Thoughts on the Missional Movement ~ Part Five

The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism
and the Precipitation of the Missional Movement

Part Five: When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: “Irreconcilable Differences” on Operating Systems for Discipleship

Overview of Parts Five and Six

In Part Four, we looked at elements that potentially set us up for “irreconcilable differences,” when it comes to being part or partners in some kind of movement or ministry collaboration. I introduced epistemology (information processing styles) and axiology (values) as the core of the ministry systems and cultures we create. The key idea it led to was this: If we’re missing some biblical values, or our values are anti-biblical, we can easily end up with beliefs and behaviors, and lifestyles and cultures that go against Scripture

In Parts Five and Six, we will look at the “operational framework” – the sets of maco-level principles that guide our everyday beliefs and behaviors, interests and interactions. If we’re off center biblically in our epistemology and axiology, we’ll be even farther off in our operational framework, either in the direction of legalism or license instead of true biblical liberty and the freedom for which Christ set us free.

Epistemology and Our Operational Framework of Legalism, License, or Liberty

FIVE EPISTEMOLOGIES. I believe the most comprehensive set of biblical values comes from integrating all five different types of epistemology – all of which are found in Scripture, but each of which is applied within very specific realms.

Analysis – Either/Or. This mindset divides things – such as, this from that, right from wrong, obedience from disobedience. It fits the realm of moral imperatives, where we either follow after or flake out on God’s commandments.

Synthesis – Or. The imagination generates all kinds of options, creating all sorts of scenarios of how the future could or should be. It fits the realm of wisdom decisions, those issues where the Bible does not give us a specific command and so we are free to choose, and hopefully we make the wisest/best decision instead of so-so or bad decisions. To restate, these decisions are not matters of moral obedience (right or wrong) but of wise discernment and decisions (wise or unwise).

Symbiosis – And. The emotions drive us to connect with others through a God-given desire for friendships and community, as well as a God-reflecting desire for justice in society. It fits the realm of social ethics, where there are a number of biblical commandments (such as the many “one another” passages in the New Testament) but also a number of wisdom-decision practices for our interactions.

Paradox – Both/And. What A.J. Gossip (see Part 4) called the “aesthetic feeling,” we might otherwise call the soul. It acts like a hub for simultaneously considering how multiple things connect together in dynamic tension, rather than dividing them from one another to analyze them in isolation. For instance, through the aesthetic feeling, we consider the seen and the unseen, and we reflect on the abstract principles of thought or emotions that arise within concrete experiences we have. Paradox fits the realm of appropriate “mysticism” and discernment, where we reflect and speculate upon how multiple layers of existence interconnect and interact. This is the core perspective behind a book many have benefited from, Experiencing God: observing what is happening in the lives of our self and others, asking God how He is working in them, and cooperating with Him to make a difference. That kind of appropriate spiritual speculation involves us knowing what we see and experience, but also seeking to see what God knows and how to interpret our providential experiences from His perspective.

Integration – all forms in right realms and in balance. This involves conscious decisions of our volition to embrace and explore all four core kinds of epistemologies and keep them in their right places. It is the central issue of choice. If we do not seek to integrate all that God has for us to be and do, however will we grow in Christlikeness? There will be gaps that need to be filled in, and excesses than need to be filed off.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? Difficulties emerge in our beliefs and behaviors, our organizations and cultures, when we don’t match the right epistemology principle to a problem we’re having. In other words, the integration of our life gets off track from both the boundaries and opportunities God presents us in His Word.

Here’s an example. The New Testament commands us to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. It also gives us general indicators of that maturing process. For instance, demonstrated skill in “spiritual warfare” is a sign of spiritual adolescence, according to 1 John 2:13-14. In Hebrews 5:14, a sign of advancing maturity is found in the ability to take in “meaty” aspects of God’s Word, because we have exercised our “discernment muscles” to tell the difference between good and evil.

However, NOWHERE does the New Testament provide us with a step-by-step schedule of rules for how to achieve maturity, or on what timeline. Therefore, the steps we take, or that we suggest to others as their discipler/mentor, are in the realm of wisdom options – not moral imperatives. This means that anyone who creates hard-and-fast formulas for spiritual growth has crossed the line into legalism – putting rules and burdens upon Christians that He Himself never did.

And, as the book of Romans repeatedly shows, the Law actually prevents people from maturing. It keeps us in a state of childhood, where we have to be told everything to do and are not allowed to decide for ourselves (or bear the full adult consequences of our actions). This core epistemology misapplication of treating wisdom choices as if there were codes of commands for them instead has been a key issue in every spiritually abusive church and ministry I’ve ever experienced.

And the opposite problem of flipping moral commands into personal options is a core misapplication I’ve seen in many antinomian (no-boundaries) ministry situations to count. I’ve often found it in churches that run by chaos instead of by compliance. In the antinomian reversal, people want to redefine biblical commands as mere options: “Oh, that’s not really a sin, it’s just a difference in the ways God’s made us!” or “Oh, that’s not a problem, that’s a ‘gift’.” It just flips everything so that anything goes.

So … let’s assume for the moment that the missional movement is one place where there is an attempt to keep all five forms of epistemology active and integrate them in a balanced way. In other words, missional disciples seek for a third way of true freedom in Christ and liberty.

  • What happens when there are individuals, groups, denominations, etc. – either from inside the missional stream or any of the five other stream – that are committed to either legalism, or antinomianism (i.e., “license”) instead of biblically grounded freedom in Christ?
  • How can they integrate into a movement of liberty?
  • Can they collaborate?
  • Or is this an “irreconcilable difference” that blocks unification and perhaps collaboration?

And I believe that blockage is where we find ourselves, when it comes to the conflict of differences in “welcoming or rejecting” and “affirming, transforming, conforming, or condemning.” Before we get to that, we need to do some additional exploration into overall systems of discipleship. Stay tuned for that part of the journey in Part Six …


Thoughts on the Missional Movement – Series Links:


  • Part 1 – Making Taxonomies in the Midst of Transformation
  • Part 2 – Six Streams in the “Missional Movement”
  • Part 3 – Principles of Paradox, and Magnetic Attractions and Repulsions in the Making of a “Missional Movement”
  • Part 4 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: The Way We Process Information and What We Value Create “Irreconcilable Differences”
  • Part 5 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: “Irreconcilable Differences” on Operating Systems for Discipleship
  • Part 6 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: Operating Systems of Legalism or License Instead of Liberty
  • Part 7 – The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Access
  • Part 8 – The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Activities
  • Part 9 – How These Frameworks Play Out in Our Overall Attitudes, Styles of Interaction, and Community Connections