MISSIONAL & A Holistic Definition of Missio Dei According to Its Origin

“An Abbreviated Introduction to the Concept of Missio Dei” by Greg McKinzie, Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis, Aug. 2010, pp. 10-11.

“Mission is ultimately God’s affair.”3  The expression of this fact in terms of “missio Dei” seems especially shaped by the theology of Karl Barth, who first revived the trinitarian idea of missio in 1932.4 In addition, the preliminary report from the U.S. study group hinged upon the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, the statement that ultimately distills the conference findings reads:

The missionary movement of which we are a part has its source in the Triune God Himself. Out of the depths of His love for us, the Father has sent forth His own beloved Son to reconcile all things to Himself. . . . On the foundation of this accomplished work God has sent forth His Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. . . . We who have been chosen in Christ . . . are by these very facts committed to full participation in His redeeming mission to the world. There is no participation in Christ without participation in His mission to the world. That by which the Church receives its existence is that by which it is also given its world-mission. “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.”5

It was another document, written by Karl Hartenstein after the conference, that utilized the Latin phrase missio Dei in order to summarize the fundamental idea conveyed by the conference findings:

Mission is not just the conversion of the individual, nor just obedience to the word of the Lord, nor just the obligation to gather the church. It is the taking part in the sending of the Son, the missio Dei, with the holistic aim of establishing Christ’s rule over all redeemed creation.6

Hartenstein clearly wrote from a traditionalist perspective, though his terminology would also be co-opted by the humanist camp in order to signify an idea of mission exclusive of the church’s “taking part” in God’s movement toward the world. Yet, we may note that the dispute was not simply between those who advocated a “social gospel” and those who did not. The “holistic” notion of a kingdom over “all redeemed creation” was integral to the traditionalist view, which made room also for individual conversion, obedience to the word, and the gathering of the church. The issue remained, implicitly at least, one of eschatology and its implications for the church’s instrumentality. That is to say, a critical dialog between eschatology and ecclesiology had begun.7


3 Wolfgang Günther, “The History and Significance of the World Mission Conferences in the 20th Century,”
International Review of Mission 92, no. 367 (October 2003): 529.

4 Wilhelm Richebächer, “Missio Dei: The Basis of Mission Theology or a Wrong Path?” International Review of Mission 92, no. 367 (October 2003): 590.

5 Michael Kinnamon and Brian E. Cope, The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 339-40.theol

6 Quoted in Tormod Engelsviken, “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology,” International Review of Mission 92, no. 367 (October 2003): 482.

7 Tiina Ahonen, “Antedating Missional Church: David Bosch’s Views on the Missionary Nature of the Church and on the Missionary Structure of the Congregation,” Swedish Missiological Themes 92, no. 4 (2004): 576-77.

The full article is available here: article-abbrv-intro-to-missio-dei.