Mission and Mental Health – Peter Bellini

“Mission and Mental Health”

    Rev. Peter Bellini Ph.D.

The missio (mission) of God begins with creatio (creation) and culminates in creatio nova (a new creation) as the Logos (Word) of God became flesh, even context, specifically a human in the cosmos, that he may redeem, transfigure, and restore humanity, as well all as the rest of creation to God’s original intent (Eph.1:10). For some early theologians, the restoration of all things meant a cosmic theosis, all of creation transformed to reflect the image of God. The Byzantine theologian Maximus the Confessor (590-622CE) understood that through Christ the fundamental divisions in humanity and the universe would be reconciled through Christ’s theandric mediation and the theotic impact on the universe would be nothing less than a cosmic transfiguration.[1] The eschatological trajectory of restoration purposed in Maximus’ cosmic Christology and the cosmic mission of Christ is a new heaven and a new earth.

What a mandate for the church to participation in the liturgical drama of cosmic salvation in which the traditional divide and false dichotomy of evangelical and cultural mandates are joined, fulfilled, and transcended. The Spirit witnesses through the work of the people of God in proclamation and demonstration of the Kingdom, embodying and imparting its righteousness (justice), peace (shalom), and joy (fulfillment and strength from soteria/salvation) in all aspects of life The semantic domains of the words soteria and shalom intersect at notions of soundness, wholeness, and well-being that includes not only spiritual well-being but physical and mental well-being as well.

 Eastern Christianity has long understood sin as soul sickness and salvation as curative. John Wesley (1703-1791) founder of the Methodist movement drew from Eastern sources[2] and likewise understood salvation, at least in one aspect, as restorative and curative in nature and combined a variety of resources that were accessible to him at that time to minister to the soul, mind, and body of early Methodists. Wesley’s robust soteriology was driven by a quest for both spiritual and physical wholeness, and he employed whatever means were available to attain it.[3] Similarly, the church is called to a ministry of healing and health as part of a larger ministry of justice and salvation. A good and needed place to begin is in the area of mental health.[4] In terms of mental health both globally and in the church, it is the leading cause of illness and disability worldwide, with a substantial population being underdiagnosed and undertreated.[5] There is much we can do to address this global issue, beginning with a mental health ministry in our local church.

One example is the United Methodist Mental Illness Network of “Caring Communities” developed by the General Board of Church and Society. According to Mental Health Ministries, #3303, Book of Resolutions 2012, global United Methodists are invited to join the Caring Communities program that unites congregations and communities in covenant relationship with persons with mental illness and their families to educate and help remove the stigma around mental health issues.[6] Caring Communities “Educate congregations and the community in public discussion about mental illness and work to reduce the stigma experienced by those suffering. Covenant to understand and love persons with mental illness & their families. Welcome persons and their families into the faith community. Support persons with mental illness and their families through providing awareness, prayer, and respect. Advocate for better access, funding and support for mental health treatment and speak out on mental health concerns.”[7]

We can begin by equipping one point person in our local church as a first responder[8] or even launch a full mental health ministry.[9] Mental health is a complex field that involves a network of larger systems and institutions, medical, commercial, judicial and socio-economic systems among others, impacting everyone, specifically the poor, women, youth, and the homeless. However, if God’s plan is a cosmic theosis, then as Kingdom people it is our call to impact this complex field with Christ’s justice and salvation beginning in our local church and extending to the world.

[1]           Maximus Confessor studies have been on the rise over the last thirty years. Also, there have been numerous works recently on Maximus the Confessor and the relationship between cosmic Christology and theosis, and the cosmos. For a recent example see, Paul Blowers, Maximus the Confessor: Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration of the World (Oxford University Press, 2018). Note: the author does not intend to imply the apokatostasis in terms of universalism but the cosmic extent of the love of God in Christ that brings a new heaven and a new earth with the hope of salvation for all.

[2]           See Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Nashville, Abingdon, 1994) that claims Wesley drew from Eastern Christian therapeutic notions of sin and salvation.

[3]           In terms of physical and mental health, Wesley’s Primitive Physick and The Desideratum, or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful (electrotherapy) were examples of Wesley’s attempt in publication to make health care accessible and affordable to the people called Methodists. Publications coupled with health ministries, such as along free clinics and pharmaceutical dispensaries were part of early Methodist health and wellness ministry.

[4]           See the United Methodist Church’s Book of Resolution 2012 for the denomination’s statement on mental health and ministry.

[5]           See various global studies from the World Health Organization, including, and a study within the church from LifeWay Research,


[7]           Faith and Mental Health Bulletin Insert, 2013.

[8]           Mental Health First Aid is a global ministry that trains people in the local church.

[9]           “Hope for Mental Health,” a mental health ministry out of Saddleback Church under Pastor Rick Warren has created a Hope for Mental Health Starter Kit for local churches.

THE PROCESSIO-MISSIO CONNECTION: A Starting Point in Missio Trinitatis or Overcoming the Immanent-Economic Divide in a Missio Trinitatis – Peter Bellini

THEPROCESSIO-MISSIO CONNECTION: A Starting Point in Missio Trinitatis or Overcoming the Immanent-Economic Divide in a Missio Trinitatis


In light of the resurgence of Trinitarian theological studies and the emergence of Missio Dei theology, there is a need for clear Trinitarian missional theology, a missio Trinitatis. A robust missio Trinitatis should address key issues and challenges within Trinitarian studies that impact missiology. One such challenge identified by John Flett in his Witness of God is that a viable connection has not been made between the being of God and the acts of God. Our theological attempts at locating mission in the being of the Trinity have failed, and the result has been a wedge driven between the immanent-economic aspects of the Trinity. The problem that will be addressed is twofold. First, how can we theologically locate mission in the imminent Trinity and keep its imminent and economic aspects undivided. Second, how shall we understand the relationship between the imminent and the economic dimensions of the Trinity?

In addressing the problem, I am proposing two solutions. First, a robust missio Trinitatis should necessarily locate the origin of the missional enterprise in the very nature of the tri-personal God. I will explore the work of Thomas Aquinas, Karl Rahner, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. These theologians have attempted to locate the missional enterprise in the processions or processio within the intra-divine relations of the immanent Trinity. Rahner’s Rule establishes the methodological congruence between the two aspects of the Trinity and joins the work of salvation to the doctrine of the Trinity. Von Balthasar, who draws from Aquinas’ work, locates the missio in the processio showing the latter to be definitive and causal to the former. Ultimately, the mission is located and connected with the persons of the Trinity.

Second, a Trinitarian mission theology should preserve the integrity of God’s transcendent or ontological nature, as opposed to allowing it to collapse into any construct of radical immanence, which in turn would permit the economic work to define the Trinity unilaterally and totally. It is then crucial to qualify Rahner’s Rule as methodological and not ontological or epistemological. If Rahner’s Rule is allowed to become a balanced and total equation, then there can be a tendency to collapse the immanent into the economic resulting in erasure of God’s transcendence and a totalization of the eternal Triune God into natural, temporal and human terms. It can be argued that Catherine Mowry La Cugna’s proposal, at times, seems to exemplify this problem. Thus, a qualifier is attached to Rahner’s Rule that allows for methodological equivalence but not ontological or epistemological equivalence. The Rule is given the status of congruence with a remainder or approximate equivalence.

Missio Dei and the Immanent-Economic Divide

The origin of the received missio Dei tradition is complicated and often debated.  Up until recently, the standard narrative has been to trace the idea of the Missio Dei back to Barth, and then through to Karl Hartenstein who would give the concept a name and a voice. Redactors claiming this genealogy would also claim that both Barth and Hartenstein framed their versions of Missio Dei within a Trinitarian theological framework. In his book The Witness of God, John Flett would counter that there is no documentary proof for any of the Missio Dei claims attributed to Barth (Flett 2010:12). In citing Bosch, Flett refutes that the Missio Dei seems to have received at least its original stimulus in part from Karl Barth, whose primary concern was to let God speak and act for God’s self, including missionally (Flett 2010:78-80).

Barth read a significant paper in 1932 at the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in which he repudiated the notion that mission or its conception was a human activity or a work of the church, but that God alone acts on God’s own behalf. Yet despite this admission, Flett argues that Barth never used Missio Dei language nor did he ground or develop a theology of mission in the Trinity, both which are erroneously attributed to him (Flett 2010:120-122). In 1934 Flett notes that it would be Karl Hartenstein, missiologist and friend of Barth, who would coin the phrase Missio Dei, and at the 1952 Willingen Conference of the IMC, the term was first promulgated (2010:123;152-157). By 1958 missiologist Georg Vicedom would popularize it, and in 1991 David Bosch would canonize it and specifically canonize it in Trinitarian garb.

John Flett’s thesis in The Witness of God is that from Karl Barth to current missiological studies unfounded claims are made that the Missio Dei has been solidly grounded in Trinitarian theology (Flett 2010:12). Flett holds that prescriptively this needs to be the case, but descriptively it hardly has been the case because it is not supported in the literature, especially in the Barthian corpus (Flett 2010:47). Locating mission in God was meant in part to be a corrective to a church-centered mission that at times allowed evangelization to advance on the coattail of colonization. As long as mission remained a product of the church, then any ecclesial agenda, theological, political or otherwise could be pawned off as the work of God.

Although such a correctivehas addressed the initial problem by reclaiming the missio as an enterprise that originates in God’s own being, Flett asserts that the Missio Dei may have created further problems for Trinitarian mission theology in that it drives a wedge between the immanent and economic aspects of the Trinity and between God’s mission and the church (Flett 2010:17-18). There is often a theological discontinuity or a wedge between God’s being in se and God’s action for the world that needs to be resolved. If mission is definitive of God, “God is a missionary God”, then mission cannot be grounded in God’s temporal actions in the world but must be founded in and not separated from the eternal nature of God’s being (2010:197). Flett poses the problem. Mission cannot be foreign to God’s nature or actions. Not only is mission to be indigenous to both God’s nature and actions, but it must be a function of both immanent and economic aspects of the Trinity, equally and undivided.

Rahner’s Rule: a Methodological Balance

Much of the discourse on the immanent-economic issue centers around some response to Karl Rahner’s axiom that the “the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity” (Rahner 1967:22). This axiom has come to be known as “Rahner’s Rule,” as coined by Ted Peters and has become a watershed and standard in Trinitarian theology (Peters 1993:213 n.33). Rahner’s work seeks to establish congruence between immanent and economic aspects of the Trinity by removing any wedge between the two, and uniting intra-Trinitarian processions with missions.

One of Rahner’s concerns in uniting the two aspects is to ensure that the Trinity does not remain a mere doctrine or even a doctrinal mystery alienated from creation or our experience in salvation history (Rahner 1967:21-22). There can be no ontological or methodological divide between De Deo Uno and De Deo Trino, no possibility for two self-communications of the divine, or two trinities (1967: xiv). The one self-communication of the being of God is revealed through the Triune God in the economy of salvation, a three-fold revelation. God’s three-fold activity in salvation history allows us to understand the tri-personal God in eternity without difference. God communicates God’s Word through the eternal generation of the Son imminently and through the Incarnation of the Son economically, so that the Father may be known. In communicating God’s Word, God also communicates God’s love in the eternal procession and sending of the Spirit so that we may know God’s love that is expressed as the Father generates and communicates the Son and breathes out the Spirit.

Rahner’s axiom poignantly directs our understanding of the revelation of the Triune God. God’s self-communication is real and experienced in the Son and the Spirit. For example God’s self-communication in the Incarnation truly reveals the fullness of God. In opposition to the Scholastic notion that any member of the Trinity could have assumed the Incarnation, Rahner recognizes that such a move further divides immanent and economic aspects. Such a notion proposes that nothing specific of the immanent Trinity is conveyed in the economic merely the common essence of divinity, while Triune particularity is untouched, unrevealed, and irrelevant. However because the Incarnation is actually the Logos of God, the second person of the Trinity become flesh, then not only does the economic truly communicate the Divine, but it even communicates specifically the Divine person of the eternal Son. The Incarnation is Rahner’s proof that the two aspects are convertible. The particularity of the Incarnation reveals the particularity of the hypostasis, in this case the Logos. Thus methodologically, the economic revelation in salvation history works. It truly communicates who God is and what God does (1967:28-33). The imminent-economic connection is made.

For Rahner, there is no “real” God behind the God of our experience, which in essence would reduce the economics of the Son and the Spirit to mere appearances or created mediations, thus Arianism (1967:37-38). The God we receive in salvation is the God of eternity. Rahner clarifies that “these three self-communications are the self-communication of the one God in the three relative ways in which God subsists” (1967:35). The economy of the Trinity is faithful to unveil the immanence of the Trinity because ultimately there is only one Divine self-communication immanently and economically. There is no distinction methodologically. Rahner’s attempt to fortify the integrity of the economic revelation is significant for mission in that it is an attempt to reconnect mission with the intra-Trinitarian life (1967:30). In fact since the economic reveals the immanent in salvation history, and what we know of the latter comes from the former, then “the doctrine of the “missions” is from its very nature the starting point for the doctrine of the Trinity” (1967:48). God’s mission in the world reveals the very nature of the tri-personal God.

Thus in Rahner, there has been a thoughtful attempt at repairing this internal breach within the Trinity that tends to dislocate mission from the immanent tri-personality of God. The integrity of the Incarnation prevents a wedge to be driven between the immanent and economic aspects at least methodologically. Not only is the immanent the economic and the economic the immanent, but also, according to La Cugna, “Rahner’s principle on the identity of economic and immanent Trinity ensures a commensurability between mission and procession” (La Cugna 1991:213). There is a qualified congruence between the processio and the missio.

Thomas Aquinas and Hans Urs von Balthasar: the Processio-Missio Connection

Rahner strikes a methodological balance between immanent and economic aspects of Trinitarian theology and touches briefly on the primacy of mission as a starting point. However, it is Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who further joins mission with the ad intra relations of the divine persons by retrieving Aquinas’ foundational work, in which the missio is intertwined with intra-Trinitarian relations, namely the processio. Von Balthasar, as part of the Catholic Ressourcement, draws from the fountain of Aquinas. For Aquinas and von Balthasar the immanent processions locate and define the mission in terms of the relations of the Son and the Spirit to the Father in eternity and in the oikonomia. The nature and action of the processio extends to and expounds the missio. 

Before examining von Balthasar’s retrieval of Aquinas, let us review Aquinas’ own understanding of the Trinity and its processions, and mission. Aquinas construes the intra-Trinitarian relations of persons through analogy. Aquinas draws somewhat from Augustine’s psychological model of the Trinity that parallels the knowing and willing self. There are two processions, “the action of the intellect, the procession of the Word; and the other from the action of the will, the procession of love” (Aquinas 1948:154). Aquinas posits an immanent processional doctrine of Word and Love. The immanent modes of procession are the intellectual mode of knowing, and the volitional mode of will/love (Emery 2007:19). The object known and loved, God, is within the knower and lover, God (Aquinas 1948:149). For example, if I know and love my wife, then the knowledge of her is in my mind, and the love of her is in my heart. Both knowledge and love are internalized. In this sense internal or immanent processions of knowledge or Word and will or love are subsistent within God.

In the Summa Theologica Volume One, Question 27, Articles 1-3, Aquinas’ account of the intellectual mode begins by way of similitude or comparison with creation and its highest activity, the act of cognition. God’s self-awareness or self-knowledge generates the Word of God, just as a thought is generated within our own minds when we behold an object. The object in this case is God’s own self. The Word is the thought or reflective knowledge arising or generating from God’s self-perception, a process of conception by intelligible self-reflection. God communicates his thought in language and meaning as Word and that Word is Son, the eternally begotten Son. Eternal generation occurs within the Divine nature bearing the Word in similitude to the Word’s eternal origin in the Father (1948:147-148).

As God relates to God’s self in terms of generating self-knowledge, there is also the exertion of God’s will towards God’s self in the eternal generating of the Son, and that will is love, the procession of the Spirit. The dynamic of the will is inspired in love towards the good of God’s self. The processions are God knowing and willing ad intra. The Father loves himself and the Son, and this is exuded in the Holy Spirit. The love of the Spirit is breathed out and exudes and flourishes from the Father through the generation of the Son into the spiration of the Spirit. God’s eternal knowledge of God’s self eternally generates the Word, and the will proceeds in love towards the goodness of God’s self. The Spirit as love also becomes the mutual bond between Father and Son. The Father and Son love each other by the Holy Spirit, who is love proceeding (1948:190).

The processions are immanent actions, ad intra, as knowing and willing are for us. It is essential that the processions are within the agent itself, in this case the Father (1948:149). The proceeding persons are consubstantial with the origin, the Father, and are not external but within the agent, preventing Arianism. The analogy of the procession is the internal generation of language and meaning that proceeds from within the mind. The Word is communicated as person, Son. Procession is the basis of the relation of origin and constitutes the person. It is a real relation of persons who are constituted in and as relations. The divine persons are defined by their “relations of origin”, which are their processions from the Father. Relation of origin delineates distinction in God (1948:159). The act of the procession establishes the relation, and the relation constitutes and distinguishes the persons (1948:151,204). The Son is the Son because the relation of origin is to the Father. Aquinas acknowledges both subsistence and relations as constituting divine personhood and divine essence. A divine person is a “subsistent relation”(1948:159).

Aquinas’ work contends that the immanent processions that are definitive of the persons are also definitive of the missions, the missions of the Son and the Spirit (Emery 2007:364). Immanent and economic aspects of the Trinity are conjoined and continuous as the former is the source and foundation for the latter. God’s same knowledge and love ad intra is communicated ad extra. Within God’s own generational and processional knowledge are also God’s knowledge of all creation, and in this knowledge is God’s love for all creation. As God knows and loves God’s self, so God knows and loves all of creation. All things are made and sustained by the generation of God’s word and proceed out of God’s love. The processio is defined by the nature of the relations and the distinctive properties of the person. The missio is also defined by the processional relations and distinctive properties of the person. In the case of the Word, the Son is eternally generated in the procession. The Word is distinct in person due to relation, Son. The procession defines and constitutes the person, Son. The procession defines and constitutes the Spirit as well. The procession of the persons also defines the mission, which for Aquinas is a “temporal procession” (1948:221). Mission begins in the eternal procession and has a temporal effect in the world (1948:220).

Thomas distinguished between “eternal procession” and “temporal procession” and between “visible mission” and “invisible mission” (1948:220-223). Eternal procession has been discussed. Temporal procession is simply mission in the world. It is the action of the eternal procession carried out in space and time. The temporal processions or missions begin with the creation and move to the Incarnatio. The visible mission is the visible embodiment of the Divine person in mission, for example the Incarnation. The invisible mission is the interior sanctifying work of the Son and the Spirit in the church and in the lives of believers. With these distinctions made it is clear that Aquinas tightly links mission with the processions of the persons in the immanent Trinity and not apart from them. In Question 43, Article 4, he lucidly declares, that mission means procession from the sender (1948:222). Mission is tied to procession and the sender or origin.

Mission points to the sender and thus points to the origin in the Father and the procession of the Son (1948:220). Gilles Emery cites Aquinas that “A divine person’s mission will have two constitutive features: (1) this person’s eternal procession; and (2) the divine person’s relation to the creature to whom this person is made present in a new way” (Emery 2007:364). For example, the mission of the Word is the eternal generation from the Father, and the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. Immanent and economic are conjoined in one divine action that stems from the nature of God and not from contingency and need of salvation. Also mission is not an after thought connected back to God in order to substantiate a Missio Dei in the ontological Trinity. Emery explains the missional nature of the immanent processions and their relations in this manner:

The notion of missions is a part of the integrated theory of the immanent processions and Trinitarian relations of origin: a divine mission ‘includes’ an eternal procession in itself. So the premier feature of mission is an origination relation as between one divine person and another. This relation is eternal and uncreated, like the divine persons themselves (Emery 2007:365).

Mission is directly connected to the processions, the relations the processions represent, and the origin of the relation. Procession is missional since it involves a sender (the origin) and the sent (the relation of origin) (1948:220). Aquinas puts it this way, “Thus the mission of a divine person is a fitting thing, as meaning in one way the procession of origin from the sender, and as meaning a new way of existing in another; thus the Son is said to be sent by the Father into the world” (1948:220).

Aquinas’ missional theology grounds the divine missions in the divine persons who are forever one in the divine essence. Aquinas links the relations and processions of the immanent Trinity with the missions of Christ and the Spirit in the economic Trinity. The mission is the revelation of the distinctive personal properties of the Son and the Spirit. The temporal processions (missions) including creation, God’s revelation to Israel, the Incarnation, Pentecost, and the birth and work of the church all originate from the Father and his divine action in the immanent eternal processions. The eternal generation of the Son, and the procession of the gift of love, the Holy Spirit are revealed economically in creation, the creation of humanity in the imago Dei, the Incarnation, and the gift of salvation.

Hans Urs von Balthasar retrieves Thomas’s mission theory for his own Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, the secondpart of his magnum opus trilogy in 18 volumes, The Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama and Theo-Logic. For von Balthasar the immanent processio of the divine persons becomes programmatic for the missio in a way in which not only is the economic work of the Trinity immutably grounded ad intra in God’s transcendence rather than human experience, but also immanent and economic aspects are conjoined to resist any dualistic or reductionistic construct of the divine nature and Trinitarian activity.Mission is the guide and basis for Von Balthasar’s theodramatic theory that centers on the person and mission of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ (Balthasar 1992:3:201). The eternal generation of the Son becomes and is the mission of the Son of man in the world. For Balthasar the Son, or Sonship, is itself the mission. “Son” is a processional and missional category. Son indicates his “Trinitarian relationship to the Father and the soteriological goal of his mission” (1992:3:153).  Von Balthasar discovers an a apriori connection between person, defined by procession, and mission (1992:3:165-166). Mission is divinely personal.

Balthasar stresses that mission is not given ex post facto or is a function of human conditions and terms, but the second “person has been given a mission, not accidentally, but as a modality of his eternal personal being; if, as Thomas says, the Son’s missio is the economic form of his eternal processio from the Father” (1992:3:201). With the second person of the Trinity, the relation of origin, Son, is the mission. For von Balthasar, mission becomes an aspect of being as exemplified in the Son. “Son” defines the person and the work, inseparably. The procession of the Son is the mission. Von Balthasar makes this connection in the Synoptic and Johannine “sending formulas” that are definitive of Christ’s “sent-ness” (Von Balthasar 1992:151-153). Christ has a “mission consciousness” and understands himself in these terms as “one who is sent” (1992:3:163-166).

Space does not provide for a thorough scriptural unpacking of Christ’s mission and sent-ness, but the point is that mission is grounded in the immanent processions, in this case, the generation of the Son determines the mission of the Son. The sending of missio is rooted in the primordial processio (1992:5:154). Simply, the processio becomes definitive and causal of the missio in one divine action with eternal and temporal effects. The eternality of generation and procession within the Godhead does not cease in time but analogically and temporally manifests in mission with the “generation” of the Word and the “procession” of the Spirit in creation, incarnation, and in new creation. There is a continuum of the processio and missio of God that extends from the eternal divine action and relations into creatio, culminating with the Incarnatio and theosis.

Von Balthasar’s correlation between processio and missio thus far is in accord with Rahner’s Rule. With the processions ad intra taking on the form of missio ad extra, the immanent is revealed and experienced in the economic. Yet since processio can only be within a nature, the Divine nature, and missio pertains to created or contingent nature, there is an ontological difference, a remainder, and never simply an equating, whereby the economic order can never totalize the ontological nature of God, a necessary corrective to what could be construed as a reductive tendency in Rahner’s Rule.

In volume three of his Theological Dramatic Theory, Von Balthasar cautiously assures us that the economic reveals and interprets the immanent but is not fully, axiomatically identified with the immanent since the immanent is the ground and support of the economic (1992:508). He clarifies that the laws of the economic Trinity arise from the immanent Trinity, but they are not simply identical (1992:157). There is always a remainder. Von Balthasar is highlighting what would be more the methodological symmetry rather than the ontological. Both Thomas and Von Balthasar operate too strongly out of an analogical epistemology to allow the empirical to totalize the transcendent. There can be no univocal expression of God either in language or ontology.

It is vital to recall that Thomas’ and von Balthasar’s analogical ontology, an analogia entis, recognizes not merely similarity but more so the dissimilarity between the nature of God and God’s mission and our understanding of both, preventing a strict immanent-economic equation. The analogia entis is Von Balthasar’s move to preserve God’s prerogative, freedom, mystery, and transcendence over against the totalizing tendency of univocity. Even in the Incarnation, which is the concrete analogia entis, the ontological difference between created and uncreated natures remains (1992:3:222). There is always a remainder due to the ontological gap between necessary and dependent being, and a remainder due to an epistemological gap that involves the noetic effects of sin and the mystery of apophasis. The remainder serves as a response to any attempt at making an ontological or epistemological equation of Rahner’s Rule, which in essence would become Rahner’s Reduction.  

Problems arise when Rahner’s Rule is made an ontological or even an epistemological equation. A different problem can arise when any one of the two postulates of Rahner’s Rule defines the rule to the exclusion of the other postulate. On the other hand, Catherine La Cugna has called for the elimination of the immanent-economic distinction in favor of an experiential model that is defined and shaped by soteriology. Defining the Trinity in strictly empirical terms can lend to a tendency to collapse the immanent into the economic, resulting in erasure of God’s transcendence and a totalization of the eternal Triune God into natural, temporal and human terms.

IT=ET – Catherine La Cugna and the Problem with the Equation

Catherine Mowry La Cugna’s magnum opus, God For Us, has been a seminal work in the advancement of Trinitarian studies. In recovering the soteriological and practical nature of the doctrine of the Trinity, she built upon the work of Rahner. La Cugna is aware of the aporia in Rahner’s Rule if it were to be interpreted as an ontological or epistemological equation. She states in her introduction to Rahner’s The Trinity that “Both the distinction and the identity between the economic and immanent Trinity are conceptual, not ontological” (Rahner 1967:xiv).  As a method it stands that “God truly is as God reveals God’s self to be” (1967: xiv). Nothing of God’s essence or persons is lost. In God For Us, La Cugna reiterates her assessment that Rahner’s Rule must be understood methodologically and not as an ontological or epistemological equation. She states, “but the distinction between economic and immanent Trinity is strictly conceptual, not ontological” (La Cugna 1991:212). She later asks the question, “Is it literally true that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, as in the tautology A=A” (1991:216). La Cugna answers that a “strict ontological identity” would result in Rahner’s Rule being no different than pantheism (1991:217). There is always a remainder between theologia and oikonomia because “God’s self-communication in history is not exactly not identical with God’s eternal self-communication” (1991:219). La Cugna confirms that there is unity between theologia and oikonomia but not identity “either epistemological or ontological, between God and God for us (1991:221). She acknowledges the ontological difference, but, at times, in her work she seems to conflate the difference.

Although, La Cugna built on the work of Rahner, she believes the corrective in Trinitarian theology needs to extend to Rahner’s theology as well. For La Cugna, Rahner is still caught up in the “stranglehold of the post-Nicene problematic when he uses the undeniable distinctions of persons in the economy to posit intradivine self-communication, intradivine relation, God in Godself” (1991:222).  La Cugna’s work seeks to restore the work of salvation to the doctrine of the Trinity, as it was prior to Aquinas and Augustine and even Nicaea, when in her estimation theologia was not separated from oikonomia, and oikonomia revealed and defined theologia (1991:221-222). She believes most of the discourse and work around the doctrine from Nicaea until today to be highjacked by speculation. For La Cugna, this period is characterized by metaphysical speculation concerning the foundational and determining nature of theologia on the doctrine of the Trinity to the exclusion of the oikonomia of God, or how salvation is revealed to us and experienced by us through the persons of the Trinity. In order to overcome this “defeat of the Trinity,” she calls for a revision of the doctrine that would abandon the imminent-economic distinction and operate solely out of Trinity as oikonima (La Cugna 1991:223).

 Ultimately, La Cugna desires to do away with the immanent-economic distinction (1991:223). Theologia, unlike the immanent Trinity, is not a theology of God’s inner self or God in se, involving relations, processions, etc. Theologia is the “eternal mystery of God” communicated through the economy of salvation (1991:221). La Cugna would have all talk of theology proper, God in se, to be abandoned, as well as any intra-divine distinctions, self-communications or relations such as are found in Rahner (La Cugna 1991:231). Any theology that still seeks to define an inner lifewithin the Divine is speculative and perpetuates an unnecessary division that renders the doctrine of the Trinity irrelevant.

For La Cugna, simply the ineffable mystery of theologia is revealed and known in the oikonomia, and ultimately “There is neither an economic nor an immanent Trinity; there is only the oikonomia that is the concrete realization of the mystery of theologia in time, space, history and personality (1991:223). If oikonima is the ontological source for theologia, per La Cugna’s recommendation, then we are unable to locate mission or any action in the ontological nature of God. Such a move not only undermines a Trinitarian foundation for mission but also undermines the very tri-personal nature of God and any intra-divine relations that inform the church’s koinonia, diakonia, apostelein, and leitourgia. In abandoning our understanding of the immanent nature of the Trinity we would have to abandon the Nicene Creed and possibly its Johannine echoes that speak of the “eternally begotten Son” and the “Spirit who proceeds from the Father.” Possibly, without the Divine processions there would be no relations and distinction of persons, leaving us with Sabellianism and possibly Arianism (Aquinas 1948:153).

Many consider La Cugna’s work revolutionary and her accolades are many. However, her detractors are equally as numerous. Much of the attention centers on her rejection of immanent-economic terminology as well as her equating theologia and oikonomia that is tantamount to a rejection of the immanent Trinity. In Rediscovering the Triune God, Stanley Grenz surveys the resurgence of modern Trinitarian theology. In his section on Catherine La Cugna, he documents the charges of her critics that can be summarized as a collapsing of the nature of God into the economy of salvation (Grenz 2004:160). With the numerous caveats previously cited in which La Cugna emphasizes the ontological difference between immanent and economic and even theologia and oikonomia, it is difficult to want to read her as intentionally conflating, reducing or totalizing in any way. Yet, at times, it seems that is exactly what she is doing when she attempts to define fully theologia as oikonomia and remove any autonomy or self-relation from the ontology of God (La Cugna 1991:320).

In defining the Trinity through soteriology, La Cugna is not exactly claiming that God is reduced to what is revealed in salvation history, though it can be construed as such. La Cugna is stating that for us that which is outside of the oikonomia is merely unspoken or apophatic. The problem is what we have left if we keep the immanent-economic distinction is a totalized equation, the “economic is the immanent.” If we follow La Cugna’s theologia-oikonomia nomenclature then we have a totalized equation, “oikonomia is theologia,”and this could lead to many unintended problems, such as  Sabellianism, Arianism, a kenotic Trinity, a deflationary Trinitarian ontology, a compromise of Divine freedom, an open view of God, pantheism or a host of other difficulties.

IT=ET and/or ET=IT: The Problem with the Equation

            If La Cugna has unintentionally collapsed the nature of God into the oikonomia, then what we have is a makeover from Rahner’s Rule to La Cugna’s Conflation. In such a case there are several questions that would need to be addressed. Is Rahner’s Rule to be understood as an equation? Immanent Trinity (IT) = Economic Trinity (ET) and/or Economic Trinity (ET) = Immanent Trinity (IT). If so, how is it an equation, and how is it not an equation? If we look at Rahner’s Rule as an axiom with two postulates, what happens when one postulate, ie, IT=ET, defines the entire axiom?

If understood ontologically then several problems ensue. First, if there were a strict identity between the two, an ontological equation, then the result would be two trinities. Second, there would be an erroneous conflation of the ontological difference between God and creation. Third, the result would be a kenotic Trinity that economically inflates into pantheism, a divinization of the world process. There is also a serious epistemological problem that follows from the ontological problem, especially in problems two and three. If the immanent ontology is deflated into the economic, and the economic serves an epistemological function to know the immanent, then all that is known of God in human terms is all that God can be. God becomes the world, and more so God becomes what we understand the world to be. An immanent Trinity that implodes into the economic would be a kenotic Trinity that could only be defined and totalized by any configuration of human terms. Von Balthasar warns that the economic Trinity cannot be strictly identified with the immanent Trinity, “Otherwise the immanent, eternal Trinity would threaten to dissolve into the economic; in other words, God would be swallowed up in the world process” (Balthasar 1992:3:508).

Some of these questions have been addressed in part thus far. First, Rahner’s Rule is to be construed as methodological, as Rahner, von Balthasar and La Cugna concur. Methodologically, the Rule conjoins the being of God with the acts of God and restores salvific value to the doctrine. They also concur that the Rule cannot be an ontological equation, though it seems that La Cugna has a tendency to commit this error. The Rule cannot be an equation because simply there is an ontological difference between God and creation. The terms are never univocal or equal. God is eternal, infinite, perfect, necessary and all of the other traditional characteristics that we attribute to God. We are none of these. God’s economic revelation of salvation is not necessary for God but for us.

There is a difference between necessary uncreated being and contingent created being and how they relate. The nature of the relations between the immanent relations of divine persons and the economic, salvific relations between God and humanity are different. God’s self-communication in eternal intra-divine community is not salvific but perichoretic. The nature of self-communication is the same immanently and economically. It is eternal holy and perfect love, but the goal and reception of that communication differ due to the ontological difference. When God communicates to us, it is not “Light from Light; True God from True God; Begotten not made; One in being with the Father.” It is more like God from God-man to man. True God-man to fallen man.

The ontological difference in this case is between Creator and creation. The difference is communicated through the Incarnation. The ontological difference between God and man within the Incarnation is the Incarnation itself that is both bridge and gap simultaneously. The Incarnation unites the divine nature with human nature, the immanent and ontological nature of God with the ontology of humanity and dependent being without confusion. We become partakers of the divine nature in Christ. In the Incarnation, the immanent is the economic and the economic is the immanent, but as we are in Christ, our experience says that “the immanent is in the economic, and the economic is in the immanent, not a totalization. In our experience of the Incarnation, Rahner’s Rule cannot be an ontologically balanced equation, but it does have congruence with a remainder and may be stated as ≈ or approximately equal to, yet with an infinite remainder. The economic is the epistemological starting point for the immanent, but it is not the ontological foundation for the immanent. It also cannot be an epistemological equation but remains similarly an approximation, less the immanent Trinity is emptied and totalized in human terms.

It cannot be that our experience of the economic is the full experience of the immanent. This is the pitfall of equating experience with ontology and making the economic transcendental to our knowledge and experience of God. Our experience then becomes the boundary of ontology and ontology becomes the boundary of experience. It cannot be so. Thus we must declare that the economic methodologically conveys the immanent and is conjoined with the fullness of the immanent but is not to be conflated or equated with the immanent.


Mission theology begins with the Trinity. There are many challenges in constructing a Missio Trinitatis. One such challenge is to locate the source of mission in the Trinity itself and then to resolve the immanent-economic tension that follows. Rahner’s Rule provides methodological ballast to any intra-extra divide within the Trinity. Aquinas and Von Balthasar locate mission with the processions of the persons themselves, as the processio becomes causal and definitive of the missio. Problems arise when Rahner’s Rule becomes an ontological or epistemological equation, or when oikonomia, totalizes the Trinity and eliminates the processions. It is debatable whether La Cugna falls into this error. If it is the case then it is a conflation that compromises the very nature of the Divine in terms of simplicity, freedom, transcendence, and God’s essence. Rahner’s Rule always has a remainder in order to preserve the ontological nature of the Trinity, to locate mission in the intra-Trinitarian relations, and to uphold the integrity of God’s freedom and transcendence.


Aquinas, Thomas                                                                                                                    1948                Summa Theologica: Complete English Edition. Trans. Fathers of                                            the English Dominican Province. Volume One. Benziger Bros.                                             New York, NY. 

Balthasar, Han Urs von                                                                                                                      1989                Explorations in Theology 1: The Word Made Flesh. San Francisco,                                        CA:Ignatius Press.

1992                Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory. III. Dramatis                                                  Personae:Persons in Christ. San Francisco, CA. Ignatius Press..

            1998                Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory. V. Dramatis                                                    Personae:The Last Act. San Francisco, CA. Ignatius Press.

Emery, Gilles, OP

2007                The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Oxford University Press.

Flett, John G.                                                                                                                          2010                The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the                                     Nature of Christian Community.Eerdmans Publishing Co.Grand                                          Rapids, MI.

Grenz, Stanley                                                                                                                                    2004                Rediscovering the Triune God. Minneapolis, MN.Augsburg                                     Fortress.

La Cugna, Catherine                                                                                                                1991                God for Us. San Francisco, CA. HarperCollins.

Rahner, Karl                                                                                                                            1970                The Trinity. Crossroads Pub. Co. New York, NY.



Rev. Peter J. Bellini Ph.D.

For Commission on a Way Forward

Colloquy – Missio Dei and the United States:

Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness

Boston University

October 1, 2017


The task at hand in our gathering is to consider the missio Dei within the context of a fractured and ailing United Methodist Church situated in the United States. The first task of such a conversation, and primary task of this paper, is to establish what we mean by missio Dei. Today, it is quite common and in vogue to use the term missio Dei when discussing the church and mission. The term’s diverse and even flippant usage has contributed to its multivalence, ambiguity, and even its misuse.[1] This paper attempts to clarify and define the original use of missio Dei that will serve as a baseline for subsequent missiological discourse. Defining the term will involve mapping out a brief historical and theological background of the origins of missio Dei, identifying its embedded six core theological emphases, and drawing out some implications for a missional hermeneutic for the church in North America, as the church seeks to contextualize the gospel in an ever-shifting peoplescape.Special attention will be paid to the development of missio Dei from early forerunners Karl Barth, Karl Hartenstein, and the 1952 Willingen International Missionary Council, to early post-Willingen missiologists like Georg Vicedom and their impact on forging and shaping the core theological emphases of missio Dei.  These key figures represent the early normative position of Christocentric instrumental missio Dei with its six core theological emphases. These emphases give the missio Dei a Trinitarian shape, a missio Trinitatis. The normative position is examined over against a divergent cosmocentric version that emerged at Willingen and following, represented by J.C. Hoekendijk and the World Council of Churches in the 1950s-60s and is still prominent today.[2] Due to its diverse usage, clear theological evaluation is imperative when constructing and implementing any claim of missio Dei.  Not all types are scripturally based, theologically sound, truly Trinitarian, or involve the instrumental agency of the church. An exacting and needed analysis such as this may not be popular, and seem divisive, and, even a retreat to, what in the minds of some, appears to be a tired, useless, and even oppressive orthodoxy, but for many who value the arduous task of discerning the times and weighing out theological substance over against trendy relevance, the work is imperative.

This paper lays audacious claim to a normative doctrine of missio Dei and further holds that it can serve as a missional hermeneutic for discerning the Spirit, exegeting culture, participating in the missio Dei, andproclaiming the gospel in the 21st century. Being mindful of missio Dei throughout the paper, we are compelled to ask the driving open-ended question, As the United Methodist Church responds to the relevant issues in mission is God or the culture setting and defining the agenda?  In praxis, an essential discipline of the church’s faithful participation in God’s witness is to contextualize critically the gospel in the semiotic and semantic system of the culture, while remaining faithful to the witness of scripture. Relevant cultural forms are essential for communication but are penultimate, while our ultimate concern is to be faithful to the truth revealed in scripture. The rapidly changing context of the United States demands a rigorous application of sound theology, adaptive models, and critical contextualization, as we seek to be faithful in our witness going forward.[3] Vital critical tools in the contextualizing process, such as the incisive interpretation and application of Scripture in local contexts with culture-specific forms become instrumental to carrying out the mission of God.[4]

Such critical contextualization has not always been the case in the history of Christian missions. Over the last 500 years or more with a map in one hand and a timeline in the other, one can observe uncritical contextualization and the spread of Christianity on every continent, moving step by step with the expansion of Western geopolitical interests. When considering the nature, intent, method, and goals of missions, surely there are the outstanding figures, who bore faithful witness, such as the Bartolome de Las Casas and the Vincent Donovans, but an inordinate share of the overall spread of Christianity from Rome to the rest of Europe, to the so called New World in the Americas, to the trade world of East and Southeast Asia, and to the “heart of darkness” in Africa went hand in hand with imperial and colonial expansion.[5] Mission was generated by the church (missio ecclesiae), while aligning with the state (missio stati) for the purpose of civilizing and Christianizing, resulting in a cultural hegemony (missio culturae) where Western “civilization” supplanted indigenous cultures.[6] Rather than missio Dei, these missions functioned as missio culturae (mission of the culture), mission driven by the agenda of the dominant culture and its views.

In light of this background, the twentieth century development of missio Dei marked a watershed in missiology. This pivotal development repositions mission from its horizontal and immanent location in human agency back to its vertical and transcendent origin in the divine, specifically the Triune God.  The notion that mission originates with God and not with the church, the state, the culture or a combination of these or any other institution is nothing less than seismic, following centuries of missions driven by church and state. The shift is a prophetic move in theology and practice that speaks to past excesses in mission correctively and apologetically and to current and future mission constructively through a well-grounded mission theology that is Trinitarian, Christocentric, and participatory.

ORIGIN AND INTENT OF THE MISSIO DEI: A Brief Historical and Theological Background


            The received tradition of missio Dei, its origin and the actual term, is often debated among missiologists.[7] The popular account holds that Karl Barth inspired the idea of missio Dei, and Karl Hartenstein coined the term, at least in its modern context. The modern theological turn from mission originating with the church to mission originating with God’s self-disclosure is often attributed to Karl Barth (1886-1968). The innovative notion that mission is an activity of God stemmed from the larger, groundbreaking work of the Swiss theologian, which began in 1916 and following. Barth’s revolutionary theological break with the anthropocentrism of liberalism patently informed his thinking on mission. Barth shifted the church’s focus in mission from an anthropocentric view to a theocentric view. The Barthian turn was a game-changing turn away from a self or this-world referential starting point and a turn toward the primacy of the revelation of the Word of God for all theology, faith, and practice. Any anthropological, psychological, sociological, or philosophical starting point is dogmatically and soteriologically insufficient and inadequate. Our knowledge of God, and thus salvation, must be revealed from without in God’s radical otherness. Simply, missio (mission) is God’s work and begins and ends with the revelation of the Word among us.

 In 1932 at the Brandenburg Missionary Conference, Barth delivered a noteworthy paper entitled “Die Theologie und Die Mission in der Gegenwart” (Theology and Mission in the Present Context) in which he decisively asserted that mission is an activity of God (actio Dei) as opposed to an activity of the church. Though the term missio Dei was yet to be coined, the call in essence was a shift from missio ecclesiae to missio Dei, a shift from church-driven mission to God-driven mission.In a later work, Theologische Fragen und Antworten (Theological Questions and Answers), Barth elaborated on some of the perils of missions that originate from human institutions, such as the church, the state, or the culture. Barth was surely not unaware of the imperial and colonizing impact that missio ecclesiae under Christendom had on the world. He contended, “mission could also be an instrument of religious or civilizing propaganda, or even an economic-political powerplay, and theology a sport – maybe even an especially dangerous sport of arbitrary speculation and intellectual self-assuredness and self-importance.”[8]

 His apologia, as John Flett called it, would be found in retrieving the notion of missio from the ancient church “as an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity – namely the expression of the divine sending forth of the self, the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”[9] Barth reunited mission theology with its source in the Triune God. In this sense, missio Dei functions as an apologetic, a defense, or a rationale for mission in spite of ecclesial malpractice. In other words, God remains in mission even when the church is unfaithful.

Responding to the crisis of modernity, Barth’s dogmatic and mission theology were diametrically contra the prevailing liberalism of his teachers and their immanent and anthropocentric starting points that had gravely mistaken philosophy for theology and culture for Christianity. The Barthian shift was not just an assault against Kulturprotestantismus (cultural Protestantism that equated being German with being Christian), but it also created a “necessary critical disjunction between missions and the colonialist enterprise.”[10] Western imperialism and cultural hegemony had often been the ill-fated vehicles of evangelization. Missio Dei operates as an apologia and a directive for postcolonial mission during the decolonizing period of the twentieth century.[11] Mission is disclaimed as an act of the church, the state, or both, but is reclaimed as God’s action among the people.

Although Barth launched the trajectory for missio Dei, he did not employ the term itself, nor did he fully flesh out the concept. It would be his friend Karl Hartenstein (1894-1952)[12] who would coin the term. Hartenstein, a Swabian theologian and mission administrator, had built upon Barth’s dialectical theology to supply the initial ground for his theology of mission. As a side note, Hartenstein later was compelled to break with Barth and the radical consequences of dialectical theology on practical missions, specifically on how it limits encountering and engaging other cultures and their religions. These latter developments, though important to the overall theology of Hartenstein, are more tangential to our focus on the early formation of the theological core of missio Dei.

Barth’s radical epistemological break with any immanent or human point of departure, such as reason or experience, as a staring point for theology, provided Hartenstein with the proper locus for mission and a corrective against mission as a human enterprise. Hartenstein picked up the impetus of the Barthian notion of mission as actio Dei (activity of God) and further developed it beginning with a lecture from 1927 entitled “Was hat die Theologie Karl Barth der Mission zu sagen” (“What does Karl Barth’s Theology Say about Mission”).[13] Flett contends, this lecture “establishes key thrusts of what would become missio Dei theology.” [14]

Hartenstein instinctively drew much upon Barth’s dialectical theology and applied it as a framework for understanding mission as an act and a revelation of God. He noted that apart from an act of God, mission would not be possible. Our depraved and feeble condition lacks the power and agency to save itself. Salvation must come from a radically other source, the Word of God. Building upon Barth in a 1934 essay entitled “Wozu Nötigt die Finanzlage der Mission,” (What Determines the Financial Situation of the Mission) Hartenstein coined the term “missio Dei”[15] and tied the notion to “sending,” the sending of the Son, and the sending of the church, and in other places in the essay, to the sending of the Spirit:

Missio Dei, the sending of God, that is the sending which Christ the Lord commanded to the Apostles: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”- and the response to the call passed along by the apostles to the church of all times on the basis of its Word: “Go into all the world.” (Quoted in Flett 2010, 131).[16]  

Thus with Barth and Hartenstein the focal point of mission altered from the mission of the church (missio ecclesiae) to mission originating in the Triune nature of God (missio Dei), setting the course for a normative approach to missio Dei that would be established at the International Missionary Council in Germany.


The 1952 IMC (International Missionary Council) at Willingen, Germany would serve as a landmark conference for the conciliar and doctrinal establishment of missio Dei with Hartenstein as a major contributor and a secretary at the meeting. Other leaders at Willingen included Johannes C. Hoekendijk (1912-1975), H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962), Paul Lehmann (1907-1994), and Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), who edited and produced the conference final report “The Missionary Calling of the Church.” Although the notion of God-centered mission is prevalent throughout Willingen, it is interesting to note that the term “missio Dei”is not actually used at the Council but surfaces in Hartenstein’s reports summarizing the theological deliberations of the meeting.

With diverse theological representation, the International Missionary Council (IMC) at Willingen, Germany in 1952 could not construct a unified theology of mission, although it intended to do so. Its constituents were not univocal in their positions and conclusions, though that is not always clear from the reports. The American and Dutch reports of the Conference were put together ad hoc and did not represent every voice but more so the “general mind” of the conference that came to be the normative view of missio Dei.[17]  The development of missio Dei before, during, and after Willingen revealed an emerging theological core that served as an normative missio Dei that would lay the theological groundwork for missions over the next fifty years.[18] Norwegian missiologist Tormod Engelsviken, commenting on the essentiality of the Trinitarian construct of missio Dei at Willingen, declares, “It is this Trinitarian basis of mission that should form the foundation of any understanding of missio Dei.”[19] The eminent South African missiologist David Bosch claims that at Willingen, missio Dei “was thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology.”[20] At Willingen the doctrine of  “missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit” along with the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world,” “constituted an important innovation” that relocated the locus of mission in the Triune God.[21]

Mission located in God, specifically in the sending of the Son and the Spirit, and “mission as participating in the sending of God” were the major theological highlights expressed in the reports at Willingen.[22]  The final document, “The Missionary Calling of the Church,” and the interim report, “A Theological Basis of the Missionary Obligation,” are the most familiar and influential documents from Willingen. Each document, similar in form and content, is a concise statement on the Trinitarian nature of mission and the call to the church to participate in Christ by participating in mission.[23] The documents assert that mission begins with God’s love for all, even though humanity is alienated from God by sin.[24] Motivated by love “God sent forth His Son, Jesus Christ, to seek out, and gather together, and transform, all men who are alienated by sin from God and their fellows.”[25] God offered salvation through Christ’s “death, resurrection, and ascension,” “a full and perfect atonement.”[26] The article on the Holy Spirit declares that, “On the foundation of this accomplished work God has sent forth his Spirit” “to empower us for the continuance of His mission.”[27] The final article speaks to the church as being “one new humanity, the Body of which Christ is the exalted and regnant head.”[28]The Spirit gathers the Body together in Him and works “in the Church and through the Church” and “ensures that mission should also belong to the continuing life of the Church.”[29] The church is sent and empowered by the Spirit into the world as a witness for Christ.[30]  These excerpts represent four theological core emphases of normative missio Dei teaching, along with two additional functions (corrective and apologetic) of the doctrine. The corrective and apologetic functions, which arise from the historical context of missio Dei, give the doctrine a prophetic voice that guards against anthropocentric missions. Together these six theological emphases comprise normative missio Dei teaching at Willingen.

One thing is clear the doctrine of missio Dei formulated at Willingen took on a definite theocentric shape, particularly a Trinitarian shape.[31] The Triune God is the sole source of mission, and the church is called to participate in the divine work. As referenced above “A Theological Basis of the Missionary Obligation” and the final document “The Missionary Calling of the Church” from Willingen state at least four core theological emphases that would become foundational for subsequent missio Dei development. One, God is the source of mission (missio Dei) and not the church (missio ecclesiae). Two, God sent God’s Son into the world to save all persons separated by sin from God and each other. Three, God also sent the Spirit to continue the work of Christ in and through the church and in the world. Four, the church is sent by God and called to participate in the missio Dei under the Spirit’s direction.[32] The missiological development stemming from Willingen serves as a corrective to locating the mission enterprise in church, state, or culture by affirming its location in God’s economic self-revelation in history. Furthermore, it is God who sends the church as an instrument to participate in the work of salvation. Engelsviken would call this the “normative” understanding of the doctrine from Willingen until today.[33]

The two implicit core theological emphases from the final statement from Willingen on missio Dei are its apologetic and corrective functions. Larger shifts in the cultural and theological landscape were instrumental in provoking the response of missio Dei. Crises in the Western world and the Western mission enterprise precipitated a radical rethinking of missions. Geopolitical and social transitions, such as World War I and II, the relationship between the Nazi State and the church, the beginning of the fall of colonialism in what is today the two-thirds world, and the emergence of the Cold War with its expulsion of Christian missionaries from countries such as China forced the church to reconsider the source, nature, purpose and goal of mission. In this sense, missio Dei operated as an apologia and a corrective that relocated the agency and telos of mission from the church, the state, or even culture to God. Mission continues in spite of institutional excesses because mission is from God.

As covered earlier, missio Dei was also situated within a larger shift initiated by Barth and others away from anthropocentric constructs to more theocentric constructs, such as the Word of God. Mission is understood as a function of the economy of God and its implementation as a divine enterprise. Regarding the coining of missio Dei, Bosch notes that by “introducing the phrase, Hartenstein had hoped to protect mission against secularization and horizontalization, and to reserve it exclusively for God”.[34]  The church previously found it convenient to define and carry out mission strictly by a cultural mandate and the geopolitical enterprise of expansion and civilizing, which would shape and drive its theological rationale. Secularization and horizontalization signified that by default anything could pose as mission. Although the more dissenting secular view of J.C. Hoekendijk and Paul Lehmann did not “win the day” at Willingen, their Post-Willingen cosmocentric version of missio Dei would be influential in the 1960s, for example at the Fourth General Assembly of the World Council at Uppsala in1968, and would invite more interpretations and contending versions of the doctrine in the decades to follow.[35]



Following Willingen, missio Dei would be “embraced by virtually all Christian persuasions”.[36] David Bosch claimed that mission is “derived from the very nature of God” in the sending of the Son and the Spirit into the world, and the church is called and sent by God to participate in the work of salvation.[37] Although missio Dei was broadly accepted and a normative view materialized from the Willingen Conference, there remained tension in the interpretation of the doctrine. At the Willingen Conference two divergent branches of missio Dei emerged representing two contending perspectives of the doctrine, though the conflict was hidden from the final report. These divergent branches have had their representative voices and institutions from the 1952 Conference until today and have remained in tension as competing versions of the missio Dei. [38]

 The forging of missio Dei was not unequivocal andgenerated a variety of questions. If God is the primary agent of mission, then what is the role of the church and the world? Is the church the primary instrument that God uses in mission, or does God the Creator work directly with creation? Does the culture set the agenda for mission, or does the church interpret the mission from scripture and carry it out in relevant cultural forms as led by the Spirit? If God is the creator of all things is God not able to reach the world even apart from the church and apart from Christ?[39]In other words is mission and salvation limited to the sending of the Son? The two divergent branches coming out of Willingen each had a different response to these seminal questions. Their answers were based on their particular version of the missio Dei. The first branch is a cosmocentric missio Dei, and the second branch is a Christocentric instrumental missio Dei. J.C. Hoekendijk and Paul Lehmann represented the cosmocentric view, while Karl Hartenstein and Lesslie Newbigin represented the Christocentric instrumental view.[40] The cosmocentric, or world-driven perspective, views the cosmos, or the world, as the direct arena for God’s saving activity without the church as an instrument. Some versions, like those at Willingen, are Trinitarian in the sense that they move away from Christocentrism and hold that the Trinity can work directly with creation within a particular cultural context even apart from Christ. However, more current cosmocentric versions stress missio Dei over a missio Trinitatis, allowing space for a general or universal mission to unfold from God the Creator directly to creation.[41] Let us examine these two views.

Cosmocentric Missio Dei

In brief, cosmocentrism in missio Dei is an attempt to correct the problem of cultural hegemony that occurs when the receptor culture is disregarded and colonized by a dominant culture. It is a culture-affirming model that recognizes that God can work through any particular semiotic and semantic system of a people. The model is to be lauded in that it recognizes that God’s mission is universal and can be revealed through any particular culture. However, cultural affirmation without critical discernment can lead to over-contextualization and syncretism. That is why subsequently the development of missio Dei theology through the work of major missiologists, such as Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch, Andrew Kirk, Charles Kraft, Paul Hiebert and others would necessitate the development of the methodology of critical contextualization.[42] Critical contextualization gives priority to the divine missional initiative as well as critically affirms culture as an indispensible and potential seedbed for the gospel to take root and grow. Yet, a vital factor in the task of critical contextualization that allows for both God’s mission initiative and culture-specific reception is that it is implemented within a culturally indigenous, hermeneutical community that critically engages scripture and the tradition’s interpretation of scripture.[43] Scripture drives contextualization.

Due to its universal scope, an inherent problem with the cosmocentric model is that it can limit or eliminate the missional role of the church and even the particular work of salvation in Christ. The notion that God can work without the church and does so as a norm can stiflingly reduces the church to having minimal or no role in mission, or relegate the church itself to a mission field. In this sense, the church would best participate by moving out of the way and allowing God to work through the world’s institutions and processes, which set the agenda for mission.  Finally, some iterations of the cosmocentric missio Dei are even considered pointblank ecclesioclastic, showing an actual disdain for the church’s work. J.C. Hoekendijk, a Dutch theologian and a major voice at Willingen, was the central figure that articulated this position.[44]

The second pitfall of the cosmocentric view is that it can limit the salvific role of Jesus Christ.  The line of thinking goes like this. God as Creator superintends the care of creation and the realization of God’s Kingdom in the cosmos and consequently can also work salvation outside of the oikonomia (economy, the work of God for salvation) of the Son, as revealed in Jesus Christ. Radical cosmocentric mission resists any “Christocentrism” that would limit God’s work of salvation solely to the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Christian scriptures.[45] Willingen leaders like Hoekendijk and Lehmann claimed to embrace a broad Trinitarianism (though in a narrow sense of God working universally through the Spirit) over against the limits of Christocentrism, while on the other hand, Hartenstein and Newbigin understood Christ at the hub of Trinitarian mission, being the primary material cause for bringing salvation to the world.  

Christocentric Instrumental Missio Dei

The Christocentric instrumental view acknowledges that God’s work of salvation is revealed through Jesus Christ, and God calls and sends the church by the Spirit into the world as an instrument, a witness, and even a sign of God’s mission. This model of missio Dei is Christocentric signifying that God reveals salvation uniquely through Christ. It is instrumental in its view of how the Spirit uses the church to participate and bear witness in mission. Furthermore, the Spirit primarily chooses to use the agency of the church above other agencies in the created order. In the spirit of Willingen, as represented by Hartenstein and Newbigin, this view is properly Trinitarian realizing that Christocentric salvation is understood and informed only within a Trinitarian framework.   The church responds to the call and is empowered to participate in the missio by the Spirit and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ. Ecclesial instrumentalism holds that God is in Christ redeeming the world to him, and God’s primary instrument to communicate the saving work of Christ is his Body, the church. Following Willingen, Lesslie Newbigin and Georg Vicedom were central figures that articulated this position was basically reaffirmed at the fiftieth anniversary of Willingen as well.[46]

The Christocentric instrumental view became normative due to manifold problems with the cosmocentric perspective. Although it acknowledges that mission originates with God over against the church, the cosmocentric model has a tendency to identify the saving work of God with human history and thus slips back into the pre-missio Dei secularization mode of mission, a missio culturae. In this scheme, the culture sets the mission agenda, and divine activity is reduced to the world process. Such immanence if radicalized can errorneously substitute any anthropocentric movement or institution for missio Dei hence undermining one of the correctives of the doctrine. Mission can readily become a social or a political enterprise. Some radical expressions of liberation theology illustrate how mission can be identified apart from God’s work in the church as the socio-economic forces within the world process.  Drawing from Hegelian philosophy, which itself embodies the motif of God’s unfolding and actualizing in history, liberation soteriology becomes a socio-political function of the forces of history without need of any transcendent mediation, work of the Spirit, or ecclesial witness. Socio-cultural dynamics and critical theory as an interpretive framework can take the place of revelation as the primary source for understanding mission. The forces of history then mediate liberation rather than God in Christ working through the church.

Mission can erringly be thought to take place through the natural unfolding of historical events in which the zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) is substituted for the work of the Spirit. In such cases any phenomena, event, or movement can be claimed as the work of the Spirit. Granted the work of the Spirit of Truth is prevenient and can operate where Christ is not known or heard, and nonetheless the work can still be attributed to the Triune God. However, such claims of Spirit Christologies or Spirit theologies of mission, if they are true, are to be tested and will necessarily bear witness with scripture and inevitably to Jesus Christ.

The potential issue of conflating the work of the Spirit with social or political dynamics did not go unnoticed at Willingen. At that time, the whole problem of the collusion between the German church and the rise and Reich of Nazism loomed large in the minds of the contributors. Shortly after Willingen, Newbigin also recognized such dynamics between the church and China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution in which the church interpreted the revolution as an opportunity for mission support.[47] J.C. Hoekendijk was one such proponent of identifying the hand of God in the revolutionary nature of history.[48] In such cases, the role of the church is deflated for the increasing role of political and social forces. The example cited by Newbigin was not an anomaly, as liberation theology seemed to follow the tracks of social revolution in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa throughout the last half of the twentieth century. 

As alluded to earlier, the Christocentric model also functions normatively due to the tendency of the cosmocentric missio Dei to downplay the uniqueness and exclusive claims of Christ and to relativize the Christian revelation in a theology of religions that allows for salvation to occur without Christ even when a Christian witness has been proclaimed and heard. Great weight is placed on the missio generalis (the general mission) of the Creator to the creation, at times, outside of and over against God’s work through Christ. The sending of the Son then becomes just one particular instance of many “sendings.” The Christological problems are obvious and manifold but cannot be elaborated on in the space of this conversation. 

On the other hand, the Christocentric instrumental view, like the cosmocentric view, acknowledges that God is the primary agent of mission, but vastly differs in how it comprehends the life and work of the church in partnership with God in mission. The church is the primary instrument that God equips and employs for mission. We cannot forget that not only mission but also the church originates with the Triune God and is one with Christ. The church participates in mission because God is already engaged in mission and calls the church into mission through the sacraments that make the church one with Christ. The church by its baptism and partaking in the Eucharist is joined together with Christ and is one in Body and one with his mission in the Spirit. Sacramentally and mystically the Body of Christ is one with God’s mission and is a sign or apologetic for God’s mission.

Through baptism and the Eucharist, the church is called and sent by God as an instrument to participate with the Spirit in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. In this model, the church is God’s Spirit-filled instrument that carries out Christ’s mission. Mission is Christocentric and follows the via crucis (the way of the cross), a cruciformity. The cross is the basis for salvation and is the heart of the message that the church experiences and proclaims. In baptism the church participates in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and is sent in the Spirit of Pentecost to the entire world to be his witness. Christocentric instrumentalism locates missio in the Triune oikonomia (economy) of God with the Incarnation at the heart of mission and the source from which it carries out mission. Furthermore, the mission of the Spirit (missio Spiritus) as the Spirit of Truth works in anticipation of and preparation for the revelation of Christ. The Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, leading to repentance and faith in Christ. The ministry of salvation is carried out through the missions of Christ and the Spirit, and like as Christ was sent in the Spirit so does he send his Body into the world. Any true mission of the Spirit (missio Spiritus) in its prevenient and preparatory function will ultimately bear witness to Christ. The missio Dei is a missio Trinitatis. As Andrew Kirk succinctly put it, “Therefore to speak about the missio Dei is to indicate, without any qualification, the missio Trinitatis.”[49]  

Missio Trinitatis

Missio Trinitatis is the mission of the Triune God. A missio Trinitatis draws the parameters for the identity, nature and activity of missio Dei. Mission is from God, the Triune God, as opposed to an undifferentiated vague theism, an impersonal theism, a mono-person theism, polytheism, or pantheism. It also draws the parameters of involvement in the missio. All three persons are involved in missio. The Father sends the Son and the Spirit into the world. Neither a missio Christi (mission of Christ)nor a missio Spritus (mission of the Spirit)stands alone but together consubstantially and perichoretically, as the Son, and Holy Spirit work conjointly revealing and communicating the will of the Father through their mutual witness one to the other. A missio Trinitatis also draws the parameters for the content and shape of mission that is both Christologically and pneumatologically informed. The Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, will not work in the world contrary to the Son, the Redeemer, and vice versa, and neither person will work contrarily to will of the Father, the Creator, who will in turn not work contrarily to what God has revealed in the Son and the Spirit, all which are attested to in scripture.

God’s general work in creation is preparatory for God’s special salvific work in Christ. The Christocentric instrumental model, that I am also calling a missio Trinitatis, is consonant with the early vision and development of the missio Dei from Barth up to the final report of Willingen because it echoes its core theological emphases of Christocentrism, Trinitarianismand the corrective and apologetic functions of the doctrine. Future claims of missio Dei are compelled to examine such assertions in light of the normative shape of the doctrine that was originally established in the first half of the century with special caution paid to over-contextualization and syncretism that can occur when culture shapes mission without the direction of scripture.

Georg Vicedom and Christocentric Instrumental Missio Dei

A major exponent and example of the Christocentric instrumental view of missio Dei following Willingen was Georg Vicedom (1903-1974), popularizer of the phrase missio Dei. Vicedom was arguably also the first formulator of an intentional missio Dei theology post-Willingen. Vicedom wrote the classic text Missio Dei in 1958. It was translated into English in 1965.[50] This classic text reiterates and solidifies the Trinitarian drive and Christocentric content of the missio Dei, as envisioned at Willingen. In Vicedom’s work and in the instrumental missio Dei tradition as a whole, revelation is the indispensible origin and substance of the missio, as opposed to forms of missio Dei prior to Barth and cosmocentric forms of missio Dei in which mission is derived from church (missio ecclesiae), state (missio stati), or culture (missio culturae).

   Vicedom emphasized “that mission is work that belongs to God.”[51] As the fruit of God’s economy, “mission cannot be derived from the task of the church” and can never be the “point of departure”, the purpose or the subject of mission.[52] Missio Dei stands as a corrective to ecclesiocentric missions, or the notion that the church is at the center of missions. Vicedom waxed unambiguously the “church is only an instrument in the hands of God.”[53] The participatory nature of her work sets the parameters and goals for the church in “achieving what God has already done and is doing.”[54] 

Vicedom echoed Willingen’s concern for the Triune shape of mission. He asserted that mission is not located in the church but in the oikonomia or “sendings” of the Son and the Spirit within the Triune God.[55] He understood missio Dei as an “attributive genitive” in which God is not only the Sender but also the Sent.[56] The Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit to complete the work of salvation and establish the Kingdom of God.[57] The economic sendings reveal their origin and relations ultimately within the immanent Trinity. Hence, the mission and work of the church is “prefigured in the divine” and “determined by the missio Dei.[58] Vicedom, influenced by Augustine, connected the mission with the immanent processions of the Son and the Spirit. Augustine and later Aquinas stressed that the divine missions or oikonomia of the Son and the Spirit are derived from and defined by the internal processions of the Son and the Spirit. The processio (procession)is causal and definitive of the missio (mission).

The visible processions or sendings of the Son and the Spirit reveal the economy of God, as mission is “intimately tied up with revelation.”[59] Vicedom claimed, “God reveals Himself in that He performs the sending Himself. If there were no missio Dei, then we would also have no revelation.”[60] God’s eternal purposes of his Kingdom are revealed in the sending of the Word to embody and establish God’s reign of righteousness. God is not only the Sender and the Sent, but also the “content of the sending.”[61] Christ is the Word made flesh and the embodiment of the Kingdom. Mission reveals God’s lordship and Kingdom through the sending and revealing of the Son. For Vicedom, the revelation of the lordship of God in Christ and the establishing of the Kingdom of God in the world are the telos (purpose) of mission.[62] Vicedom was cautious to link the Kingdom of God with its King, and not make the error that “American missions believed the Kingdom of God was to be realized through social service.”[63] The church is obedient to the missio, and the Kingdom is realized, as the church submits to the Lordship of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit.[64] Vicedom was also careful not to conflate the kingdom of the world with the Kingdom of God. In fact, he identifies the kingdom of the world with the “kingdom of devils.” We are admonished to be aware of deception in the world. The kingdom of the world “seeks to camouflage itself at all times under the mask of the good, of that which is proper for man, with goals that are often ideal.”[65] Vicedom held a robust view of human depravity and was keenly aware that the mission cannot exist outside of the work of the Triune God who alone liberates from the power of evil.[66]

In addition the oikonomia (economy)of the Triune God in the world is not only in the sending work of the Son but also in the sending of the Spirit. As the Father sends the Son, so he also sends the Holy Spirit. In the sending of the gift of the Spirit “the fullness of the grace of the Triune God is given.”[67] Where the Spirit is present in the world the Triune God is present, and where the Spirit is at work in the world the Triune God is at work.[68] The Holy Spirit does not work of the Spirit’s own accord, but sent by the Father, the Spirit “continues the mission which God had begun in his Son Jesus Christ” by his “co-witness”.[69] The purpose of the mission is the advancing of the Kingdom of God, and Vicedom notes the role of the Spirit in establishing the Kingdom. He asserted, “The Holy Spirit also is Lord (2 Cor. 3:17) The Kingdom is given in Him, for He Himself is the kingdom in the working of God (Matt 3:11; John 1:20; 1:33; Acts 1:5).”[70] Vicedom tied the mission of the Spirit closely to the mission of the Son, as the Spirit carries out Christ’s work in and through the church into the world to establish the Kingdom.

God sends the Son and the Spirit, and also sends the church into the world. After the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, the apostles are also called and sent to begin and carry out the work by the leading and empowerment of the Spirit.[71] The Spirit carries out the direct missional activity of God by empowering the body of Christ to be the Spirit’s “messengers and instruments, and commissions and sends them in the name of Jesus.”[72]  The name “apostle” bears this designation of “one who is sent” and sent as a “messenger” with a message. The apostles and the continuing apostolate of the church are called and sent into the world to participate in the missio Spiritus, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. In sum, we see in Vicedom an example of normative missio Dei in a Trinitarian framework that recognizes the church as God’s primary instrument of the work of Christ that is to be carried out through its apostolic mandate.


Summary: 6 Core Theological Emphases of Missio Dei

  1. The origin of mission is God, specifically the Father who sends.
  2. The Son is sent by the Father as the fulfillment of mission.
  3. The Spirit is sent by the Father through the Son as the executor of mission.
  4. The Body of Christ, the church, sent by the Triune God as participant and instrument of mission.
  5. Missio Dei is a corrective against mission that originates with the church, state, or culture.
  6. Missio Dei is an apologia (apologetic, defense or rationale) as to why mission exists and the church participates.

Although a normative missio Dei had been established, over time, missio Dei would become a catchall phrase and guise for any and every missional enterprise. Andrew Kirk remarks  “Legitimately and illegitimately the missio Dei hasbeen used to advance all kinds of missiological agendas.”[73] However, in spite of the multivalence of the term and the divergent branches stemming from Willingen, the vision and core emphases of the doctrine have been held by most major Christian traditions. Building on and keeping true to the vision and early development of the doctrine, we can sum up missio Dei in six core theological emphases. One, mission proceeds from the very nature of God’s economy and is a divine enterprise in its origin, nature, purpose, and goal.[74] Two, stemming from the nature of God, mission is Trinitarian and reveals the sending of the Son. Three, stemming from the nature of God, mission is Trinitarian and revels the sending of the Spirit.  Four, the church, who is one with Christ, is sent in the power of the Spirit to participate in the mission and be a witness for Christ in the world through didache (apostolic teaching), leitourgia (mission as liturgy after the lirurgy), kerygma (apostolic proclamation of the gospel), koinonia (fellowship of the body of Christ), diakonia (service with church and world)and martyria (cruciform witness in life and ministry). Five, missio Dei serves as a correctiveto the notion that mission is a product of the church, state, culture, or any other institution. Six, missio Dei serves as an apologetic for missions. In spite of past ecclesial abuses and excesses under the semblance of missional enterprise, mission is still valid and active due to its divine initiative and agency.


These six core theological emphases distilled from the early construction of missio Dei are integral to any model of the missio Dei and to the faithful practice of missions. The core serves as a center that can hold the major factors and functions of missions in their proper place.Any elimination or distortion of these components can lead to an incomplete and even distorted Christian witness and will inevitably work against the mission. Thus, we are reminded and admonished against falling back into a missio ecclesiae, missio stati, or missio culturae. With the growing mission field and changing demographic landscape in the United States, it is imperative that as the church participates in God’s mission that the church allows the revelation of God to set the agenda for mission, while remaining sensitive and discerning to diverse semiotic and semantic systems through which the revelation is conveyed. Going forward as the United Methodist Church debates human sexuality and other cultural issues relevant to missions, she needs to ask if her call and response has been missio Dei or missio culturae. The hope is that this essay has offered some helpful direction for such conversations.


Anderson, Gerald H., Coote, Robert T., Horner, Norman A., Phillips, James M. eds. Mission                   Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement,                                  (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994).

Arthurs, Eddie, “Missio Dei and the Mission of God.” Wycliffe Global Alliance. 06-2013.               

Bevans, Stephen H. and Schroeder, Roger P., Constants in Contexts: A Theology for Today.                       Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.  

Bosch, David. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (American Society

of Missiology Series). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991.

Burnett, John. “Victorian Working Women: Sweated Labor.” VictorianWeb. http://www. (accessed February 9, 2010).

Engelsviken, Tormad. “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological                 Concept in European Churches and Missiology” in International Review of Mission, 92                        no. 367 (October 2003), 481-497.

Flett, John G.  Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian               Community. Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Goodall, Norman, ed. Missiona Under the Cross. London: Edinburgh House Press, 1953.

Hiebert, Paul G. “Critical Contextualization” in International Bulletin of Missionary Research,      11 no. 3 (July 1987), 104-112.

Hoedemaker, Bert. “The Legacy of J.C. Hoekendijk, in International Bulletin of Missionary                       Research 19 no.4. (October 1995), 166-170.

Kirk, Andrew, What is Mission: Theological Explorations. Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2000.

Newbigin, Lesslie, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids,                MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.

Smith, Gregory A. “Views About Homosexuality in the U.S. and Around the World” Pew                        Research Center. PowerPoint presented March 7, 2017.

Thomas, Norman, ed., Classical Texts in Mission and World Christianity (American Society of                  Missiology Series), Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995.

Views about Homosexuality,” Pew Research: Religion and Public Life, accessed. September 14, 2017, Vicedom, Georg F. The Missio of God: An Introduction to a Theology of Mission. St. Louis,          MO: Concordia Publishing House, 196

[1] A Google search on “missio Dei” generates 250,000 hits, including churches, academic journals, ministries, communities, and websites named missio Dei, along with the usual vast array of usages of the term.

[2] See Together Toward Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, the World Council of Churches Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism, (World Council of Churches Publications, 2013). The WCC affirmation in one sense echoes the normative emphases of Willingen. The statement is Trinitarian and relies heavily on a missio Spiritus, but in some cases such heavy reliance can unduly shift the focus away from a Christocentric agency of mission to a cosmocentric agency.

[3] For more on critical contextualization in mission today see The Word Among Us: Contextualizing Theology for Mission Today, ed. Dean Gilliland. Wipf and Stock, 2002.

[4] Missiologist Paul Hiebert’s work has been foundational to understanding and implementing critical contextualization in specific cultural settings. The central component of critical contextualization, which is communicating the supracultural gospel through culturally specific semiotics without compromising the truth of the message, is the exegesis of the scriptures by the church as a hermeneutical community concerning a particular belief or practice. See Paul G. Hiebert, “Critical Contextualization” in International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 11 no.3(July 1987), 104-112.

[5] For an alternative and yet compatible narrative that portrays the beneficence brought by Christianity through colonialism see Robert D. Woodberry, a Research Professor At Baylor University, “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy” in American Political Sicence Review, May 2012 106 pp.244-274.

[6] In this context, I am using missio culturae (mission of the culture) and missio stati (mission of the state) in a negative way meaning mission that is driven by and for the culture and mission that is driven by and for the state. This type mission stands in opposition to  missio Dei that is mission driven by and for God.

            [7] For a thorough account of the debate of the origins and development of the missio Dei see John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community(Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010).

[8] Norman, Thomas, ed., Classical Texts in Mission and World Christianity (American Society of                        Missiology Series), (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 104.

[9] Ibid, 106.

[10] Flett, Witness, 17.

[11] Ibid., 123.

[12] For more on Karl Hartenstein, his theology, and his part at the Willingen Conference see Gerold Schwarz, “Karl Hartenstein 1894-1952: Missions with a Focus on the End” in Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement, eds. Gerald H. Anderson, Robert T. Coote, Norman A. Horner, and James M. Phillips (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 591-600.

[13] “Was hat die Theologie Karl Barths de Mission zu sagen,” cited by John Flett in The Witness of God, p.125-126. 

[14] Flett, Witness, 126.

[15] “Wozu Notigt die Finanzlage der Mission,” cited by John Flett in The Witness of God, p.131.

[16] Ibid, 131.

[17] See John Flett, The Witness of God pp 152-160 who argues that the discussion of doctrine and the Trinitarian framework for missio Dei were not part of the conversations or reports of the Willingen Conference but were found only in the final reports. The phrase “general mind” is Flett’s, but the use of “normative” here comes from Tormod Engelsviken’s essay “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology.” I have also used “normative” throughout this paper in a similar manner as Engelsviken. 

[18] See Tormod Engelsviken, “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology” in International Review of Mission, 92 no. 367 (October 2003) 481-497 for an account of the Willingen Conference, the emphasis on a Trinitarian framework, and the two divergent branches of missio Dei interpretation that came out of Willingen.

[19] Ibid., 482.

[20] David Bosch, Transforming Mission, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (American Society of Missiology Series (Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 1991), 390

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Compare the similar form and content of the final document, “The Missionary Calling of the Church,” with the interim report, “A Theological Basis of the Missionary Obligation,” and how they share articles in common concerning the origin of mission, the sending of the Son, the sending of the Spirit, and the sending and participating of the church. Norman Goodall, ed. Missions Under the Cross (London: Edinburgh Press, 1953), 190.

[24] Ibid., 189, 240.

[25] Ibid, 241.

[26] Ibid., 189.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid, 241.

[30] Ibid.

[31] See John Flett’s The Witness of God for an account of the problematic development of missio Dei and Trinitarianism.

[32] Goodall, Missions, 190.

[33] Engelsviken, 482.

[34] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 392.

[35] Engelsviken, 488-489.

[36] Bosch, 390.

[37] Bosch, 390. I understand and concur with what Bosch is generally conveying here that mission is derived from God and not any other agency. However, when he uses the term “nature of God” here he is not being technically precise. Theologically, mission is temporal and not eternal, and thus belongs to the oikonomia of God rather than the ontology of God that is eternal. Missions are connected to God by being connected to the eternal processions of the Son and the Spirit. Missions are visible and temporal expressions of the eternal processions. So mission is from God but specifically from his economy that is derived from the eternal procession and not from God’s being or an aspect of God’s ousia or divine essence. See Peter. J. Bellini, “The Processio-Missio Connection: A Starting Point in Missio Trinitatis or Overcoming the Immanent-Economic Divide in a Missio Trinitatis” in Wesleyan Theological Journal, 4 no. 2 (Fall 2014). 7-23.

[38]  See Tormod Engelsviken, “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology” in International Review of Mission, 92 no. 367 (October 2003). 481-497 for an account of the Willingen Conference, the two divergent branches, and a normative understanding of missio Dei.  

[39] Here I am referring to the notion  held by some that God can reveal God’s self and even God’s salvation either apart from Christ or anonymously through Christ, i.e. Rahner’s view.

[40] There are several who have made the Christocentric and Cosmocentric distinction between versions of the missio Dei. One is found in Eddie Arthur  who cites Michael Goheen’s dissertation. “As the Father has Sent Me, I am Sending You” in J.E. Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology. Eddie Arthur, “Missio Dei and the Mission of God.” Wycliffe Global Alliance. 06-2013.

[41] Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” perspective may have first popularized this view.

[42] Critical Contextualization is the communication of the gospel within the culture-specific semiotic system of a particular people group without compromising the gospel. Critical contextualization involves cultural exegesis and scriptural exegesis with the church as a hermeneutical community. For more on Critical Contextualization see the work of Paul Hiebert, one of the main proponents of the notion.

[43] Hiebert, “Critical Contextualization.”

[44] For more on the life, theology of mission, and ecclesioclasm of Johannes Christian Hoekendijk see Bert Hoedemaker, “The Legacy of J.C. Hoekendijk, in International Bulletin of Missionary Research 19 no.4 (October 1995), 166-170.

[45] I added “Christian scriptures” to differentiate the Christ of Christian tradition, or what some would call the historical Jesus, from any iterations of the cosmic Christ, the notion that one universal cosmic Christ is revealed covertly in other particular religious traditions.  See the work of Raimon Panikkar.

[46] See Tormod Engelsviken’s article “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Church and Missiology” , 481-497 in which he echoes the original core theological emphasis of Willingen that establish a normative interpretation of the missio.

[47] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids,                        MI, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 18.

[48] Hoedemaker, Legacy, 169.

[49] Andrew Kirk, What is Mission: Theological Exploration, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 27.

[50] Georg F Vicedom, The Mission of God: An Introduction to a Theology of Mission. (St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing House, 1965).

[51] Ibid., 5.

[52] Ibid., 4.

[53] Ibid., 5.

[54] Ibid., 6.

[55] Ibid., 7.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 8.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid., 45.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid., 8.

[62] Ibid., 14, 22-23.

[63] Ibid., 12.

[64] In his article Missio Dei, Tormod Engelsviken cites the work of Norweigan missiologist Jan-Martin Berensten. He claims Vicedom’s notion of the Kingdom of God is the goal of the missio generalis (general mission of God the Creator) and the work of the Creator in creation apart from the sendings of the Son and the Spirit. Engelsviken sees it as a problem when the general mission supplants the special mission in Christ and the Spirit. Although I do not agree with this reading of Vicedom, I detect this problem in many cosmocentric views, and it currently is a tension for example in the 2013 mission statement of the World Council Churches Together Towards Life. A missio Trinitatis proposed in this work responds to the problem of bifurcating the work of God in creation and the work of God in salvation. All three persons are in mission, and not one person is in mission that does not bear witness to the other person’s work. The eternally begotten Word of God reveals the mission in Christ and prepares creation to receive the Word.

[65] Vicedom, Mission, 19.

[66] Ibid., 16-17,23.

[67] Ibid., 55.

[68] Ibid., 55-56.

[69] Ibid., 56.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid., 55.

[72] Ibid., 56.

[73] Kirk, What is Mission, 25.

[74] With a reminder of my previous note that theologically mission is temporal and not eternal, and thus belongs to the oikonomia of God rather than the ontology of God that is eternal. Missions is connected to God by being connected to the eternal processions of the Son and the Spirit