This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.
The concept of being missional is perhaps the most fundamental doctrine of the Neo-Calvinists. It is a concept that they have created out of historically thin air. The word itself is specifically designed to be different from any word about Christian missionary engagement with the world that has ever been used. Ask a Neo-Calvinist what defines him and makes him powerful and he will inevitably tell you that he is missional. Ask him what he means by missional and you will get a hodge-podge of post modern sentences designed to convey a good feeling and little else.
To get a grasp on what the Neo-Calvinist means by missional I return to the L2 church of Denver. They list a variety of things that constitute missional behavior. Here is a compilation of what it means to be missional:
“We believe that we know God by understanding how he acts towards his people both in the past and present, as depicted in Scripture and life experience. As we have grasped God’s redemptive mission towards humanity, we have come to know him and as we know him, we are increasingly giving ourselves toward his mission. We believe that the local church could do a much better job at both being faithful to the content of unchanging Biblical doctrine, and being faithful to contextualize the truth within the culture in which we live….Being missional is not an option. We believe that if one is a true follower of Jesus, then he will believe the Gospel and follow him in his mission….As a missional church our emphasis is upon being a repository and not a bunker. We seek to intelligently equip people to send them out to live their lives on mission, rather than hijack their lives in service to the local church.”
Not surprisingly this church has adopted many of the methods of the mega-church movement. They have modern worship services. They play modern music in their worship services. They have small groups that meet all over the city. They have a prison ministry. They have a ministry to the bums that live downtown (the church itself is located in downtown Denver). They have a ministry to starving children in Africa. They have a counseling ministry that is adjunct to the church. They have day care for children and youth groups for teenagers. They are engaging the culture!
Like all post modern groups it is impossible to pin them down as to exactly what they mean by being missional. Their goal is to convey a good feeling about being missional. How could anybody in their right mind oppose the fine things that I quoted in the paragraph above? Aren’t we all about “giving ourselves to his mission” and “being faithful to the content of unchanging Biblical doctrine” and “living our lives on mission”? Nevertheless, it is our job to distill down this post modern language and see if we can determine what they are objectively asserting. Here are four things I believe they are asserting in the midst of all their post modern writing:
1. Neo-Calvinists come to know God by their life experiences. Neo-Calvinists are not shy about proclaiming that there are alternative sources of revelation about the will of God for each believer’s life. Those sources are the Bible and personal, pietistic, mystical experience. I will have more to say about this later. Needless to say, this is the biggest single heresy in the Neo-Calvinist movement.
2. All believers are missionaries. The Great Commission was given to all believers. Everyone has the duty to evangelize his neighbor. This doctrine of evangelism, of course, is pure pietism. I discussed this doctrine in detail in my essay entitled “The Poison of Pietism” to which this Addendum is attached and would refer the reader there for more information about this paralyzing practice. Also see the other Addendum, written by Rick Brode, to this essay on the doctrine of Evangelism
3. The church is primarily a public service organization. Look at the list of things they do. They pride themselves on not “hijacking” their members into the service of the local church. May it never be said that any of their members serve the local church. No, they are missional, they only serve people outside the local church. They send their members out to be public servants, all in the name of being missional. Service to the visible Church is deemed irrelevant at best. Service to the members of a reprobate culture is seen as the highest form of godliness. This is a great agenda to propagate for the naive, ignorant and easily manipulated. This is a terrible agenda for the Church. It is unbiblical.
4. Ultimately, like all pietists, Neo-Calvinists believe it is vitally important to suspend the exercise of their Christian liberty in the presence of unbelievers. I believe this gets to the heart of what it means to be missional. Complete commitment to being missional means that each believer is required to think, feel and behave like his target. The target could be an individual pagan or a group or pagans united over some common purpose or goal. Regardless, to “be faithful to contextualize the truth in the culture in which they live” the missional person will become a social chameleon. Whatever the unbelieving group does, short of whatever the Neo-Calvinist might perceive to be sin, he will do. This is consistent with the cardinal tenant that all Christians are required to become all things to all people at all times. Sadly, this position makes no attempt to understand that friendship with the world is enmity with God. In attempting to feel, think and behave like his unregenerate missional target, the missional person becomes worldly. Excusing his behavior as “contextualizing the truth” does not make it any less sinful.
A book has been written that describes how a church is to be missional. It is entitled “Breaking the Missional Code” and was written by two Neo-Calvinists named Stetzer and Putman. It is worth taking a short look at this book.
Breaking the Missional Code:
All believers are to be missional. The local church is to be missional. From what I can tell, being missional means every believer is responsible to evangelize his neighbor by somehow first defining and then adopting the culture of his community. The authors of the book state, “”The key to breaking the code of a community is to have the heart of the Father for that community….If a church does not regularly examine its culture, it ends up as a culture unto itself.” Not surprisingly, they do not define what it is to “have the heart of the Father” and they do not define what the “community” is. Also not surprisingly, they do not describe why a culture created by a group of regenerate believers would be such a bad thing. Why is the Christian culture of the church so bad?
What they are very clear about is their belief that unbelievers reject the truth claims of the Bible not just because of their sin and the fact that they prefer the darkness over the light. In a sympathetic written review of the book that I found on the internet, the reviewer had this to say: “The authors write on the premise that each culture has unique issues that the local church must address to be able to effectively communicate the gospel, whether the culture is in suburban California, urban Seattle, or rural Alabama. Breaking the code requires a belief that there are cultural barriers (in addition to spiritual ones) that blind people from understanding the gospel. The task is to find the right way to break through those cultural barriers while addressing the spiritual and theological ones as well.” This is an amazing assertion. In a direct rejection of the Reformed doctrine that men are sinful and reject the truth claims of the Bible because of their sin, the Neo-Calvinist asserts that many, if not most, of the reasons for the rejection of biblical truth claims actually stems from the fact that the preacher has not properly cracked the missional code. In other words, it is the preacher’s fault that the unbeliever rejects the gospel. If the preacher had simply used the right words the person would have repented. He used the wrong words and the person did not repent. The preacher is guilty of failing to crack the missional code. No Reformed theologian has ever held a doctrinal position that even remotely approximates what the Neo-Calvinists are saying here.
So what is the evangelist (every believer) to do? In typical post modern style the authors say this: “But loving people means to proclaim a gospel about the Word becoming flesh—and proclaiming that the body of Christ needs to become incarnate in every cultural expression.” What does it mean to proclaim that the “body of Christ needs to become incarnate in every cultural expression”? I have no clue. They never define what they mean. But it sure sounds spiritual.
The authors recognize that they are subject to the criticism of changing the gospel in order to be pleasing to men. They counter this charge with the following assertion:
“For some people, it is easier to say, !We must not take our cues from culture. Entire ministries exist to attack any cultural influence upon the church. It preaches well (as evidenced by many pastor’s gatherings), but it is ultimately both unbiblical and untenable. It is unbiblical because God calls us to our culture and context and, to some degree, the church must reflect its culture. It is untenable because no one lives in an actual Christian environment. Many choose their preferred culture and assume/proclaim that it is God’s preference as well. To be theologically faithful and culturally relevant we must be willing to engage in answering the hard questions because the mandate of Scripture and the lostness of culture require nothing less.”
It is evident from this defense that the concept of culture has taken on a life of it’s own. The authors declare that culture has the ability to become “lost”. What does that mean? They don’t say. Furthermore, since when has it been the duty of believers to make the truth claims of Scripture “culturally relevant”? Paul, in describing the apostolic ministry, says that “I think God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world…we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things.” That hardly sounds like a man or a ministry that is “culturally relevant”.
Moreover, when Paul describes the nature of the content of his preaching he has this to say: “For the word of
the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.” There is no evidence in Paul’s writings of the need to break a missional code in order to communicate the gospel. On the contrary, Paul believed that the culture of this world was foolishness. Shouldn’t we?
Jesus certainly did not instruct His disciples on the importance of breaking the missional code prior to sending them out on their missionary journeys. He instructed them to go throughout Israel declaring that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He is never recorded telling them that they need to first determine the culture of the area in which they are preaching. He is never recorded telling them that they must follow that up with a detailed analysis of the culture that allows them to break it’s code and communicate the message of the Kingdom of heaven in a way that they will understand. On the contrary, Jesus did tell them to go and preach truth. Then He told them that “whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
What is Culture?
Neo-Calvinists talk incessantly about our culture. As post modern men, they never define what they mean by culture. They have told us that “God calls us to our culture and our context.” Does anybody have any idea what that sentence means? We get a brief glimpse into what they mean when the authors of “Breaking the Missional Code” say, “!Every church must find its unique call and vision. Not every church is called to reach the same people, worship using the same music, attract the same people, and appreciate the same values.” Apparently culture can be at least partially defined as the music and values of a particular group of people. This position, however, suffers from the logical quandary of projecting personal characteristics upon groups. There is no such thing as a group. We are always just collections of individuals. In that case, it is impossible to define “culture”.
Allow me to illustrate. I was a member of a church of approximately 40 members for many years. This church was located in the town of Evergreen, Colorado. As a suburb of Denver, Evergreen is an area where many financially prosperous people live. Ask the average Joe on the streets of Denver about the culture of Evergreen and you would most likely be told it is yuppie-town. Although we had a couple of families in our congregation that were yuppies, it would be totally unfair to characterize our church “culture” as being yuppie. We had people in their 60s and infants. We had millionaires and people on government assistance. We had couples with kids, couples without kids, college students, pathetic single males, and the occasional pathetic single female. We had Welsh, Norwegian, German, and Chinese ethnic backgrounds. We had a huge variety of family practices and traditions that differed from each other. We had a wide variety of foods that we like. We had a wide variety of music that we liked. We had people who were employees and people who were self employed. We had blue collar workers and white collar workers. Now, how would you describe our culture? Of course, it is impossible. There is no such thing as a culture. All we ever have in society is various collections of individuals. Individuals will associate with each other when their individual preferences overlap. That, however, should never be confused as some sort of measurable “culture”.
Ultimately, culture reduces to each individuals entire personal history. If we are called to unlock the culture in order to communicate biblical truth claims, then we are required to completely understand each individuals personal history prior to being able to communicate the gospel to that person. Furthermore, if the Neo-Calvinists are correct, I am personally responsible for the non-repentance of the unbeliever if I have not first totally unlocked his cultural code. Where in the Bible is this ever taught? Where are we ever told that the Bible is incomprehensible to an individual unless I have first unlocked his code so as to be able to communicate to him in words that he will understand (I am ignoring the obvious issue of different languages, which, by the way, was one of the reason for the gift of tongues.)?
By now it should be obvious that one of the primary goals of the Neo-Calvinist –to “redeem culture”– is an impossibility. It is impossible first and foremost because it is impossible to define what “culture” is. Second, it is impossible because culture is not a personal entity that is subject to the process of redemption. Only persons can be redeemed. Culture is impersonal and impossible to redeem.
Driscoll’s first distinction between Neo-Calvinism and old Calvinism is untenable. He misrepresents the history
of Calvinism. With his doctrine of the redemption of culture he creates ideological constructs that do not exist in the real world. His doctrine of being missional is entirely extra-biblical and established upon numerous pietistic presuppositions that are in error (the need for all to be evangelists, the idea that a man can reject the gospel because of the way I present it). Driscoll believes that his Neo-Calvinism is more “powerful” than the old Calvinism. This can only be true if one first adopts the principles of post modern communication. Then, yes, he does a fine job of constructing sentences that sound impressive but that convey no propositional truth whatsoever. If that is powerful, he is correct.