The Universalism of our Missional Movement Founder

The late Lesslie Newbigin coined the term "missional", a word now used by nearly every evangelical church trying to renew or establish a vision for their Church's mission of restoration in the world. We are told we are not "going to church" but rather "we are the church" sent out on mission. This revitalized and welcomed emphasis on "being the church" comes from a fresh understanding that our God is a "missionary God" who from the first planned, and then became involved Himself, in a rescue mission from heaven to redeem and restore His broken creation.

Dr. Timothy Keller who founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC, in addition to his gospel-soaking in the teachings of Jack Miller of New Life Church Philadelphia, was influenced heavily by Bishop Newbigin. If Newbigin coined the word, Keller was a primary promoter and distributor of it among the American evangelical church.

In The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, a foundational handbook for the missional movement, Newbigin lays out the rational for the Church to be on mission. He argues that rather than our salvation being about a personal election to heaven it is a calling out and rescue of a people in "exile" in order to extend the same release from captivity to the world:

"God's electing grace calls into being a people charged with the responsibility of being the bearers of His universal salvation...To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are the lost. To be the elect in Christ Jesus, and there is no other election, means to be incorporated into His mission to the world, to be the bearer of God's saving purpose for His whole world, to be the sign and the agent and the firstfruit of His blessed kingdom which is for all."
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society ("The Logic of Election" pgs 86-87)

We are not elected to the position of "the redeemed" just to sing about our own personal redemption but to be ourselves redeemers who have been given the "message of reconciliation" by our Redeemer for the world. An election assumes an office. An office assumes a responsibility, a job; a calling to fulfill. Newbigin did not believe our election was to proclaim the gospel message to an indeterminate audience called the "elect" but rather to the others God is determined to save through us, the rest of the world. We are blessed to be a blessing; we are saved from the world for the world. We are even at times against the world in order to be for it and save it.

It is ironic that the very creator of our new buzzword "missional" established the word on the assumption that it encompassed a global rescue that starts with us, the "elect", while his protegees never unpack or apply the full intention of his word.