The Taser's Edge


Why Missional Theologians Need to Read More Aquinas (and Why I Definitely Need To)

Reading Todd Hunter’s Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others is making me wish I were more familiar with Thomas Aquinas.  I’m likely going to wear my ignorance of Thomas on my sleeve as I describe what he says.

As I understand it (and as Duke Divinity where I got my M.Div. is marked, among other things, by a lot of Barthian Protestants who read a lot of Aquinas), the Summa Theologiae can be seen as a cosmic drama.  It begins with God and the procession of all created things and beings from God, but the end is the idea that the work of redemption is the drawing of all creation back to union with God in the beatific vision.  So there is a going forth and a return, making all of Space-Time one beautiful breath of God.

Why does this matter?  Because missional theologians need a bigger picture than what they’ve currently got.  The church is ‘the sent people of God.’  The local church is ‘a missional outpost of the reign of God.’  Okay, that’s nice.  But that’s not at all the whole picture.  The purpose of the reign of God is not just the reign of God over us but (can I say this and still believe that missional theology is important?) union with God.  The purpose is not just to be sent by God or to be ruled over by God but to return to God.

It’s not that this is some sort of undifferentiated energy cloud or drops of water losing themselves in the ocean.  Scripture doesn’t speak of a time when all differentiation is lost.  Scripture speaks of worship.

I’ve learned well (not that I couldn’t learn more) from Orthodox brothers and sisters that worship is entering into the eternal worship before the throne of God.  To me, what missional theology needs is a robust ecclesiology.  The church as we usually experience it is an earthly institution which is a sharing, in fits and coughs and starts, in an eternal reality.  The sending out of the church is only temporary, but the return to blessed rest in the beatific vision of God is eternal.  Please, missional theologians, give me a bigger picture, because yours is truly not inspiring enough (and not just not inspiring, but too short-sighted a vision for full lives in God).