Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MissionShift: 1.3 - On Enoch Wan's Response

At the outset of his reaction to Dr. Charles Van Engen’s essay: “Mission” Defined and Described, Dr. Enoch Wan explained the format he would utilize. I appreciated the manner in which he clarified his intent. He utilized his brief rehearsal of Engen’s essay as a means to compliment the author’s essay as well as the credentials that give weight to his writings. As I read Wan, I was impressed that his major contribution to this dialogue might be his indirect but fervent acknowledgement that could be verbalized; “How we view mission influences how we do mission.”

Wan discusses two major objections or corrections which he suggests need to be addressed in Engen’s essay:

  1. reduction of Trinitarian implication of mission to a merely Christocentric approach
  2. focus on the institutional dimension of mission at the expense of the individual dimension.

Finally, he provides an alternate definition of mission which corrects deficiencies he perceives in that provided by Engen.

With reference to the Trinitarian/Chistocentric issue, Wan affirms Engen for his citation of “key trinitarian texts” but finds him not “true to the texts.” Wan states, “Thus the richness of the theological foundation of mission being Trinitarian has been reduced merely to being Christocentric.” He also indicates Van Engen “cites trinitarian texts but unnecessarily reduces missio Dei to being Christocentric only.”

I agree that the language used by Van Engen is predominantly Christocentric, but I also perceive that he clearly identifies the import of the triune Godhead. This is evidenced in his statements, “Biblical mission is God’s mission. Mission is participation in the mission of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (p.12) And “God’s mission works through sending the people of God…by the work of the Holy Spirit…as a sign of the coming of the kingdom in Jesus Christ.” (p.27)

In Wan’s suggestion toward enhancing the trinitarian nature of mission, he offers a diagram of “The Interactive Relationship within the Trinity and Beyond” which he suggests, “clearly portrays the complexity of the divine and human realms converging, plus the dynamic interaction of the triune God with personal human beings and the institutional church.” After reviewing the figure and reading Wan’s description, I find that what he states explicitly provides little additional clarity. Perhaps my perspective is too trinitarian to perceive the distinctions, but when I read of the work of Christ, I automatically envision the Father and the Spirit engaged in that same work. I cannot divide His essential unity.

With reference to Wan’s second objection, institutional verses individual emphasis, I deeply appreciate the author’s concern. Too often our discussion of mission almost totally revolves around the church gathered engaging people the Gospel through ministries of declaration or demonstration. Too seldom does our dialogue reflect the individual sentness of every follower of Christ in mission within his or her own sphere of influence. In addressing this issue which is a component in his diagram mentioned above, Wan states, “There is no dichotomy between the individual and institutional dimensions of the Christian mission… It is therefore not correct to leave out the individual aspect and focus exclusively on the institutional missional church as Van Engen does.” Yet Van Engen’s final section includes his working definition of mission which states “God’s mission works primarily through…sending the people of God…[for] participation in God’s mission of reconciling people to God, to themselves, to one another, and to the world and gathering them into the church.” (Emphasis added) While I totally agree with Wan’s desire to emphasize the individual role in mission, the micro level, I cannot agree with his assessment that Van Engen is “anti-individualistic.”

Regarding the “better alternative” definition of mission offered by Wan, I must object to his creation of a dichotomy between spiritual (saving souls) and social (ushering in shalom) elements in mission. Postures of dualism challenge every concept of mission with the assumption that some ministry actions are sacred while others are secular (or in Wan’s case, spiritual and social). If this is true, during His incarnation our Lord spent massive amounts of time in unspiritual activities. When our actions are compelled by the Spirit of God, those are spiritual activities, even if it appears as only a “cup of water given.” In no way am I equating the value of a cup of water with the value of a soul, but I am sure that a better choice of words is possible than the dichotomy posited by Wan.

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