Posted by: michaelhanegan | October 9, 2008

Christology —> Missiology —> Ecclesiology

In their book, The Shaping of Things to Come, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch deal with Bounded vs. Centered Sets and in this discussion provide this insightful diagram. On this progression they say the following…

Our Christology informs our missiology, which in turn determines our ecclesiology. If we get this the wrong way around and allow our notions of the church to qualify our sense of purpose and mission, we can never be disciples of Jesus, and we will never be an authentic missional church. Churches that have got this basic formula wrong never really engage in mission and so lose touch with Jesus. These churches spend all their time discussing (or arguing) about the forms of worship, the church furniture, and the timing of services and programs, and fail to recognize that our ecclesiology flows more naturally out of our sense of mission. These churches become closed sets as a result, and their experience of Jesus at the center fades into a memory of the time when they were really doing something. It becomes a matter of history rather than an experience of mission now. It is important to recover the idea that the church connects with Jesus through mission, not through getting church meetings right!

But another advantage of the centered set is that it allows for massive diversity and for a deeper underlying unity based on Jesus and filtered through our distinctive organizational values. The hard at the center, soft at the edges paradigm allows for a wide variety of people to gather around Jesus through the church. (pg. 209)

A couple of observations…

  1. Some might complain that Frost and Hirsch do not take a Trinitarian perspective. I get the impression that their “Christology” is Trinitarian in the same way that it was for Newbigin. Guder in The Continuing Conversion of the Church explains this by quoting Newbigin himself…“But a Trinitarian perspective can only be an enlargement and development of a Christocentric one and not an alternative set over against it, for the doctrine of the Trinity is the theological articulation of what it means to say that Jesus is the unique Word of God incarnate in world history.” (The Continuing Conversion of the Church, pg. 48, footnote #42)
  2. When you read this did you think of any specific congregations or groups in our fellowship? It is easy to SEE the difference. It is harder to discern how to move from having this concept backwards to setting it in order. We need to be sure that we critique our brothers and sisters without criticizing them. We need to make sure that the plank is out of our own eye before we go speck hunting.
  3. This progression plays a huge part in our development of a missional hermeneutic, especially corporately. In the coming weeks I will post my initial model of a missional hermeneutic and this progression is a big part of it. We have to make sure that our Mission determines our church structure, function, and action. Doing it the other way around leads to a domestication and distortion of the Gospel.
  4. This means that we need to have a better grasp of Christology/Trinity. I don’t know about you but growing up we talked about Jesus as Lord and Savior but nothing really specific or theolgically significant. This cannot be the case if we hope to reclaim the missionary nature of the church. It’s time we get back to becoming a people who are grounded in the theological realities that are presented to us in Scripture instead of the reduced formulas and canned concepts that we have grown accustomed to.

What other implications come from the process of Christology —> Missiology —> Ecclesiology?

Do you think that our ecclesiology in the past (and today) has been weak or strong? What do we as a fellowship have to contribute to the missional conversation?



  1. It certainly explains what we call the “worship wars”. There is a disconnect among Christians when we, unwittingly or otherwise, describe our proof of justification in terms of our ecclesiology (or “ecclesiopraxy”?). It goes like this…

    What are Christians supposed to do?
    Worship God.
    Worship God?
    Yes, but you must do it correctly, or he will not accept you.
    How do you do it correctly?
    Like we do it.
    But you do it differently from other churches. Do those differences matter?
    Yes, in fact, they are all doing it wrong. God will punish them for that. You really need to do it the way God wants it done. Watch us and you’ll see how.

    But before we get all smug because we’ve gotten the horse back in front of the cart, let’s not forget the “Jesus wars” from the fourth and fifth centuries. Arians, Nestorians, Docetists, Sabellians, any of these ring a bell? We have the word “Orthodox” from that time when we had a name for everybody but us, but our name for ourselves was simply, “the ones who believe the right thing.”

    Having Jesus inform our mission does no more good than having Church inform it if we do not do it in the spirit of Christ, that is, in Love.

    1 Cor 13.

  2. Michael — I agree with this post as far as it goes, but it seems to me that the authors neglect the fact (!) that we do not do our Christology in a vacuum. We do it in the context of our community of faith, no matter who we are or how “missional” we might claim to be. Our ecclesiology simply DOES affect our Christology. So the pipeline must run both ways consciously, otherwise we’ll do it unconsciously, which leads to the variety of disasters mentioned. It is not as if there is a “pure Christology” to be attained if we can a priori jettison our ecclesiology. I believe it is precisely the opposite: we must have a healthy ecclesiology, i.e., a healthy community of faith, in order to get our Christology anywhere near “right.” If that were not so, then the purest reading of Christ would be that of a non-Christian. So, we have to find ways that these areas of theology can be mutually informing. We need an ecclesiology that talks to and listens to our Christology, and so on. Then our community of faith will be progressively shaped by our Christology, and as we continue to interact with the Word of God (and the word of God) we will, we hope, progress toward a better Christology, etc., etc. These authors themselves show that they work from a “missional” ecclesiology, which they take to be correct. (Perhaps they defend it elsewhere.) I wouldn’t disagree, but just want to point out that the equation isn’t as simple as they seem to make it out to be.

  3. Great stuff, helps a lot in sorting out implications.

    Good reminder that Frost/Hirsch are inevitably Trintarian.

    You helped inspire this post today:

    Keep up the good work

  4. […] somewhat famously advocated the theological ordering that goes christology-missiology-ecclesiology ( David Fitch has prominently taken issue with the linear priority of missiology over ecclesiology, […]

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