Missio Dei is a significant concept within Christian Mission, it quite literally means the Mission of God, and it has been written on extensively for best part of the last 50-100 years, as David Bosch writes. It refers to the mission activity of God and how the church as part of Gods creation takes part in Gods mission – and not vice versa. The role of the church as a result is to point persons to God, the fullness of God and the reign of God. Mission, according to Bosch, affects all people in all areas of their existence. Mission is Gods turning to the world, in respect to creation, care redemption and consumation. It is Gods activity¹.
Subsequent to this phrase, one of the key terms that has been used in developing mission work (especially with young people) is that we in meeting young people on the streets are to be ‘joining God at work’ . On other occasions in mission we might be joining in with what God is doing.
But what comes to mind when it is said that ‘God is at work’ – might it be like the roadworks sign? , or ‘do not disturb- God at work’? . Is it one of those scenarios where we might only be able to imagine God being at ‘work’ in situations where we also have knowledge of what work might be like, so what might it mean if God is a youth worker, and at work? or a taxi driver, a nurse or a Bank manager.
Caution: God at work – might be dangerous?
Is ‘work’ the best word to use for God? Even is what ‘God is ‘doing’ the best word. Does work – even if it is a theology or work- have too many difficult or painful connotations, especially in a consumerist, efficient world in which there is high levels of stress, burnout and people leaving roles. God might be at work in the world, and our role in Mission might be to join in, but is there a problem with ‘work’.
Maybe we should change the metaphor. And not regard God as at work in the world, but as its key performer on its Stage.
Two of the proponents of this metaphor, see the role of God on the stage of the world differently. For Hans Urs von Balthasar, Man is the key performer on the stage, being tasked with acting towards Goodness, where Gods play is being played though us. The humans are free to perform, and are given this room by God to perform freely, and join in with the ongoing drama that God himself is performing towards a final climax, world redemption.
Kevin Vanhoozer emphasises that Christ is also on the stage performing, being the main character in the performance, the one who takes up the principle action and the part of being divine and human, he is both judge and to be judged².
And so, if the world is the stage for the Mission of God, and he is the principle actor on its stage, performing – what does this mean for:
- What are we supposed to do?
- What kind of performances is God most likely to be performing in?
The second question is interesting. If God is the key performer on the stage – what kind of performances is he most likely to be involved in. Well fortunately – like many good performances there is a script. And what is revealed in the script of the Bible is that these are examples of where God was found to be performing in the past, examples remember. So, where was God performing the most clearly? In Creation, In conversation, in creating community, in meeting peoples needs, in lifting up the humble, in healing the sick, in freeing the captives.. In a way, one of the places God seemed to be absent was in the cry of the heart of worship – David cried out and wondered where God was… in lament. To understand a little about the likeliest destination of where God might be acting on the stage of the world, we might find him in the places he was most likely at work in the script. Most likely, for every performance is different. Even the disciples couldnt predict where Jesus was likely to be, and his mother searched for 3 days in Jerusalem… But theres something about needing the knowledge of the script, that helps to filter where God is mostly likely to be performing. Otherwise we could just have free reign on stating that God is here, there or everywhere. Making God as predictable as 3g, in reality, he is more like 4g.
On the other aspect of the analogy. What if we imagine ourselves as sitting in the audience. Might we be able to see a small intricate that God is performing on the stage, if we’re in Row z? – maybe not. We might just know that God is up to something. We might need to move closer, leave our seats, wander down the proverbial aisle, and find ourselves on the stage. It might only be when we put ourselves right in the heat of the action, that we see exactly what God is up to. It is in that moment when we hear the conversation. It is when his hand is holding someone. Yet joining in with the performance is about being aware of the prompts that might be made in the scene. For we might see much in the context to take our cues from, but we also might tune ourselves to the voice and actions of God in the place that God is likely to be performing. For some people, God might be an artist, painting pictures, and are we the paintbrush? or the easel? or paper? – for others like Richard Rohr, God is a dance. What if God was instead the key performer on the stage of the world, and we were his co-actors on the stage, being on the stage as performers. Being prompted, but needing to be in the places where God prompts us to go.
Of course the stage of the world is full of drama in itself. Drama in that we have to hear the prompts of God in all the noise. Drama in that acting goodness might be prophetic, and challenging, Drama in that the stage contains both the wheat and the weeds, there is a complexity to the world stage, but that means that performing goodness is done as a deliberate task, we try to do good, it might not come naturally.
Back to the stage acting, not everyone can act without training, and formation, to understand the ways of the stage. But formation is done in order that performances are done, after all whats the point in learning lines, learning the cues of the script, the director and other actors, if it is not performed? But also formation happens as it is performed. Every live performance is different. Most notably during improvisation, when the actors respond all the time to what is happening on the stage, making themselves aware and responsive.
The metaphor can run a bit further. But for now – what might it mean to reflect on God being the key performer on the stage of the world, and us being his co-actors in the great drama of redemption?
what kind of performances his he renowned for doing in the script already? and so where is he most likely to be?
What might it take for us to join God the performer on the stage? – in reality we are already on the stage, but God as dramatic performer might be encouraging us to perform a new play, a new scene, or an old scene of justice in a new place. The world is already the stage of Gods performances, we act and perform good news by being involved in the action. Not everyone will want to be captivated by the overall play.
“When we speak about God, the world as a theatre of God’s activity is already implied’ (Bosch, quoting Hoekendijk, 1967, 2005, p10)
“The ultimate goal of the actor is not simply to play a role, but to project the main idea of the play (Vanhoozer, 2014, p119)
Joining in with ‘God at work’ – she might be performing a play of intrigue, drama, compassion, love, mercy and justice.. go find and go and join in.
¹David Bosch, Transforming Mission, 2nd edition, 2005, p400-401
²Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, 2005, p52
Also Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014.