Ross Hastings. Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-evangelizing the West. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012. 333pp. $24.00.
“Mission is the mother of theology.” These words, penned by Martin Kähler, have provided a framework for missions for the past century. Yet, in his new book Missional God, Missional Church, Ross Hastings argues that mission and theology are corollary, for “theology (specifically that of participation) is the mother of mission” (249).
Hastings serves as an associate professor of pastoral theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Hastings’s work serves as a missional theology for the role of the church in the mission of God. The foundation of Hastings’s book is John 20:19–23, which he terms “the Greatest Commission” (81). He locks on a few key points from the text, showing how the church is commissioned by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to disseminate peace and forgiveness in the world, fully participating in the missio trinitatis. For Hastings, the mission of the church is directly related to the mission of God. He argues that mission is at the heart of the trinitarian community and that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit can best be described as “Sender, Sent, and Sending” (77). Thus, the very character of God is wrapped up in God’s mission to the world, and the church participates fully in this mission. This mission is not just one of the activities of the church among many, but rather this mission “constitutes its very essence” (78).
As a result, Hastings hopes to inspire the church to approach its gathering and its world in a different way. His thesis is that the church should be a missional community that reflects the trinitarian nature of God by bringing shalom to one another and to the world. Hastings draws upon the Eastern Orthodox idea of perichoresis, the mutual indwelling of God, in his understanding of the church. Christians are fully indwelled by the Spirit, and through fellowship and communion Christians can indirectly indwell one another. This mutual indwelling empowers ministry to one another and to the world. The church, as persons-in-communion through the Spirit, participates in the life, love, and mission of the Trinity when it experiences shalom with one another and extends that shalom to others.
Too often, however, the Western church falls short of this ideal. For Hastings, the Western church has lost its distinctiveness. The church has become too enculturated by the world, and as a result cannot effectively inculturate the gospel in ways that make it distinctive yet attractive. Thus, Hastings seeks to inspire the church to a different way of life than was typical of Christendom. Our conduct, purpose, and identity must change to reflect the character of the triune God. He writes, “Reevangelizing the West first means reevangelizing Western Christians with the good news of who God really is in order that we might reflect who he really is, and not projections of our psyches” (107). The Western church can only hope to re-evangelize its culture if it begins to reflect the trinitarian nature of God, lives in openness to human relationships, lives and works incarnationally, and reflects the oneness of the Trinity. Hastings calls the Western church to be a countercultural, relevant entity in our post-Christendom Western society.
Hastings echoes the contemporary call for the church to be missional in nature. He commissions the church to be both deep and wide in its theology and practice: deep in its theological practices and reflection, and wide in its outreach to the world, drawing people to God and into the community. For Hastings, the church is at its best when it reflects the missional nature of the Trinity through its worship, reflection, and practices, both within the Christian community and within the world at large.
Like much of the missional church material, Hastings’s book is excellent theologically but lacking in practical application. Hastings intends to provide a theological foundation for the discussion of the role of the church in contemporary society. Ultimately, however, the book could provide more of a catalyst for individual reflection. A series of questions at the end of each chapter, or a summary “so what” chapter at the end that seeks practical integration of the theories with the context of the reader would have been a helpful addition. Even a series of contemporary examples of churches applying missional theology into their everyday practices would allow the reader to imagine the practical application of Hastings’s book in their own church setting.
The book is nonetheless a wonderful addition to the missional church discussion. It would function well as a primer on missional theology in an academic setting relating to systematic theology, missiology, or missional ecclesiology.
Community Life Minister
West University Church of Christ
Houston, TX, USA