Today I finished a book on mission entitled, Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections on Christian Mission Today. The work is offered by two Catholic missiologists, Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder.
I will go ahead and say this up front: This has been one of the best books on mission that I have ever read. It is spot on in considering many of the missional practices needed in our world today.
That mission should be walked out as prophetic dialogue. If mission is to be properly effective, it must embrace both sides of the mission coin, being both prophetic and dialogical.
However, before jumping into aspects of what constitutes prophetic dialogue, Bevans and Schroeder lay out two profound concepts in chapter 1, ones that I honestly had not spent a great deal of time considering before reading this work. The first is this: God is mission. They offer, “Another way of saying all this is that God is Mission. Not that God has a Mission, but that God is Mission” (p10).
We make such statements as God is love, God is just, God is holy, and others, but we have refrained from making the statement God is mission. Perhaps this is because mission is a noun, though an active noun. We are ok to ascribe adjectives to God, but we avoid applying nouns to the Almighty. Yet what Bevans and Schroeder are offering is that God is mission (or missional) at his core. As they say, “This is what God is in God’s deepest self…” (p10). If we’re struggling to agree with the statement, “God is mission,” then perhaps we could see mission as a proper noun, like a name or title.
This was a very intriguing perspective to consider, but one that I must say I agree with.
The second profound statement in the opening chapter is this: “The church does not have a mission, but the mission has a church” (p16). This flows out of a previous statement put forth just one page earlier – that mission precedes the church, mainly because mission is first of all God’s (p15).
If mission does precede the church – and I believe there is a strong case for such – then it does so primarily because it is based in the one true, mission-minded God. Not only that, but we (the church) would not have existed had it not been for mission. It’s a chicken-egg-which-came-first discussion, but I can get on board with the concept of mission preceding the church. Or at least claiming that both have equally existed in the heart of God.
Moving into the book’s great thesis of prophetic dialogue, the two authors highlight both edges of this one sword. In mission, we are called to be prophetic. The church by its very nature is prophetic since it is rooted and centered in the prophetic Christ and prophetic Spirit. Bevans and Schroeder point out the prophetic nature of mission in three particular ways: proclamation of the actual good news, exposing injustice and forming a contrast society (p60-61).
Mission as dialogue is then laid out in the most unique of ways, particularly by centering it in the concept of reverse mission. Bevans and Schroeder describe this idea in light of the long-held concept of contextualization within mission, which considers how we are to authentically take root within the people and culture we are looking to reach. In particular, they detail reverse mission with these pointed words: “we need to be evangelized by the people before we can evangelize them” (p59).
While there has been plenty talk about contextualizing within the missional space and place one finds himself or herself, I believe these two concepts of reverse mission and being first evangelized before evangelizing others offer fresh perspectives within a long-held conversation about mission.
The main thrust of prophetic dialogue continues to get discussed as concepts of inculturation are considered. Two ways this gets practically considered are through the concepts of “entering someone else’s garden” (ch.6) and “table fellowship” (ch.8). How do we faithfully enter into another’s space, or garden, and how can we faithfully utilize the table as a missional space? Bevans and Schroeder have much to offer in these two chapters.
The church is called to mission, no doubt. Who will question that? But within that mission, the church carried the great call of prophetic dialogue. And as we participate in mission, we are participating in the very nature (and action) of God, walking out what was already present when humanity arrived on the scene. Bevans and Schroeder have done a fantastic job in bringing fresh perspectives to mission in the 21st century.