This is the second stop on the blog tour for the new book “Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier” (2013) by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw.
Kevin Scott wrote a great introductory review of Signpost One on Post-Christendom that can be read here. I’d highly encourage you to read Kevin’s post, as well as those by all of the other future bloggers contributing to this tour in the upcoming weeks.
I’ve been commissioned to write a brief reflection on Signpost Two: “Missio Dei with the Prodigal God: The Journey into God’s Mission.” I have had the opportunity to personally speak with both authors on a couple of occasions and can confidently affirm the missional passion, divine imagination, and biblical conviction that David and Geoff have for proclaiming the relational, intentional, and prodigal love of God. This radically compassionate yet theologically critical approach to life together, proposes a third way of following Jesus in missional communities that “invites the kingdom of God into our lives and neighborhoods around us” (p. xv). The authors write not as ivy tower experts who have it all figured out, but instead as “chastened sojourners”, sharing their experiences in hopes to humbly provide direction through the uncertain fogginess that is the mission field of the Post-Christian West.
The nomenclature “prodigal” obviously comes from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. But the authors combine with it insights from Timothy Keller’s well-known book, “Prodigal God”, as well as the parable’s missional and redeeming interpretation by the twentieth-century German theologian, Karl Barth. This third, prodigal way of Christianity is neither a continuation of the liberal, emerging church conversation nor is it identified among the Neo-Reformed camp. Instead, prodigal Christianity recognizes the current state of North America as a spiritual “far country” in which the Church needs to engage through both biblical reconciliation and cultural relevancy.
In Signpost Two, Fitch and Holsclaw make the Scriptural case that God has always been in constant pursuit of his creation. The very meaning of “missio Dei” is that God is on a mission. And his mission includes the history of the Father, as well as the sending of the Son and Spirit into the world. Agreeing with the missionally, Trinitarian theology of Lesslie Newbigin, the authors state, “to say God is at work in the world is to say that God has begun a new work in Jesus Christ made manifest in the world by the Spirit…We may not think of God as the one who has invaded the world in the Son. Nor do we live as if God has remained active in the world through the Spirit. But we must get back to this place” (p. 24-25). A recapturing and reinvigorating of the Church’s understanding of what it means to follow God into the world should break programmatic routines and seek a reckless attentiveness to God’s sovereignty, specific to our surroundings.
More reflective than directive, Fitch and Holsclaw offer helpful guidance for navigating faith communities in a world of religious pluralism and subjective ideologies regarding truth. Since they are both pastor-professors, their work contains theological depth and practical advice. Expounding upon the “sentness” of John 3:16 and John 20:21 the authors show how the missional component propelling the church outward is really a holy characteristic of God. They write, “It is essential to the nature of God to engage in mission, to go and draw near…The prodigal God is on a mission” (p. 27). Our response, and responsibility, as the Church should be to join with God in His journey.
The missio Dei is far more than advocating moral therapy among society, showing universal tolerance, or exacting stricter sin management. In fact, the biblical notion of the missio Dei is about “walking beside the world” and working with God to bring spiritual and social healing. Widespread community transformation has to happen from the inside out. In other words, knowing the Messiah leads to sharing His message and living His mission. Without being complacent towards, condoning, or condemning of the distresses in our societies, Christians can contextualize the Gospel and incarnate Christ within our communities. Such extension of the Body is the topic of Signpost Three.