Engelsviken, T. “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology.” International Review of Mission 92, no. 367 (2003): 481-497.

Missio Dei- The Understanding and Misunderstanding – E. Engelsviken – my annotated copy

The Author

Tormod Engelsviken is Professor at the MF Norwegian School of Theology and Editor of Norwegian Journal of Missiology.[1]


Englesviken provides an important exploration of the key terms involved in 20th century missiology in the West–missio Dei, Kingdom of God, and church. He discusses and critiques the two ways in which these terms have been used. On the one side is the Evangelical perspective which understands God to be a sending God and the church to be a primary agent of God’s mission. On the other hand is the ecumenical perspective which is, in itself, a mixture of two views. One view was promoted by Hoekendijk in the 1960s which understood the missio Dei to be God’s universal movement toward peace in the world. The church was incidental to the mission. The other view is closer to the Evangelical view which sees the church as participatory in God’s mission to bring both redemption and peace/justice to the world.

Engelsviken sees hopes of unity in the discussion through the doctrine of the Trinity. Again, however, there are divisions and misunderstandings regarding the role of each person in the Trinity in the missio Dei.

This is my simple drawing of the questions.

Missio dei misunderstandings P188



The theocentric perspective was, of course, not new in the 20th century. It can already be found in Martin Luther’s thinking about mission. The American Lutheran missiologist, James A. Scherer says, “For Luther, mission is always pre-eminently the work of the triune God – missio Dei – and its goal and outcome is the coming of the kingdom of God. Luther sees the church, along with God’s word and every baptized believer, as crucial divine instruments for mission. Yet, nowhere does the reformer make the church the starting point or the final goal of mission, as 19th-century missiology tended to do. It is always God’s own mission that dominates Luther’s thought, and the coming of the kingdom of God represents its final culmination”.2 Here, already, we encounter the three concepts that form a dynamic triangle in post-war missio-logical thought: missio Dei, the kingdom of God and the church. Much of the discussion is centred on how they relate, and the answers given diverge strongly. (481)

“Here, however, it is necessary to point out that the fact that the term missio Deiis used or implied does not mean that there today is one single understanding of the term within the CWME. In a comment on the CWME mission state­ment, the secretary of the Commission, Jacques Matthey, correctly refers to the two quite different understandings of the term. One draws especially on John 20:21, which one could call the “classical” way to refer to missio Dei, where God’s mission is primarily carried out through the church. The other understanding is where God is seen as active in the secular political and social events of the world and where it is the role of the church to discern what God is doing in the world, and then participate in it. The latter understanding which, as we have seen was dominant in the WCC in the 1960s, is still a quite common understanding in ecumenical missiology.”[2] (491)

“I believe the key to understand the seemingly different understandings of mis­sio Dei in this document lies in the phrase, “within God’s overall mission”. God’s mission is seen as larger than but including the mission of the church. How the two are related to each other in terms of salvation is, however, not clear and would probably still be a hotly contested question.

At this point, the evangelical documents are unambiguous. This may easily be seen in the way they develop the work of each of the three persons in mission, maintaining the proprium of each without excluding the others.

Firstly, it is especially God the Father to whom the creation and preservation of the world are ascribed. This again forms the basis for the worth of humans and their stewardship of creation in terms of ecological responsibility, and concern for other people in terms of loye, peace and justice. “Our missiology centres on the overarching biblical theme of God’s creation of the world, the 54

Father’s redeeming love for fallen humanity as revealed in the incarnation, substitutionary death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and ultimate­ly of the redemption and renewal of the whole creation”. We notice here that salvation is seen as much more than “salvation of souls”. Rather, it includes the whole creation, and is thus similar to the understanding in the ecumenical statement, but with the significant difference in that here it is more directly tied to the redemptive work of Christ.

Secondly, the evangelical documents strongly tie the understanding of the salvific work of the Son to the historical redemptive work of Jesus Christ by referring repeatedly to the historical realities of his life, death, resurrection and exaltation, and strongly emphasizing his uniqueness: “The Lord Jesus Christ is the unique revelation of God and the only Saviour of the world. Salvation is found in Christ alone”. This uniqueness is not only expressed in positive terms but also in exclusivist terms: “In the face of competing truth claims, we proclaim with humility that Christ is the only Saviour”. The Millennial Manifesto says, “Recognizing the dangers of universalism, religious pluralism and syncretism, we proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah…as con­fessed by the Church through the centuries”.

Thirdly, the person and work of the Holy Spirit is emphasized in the evangel­ical documents. He is seen as “the agent of mission” and “source of power”,leading the church into all truth and calling the believers to holiness and integrity.”[3] (492-493)

[1] https://wipfandstock.com/author/37246 (accessed September 2, 2013)

[2] {Engelsviken, 2003 #437@491}

[3] {Engelsviken, 2003 #437@492-493}

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