Reformed Missional versus Anabaptist Missional versus Pragmatic Missional

Amidst the many debates and classifications of missional, Ed Stetzer’s three streams (Breaking Missional Code p. 187ff) or Scot McKnight’s 5 streams, or the attractional versus missional debates, I’d like to suggest another approach to classifications that might help us understand why we within the missional conversation often talk past each other. I suggest there are Reformed Missionals, Anabaptist Missionals, and Pragmatic Missionals. I suggest that each of these theologies tends towards a certain kind of epistemology and understanding of culture that influences how we think about missional church. Now to be clear – these are types right? There will be overlaps between the three and so anytime I put anyone in either of these three categories, I am sure we all will find reasons to also be in the other categories (except for me because I designed the categories). So with those caveats in mind here’s the three categories.
The Reformed Missionals.
These folk are more comfortable with individualist forms of salvation and church. The Protestant Reformation afterall emphasizes sola Scriptura, sola Fide, justification by faith – all of which put more emphasis on the individual’s coming to God through faith in Christ via the penal substitutional atonement made available in Christ. (BTW I do not ever want to deny the importance of  personal faith and  the work of God in Christ via the atonement for the individual’s restoration os his/her relationship with God thru Christ). The Bible, for Reformed thinkers, tends to be perspicuous to the individual and there is more invested in the mind’s ability to understand and come to truth as an isolated individual through the work of the Spirit. These epistemological factors make these missional types more open to an ecclesiology and soteriology based in the modern (Cartesian) individual. They are less critical of attractional mega church models of church and place more emphasis on the Sunday morning as a teaching event than other missionals. In addition, Reformed thinkers view the culture as inherently good and that God is at work there in unambivalent manner (or at least less ambivalent than Anabaptists). We should seek therefore to get Christians into government and positions of cultural power (Kuyper). These views on church and culture allow Reformed Missionals to see all of these things as missional whereas Anabaptists like myself would see these things as still valuable but secondary to the ministry of God’s reconciliation and salvation in the world. Anabpatists would instead argue for the work of culture (re)creation as opposed to seeking positions in power in secular culture. From here we engage secular culture. Reformed thinkers are more logocentric (trusting in language itself trascending culture as a medium of the gospel). They tend therefore towards a particular kind of contextualization, the translation of a concept or message into language and/or culture. Anabaptist see the gospel as not making sense outside of an enculturation. Contextualization is much more than translation, it must be done in “a way of life.” This last characteristic of Reformed theology also makes Reformed Missionals more open to “mega” forms of church. So, to be fair, this is an anabaptist’s (mine) take on Reformed tendencies.

I’d say Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and Ed Stetzer lean in this direction. Darrell Guder and Craig Van Gelder, I would say, have some of the Kupyerian cultural influences of the Reformed Missional, yet resist some of the Christendom implications. As a result, there are some Anabaptist impulses going with them as well.

The Anabaptist Missionals
These folk are driven by the community as the central instrument of God bringing in His Kingdom and the way we know and enter into the gospel. The relationships, the ways of salvation, the ways we speak and practice the gospel are best lived out among people submitting to His Lordship. From here God’s work spreads politically an socially into the world.  The impulse here is away from individualist (only) Bible reading and salvation. Salvation is always more than individual, it is participation in redeemed community. In terms of contextualization in culture: God is at work everywhere but there is evil and rebellion from God still at work in the world. It is not always easy therefore to see God in culture without a community formed under His redeeming Lordship (“a hermeneutic of peoplehood”) where we know he has promised to be present and at work. The best strategy then for contextualization is to move into a neighborhood, learn the culture, and slowly through rejecting pieces, blessings pieces, and bringing other pieces under captivity of His Lordship, a community is worked out that becomes a sign, a visible model of redeemed culture in that particular place. This is what makes mega church so difficult to fit into an Anabaptist way of thinking. Also, and just as importantly, salvation is inseparable from an apprenticeship in following in the ways of Jesus. And one’s personal salvation is inseparable from one’s commitments to peace, justice as well as reconciliation with God thru Christ and one’s neighbor.

I put Alan Hirsch in this group primarily because of the way he talks about discipleship and communitas. I put Michael Frost in there with him (his book Exiles leans inthis direction). I see Al Roxburgh here too. I put Mark Van Steenwyk of Jesus Manifesto, and Shane Claiborne in this camp. Scot McKnight treads in these waters at times. Of the GOCN, many times (presbyterian) Guder and (Lutheran seminary prof. but evangelcial background) Van Gelder talk like post Christendom Anabaptists. Hunsberger on the other hand I read as being attached ecclesiologically more to his Reformed backgrounds.  I see myself as unambiguously landing here with the Anabaptists (I get this from my early theological formation into Hauerwas Yoder et al.).

The Pragmatic Missionals
These folk take basic core themes (call them “truths”) of the missional conversation and evaluate all forms of church based upon their success in these areas. I WANT TO SAY THAT I AM NOT CRITICISING THEM FOR THIS because I believe we need “results” oriented evangelists and practicioners to push theologians and traditions. I believe this is part of this group’s contribution to missional. These folk take key issues like racial reconciliation, a wholistic gospel, the Kingdom of God, reaching out to the poor and distressed in our society, and conversion and try to implement forms of church that produce these things. They are not under the influence of Reformed or Anabaptist thinking. One of their weaknesses is they sometimes have not thought out the implications theologically of their pragmatic forms of church. Having said that, I have been pushed in my theology by these practicioners.

I put Dan Kimball, and Erwin McManus in this group. I also think Scot McKnight finds himself here sometimes (wink,wink), despite his claims to be an Anabaptist. (OK Scot I’m open for you to defend your anabaptism)

In Summary
All in all, I think the Anabaptist Missionals are different than the Reformed and Pragmatist Missionals because of underlying assumptions that escape each other when we talk to one another. The way Anabaptists evaluate the integrity of church practice, the way we see post- modernity and post-Christendom is vastly different than the other two, and so we often end up talking past one another. Indeed, I would say this is what happened in the most recent Missional versus Attractional debates where Kimball, Keller and I basically taked past one another.

What do you think? Do these theological categories help in navigating the Missional debates?


FYI I’ll be preaching at University Baptist Church in Champaign IL on Sunday morning. Then we’ll be holding an hour gathering afterward on the subject of the Christian church “Navigating the new Post-Cultures.” Then I’ll be  on the University NPR Radion station at 5 p.m. on Steve Shoemaker’s show. Listen in here

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