Today's post is the second in a series of weekly posts that will re-examine the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist professors of mission will contribute to a re-examination of this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College. Dr. Scott is responding to Dr. Hendrik Pieterse's piece from last week commenting on the Introduction to Grace Upon Grace. Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.
I want to thank Dr. Hendrik Pieterse for beginning our conversation about Grace Upon Grace in his post last week. Like Dr. Pieterse, I too hope for productive conversations to come out of the re-examination of this document, conversations that will continue The United Methodist Church's openness to the work that God would do through it.
I want to affirm the three themes that Dr. Pieterse identified last week in the Introduction to Grace Upon Grace. Dr. Pieterse highlighted three affirmations about mission: 1) Mission is missio Dei, the work of God. 2) Mission enacts God's triune life of grace. 3) Mission is a response to and stewardship of God's gift of the world. By looking at these themes and other statements that the Introduction makes about the document itself, we can see another important aspect about the document: it is a statement of mission theology, not a plan for a mission program.
The Introduction tells us this in no unclear terms. It states, with original emphasis, "The purpose of this mission statement is, therefore, not to offer a specific program but to set forth as clearly as possible the gospel of grace as it impels us to evangelize and serve the world which God in Christ 'so loved.'" (Introduction, 3rd paragraph) I think it is important for United Methodists, especially those in the United States, to heed these words. Grace Upon Grace is not another organizational plan or turn-around strategy or business scheme to reverse the numerical decline of our church. The point of the document is not denominational "success," as defined in worldly terms. The point of the document is that we may better know and love God, that we may therefore share God with the world.
Grace Upon Grace does not just present a mission theology, it presents a devotional or formational theology. That should not be too surprising. Wesleyans have never been about theologies of the head only; they are about theologies of the head and heart together. What is perhaps surprising is that the process of formation is not individual but corporate. Once again, the document itself explicitly indicates the formational nature of its theology: "Mission is the action of the God of grace who creates out of love, who calls a covenant community, who graciously redeems and reconciles a broken people in Jesus Christ, and who through the Holy Spirit calls the church into being as the instrument of the good news of grace to all people." (Introduction, 1st paragraph) God forms us not just as individuals, but as a covenant community, a people. Grace Upon Grace seeks to produce what it calls "a grace-formed church." (Introduction, 1st paragraph)
This attention to corporate spiritual formation and not some 10-point plan can be see in each of the three themes identified by Dr. Pieterse. If mission is the work of God, then ultimately, the planning must be God's as well, and to be effective in our planning, we must be conformed to God's will. If mission is about enacting God's triune life of grace, then it as much about who we are as what we do. If mission is a response to God's gift of grace to the world, then we must be transformed by that gift. As we (re-)read Grace Upon Grace together, let us pay attention not only to what God would have us do, but who God would have us be as a corporate body, that is, "a grace-formed church."