Living Witness: Explorations in Missional Ethics

living witnessIf you want to get a feel for the immensely exciting field of missional ethics (my PhD interest!) here’s a good starting point: Draycott, Andy, and Jonathan Rowe, eds. Living Witness: Explorations in Missional Ethics. Nottingham: Apollos, 2012. Pp. 304. Paperback. ISBN 1844745759.

The book explores the various ways in which mission and ethics are connected. In the introductory chapter, “What is missional ethics?”, Jonathan Rowe argues that missional ethics arises out of the Missio Dei, embracing the whole life, as an expression of divinely bestowed identity. In scope it is “as wide as the human life itself” and takes on cruciform and community shape in the place in which we find ourselves within God’s larger narrative. Just rolls off the tongue.

Highlights from the book include Chris Wright’s exploration of the ‘sending’ of the Trinity in missional terms. As the Father and Spirit send the Son, the Father and Son send the Spirit, and so the Son and Spirit send and empower the church. Missional ethics “draws its dynamic from the ethical character of the God whose intrinsic Trinitarian sending lies behind any sending and being sent that we are involved in.”

Grant Macaskill provides a survey of hope in the Old and New Testament concluding that the church is itself the realization of the prophetic hope of transformation. As such, a community of justice and equity points away from the misery of self-incurvature to the restoration of life as God intends. This chapter was a real highlight.

The second part of the book examines specific issues pertaining to missional ethics; in chapter 7 Ruble, a historian, traces Christianity Today’s presentation of the debates surrounding evangelism and social action from the 1960’s to the present day. Ruble raises interesting questions about how culture (in this case male white Anglo-American culture) shapes the debates.

In chapter 9 de Graaff examines the concept of friendship and the missional implications. He begins by examining what Plato, Aristotle, and Seneca had to say on friendship, noting that for each a certain higher ideal surpassed any concept of true reciprocal friendship – the friendship was simply a means to a higher end. He then outlines a Christian account of friendship. Distinguishing between moral and epistemic reciprocity he argues, based on Jesus’ own teaching, that friendship is a reciprocal act of communion. Friendship is not a means to an end, but an end in itself and in that respect is missional. Again, a real highlight.

There were also interesting chapters on politics and economics though I personally disagree with the conclusions. What is evident in the field as a whole is a lack of consensus as to the exact shape of missional ethics. Part of this untidiness lies in the definition of terms. Draycott and Rowe state in their introduction that the scope of missional ethics is as wide as human life itself. But, as Bishop Neill argued, if mission is everything, mission is nothing. Missional ethics is an exciting field, and I think this book opens some interesting doors, but there’s still plenty of work to be done (hopefully not too much in the next few years, for my sake!).

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