Doctrine for the Mission of the Church
Michael Goheen
Calvin Seminary
Bavinck Conference 2012
Doctrine for Mission
How can good doctrine nourish and equip the
church for its mission?
Answer in three parts:
1. Meaning of doctrine and mission
2. How can preaching doctrine nourish the
church for its mission?
3. How can theological reflection on biblical
doctrine equip the church for its mission?
What is mission?
Begin with God’s mission: God’s purpose
to restore the whole creation, all nations,
all of human life narrated in biblical story
Chooses a people to participate: blessed to
be a blessing or salvation in and through
First about being: a distinctive people
amidst the nations
Then about words and activities
What is doctrine? (Ridderbos)
New Testament authority understood
only with redemptive-historical
Three: kerygma, marturia, didache
Three vivid images
Kerygma [proclamation]: realm of a
herald proclaiming historical events as
good news
Marturia [witness]: realm of law court
where a witness testifies to what they
have seen or heard or experienced
Didache [doctrine]: realm of Rabbinic
Working out the significance and
implications of a defining historical
event for the life of the community
 Events
give rise to a community and way
of life
 Unfolding significance of those events
for new situations and times
What is doctrine? (NT Wright)
‘It was the story of Jesus (particularly
his death and resurrection), told as the
climax of the story of God and Israel
and thus offering itself as both the true
story of the world and the foundation
and energizing force for the church’s
Three aspects of doctrine
Story of Jesus (life, death, resurrection)
As it fulfils the Old Testament story
As it is brought to bear on the church’s
life to equip it for mission
Relating doctrine to mission
Scriptures are a record of God’s
mission in and through his people
Scriptures are a tool to effectively
shape God’s people for their missional
Scriptural authority and mission
Biblical authority: ‘sub-branch . . . of the
mission of the church’
Q: ‘What role does Scripture play within God’s
accomplishment of this goal?’
A: ‘God’s self-revelation is always to be
understood within the category of God’s
mission to the world, God’s saving sovereignty
let loose through Jesus and the Spirit and aimed
at the healing and renewal of the creation.’
Unfolds in four stages
The Old Testament Scriptures were
written to equip God’s people for their
missional calling to be a distinctive
Jesus fulfils the purpose of the Old
Testament: He accomplishes what the OT
had been trying to do—bring salvation to
God’s people and through them to the
world (Rom 8.3-4)
Unfolds in four stages
Apostolic preaching and doctrine make
Christ present in transforming power to
shape God’s people for their mission
New Testament authors committed
apostolic preaching and doctrine to written
 Continues
 In
to make Christ present
 To transform God’s people for mission
How can preaching doctrine
nourish the mission of the church?
Acts 2.42-47: devotion, life, drawing
Apostolic doctrine: one of four
channels by which Spirit nourishes
new life
Making Christ present
Next step in Wright’s exposition:
Christ is present in power to renew
people for mission a) bodily; b)
apostolic word; c) NT; d) preaching
‘The business of the sermon is to bring
the hearers face to face with Jesus
Christ as he really is.’ (Newbigin)
“For Holy Scripture is the garment
which our Lord Christ has put on and
in which He lets Himself be seen and
found.” (Luther)
“This, then, is the true knowledge of
Christ, if we receive him as he is
offered by the Father: namely, clothed
with his gospel.” (Calvin)
Preaching doctrine . . .
Brings us face to face with Jesus Christ
As he really is
 Unfolds implications of his Lordship over whole
of life
‘That salvation is universal in nature; it
encompasses man in his full existence and in all
of his relationships and affairs . . .The redemption
described in the New Testament . . . views all of
that . . . from the great theocentric viewpoint of
God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.’ (Ridderbos)
Preaching doctrine . . .
Brings us face to face with Jesus Christ
Will encounter other idolatrous ways of life,
challenge other lords of reigning cultural story
Tells a different story than cultural story
 Dismantles dominant idols and offers an
alternative imagination rooted in a different story
 Must be relevant and address idols of day: ‘If you
preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of
the issues which deal specifically with your time you
are not preaching the gospel at all.’ (Luther)
Preaching doctrine . . .
Brings us face to face with Jesus Christ
Will encounter other idolatrous ways of life,
challenge other lords of reigning cultural story
Will orient people of God to the world
 Salvation
for but also through the church
 Opposes ‘self-centred religiosity’ (Thielicke)
and ‘soteriological self-centredness
How can theological reflection equip
the church for its mission?
Focus on one area: theology must be
contextual addressing issues and idols
of a particular context
Reacting against universalising
tendency of theology in wake of
Our creedal formulations structured to respond to the 16th
century cultural setting and its problems, lose their
historical character as contextual confessions of faith and
become cultural universals, having comprehensive
validity in all times and settings. . . . The Reformation is
completed and we in the West wait for the churches of
the Third World to accept as their statements of faith
those shaped by a Western church three centuries ago in
a corpus Christianum . . . We have diminished their
historical, cultural character. The creed as a missionary
document framed in the uniqueness of an historical
moment has too often been remythologized by white
paternalism into a universal Essence for all times. (Conn)
The responsibility of the church [is] to
declare to each generation what is the faith, to
expose and combat errors destructive of the
faith, to expel from her body doctrines which
pervert the faith, and to lead her members
into a full and vivid apprehension of the faith.
. . . This is always a fresh task in every
generation, for thought is never still. The
words in which the Church states its message
in one generation have changed their
meaning by the time the next has grown up.
No verbal statement can be produced which
relieves the Church of the responsibility
continually to re-think and re-state its message.
No appeal [to creeds and confessions] can alter
the fact that the Church has to state in every new
generation how it interprets the historic faith, and
how it relates it to the new thought and
experience of its time. . . . Nothing can remove
from the Church the responsibility for stating
now what is the faith. It belongs to the essence of
a living Church that it should be able and willing
to do so. (Newbigin)
Contextual theology
Positive task: explicate the faith in the
present to enable the church to take
hold of its confession in vital way
Negative task: protect the faith from
distortion of idolatrous thought
New Testament as a model?
Martin Kähler: ‘the oldest mission
became the mother of theology’
‘The congregations founded by the first missionaries
had, as their purpose, the continuation of the witness
that had led to their founding. The writings that
became the canonic New Testament all functioned
basically as instruments for the continuing formation
of these communities for the faithful fulfillment of
their missional vocation. The first theological work
of the church is found in the epistles and gospels that
focus on the concrete situations of missional
congregations and their witness—here we see the
earliest instance of mission functioning as the mother
of theology.’ (Guder)
Three attendant dangers of
contextual theology
Scriptural authority may be eclipsed
History and tradition of the church may
be ignored
The spectre of relativism looms
Addressing concerns
The Bible is the starting point and final
authority for all contextual theologies
 ‘True
Christian theology is a form of
rational discourse . . . which accepts the
primacy of the Biblical story . . .’
Addressing concerns
The Bible is the starting point and final
authority for all contextual theologies
All contextual theologies must engage
in dialogue with other theologies in
other historical situations, in other
cultural situations, and in other
confessional traditions
Threefold ecumenical dialogue
Historical: creeds and confessions; our
own tradition; broader Christian
Confessional: other confessional
Cultural: African, Asian, Latin
Need for ecumenical dialogue
Danger of contextual theology being
reductionist or accommodated to cultural
Need for dialogue that is both mutually
corrective and mutually enriching
‘What God has given us [in Scripture] is
inexhaustible, but we are only little
people, still on the way toward fully
understanding everything, while the
gospel needs restating in ever new
situations. There are bound to be many
theological articulations of the faith, all
of them pointing to the same thing and
by their multiplicity relativizing and
complementing each other.’ (H.
The reference to mutual correction is the
crucial one. All reading of the Bible and all our
Christian discipleship are necessarily shaped
by the cultures which have formed us. . . . the
only way in which the gospel can challenge our
culturally conditioned interpretation of it is
through the witness of those who read the Bible
with minds shaped by other cultures. We have
to listen to others. The mutual correction is
sometimes unwelcome, but it is necessary and
it is fruitful. (Newbigin)
Theology that is 1) rooted in the gospel
and the biblical story; 2) addressed to
current needs of the church in mission
today; 3) corrected and enriched by
brothers and sisters from other epochs of
history, other confessional traditions, and
other cultural contexts can be a theology
that equips church for its mission.