Friday, June 04, 2010

John Flett on “Missio Dei” and the Trinity

I had the inestimable privilege of serving as teaching fellow for John Flett’s course on ecclesiology in ecumenical perspective, one of the last courses he taught before leaving PTS. It would be impossible for me to offer an account of whether and to what degree the students in that course learned anything, but I learned quite a bit. Now, Flett’s dissertation has been published, and I am drinking even more deeply from his unique slant on things. Just to be clear (caps are for emphasis - I'm not screaming at you!):

THIS IS A MUST-READ BOOK. Go buy it, and read it two or three times. Now. Get to it!

We should all be thankful to Flett for publishing this volume with Eerdmans, for it is accessibly priced. You therefore have no excuse for failing to buy (and, consequently, read) it. In any case, here is a juicy tidbit to wet your whistles.

John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010): 9-10.
Both the decisive force and fatal flaw of missio Dei rests in its relationship to the doctrine of the Trinity. As propounded to date, the concept is deficiently Trinitarian, and the wide range of its contemporary problems is a direct result of this single lack. Reference to the Trinity distanced mission from every particular human act, but, as now a divine attribute, uncertainty arose over the practical transition from divine being to the human missionary act. Missio Dei’s vacuity emerges at this precise point. Material formulations of God’s connection with the world was reduced to the language of “sending,” with the effect that his “sending” being included more the particular sendings of the Son and Spirit. Missio Dei provides a Trinitarian illusion behind which all manner of non-Trinitarian mediations operate with sanctioned impunity. The Trinitarian formula is pure preamble. This explains how a wide variety of seemingly incongruous positions can all lay claim to the name missio Dei.

2 comments:

Daniel said...

Just out of curiosity, is this Flett's full dissertation? Looking at the page count on this I noticed that it is significantly shorter than the actual dissertation length. Is this simply a formatting difference or is this version a shortened version of the original?

Thanks!

W. Travis McMaken said...

I won't say its a "shortened" version because I don't want to imply that any chunks have been left out. But I do know that John labored extensively to rewrite much of it, making it more direct and to the point. What we have in the published version is certainly more compact.