(Part 1 was yesterday. The series will conclude tomorrow with Part 3)

A Weak Foundation

Most significantly, McNeal does not adequately support his own definition of the missional church. He argues that “the missional church is the people of God partnering with God in his redemptive mission in the world” (24). Earlier he explains that this means we set things right in a broken, sinful world, to redeem and restore what God has always intended for the world (21). In other words, our task is to partner with God in rebuilding shalom, in remaking the world so that people can experience the fullness of life as it once was in Eden.

The problem is we are never once told in the New Testament to build the kingdom, restore shalom, or redeem our communities. We are often told that the kingdom is a gift to receive and that Christ has won our inheritance for us. Christ, we are told in Scripture, is reconciling all things to himself and will make all things new. But nowhere are we told that we are “responsible for blessing everyone” (47). I know I probably sound like the guy who is against helping non-Christians. But really I’m not. Our hearts should break for suffering everywhere. Love will compel us to do many things for those outside the church. But you simply can’t make a case from the New Testament that transforming our communities or taking our cues from the needs in the community, ala McNeal, is the aim of the church (7).

To his credit, McNeal tries to lay a biblical foundation for his “Missional Manifesto” in chapter 2. He goes through ten specific passages to “illustrate the Scriptural moorings of the missional church” (27). Unfortunately, he mishandles almost every passage.

Genesis 12:1-3 McNeal argues that in this “simple but far-reaching covenant…the people of God are charged with the responsibility and enjoy the privilege to bless everyone” (27). But Abram is not commanded to bless all nations. Rather, God promises that all nations will be blessed through him. And the blessings, according to Galatians 3:9, only comes to those who are of faith. Genesis 12:1-3 does not tell Christians to go and bless everyone. It promises that the nations will be blessed when they respond to Abraham’s Offspring in faith.

Exodus 19:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:9 While recognizing that these passages about being “a kingdom of priests” describe the special nature of God’s people, McNeal also argues that they mean God “created a people to serve as his ongoing incarnational presence on the earth” (30). I’ve heard this line of reasoning often: We are priests. Priests mediate God’s presence. We are meant to mediate God’s presence to people. But “kingdom of priests” is best understood as an example of Hebrew parallelism, meaning the same thing as “holy nation.” Indeed, the Lord told the people at the mountain to consecrate themselves (Exod. 19:10), and the context in 1 Peter is about abstaining from the passions of the flesh (2:11-12). The priestly image suggests holiness not incarnational presence.

John 3:16 McNeal makes the strange claim that Nicodemus the Pharisee would have expected Jesus to say “For God so loved the church” instead of the world (30). I’m not sure why Nicodemus would think this since the church wasn’t instituted yet (see Matthew 16). But McNeal’s larger point is that the kingdom of God is a gift to the world not “a reward intended for the benefit of God’s people” (30). And yet Jesus explicitly tells Nicodemus he cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3). True, God loves the world (in the Johannine since of world), but the whole point of John 3 is that unless you are born again and believe in Christ you stand condemned already. John 3:16 actually bolsters the claim that the kingdom is for the church, for regenerate believers.

Matthew 22:37-40 McNeal argues that “loving one’s neighbor ranks right up there with loving God” (31). Agreed.

John 10:10b “Jesus can’t describe his mission any plainer than this,” states McNeal. “He wants to help people get a life!” (31) Therefore, the missional church helps people have life to the full, which means we work for political, social, economic, cultural, physical, and psychological, and spiritual enhancement (35). Again, this application makes too much command out of a promise. “Abundant life” is first of all being saved for eternal life (John 10:9, 28). And yes, it also entails a blessed life now. But this life is not something we give to others. It is what we receive when we enter through the door (10:9) and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd (10:1-5).

Ephesians 4:15 [which he cites as 4:13] Missional followers, says McNeal, understand that truth and love are important. We work to improve people’s lives and to evangelize (32). These are true statements, but not exactly what Paul is talking about. Ephesians 4 envisions loving truth-telling within the body of Christ. It is not a passage about improving people’s lives in our communities.

1 Peter 3:15b This is another example of right idea, wrong text. McNeal suggests that when people see how we are blessing them they will ask us to give us a reason for the hope that we have (32-33). But the context in 1 Peter 3 is exactly the opposite. Believers are being slandered and persecuted. But if we have a good conscience, those who revile our good behavior will be put to shame (3:16). We should not be afraid of those who hate us, but always be ready to answer everyone, even those who mean us harm. 1 Peter 3 is not about people being impressed by our good deeds so we have the opportunity to evangelize. It is about people hating us for our good deeds.

Matthew 5:13-15 We are to penetrate, permeate, and act as a preservative in the world, says McNeal (33). By doing good deeds we may help people see God. Very true.

John 20:21b Church people, argues McNeal, are sent people (34). But as Andreas Kostenberger has shown, John’s Great Commission does not imply that we have the same incarnational ministry that Jesus had. John does not teach an incarnational model of being in the world, but that we should model the Son’s obedience and utter dependence on the Father. We submit to our sender’s will and seek his glory.

The case for missional living is largely based on bad exegesis. Promises are made into commands. Key words and phrases are not understood in their proper context. Desired meanings are read into the text instead of rising out of the text after careful interpretative work. It’s not enough to find texts that seem to have the general missional ideas one is looking for. Missional leaders like McNeal must demonstrate that their views on community transformation, a new blessing scorecard, and the nature of the kingdom over against the church are built on a solid biblical foundation.