Christological and Trinitarian Missiologies (pt. 2)

Today we wrap the comparison between the missiology of Samuel Escobar and Stephen Holmes by looking at their specific theologies of mission, then we conclude by comparing and contrasting them.

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Samuel Escobar

            Escobar begins his paper by noticing the incorrectly held assumption that Christianity is essentially a western religion.[1] Because Christianity is not necessarily a western thing, there is a “need for a radical departure from the Constantinian pattern of missionary enterprise”[2] that has pervaded the West. Escobar goes on to examine two ways of doing mission which have been popular in Latin America. The first way of understanding Christ and God’s mission is in light of the Liberation Theology tradition. He notes that Liberation theologies were birthed out of a Latin American history which is filled with oppression and conquest.[3] Although Liberation theology makes God’s word relevant in Latin America it has its faults, it places the establishment of God’s kingdom primarily in the hands of society. According to Escobar another way of understanding God’s mission is to adopt a Christology which emphasizes a high Christology but ignores Christ’s humanity. Escobar sees this is a common way of seeing Christ, as is evidenced in Latin American art which focuses on Christ’s infancy and crucifixion but not his life.[4]  He objects to this Christology showing that seeing Christ in this way is not relevant to social ethics in Latin America. He commends Justo Gonzalez for putting forth a Christology that rejects docetism, which is focused primarily in the future salvation of souls, and ebionism, which believes that man is going to establish the Kingdom of God.[5]

It is this type of Christology that will be relevant to Latin America and will best allow God’s people to embody His mission. The construction of this missiological Christology will need to answer several questions: who was Jesus of Nazareth, how did Jesus accomplish his mission, and what is the Gospel?[6] Noticing that the Church’s mission is derived from Jesus Christ   we must work on answering these Christological questions because Christ is “the content as well as the model and the goal for the proclamation of the Gospel.”[7]

Stephen Holmes

Holmes’ article explores using “missionary” as an attribute of God by exploring John 20:21-23, Augustine, Barth, and Joachim of Fiore. Holmes notices that there is much talk in theological circles about God having a mission, but there is much reluctance in talking about “missionary” as an attribute of God.[8] He says that there is much at stake in the difference between mission as an activity of God and an attribute of God. It is obvious that in the scriptures God sends and that the Son is sent,[9] and that by “the spirit, the church participates in the continuing working out of the mission given to Christ by the Father.”[10] However the reluctance in calling God a missionary God is rooted in Augustinian theology. According to the Augustinian framework “there is no sending or being sent within the eternal life of God,” thus God has a mission but is not a missionary.[11] Holmes notices that this aspect of Augustine’s theology as well as “many patristic debates over Trinitarian and Christological doctrine” was shaped by Greek philosophy.[12] In saying this he acknowledges that his own theological tradition was formulated in a Hellenized context. Since the doctrine that asserts that “missionary” cannot be an attribute of God is highly contextual we must we must not be nervous about reevaluating this doctrine. It is the task of the church to evaluate this doctrine because if it is true that mission is more than just something God does, but is part of God’s nature and character then “a church that refuses the call to mission is failing to be the church God calls it to be just as fundamentally as a church that refuses the call to be loving” is failing to be the church God has called it to be.[13]

Reflection and Response

            Both Escobar and Holmes acknowledged the fact that their theological traditions were highly influenced by the context in which they were created. Escobar reflects upon the history of poverty, conquest, and oppression that has plagued Latin America and is able to formulate a Christological missiology that addresses these social and spiritual issues. Holmes reflects upon the influence that Greek philosophy has had upon the theology of God’s attributes and brings to light how Greek philosophy has in a way belittled the Church’s responsibility in mission. Both writers root their missiology in God’s character, Escobar does this by focusing on Jesus and Holmes does this by focusing on the Trinity. Finally, Escobar and Holmes do not pretend to be offering an un-contexualized theology. Holmes explicitly acknowledges his indebtedness to Barth and Augustine and even uses the theology of Joachim de Fiore. Escobar acknowledges that he is dealing with issues which are very important in Latin America and takes on several Latino theologies as opponents.

Although both theologians are writing for different audiences and have different contexts, there is something that we learn from the both of them, namely that mission is more than just an activity of God it is part of God’s character. Also we learn that since the mission of the Church is rooted in its relationship to God we must learn to understand God’s character so that we may accomplish his mission in a way that reflects his nature and brings glory to him. Once we learn to do this within our own contexts then surely his name will be glorified.


[1] Escobar, “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,” 199.

[2] Escobar, “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,”  200.

[3] Escobar, “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,”  208.

[4] Escobar, “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,”  210.

[5] Escobar, “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,”  214.

[6] Escobar, “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,” 219-220.

[7] Escobar, “The Search for a Missiological Christology in Latin America,”  221.

[8] Stephen R. Holmes, “Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 8, no. 1 (January 2006): 72.

[9] Holmes, “Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary,” 73.

[10] Holmes, “Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary,” 75.

[11] Holmes, “Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary,” 78.

[12] Holmes, “Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary,” 81.

[13] Holmes, “Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary,” 89.

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