guder 2000 p.32, Kirk p.27

[57] Guder 2000 p.37

[58] Wick­eri p.191

[59] Wick­eri p.187

[60] Guder 2000  p.47

[61] Guder 2000 p.78

[62] Suess p. 558

[63] Richebacher p. 594

[64] New­bi­gin p.57

[65] New­bi­gin p.132

[66] Suess p.552

[67] Guder 2000 p. 49

[68] Guder 2000 p.120

[69] Quoted in Be­vans and Schroeder p.293

[70] Dowsett p.449

[71] Guder 2000 p.151


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