Mission: The Telos of Theology
I have just had the privilege to re-read Martin Kähler’s “Schriften zu Christologie und Mission” (of course, auf Deutsch) and among many issues that he discusses, I really like his suggestion that mission is the mother of theology. To say that theology “comes out of mission” makes perfect sense to me as someone who engaged theology via the route of missiology. However, Kähler’s suggestion seems, in my opinion, popular (almost exclusively) among mission scholars and practitioners. Very few theologians would actually think of theology as an outcome of mission. The academic discipline of theology is generally detached from the frontlines of missionary work, such that mission and theology seem to be worlds apart. Missiology itself is one subject among many that fall under theology.
But if Kähler is right, and I believe he is, mission is not just the mother of theology. Mission is also the telos [purpose, goal, and end] of theology. Why do I say this? Because when theology proceeds from mission, it finds its fulfilment in the service of the same. When theology fails to explicitly reveal the missionary nature of God (who so loved the world to come and live “among us”), it fails to serve its purpose. A theology that is not shaped in the missionary heart of God lacks the compassion of a missionary God and can be used to marginalise and dehumanise, among many things. Without starting from the missionary nature of God, it is impossible to do good theology. Good theology is born out of mission, but it also dies for mission
Thus, I suggest, missio Dei might be the main purpose of theology. Of course, theology is more than just an academic discipline geared to enlighten and educate the mind. It is a spiritual exercise that enhances and serves mission. It is time for a mission-shaped theology (not just a missional theology or a theology of mission) to begin to take root.