Written by Justin Gohl
Monday, 12 March 2012 00:00
For my part, one of the main insights of a missional approach to theology is that “mission” does not require a change in physical location per se. I tried to get at this idea in a blog post here back in November (11/29), in connection with Acts 17 and the idea of “sacramentality”—which we could just as easily term “incarnational.” Because the Word (Logos) who became flesh always filled the world he had made (cf. Col 1.17), the incarnation was not a “change of location” for the Son/Word, but a new form of self-manifestation for the purposes of revealing himself to and redeeming a broken, rebellious world, in a way that we could understand (with the Spirit’s help).
Being a stay-at-home parent presently with two kids under the age of 3, this is a very important, helpful, and challenging way of viewing the world. Practically speaking, I am not free to roam as I please, to spend my time as I please, to engage in many extra-curricular activities. My participation in God’s mission in this season of life takes place within the structures and flow of life in the world that God has created—namely, parents raising children. A missional-incarnational-sacramental reframing of parenting challenges me to see my and my wife’s efforts as a ministry which has God’s ultimate purposes in mind, of redeeming and reconciling the world to himself. And this both respect to my children and myself—with my children, for them to be formed as Christ-followers and responsible citizens; and with me, frankly, both to be encouraged and gladdened, and for it become clear where I lack the fruit of the Spirit in, at times, significant ways—patience, gentleness, joy—and to pray for renewal and transformation in myself.
Is not this training and purification for God’s mission? Is not God’s mission for us to embody the fruit of the Spirit wherever we may be, as God’s agents of reconciliation in the world?
For many in the Reformed tradition especially, this emphasis is not new, with its focus on the covenantal nature of the Church and the family as a microcosm of the covenant community. What has intrigued me as I have interacted with early church readings of the Book of Proverbs—which itself has no little focus on parenting—is the degree to which some prominent figures in the early church were concerned with the life of the family in the Church. Homiletical treaties from both John Chrysostom and Basil the Great have been preserved in which methods of Christian parenting are discussed and the question of what influences we allow on our children is raised.
(For translations of the two treatises, see: M. L. Laistner, Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire, together with An English Translation of John Chrysostom’s “Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children,” [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1951]; Saint Basil, Address to Young Men on Reading Greek Literature. Pages 363-435 in vol. 4 of Saint Basil: The Letters [trans. R. J. Deferrari and Martin R. P. McGuire; Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, reprint 1970].)
What we see in both could fairly be described as a reframing of parenting in missional terms which seeks to preserve the all-important internal/external tension that is at the heart of missional theology and church life. We take care of and shape the internal life and identity of the family and church so as to be faithful and effective representatives of Christ in every place we go, in every station of life, with a prudent readiness to see and find God already at work in the world to which we are sent.
May we be empowered by the Spirit towards this end!
Justin Gohl is an adjunct professor of theology at Biblical. He is married to Kate, his wife of 7 years, and is a full-time stay-at-home dad with two kids, Caleb (2) and Phoebe (1). He is ABD at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where he is in the latter stages of writing his dissertation on the early church’s use of the Book of Proverbs.