Theology Starts with Mission, an Excerpt from Understanding Christian Mission

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Understanding Christian Mission, by Scott Sunquist.

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Cover ArtTheology Starts with Mission

Missiological reflection is both the context of all theology and the first movement in theological reflection. This understanding of theology as coming out of the reflection of the faith on the frontiers of faith is commonly accepted today. The earliest Christian theological reflections are found in the New Testament. Luke’s two-part volume was written while on a missionary journey. Paul’s letter to the Romans was written to prepare the way for his missionary visit to Rome, as he passed through on his way to Spain. He wrote theology as a church planter, “on a mission.” In fact, each of the New Testament writings comes out of the missionary engagement of the church with the world.

Therefore, it is necessary to have a missional hermeneutic for reading the Bible—but especially for reading the New Testament. The New Testament writings were reflections on missiological praxis.

As we move out of the earliest period of Christian writings and into the second and third centuries, we discover that these writings also come out of the context of a missionary engagement. Most of the major Christian writings of this period are apologetic in nature, either addressed to people in authority defending the Christian belief and cause or written to strengthen the Christian community in its witness to the broader culture. Origen’s famous response to Celsus’s attacks on Christianity (Contra Celsum) is quite typical of the period; theological awareness, reflection, and writing are based in the missionary encounter. This has always been the case, and it is still the case today. “Mission is the mother of theology,” as well as the mother of the New Testament texts.

Neither the second- and third-century writers, nor the New Testament writers, were systematic theologians sitting in ivy-covered citadels contemplating the character and will of God. They were persecuted, hurried, and harried apostles (read “missionaries”) challenging the religious, political, and social structures of their time—proclaiming a Kingdom that was above all kingdoms and authorities of this world. It was this mission that birthed biblical and theological reflection.

©2013 by Scott Sunquist. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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