Missions is inherently theological. Sometimes, though, we forget that healthy theology is inherently missional. That is, the teachings of Scripture drive every area of our evangelism, discipleship, and all missions activity. Even the doctrine of God is missional.
The Nature of God Is Missional
Consider the statement, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4 ESV). It’s a patently missional declaration in that it makes plain there is only one God worthy of worship. Yahweh declared this to Israel as they prepared to enter Canaan—a land inhabited by idolaters (Deut. 12:29–31). And Israel’s distinct characteristic was to rightly know and worship the one true God. Though, unfortunately, they failed at this. (Amos 5:22-26)
“The teachings of Scripture drive every area of our evangelism, discipleship, and all missions activity. Even the doctrine of God is missional.”
This missional declaration was reiterated in New Testament times as well. Not only did Paul restate it in 1 Corinthians 8:6 when pointing out the falsehood of idols, he exemplified this core belief about God in his preaching of the gospel. Amid the altars to many gods acknowledged in Athens, Paul declared there is only one God: the creator and judge of all (Acts 17:22–31).
Today, we echo this same proclamation as we declare among the worshipers of the false gods of this age, from animists to postmodernists, that only one God is worthy of the faith, hope, and love of every person. This one God exists in a community of perfect love (John 17:24). The church, a result of missions, reflects this community: the Father’s household, built on Christ and indwelt by the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22).
Missions necessarily involves sending, and God is the ultimate sender. The Father sent the Son (1 John 4:9–10), whose death and resurrection is the core of our message (1 Cor. 15:1–5). Father and Son sent the Spirit (John 14:16, 26; John 15:26). The Son has sent the church, empowered by the Spirit, to the nations (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit is essential for every facet of missions. He inspired the Scriptures (2Timothy 3:16); he gives wisdom and boldness to Jesus’ witnesses (Matthew 10:19-20; Acts 1:8), convicts the lost (John 16:8-11), enables response to the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6), gives new life (John 3:3), seals the believer (Ephesians 1:13-14), unites the believer with the body (1Corinthians 12:13), transforms character (2 Cor 3:18), and builds up the church (1Corinthians 12:7).
The Purpose of God Is Missional
Mission labors should be energized by the conviction that God wants to be known (Isa. 45:23). God’s ultimate purpose, therefore, is the foundation of missions: that he, in Jesus Christ, be acknowledged as God by every person (Phil. 2:9–11). To this end, creation testifies to everyone of his existence and goodness (Acts 14:17; Rom. 1:18–21), and the church is sent to all the nations to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20).
The Attributes and Character of God Are Missional
The attributes of God are missional. They provide motivation for missions engagement that rests upon the never-changing character of God. Consider what God’s attributes mean to those who know Christ and those who do not.
- God’s infinite knowledge (Prov. 15:3) consoles us—he knows us and loves us completely; it unnerves the nonbeliever, for God knows everything, including motives.
- His omnipresence (Ps. 139:7–12) comforts us, for he is with us; to an unbeliever, there is no place to hide from him.
- God’s infinite power (Ps. 135:6) encourages us; it demolishes his enemies’ loftiest ambitions.
- God is eternal (Ps. 90:2), so we anticipate eternal life with him; unbelievers can expect only eternal death.
- God is righteous and just (Jer. 9:24). To those who believe he gives as a free gift the righteousness he demands; the rest are judged justly for their deeds.
- God’s wrath (Rom. 2:5) sobers us; it should terrify the nonbeliever.
Reflecting on these attributes should move us to worship, intercessory prayer, and bold evangelism.
Closely related to God’s attributes, his character also permeates every area of missions. We proclaim his astounding love (John 3:16) for sinners among the nations. His patience (2 Pet. 3:9) with his rebellious creatures allows missions to continue—for now. His holiness (1 Pet. 1:14–16) calls us to holy character as we engage with people. By his grace (Eph. 2:1–8), he delivers those enslaved to sin and Satan. His sovereignty (Ps. 115:3) gives us confidence that he is at work beyond what our eyes see. Missions leaders constantly seek his wisdom (Rom. 11:33–36) as they seek to effectively reach peoples.
The Activity of God Is Missional
Finally, the activity of God undergirds all missions labors. He elected people in eternity who respond to the gospel in time (1 Thess. 1:4–6; 2 Thess. 2:13–14). He created a world that testifies to his existence (Ps. 19:1–6). He sustains the creation (Heb. 1:3), which allows life—and missions—to continue for now. His providence (Acts 17:26; Rom. 8:28–29) gives us confidence that he is directing the events of our lives and the course of history to make himself known. We warn people of coming judgment and point them to a gracious and mighty Savior (Acts 17:30–31).
Yes, missions is theological. But we dare not forget that theology is not an end in itself. And it is not healthy unless it is both faithful to Scripture and missional—compelling us to spread the good news of salvation in Christ for his name’s sake among the nations.
Preston Pearce is the IMB’s theological education strategist for Eurasia. He has lived with his family in Central and Eastern Europe for more than twenty years.