ラウシェンブッシュの神学、そして楽観的なリベラル・プロジェクトは、第一次世界大戦と第二次世界大戦という悲惨な出来事と、新正統主義神学者からの鋭くはっきりとした批判により、一見すると信用されなくなった。しかしその後、復活している。それは皮肉なことに、新正統主義神学者のエミール・ブルンナーの著書『言葉と世界』（The Word and the World）にある言葉から始まったと言えるかもしれない。「燃えることによって火が存在するように、教会は伝道によって存在する」。言い換えれば、それが教会の目的であり、活力の元であり、世界中でその働きをすることなのだ。
Rauchenbusch’s theology, and the entire optimistic liberal project, was seemingly discredited by the disasters called World War I and World War II and the incisive and bold critiques of neo-orthodox theologians. But it has since been making a comeback. It may have started ironically enough with the neo-orthodox Emil Brunner, who in The Word and the World said, “the church exists by mission just as a fire exists by burning.” In other words, the purpose of the church, its very life blood, is its work in the world.
At the end of the last century, the great church statesman and missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin reinvigorated the missionary purpose of the church. Newbigin has been a deep influence on contemporary evangelicalism, and his thought is nuanced and careful, as well as invigorating. But missiologist Wilbert Shenk’s summary of Newbigin is what many of his readers have taken away:
… we are being called to reclaim the church for its missionary purpose. … Mission is often treated as a stepchild or, even worse, in some cases an orphan. That is to say, traditional ecclesiology has had no place for mission. Yet the church was instituted by Jesus Christ to be a sign of God’s reign and the means of witnessing to that reign throughout the world. The church that refuses to accept its missionary purpose is a deformed church. … We are being called to reclaim the church for its missionary purpose in relation to modern Western culture.
As I just noted, Newbigin’s theology is larger than this, but this is what has made a great impact on evangelical leaders. Perhaps the prime example is what’s called the missional movement. As with most movements, the very term itself is in dispute and comes to us in many colors. It is often combined with a fresh appreciation of kingdom theology, an attempt to let Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom of God become the hub of the wheel of our theology. We needn’t deny the many flavors of missional, or its obvious strengths, to grasp that for many pastors and theologians, the purpose of the church can be summarized like this (from a church blog I happened upon):
After Jesus was resurrected and after he had spent significant time schooling the nascent church, as He Himself had been sent, He sent His church on a mission, and sent the Holy Spirit to empower them for that task until the end of time, to the very ends of the earth. As Jesus was sent, and as the Spirit was sent, in like manner, the church has been sent. Therefore, the church exists missionally, sent by the triune God to carry out the mission of making disciples of all nations. Wherever the church exists, it exists for the sake of the world, as a sign and proclamation of the kingdom of God.
Given my travels and readings especially in the evangelical subculture, this strikes me as a near-perfect summary of an evangelically orthodox expression of much missional thinking today. For all its inspirational value—and this is not to be denied nor denigrated—in the end, it reduces the purpose of the church in the same way as does Rauschenbusch: “Wherever the church exists, it exists for the sake of the world.”
In particular, it is mistaken on two grounds. I believe it is an unbiblical view of the church. And I believe it is an unhealthy diet for the church. Why? Ultimately because it only encourages our addiction to activity and makes it ever harder for us to want to seek out God.