All sessions from the Plenaries at the Missio Alliance Inaugural Gathering.
Plenary #1: The Gospel & The Church’s Mission Today
Presenters: Don Coleman, Scot McKnight
Perhaps no question has become more central (or responses more contested) to the identity and future of North American Christianity than this: What is the Gospel?
Many believe that the gospel has mainly to do with our personal salvation; others suggest that it can simply be equated with “justification.” Additionally, our understanding of the gospel seems to have lost its basic and necessary relationship to the life and mission of the Church. We stand in need of a renewed imagination of the gospel!
The gospel declares more than our personal redemption; it begins by declaring that Jesus is King, Lord, the Messiah who saves. The soterian gospel is too short and too shallow. King Jesus saves to create a kingdom people in a world where Caesar seeks to rule. Gospel living then is a missional life under Jesus, a life of fellowship with other kingdom people, and kingdom living involves summoning others to live under Jesus as King.
Plenary #2: Being Human, Becoming Christian: An Embodied Reconciliation Of Heaven And Earth
Presenters: Alan Hirsch, Cherith Fee Nordling, Deb Hirsch, Tory Baucum
Is this life all there is as far as our humanity goes? What would it mean to receive the Christian hope of salvation as “for the body” as opposed to merely “from the body?” As we think about and participate in the story of God’s involvement with the world from creation to new creation, how might this transfigure our bodily enactment of God’s future in our present relationships?
As the North American Church seeks to participate as fully and faithfully as possible in God’s mission in the world, questions about the nature of humanity, sexuality, and desire are among those at the forefront of our minds and conversations.
Entire denominations are splitting, local churches are being divided, new books are flooding the market, and the witness of Christ in and through his people is under fire in the public arena. All of this compels us to come together to engage in critical dialogue and ask fresh questions with an openness to the Holy Spirit.
This starts with a return to Scripture – asking how our imagination for mission might be renewed if we start with original design (Gen. 1-2) and not original sin (Gen. 3), and look forward to the completion of that design in Jesus, the true image of God and ‘New Adam’ who presently embodies our human destiny. With an unwavering eye on our human destiny in Christ, we are enabled to discover what it means to become more human as well as more godly and to better see others as God does, with affection and not alarm.
Humanity, sexuality, and desire are all good gifts of God, designed to be enjoyed now and perfected in eternity. What we are after then, are the theologically rich and ethically radical implications of living within the reality of God’s now-and-coming Kingdom that enable us to enjoy these gifts most fully, both now and forever.
Plenary 3: Seeing The Bible As God’s Drama & Why The Future Of Mission Depends On It
Presenters: David Fitch, Howard-John Wesley
In a Western context that is increasingly suspicious of, if not hostile toward, sources of supposed authority and at the same time, constantly presented with new ones, it is little wonder that questions about the authoritative role of Scripture have become such a pressing issue.
Seeking a renewed imagination for mission in North America must involve turning our collective attention to how we understand and engage, corporately as well as personally, the Bible.
The Bible is not a document. It is the unfolding Drama of God. As Christians, it is our one and true Story of God for the whole world. Its authority in Christ is extended into our very lives by the invitation of the Spirit as we participate in the Triune Mission. We therefore cannot know its authority apart from mission. Indeed, we only truly know and experience its authority over our lives in the hearing of it as His Word and responding to it in obedience as we join in with God and His Mission. In an increasingly secular post-Christianized society therefore, the proclamation of God’s Word is the center point for the manifestation of the authority of God’s Word in the world. The future of the gospel in mission demands we examine how we preach, how we submit to preaching, how indeed God funds the imagination for His work in the world. It is proclamation not information, from God’s Drama not a textbook, which always leads to invitation and response.
Plenary #4: The Interruptions Of The Spirit & The Future Of Mission
Presenters: Amos Yong, Jo Saxton
In many expressions of Christianity in the West, the Holy Spirit has rightly been described as “the forgotten member of the Trinity.” In others, emphasis on the “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit plays an almost exclusive role in the lives of congregations. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit seems to be playing a major role in the rapid growth of the Church in the global South and East.
As the North American Church seeks to navigate its way into an unfamiliar and unclear future, perhaps one of our greatest needs is to revisit our understanding of the Holy Spirit and what submitting ourselves to the Spirit’s work and leading might mean, personally, congregationally, and corporately, for a more faithful engagement in God’s mission in the world?
While there is a certain sense in which Christ-followers ought to have missiological plans, hopes, and visions, just as often the people of God find themselves on mission according to the unpredictable thrusts of the Spirit. Missional reorientation and the renewal of our imagination occurs when we live in the Spirit as much as if not more than through explicit planning and forecasting. The book of Acts provides an excellent point of reference for reflecting on the nexus of mission and Spirit as we seek such a reorientation and renewal.
Plenary #5: The What, Where, Why & When Of The Kingdom?
Presenters: Bruxy Cavey, Todd Hunter
No other reality was so central to Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, or ascension than that of the Kingdom of God. As far as the New Testament is concerned, the availability of the Kingdom of God to all who trust Jesus is the sum and substance of the gospel. Predicated on this good news, the now-and-coming nature of God’s Kingdom is not only the grounding reality for the Church as it inhabits the world, it is the grounding reality for all Christian life and mission.
There are many attempts today to use a particular way of talking about the gospel to “fix” various aspects of life. We hear well-intentioned calls for gospel-centered marriage, gospel-centered work, or gospel-centered church. However, devoid of a robust understanding of and orientation around the reality of the Kingdom of God, these ways of applying the gospel may miss their mark.
Thus, we are compelled to ask and address some important Kingdom-questions:
- If the Kingdom of God is truly the grounding reality for all of Christian life and mission, then what is it like?
- How do we enter it? Live in it? Grow in it?
- How does the Kingdom of God expand and advance?
It is in seeking answers to questions such as these together, through the Scriptures, and with an openness to the Holy Spirit that our imaginations might be renewed for the sake of more fully and faithfully participating in the beautiful, in-breaking of God’s Kingdom.
Plenary #6: Rhythm & Reign: Living As Church On The Margins Of Culture & Foretaste Of The Kingdom
Presenters: Fred Harrell, Gary Nelson
North American Christianity is awash with ideas, models, and programs designed to reverse the increasing cultural marginality of the Church. Amid the anger, fear, and even violence that this new reality has provoked amongst Christians, perhaps it is time to step back and in the humility and peace of Christ, re-examine the true nature of the situation. In doing so, we do well to remember that God is neither surprised nor nervous – that God loves the world and Jesus remains faithful to building and sustaining the Church, his Body and Bride, as a foretaste of the Kingdom, against which the gates of Hell will not prevail!
Such a posture affords us the opportunity to ask fresh questions as we seek a renewed imagination for the role of the Church in God’s mission.
How might we understand and live as the Church if we stop seeing the marginality of Christianity as a threat to God’s mission?
What will it mean for the life and witness of the Church if we submit to the reality that God’s Kingdom is a gift to be received and not a “state” we are responsible to bring about?
We have much to learn from those who are asking these kinds of questions and seeking to live out responses. Of unique importance are the stories and perspectives of those who live in progressive urban centers of Canada and the Unites States and other contexts where the Church is experiencing advanced stages of marginalization.