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Thinking about the church and Its mission

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Graham Hill's book, Salt Light, and a City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology. I started reading this book a mere two days after the Standing Commission on Faith and Order voted to approve what is expected to be a significant convergence text on the church. This text, which should soon appear in print, is the product of years of serious multilateral theological engagement by the Faith and Order Commission.

It is clear that Hill's book also represents years of serious research and reflection. The book, the first of a planned multiple volume series, probes some of the existing understandings of the nature of the church and its missional activity with a view to developing a coherent vision of its central subject from the perspective of Protestant evangelicalism.

In the first section, Hill offers an overview of understandings of the church reflected in the writings of selected theologians.  Perspectives from the various church traditions are discussed in concise chapters on "twelve important theologians" - Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Karl Rahner and Hans Kung from the Catholic Church; Thomas Hopko, Vigen Guroian  and John Zizioulas from the Orthodox Church; Letty Russell, Jurgen Moltman and John Webster from the Protestant Church community; and John Yoder, Barry Harvey and Miroslav Volf from the Free Churches.

In the second section, Hill offers a preliminary vision of the missional church that is informed by his "biblical, Reformed evangelical, Christ-centered, Free Church, charismatic, trinitarian, ecumenical, and missional convictions." This vision comes out of a dialogue with the perspectives skillfully summarized in Part 1 of his book.

Hill's is an important work that will be read by Christians who care that the corporate practice of Christian discipleship and mission that they affirm and teach is rooted in a defensible biblical and theological foundation.

Before criticizing Hill for engaging in dialogue with theologians from parts of the world where, he says, "Christianity finds itself now on the margins of a culture in which it once enjoyed a central place", let us carefully note – and eagerly await – his promise of a second volume in which he will focus on theological reflections on the church and its mission as reflected in the writings of theologians from other parts of the world. Those whose theological contribution he intends to discuss include Leonardo Boff,  Jon Sobrino, Juan Segundo, Samuel Escobar, Rene Padilla, Kwame Bediako, John Mbiti, Oliver Onwubiko, Tite Tiénou and Peter Phan, "to name a few."

It will be interesting to see how Hill analyzes the interaction of context/culture/experience and confessional/theological tradition in his assessment of the understandings of the church reflected in the writings of such scholars. Since the same interplay is at work in the ecclesiologies Hill analyzes and proposes in Salt, Light and a City, one waits to see whether there will be similarity in the recognition of the role played by these factors in the formulation of the theological positions analyzed in Hill's upcoming publication.

For the time being, however, it is important for Baptists to read and reflect on the first text in which Hill offers much that justifies the time needed to read his book. Hill offers a window into existing understandings of the church and their implication for mission "from a Euro-American perspective" emerging in western cultures where churches "are mostly experiencing decline, marginality, and liminality." He also engages the creative process of developing a constructive Australian missional theology that is "self-consciously western."

The Faith and Order text, which one expects to reflect contributions and perspectives from the worldwide Christian community, focuses on the church and its unity in the service of its mission. This text is also informed by the ecclesiologies with which Hill engages in conversation – and indeed some of the scholars whose work Hill has accessed and plans to draw upon actually participated in the deliberations of Faith and Order.

By the time we conclude our reading of Hill's Salt, Light and a City and its upcoming companion volume,  which together will harvest what Hill regards as the best fruits of conversations with theologians from the West and from the Majority World, the full sweep of Hills' vision of the missional church will become clear. Only then will we be able to ascertain how Hill's vision compares with that conveyed in the Faith and Order Commission's differently-focused text on the church.

Hill's book is a must read for church leaders and teachers who care about the church and its mission. I welcome Salt, Light and a City and, with the same enthusiasm, await his upcoming volume.

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


  • Guest
    Smithk180 Friday, 02 May 2014

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  • Guest
    G David Shanth Raj Monday, 22 December 2014

    Blessings ! Amen !!

  • Guest
    G.David Shanth Raj Thursday, 28 February 2013

    Dear Friends,
    Greetings and prayerful wishes from G.David Shanth Raj, I hope and pray that these few lines of mine would find you at the best of your health of mind and body.
    May I take this opportunity to introduce myself to you. I am G.David Shanth Raj ordained for the mission of Global Alliance of Christian Leaders ,I am going to the mission villages and visiting many families, instruct them in Christian faith, give them more knowledge about Christ, talk to them, listen to their problems and difficulties and pray with them. Thus even at their poverty they feel happy and comforted.
    It is my duty to take care of the faithful and meet their spiritual needs and most of our people are illiterate and don’t know much about Christ they are much in need of regular instructions to deepen and strengthen their faith. Hence I am trying my best and putting all my efforts to reach them as regularly as possible.
    Primary needs are Preaching And Teaching God'd Kingdom to establish the first Century Churches Of Christ in Andhra Pradesh and to build Christian homes that would support the Church missions in Carrying Out Our Lord's Great Commission.
    And also to educate the children in community to learn about their Creator, And Their Savior Jesus Christ To Follow Him In Their Lives.
    Therefore, I earnestly and humbly request you to pray for Global Alliance of Christian Leaders to be able to carry out my mission more effectively.
    Yours in Christ Jesus,

    G.David Shanth Raj

  • Guest
    G.DAVID SHANTH RAJ Thursday, 30 August 2012

    Prayer request from G,David Shanth Raj-Hyderabad :
    Christianity is frequently in the news in South Korea--often in negative ways. Many young people are turning away from the traditional church due to rigid systems and public scandals. Please pray for Baptist representatives Robert and Ellen Hale as they reach out to unreached and disaffected university students who need spiritual guidance but are hesitant to consider a local church as an option. Please pray that God will open up avenues by which the Hales will be able to interact with needy students individually and in small groups in culturally relevant and positive ways.THANK YOU GBU

  • Guest
    Donald Lawrence Thursday, 30 August 2012

    This is an inviting introduction.

  • Guest
    O. Griffiths Thursday, 05 July 2012

    As Christianity becomes more and more marginalized is God calling us to attention
    through the parallel economic decline? Do the signs and the seasons have anything to teach us.
    Or is it that the God of the Old testament is different from the God of the New Testament. Are these deep thinkers helping the less learned understand why Christians are the targets of others?

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