Book | The Witness of God by John G. Flett

The-Witness-of-God-Flett-JohnFlett, John G. The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010.

The Author

FlettJohn Flett is from New Zealand. This book is his PhD Dissertation from Princeton.

An abstract of the Article version of this book:

The key flaw of missio Dei is its deficient trinitarianism. Despite the supposed range of positions associated with the concept, they all stem from this same base. The problem is one of dividing who God is in himself from who he is in his economy. While mission is often understood as bridging the divide between God and the world, the trinitarian problem of missio Dei is actually a problem of God himself. God exists in the world as Father, Son, and Spirit, and in this way, he can both be, and be in such a way that he comes into the world. Any community that lives in doxological correspondence  to this missionary God is, of necessity, a missionary community. (Missio Dei: Envisioning an Apostolic Reading of ScriptureMissiology: An International Review January 1, 2009 37: 19-32)

From a review by Deanna Ferree Womack (March 14, 2011)

The Witness of God aims to transform doctrinal theology, missiology, and the life of the church through the subversion of prevailing theological dichotomies. John Flett – habilitant at the Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel, Germany – defines the cleavage between church and mission as “a problem of God,” which derives from a perceived breach between God’s being and act (4). His book discloses the insufficient Trinitarian content of missio Dei theologies and draws from Karl Barth to produce a constructive redefinition of missio Dei. This work is predicated on the argument that the English translation of Die Kirchliche Dogmatik fails to convey “Karl Barth’s thick theological description of mission” (ix). Attention to the nuances of language leads Flett to retranslate English clauses that omit or blur Barth’s original emphasis on the missionary nature of the Christian community. This illumination of Barth’s missionary thinking, widely under-recognized by Barth scholars and missiologists, is but one of Flett’s valuable contributions in this volume.

The final chapter clarifies the redefinition of missio Dei formulated in previous chapters. This rearticulation is necessary, considering the depth of the book’s theological argument and its breadth of historical and theological resources. According to Flett, the missionary act belongs to the triune God’s reconciliation of the world, and it flows from the Christian community’s fellowship with the living God whose action for the world is not ancillary to this being. “The Father’s begetting the Son is a deliberate act…[that] belongs to God’s life from and to all eternity…The resurrection reveals the Son of man to be the Son of God from all eternity” (288). The Spirit subjectively actualizes humanity’s reconciliation, impelling the church to follow Christ into the world. This active service is not constrained by particular historical or cultural patterns, but the church may freely develop missionary forms through engagement in the world and within the bounds of the divine-human relationship. The book’s concluding word, while brief, signals that instead of appealing to human selfishness and fear, the missionary act is sustained by joy.

Flett’s guiding principle that mission opposes propaganda carries great transformative power. This negates any anthropological or ecclesial focus preventing the church from pointing beyond herself. Noting the connections between propaganda, imperialism, and colonialism, Flett advocates a new form of mission that should shatter Western conceptions of mission as evangelistic or justice-oriented work in foreign contexts. Mission is the essential nature of the Christian community in all places, and this active movement into the world takes an anti-imperialist form. The book thus opens new avenues for reflection on mission as a force for reconciliation in post-colonial societies. Despite Flett’s largely European and North American bibliography, his missio Dei theology might be a means for transcending the perceived East-West divide in global Christianity. Engagement with Asian, African, and Hispanic/Latino(a) views of missio Dei is critical, and such work would both enhance and challenge Flett’s argument.

“For if God is by nature missionary, then the proper worship of this God must assume a corresponding missionary form. Christian witness is not some overflow of an otherwise intact fellowship. It is a life given for the sake of the world.”