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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (1 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801039134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801039133
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 174,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Craig Van Gelder (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and University of Texas at Arlington) is professor of congregational mission at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including The Essence of the Church, The Ministry of the Missional Church, A Field Guide for the Missional Congregation, and The Church between Gospel and Culture. Dwight J. Zscheile (Ph.D., Luther Seminary) is assistant professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary and serves as associate rector at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Format: Paperback
If you feel lost in the missional conversation, this book will go some way to clarifying things for you! Thoughtful and informative, it traces the history and development of the missional conversation, revisiting the 1998 book entitled Missional Church (ed. Darrell Guder) and considering how thinking has progressed since. The taxonomy of approaches to missional church is particularly helpful in its breadth and depth of study. The second half of the book then seeks to develop the missional conversation in various ways: attention is given specifically to its theological frameworks, understanding of culture and congregational and leadership practices in the missional church. I very much enjoyed my readings in this book and expect to go back to it more than a few times for reference purposes. This one is worth buying.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Navigating the Missional Conversation 7 Mar. 2013
By Leonard Hjalmarson - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Missional Church in Perspective – Van Gelder and Zscheile – is the first book that explores the development of the term “missional” by exploring the major streams that feed the great river of "missional." The authors document the historical and theological contributing factors, and thoroughly exploring the recent literature. In fact, they venture even more widely than this, in exploring the conversation in the online world, and in the academy.

Part 1: The History and Development of the Missional Conversation.

This section serves as the main survey to date, and anchors the book primarily in the great text published in 1998 by the GOCN: Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. This is a lucid and rich exploration of the six main themes in that text, as well as an exploration of the dischordant elements. Beginning on page 53, the authors note a lack of integration in key themes, and weaknesses (or omissions) in the Trinitarian rooting (the classic east vs the west).

This section also raises a fundamental question that is not directly addressed in the classic text of 1998. There are two approaches to the missio Dei, broadly speaking: a specialized view that understands God as working in the world through a redeemed people who are called and sent, and a generalized view that understands God as working in the world beyond the church through secular history. In part this divergence hinges around the relationship of the church and the kingdom of God.
The authors nuance this divergence, breaking the two views into two sub-approaches each, and then offering a third, integrated view (56-57). The integrated view runs as follows:

The church participates in God’s continuing creation and redemptive mission. People in the church pursue God’s mission in the world both as cocreative creatures engaging with God in the Spirit’s continuing work in all creation and by bearing witness to the reign of God. Various authors (chapters) of Missional Church came down in various places on their general approach to missio Dei, with chapters 6 and 7 (Dieterrich and Roxburgh) arguing the integrated view.

Missional Church (1998) also developed a variety of approaches to the relationship between church and culture (59ff). Roxburgh’s contribution made it clear that the church is deeply embedded in culture, where Hunsberger’s contribution emphasized the responsibility to build a contrast society.

In chapter 3 (MCiP), taking a cue from Ed Stetzer, the authors chart the recent literature as a part of a missional tree. In that illustration, the 1998 book serves as the trunk; church and missions/mission Trinitarian missiology, missio Dei, reign (kingdom) of God, church’s missionary nature, and missional hermeneutics serve as the roots. The recent literature is grouped by theme to serve as the branches: discovering, utilizing, engaging, and extending. (The key issue is found in two related questions: the extent to which we are dealing with human agency, and the extent to which God’s agency is operative and discernible within human choices).

Discovering Missional. This branch of the conversation reaches back to the previous framework of “church” and “mission” where these are separate but related realities. Missional language is really a tweak to old concepts.

Utilizing Missional. This branch of the conversation is actively trying to utilize the biblical and theological ideas that shaped the initial missional conversation as presented in Missional Church in an attempt to deepen the conversation.

Engaging Missional. This branch is attempting to live out and engage a missional perspective in some aspect of church life. An understanding of the literature is assumed.

Extending Missional. This branch is seeking to further develop the biblical and theological frameworks that undergird a missional understanding.

A variety of authors, traditions and studies are related to these branches: each branch and its associated subbranches are explored in relation to the “biblical and theological themes” that inform them and in relation to recent and representative literature (69). The dividing line between branches revolves around the extent to which one starts with the mission of the church and the extent to which one starts with the mission of God.
As an example, many conversation partners are utilizing missional; these authors are actively attempting to identify implications of God as a sending God as key to understanding the role of human agency. Three sub-branches are identified as follows.

1. Missional as the kingdom of God being an extension of the church’s ministry
2. Missional as the church being a contrast community
3. Missional as participating in God’s mission in the world

"Missional.. is an important word. It describes who we are as Christ followers…Our mission is not our mission at all,, it’s God’s… Our sending God sends the church – the body of Christ – as His missionary in the world…

"God doesn’t limit himself to working only through the church. Though the church is God’s plan for reaching the world, He isn’t limited to us to build His kingdom on earth… So what we’re doing isn’t “taking God to others” by any stretch. We’re simply pointing out to people the presence of God who is already among them."

An example of “engaging” missional is the publication of Clayton Schmidt, Sent and Gathered. Tim Keller and David Fitch find themselves in this branch. The “extending” branch has such notables as Alan Roxburgh and Paul Hooker, and a host of publications from Luther Seminary. George Hunsberger’s 2009 publication, “Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic” also falls in this branch (find it on the GOCN website).

Part II: Perspectives that Extend the Missional Conversation

Chapter 4 returns to the discussion of the Trinity and develops a more integrated view of the social Trinity and the sending Trinity. This frame provides a more robust understanding of God’s relationship to the world through creation, Christ, and the Spirit. The theme of participation becomes a key for resolving the question of how the work of God continues.
Chapter 5 takes up the complex issue of culture and a missional theology of culture is proposed for framing the church’s public engagement with diverse contexts.

Chapter 6 revisits the impact of missional theology on congregational practices, leadership, and organization. The theological commitments offered in chapters 4 and 5 serve as the basis for deepening the conversation, toward reframing church life in a new apostolic era.

Enriching the Framework

“A more robust missional theology offers the promise of rendering more faithful and more fruitful our imagination of who God is, what God is doing in the church and the world, and how we can better participate in these works of God.” (102)

One of the key questions for the missional conversation is how God’s sending movement is conceived. There are significant differences in the approach to agency, as chapter three made obvious. Rich Trinitarian voices were more evident in the latter part of the twentieth century, with writers like Zizioulas and Volf. But these authors did not deal explicitly with mission, and so ecclesiology and missiology traveled on parallel tracks, with few hints as to how they might connect.

Meanwhile, the doctrine of the Trinity has a complicated history in the West. The relationships between the Father, Son, and Spirit came to refer in the West largely to God’s inner life. Functionally, the church ended up with a monistic way of imagining God’s engagement in the world. (See Douglas John Hall on this subject). This view also fostered individualistic understandings of human personhood, and a kind of “methodological atheism.”

Irenaeus referred to the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father in the world. “When we lose the Trinity, we lose our way of conceiving of God’s missionary presence in creation.” (104) The missional conversation represents an exception to this, and the Trinity is increasingly being asserted as the hub: the frame within which other doctrines make sense.

The next section in chapter 4 describes “limitations” of the sending view of the Trinity. This recovery is pivotal, but has significant liabilities if not integrated with insights about the church as a political and social expression of God’s life. The functional modalism common in the West led to a Christomonism which appears in missional praxis “under the guise of an incarnational approach to mission. Jesus’ identity as the Son of the Father who is anointed and led by the Spirit can fade from view.” This in turn fosters a view of mission as the isolated province of individual believers, “rather than the participation of the church in the Triune” life of God. (106)

But there are other liabilities of an add-on Trinitarianism. The sending movement from Father to Son to Spirit to church to world can result “in making the church primarily an instrument and rendering the world a mere ‘target’ of mission.” (106) This programmatic, technical approach is all too obvious among Western churches. The corrective, in part, is renewed submission to the Spirit, and renewed awareness of the church as a sign, foretaste and instrument of the kingdom of God.

The authors note that missional ecclesiology is also representational. Newbigin indicates how the church as a visible community provides the interpretive key to God’s wider purposes for humanity: the church embodies the future toward which God is drawing all humanity. The church is not a collection of individuals “who choose to associate in order to have their spiritual needs met,” but rather “a community of mutual participation in God’s own life and the life of the world” (107). They reference John 17:21b-23.
There is, then, simultaneously a recovery of a fuller view of imago Dei. We are moving from a conception based on isolated individuals to a relational, communal view: the image of the Trinity (imago Trinitatis).

Moreover, the biblical narrative suggests a deeply reciprocal understanding of the Trinity and God’s relationship with the world, played out clearly in the passion. As Moltmann asserts, “the grief of the Father is just as important as the death of the Son.” God’s own inner life is affected by the world.

“A participatory understanding opens up a highly reciprocal view of the God-world-church relationships, in which the church shares in the Triune God’s own vulnerable engagement with the world… Imitation tends to stress what God has done. Participation invites us into what God is doing and will continue to do as God’s promises in Christ are brought to fulfillment.” (111, italics original)

This is a comprehensive map to the conversation to date, as well as a rich and suggestive resource. Simply outstanding!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
an exploration of the development of the term missional 28 Feb. 2012
By Greg Smith (aka sowhatfaith) - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Missional Church in Perspective is the first and only book that explores the development of the term missional by noting the broad historical and theological contributing factors and thoroughly exploring the recent literature. It is a must read for anyone who uses the term or regularly reads authors who do so. While the co-authors work as a team throughout the text, Van Gelder takes the lead for the first part (chapters 1-3) allowing Zscheile to do so for the latter part (chapters 4-6).

"Part 1: The History and Development of the Missional Conversation" serves as the book's greatest contribution to the understanding of the term mission. Van Gelder is uniquely qualified to explore the varied usage of the term, since it was popularized as the result of a book he contributed to: Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (1988). In addition to exploring and critiquing the 1998 text, Van Gelder charts the recent literature as a part of a missional tree. In that illustration, the 1998 book serves as the trunk; church and missions/mission Trinitarian missiology, missio Dei, reign (kingdom) of God, church's missionary nature, and missional hermeneutics serve as the roots; and the recent literature are grouped by theme to serve as the branches: discovering, utilizing, engaging, and extending. Each branch and its associated subbranches are explored in relation to the "biblical and theological themes" that inform them and in relation to recent literature that is representative of it (p.69).

"Part 2: Perspectives That Extend the Missional Conversation" seeks to apply the wealth of information in the first part to the contemporary church through chapters focusing on theological frameworks, engaging culture, and church life and leadership. While Zscheile offers numerous helpful insights that enable readers to understand how the missional church should be embodied, this section does not significantly extend the missional conversation by introducing new or controversial possibilities. Instead, it offers data points to encourage readers to think more about concepts and, ideally, to engage others in that conversation with the intent to act upon those discoveries.

So What?
In the introduction, Van Gelder and Zscheile suggest the recent missional church literature includes four common themes:

(1)God is a missionary God who sends the church into the world.
(2)God's mission in the world is related to the reign (kingdom) of God.
(3)The missional church is an incarnational (versus an attractional) ministry sent to engage a postmodern, post-Christendom, globalized context.
(4)The internal life of the missional church focuses on every believer living as a disciple engaging in mission (p. 3-4).

Given its rapid development and widespread usage, the term missional church is likely to be one most North American Christians will hear often in the coming years.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Helpful resource for missional church conversation 19 May 2011
By Bradley J. Brisco - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Missional Church in Perspective is the most comprehensive and clear analysis of the missional conversation to date. Van Gelder and Zscheile provide a helpful historical perspective of the movement, as well as needed clarity to the current use of missional language as they interact with an extensive collection of missional literature. All of which is carried out with great wisdom and grace. Moreover, the authors offer several important theological categories to help strengthen and extend the missional conversation into the future. Anyone who is serious about better understanding and engaging the missional conversation will find this latest contribution to be invaluable.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Strong on Mission; Questionable on Theology 14 Oct. 2012
By David W. Jones - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a sequel of sorts to the seminal work, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Gospel & Our Culture), which was written in 1998 by members of the Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN). The original volume wrestled with the question of how the church relates to the world in a post-Christendom, postmodern culture. Its authors did not see mission as something the church does, but rather as central to its very identity: what the church is. The Triune God is a missionary God who sends the church to participate in his mission to the world--the missio Dei. Thus, to be a Christian is to be a missionary. Missional Church sold quite well for an academic book that intentionally avoided pragmatics, techniques and strategies. It popularized the term "missional," which has since become a buzzword.

The current volume seeks both to clarify the past conversation, especially the way it has morphed and splintered in the intervening years, as well as to shape future conversation. Van Gelder, who authored the first three chapters, was a contributor to the original volume; Zscheile, who wrote chapters four through six, is his colleague at Luther Seminary.

The authors achieve their purposes for the book. They identify the historical and theological origins of the missional conversation, filling some gaps that existed in Missional Church. They demonstrate how some of the divergence of thought that exists today among various missional authors can be traced back to theological tensions that existed between the authors of the previous book. Finally, they advance the discussion by bringing new insights from Trinitarian theology to bear on the question of the missio Dei. As the subtitle suggests, they do map the trends and shape the conversation.

The book has several strengths. First, the authors have mastered the secondary literature. They are familiar even with the subtle nuances of other authors who are writing on this topic, which allows them to define key terms in the most precise way. This brings a certain level of clarity to a topic that can be confusing, especially for neophytes. A second strength of the book lies in its theological integration. Despite the postliberal bias that is evident, the exercise of pondering how the doctrine of the Trinity impacts the missio Dei is surely a fruitful one--even if Van Gelder and Zscheile go too far in places or base their arguments on theological assumptions not shared by most evangelicals. A third strength can be found in their willingness to invite further discussion. They do not criticize sharply those who disagree with them, but rather encourage further dialogue on the subject. By demonstrating such an irenic spirit, they are modeling the very principles for which they are arguing.

Nevertheless, the book is marred by some weaknesses, some of which are serious. First, their approach to Scripture is not satisfying for evangelicals who are accustomed to the Bible being cited authoritatively. For Van Gelder and Zscheile, the Bible is a narrative of God's mission to his creation, and theology is an act of imagination. For significant portions of the book, they do not cite Scripture at all but simply allude to theology. How postmodern of them! Second, they build on the works of twentieth-century neo-orthodox and liberal theologians, without proving that those approaches are to be favored over other, more evangelical, approaches. For instance, the authors assume Moltmann's view of God's relationship with creation without bothering to prove that it is correct (112-13). What they mean by reconciliation (116-17) is not the same thing that evangelicals take that term to mean. Third, their emphasis upon the relational nature of the Trinity, as emphasized in the Orthodox tradition over and against the more monistic view of God common in the West, almost smacks of tri-theism (107-09). Perhaps their greatest weakness is a view of culture that is more sanguine than the biblical text would warrant. Such a positive view of unredeemed mankind has perhaps the unintended effect of minimizing the Gospel and downplaying the need for conversion, regeneration, repentance and faith. It is interesting that Van Gelder and Zscheile place such a heavy emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity, so that other doctrines, like Christology and Soteriology, are downplayed or virtually neglected. Why should the doctrine of the Trinity trump the rest? The authors play other doctrines against each other too, such as when they claim that an emphasis upon Christology in mission actually diminishes the role of the Spirit (80, 84). How so? They make the assertion, but do not prove it.

The most helpful part of the book for me was the section on hospitality and reciprocity (132-35). Zscheile points out that, despite its neglect in the West during the modern era, hospitality occupies a significant place in Scripture and church history (132). It is rooted in the doctrine of the Incarnation. Zscheile uses Luke 10:1-12 as an illustration of how Jesus wanted his disciples to receive hospitality from the very people that they were trying to reach. Despite the fact that he identifies these people as Samaritans (which is unlikely; cp. Matt 10:5-6), his point is still valid--when a missionary receives hospitality from a stranger, it puts the missionary in the vulnerable position.

The Missional Church in Perspective is an academic book, written by missiologists for missiologists. It promises to be as influential as its predecessor. Those interested in the missional debate can scarcely ignore it. Those who are already fluent in "missional" will appreciate the historical and theological background here, as well as the contribution that the authors make to the ongoing conversation regarding the missio Dei. However, those who are not familiar with the missional conversation--and the twentieth-century theological developments that undergird them--will likely be lost, especially if they have not read the former volume, Missional Church. They may want to begin with a book like Introducing the Missional Church by Alan J. Roxburgh before jumping into this volume.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Mapping the Missional Conversation 12 July 2011
By David M. Gustafson - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book provides a map of the missional church conversation in light of foundational ideas set forth in The Missional Church edited by Darrell Guder. It is most helpful in offering various categories of voices in print and on the web in the missional church conversation. While I found the categories heuristic, the rubrics of discovering, utilizing, engaging, and extending were not helpful. Perhaps more descriptive titles would be: adopting missional language, deepening the missional conversation, engaging in missional praxis, and broadening the missional conversation. For someone wanting to understand the wider missional church movement, however, this book provides a map of the robust, nuanced, and theologically imaginative missional conversation.
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