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Missional Renaissance (2)

My first post on Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church concluded with an invitation to join the missional renaissance.  But what is the missional renaissance?

Briefly stated, “the missional renaissance is changing the way the people of God think about God and the world, about what God is up to in the world and what part the people of God ply in it.  We are learning to see things differently, and once we adjust our way of seeing, we will never be able to look at these things the way we used to” (p. 2).

Reggie believes that God is creating this missional renaissance not only in the church, but the culture at large: “Just as in the fifteenth century, larger social forces are at work to conspire to create conditions ripe for this kind of development” (p. 3).  Specifically, Reggie believes that there are three things going on in culture that are creating a missional renaissance in the church:

  • The emergence of the altruism economy.  Our culture is entering a period of altruism, or service to others without personal benefit.  This is evident in Bill Clinton’s Giving, Oprah’s Big Give, Extreme Home Makeover, and the charity nights of American Idol.  This altruism economy is moving the church “from being the recipient of a generous culture to actually being generous to the culture” (p. 5).  This leads to the first shift of the missional church: from an internal to an external ministry focus.
  • The search for personal growth.  People are focused on self-improvement.  This is why Purpose -Driven Life sold millions, why Oprah and Dr. Phil are household names, and why cable TV stations are dedicated to self-improvement.  In a culture that resists mass standardization but desires personalization (how many ways can you get your coffee at Starbucks?), the church must move as well.  This leads to the second shift of the missional church: from program development to people development.
  • The hunger for spiritual vitality.  Finally, “the quest for spirituality as a central tenet of postmodern life has been amply chronicled by scores of researches and cultural analysts” (p. 12).  A recent Pew survey reveals that 93% of Americans believe in God while at the same time the largest “religious affiliation” is “nonaffiliated.”  There is a spirituality at large in the world, a hunger that must be fed.   This leads to the third shift of the missional church: from church-based to kingdom-based leadership.

These are the trends that Reggie sees in the culture and that he sees as influencing the missional renaissance of God’s church.  Of course, in Reggie’s mind, God has orchestrated these changes to occur at the same time for a reason!

At this point I can predict a reaction: “so the missional church is being driven by culture and is another cultural accommodation of the church.”  But I don’t think this is a fair conclusion.  To respond to this reaction, let me quote Mike Wittmer on the relationship between gospel and culture:

“Every generation must integrate the Christian faith with its own particular moment in history.  The early church did it with Plato, the medieval church used Aristotle, the Reformers relied on the Renaissance, the modern church incorporated the Enlightenment, and now the emerging church is seeking to assimilate its faith into our new postmodern culture”

In other words, it is natural that the culture impacts the church and the church impacts the culture.  The Renaissance brought back the study of Greek and Hebrew which influenced all of the Reformers, and the printing press enabled the Reformation message to spread like wildfire.  These are positive alignments between church and culture.  Similarly, the fact that our postmodern world is spiritual and accepting of God can be very positive for the church.  Certainly we define spirituality differently than culture, but this spiritual hunger will bring many to Jesus Christ.

So this is the missional renaissance.  Our next post will briefly review missional theology and then we’ll analyze each of these missional shifts individually.

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