It seems to me that both “missional” Christians and the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” folks envision God on a mission. They just configure that mission differently, and the result is two different conceptions of the church and the church’s mission.
DeYoung and Gilbert offer a narrative reading of Scripture in their third chapter. They portray the creation condition mainly in static terms. Humanity had a relationship of “perfect harmony” with God. This was a state of moral and legal purity that needed to be guarded and protected.
Adam and Eve disobeyed and violated the relationship with God in a moral and legal sense. It’s at this point that God initiates his mission, and his goal is to restore the relationship with humanity.
Every story has to have an obstacle that needs to be overcome, providing the central tension. For DeYoung and Gilbert, the obstacle is this broken relationship: “the main tension of the Bible’s story line seems to revolve around the question, How can hopelessly rebellious, sinful people live in the presence of a perfectly just and righteous God (p. 89)?”
The mission of God, on this conception, involves God’s aims to repair his relationship to humanity. This mission begins at the fall and ends at the consummation, returning creation to a sort of static condition of moral and legal perfection.
This narrative shapes the identity of the church by making it the place where God’s restored people gather. And what is the church’s mission? They are to gather and worship and give thanks for their restored relationship. If they do anything beyond that when they scatter, that’s commendable, but there isn’t anything essential beyond their gathering for worship and making disciples.
In addition, it may be worth considering how God’s supposedly antagonistic relationship with outsiders shapes the church’s attitude toward doing good in the world.
Missional Christians will respond that this narrative has the wrong starting point, an inappropriate narrative obstacle, a misplaced resolution, and a thinned-out ecclesiology.
They’ll point to an alternative narrative, claiming that God’s mission begins at creation. It’s not a static condition at all, but a vigorously and vitally dynamic one. God gives shape to what was formless and begins filling with wonderful things what was formerly empty. He creates a vibrant, teeming, swarming, and super-abounding world that is overflowing with life and commissions humanity to join him in filling it even more. Further, God wants the whole of his creation to be characterized by shalom and universal flourishing.
As the Creator God’s image multiplies and spreads throughout the earth and continues to grow into this role, the Creator God will be increasingly glorified in all of creation—God’s temple. God’s glory increases with the spread of creation’s flourishing.
A missional reading of Scripture gives priority of place to Genesis 1-2 and not Genesis 3, considering God’s passion for and delight in creation as the driving force in the narrative.
The obstacle in the narrative is, of course, the fall. Humanity has rebelled, failing to carry out God’s commission to subdue creation and manage the spread of universal flourishing.
The question that drives the narrative is, How can the Creator God redeem humanity as his image, reclaim creation as his temple, and restore creation’s flourishing for the glory of his name?
Missional Christians will claim that this story line satisfies in ways that the other doesn’t. It recognizes the dynamic and compelling character of God’s original intentions for creation. It makes sense of God’s call of Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. God still wants to be glorified by all of creation and by all the nations. He didn’t toss out that original desire at the fall.
This also makes sense of Jesus’ life and ministry. He did indeed come to die, but he also came to live! His life isn’t just a bunch of insignificant details until he goes to the cross. He enacts the truly human life that God wanted all along, one that subdues creation and seeks human flourishing in so many different ways.
This also makes Christ’s work on the cross multi-faceted. Jesus’ death and resurrection provides forgiveness, effects the reunion of shattered humanity, unleashes resurrection life on creation, and inaugurates the new creation.
All of that sets the trajectory for the church’s mission. The church is God’s people on earth, created, sustained, and empowered by the Spirit to experience God’s own life and joy in Christ. They are created to be communities of justice and flourishing, and this is to have a spill-over effect so that churches are literally “bodies of Christ.” They do in their wider communities what Jesus did when he came to earth, bringing healing, shalom, flourishing.
To a world that is enslaved to Sin and Death, suffering under the weight of evil’s devastation, the missional church embodies good news. And the church is a sign to the world of God’s coming renewal that will free creation finally and completely so that it once again becomes God’s temple.
At that point, the story starts to get profoundly better and the narrative really takes off…