God on a Mission – Overcoming the Status Quo
One of the more positive developments in contemporary theology is the renewed focus on mission. Missional theology comes in many forms, but I want to offer a form I think captures consistently the implications of saying God is on a mission.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says the following: “Today, salvation has come to this household. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (19:9-10).
Jesus says these words to the rich man, Zacchaeus. But we find the message repeatedly in the Bible: God seeks and saves. The missional adventure these words inspire prompts me to wonder:
“What would it mean to believe Jesus’ loving pursuit of the lost – which seems to include you, me, everyone, and everything – tells us something essential about who God is?”
This question may seem boring. But upon closer examination, I think we’ll find it’s revolutionary!
In fact, the missional theology emerging from believing God lovingly pursues creation radically alters the status quo. The God who seeks and saves is a God on a mission!
Overcoming the Status Quo
“Of course, God wants to save us all,” someone might say. “Who would argue otherwise?”
Unfortunately, a host of theological voices in the past and present argue this way. The theology supporting these voices is sometimes hidden or unconscious. But sometimes the not-really-wanting-to-save-all God is explicitly preached.
Let’s start with the easy pickings.
Those who believe God’s sovereignty and election means God predestines some to hell say God doesn’t want to save everyone. At least they would say God’s effective will doesn’t offer salvation to all. They argue for predestination, despite St. Peter’s claim that God is not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance (2 Pt. 3:9).
Their peculiar interpretation of this verse, in my opinion, undermines their own doctrine of divine sovereignty. I wonder, why isn’t a sovereign God supposedly capable of anything also able to save all?
Those in the Wesleyan tradition walk in step with theologians who reject this view of predestination. Wesleyans, instead, affirm genuine creaturely freedom. In philosophical terms, Wesleyans affirm “libertarian” freedom.  The God on a mission is not interested in predestinarian status quo.
John Wesley stressed the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12). Wesley believes passages such as this one argue God’s loving action (“prevenient grace”) precedes and makes possible free creaturely responses. He advocates a theology of freedom, not predestination. This freedom has limits, of course. But it is genuine freedom nonetheless.
The God who wants to save all, however, may not actually save all out of respect for creaturely freedom. Wesleyans can affirm a missional theology that says God’s intent is universal salvation. Yet they can also say universal salvation may not occur. After all, free creatures may choose to reject God’s loving invitation. And God respects such decisions, despite their devastating consequences.
An important step toward a consistent missional theology, then, is to argue that the God on a mission does not predestine some to hell. God’s intention is for all to find salvation. And free creatures play some role in the fulfillment of God’s intentions.
Other steps must also be taken if missional theology is to be robust. I intend to take those steps in future essays. I intend to flesh out an answer to my previous question: “What would it mean to believe Jesus’ loving pursuit of the lost – which seems to include you, me, everyone, and everything – tells us something essential about who God is?”
 For a short and accessible introduction to the gospel of love, see the evangelistic book I co-wrote with Robert Luhn, The Best News You Will Ever Hear (Boise, ID: Russell Media, 2011).
 The distinction about forms of freedom is necessary, because some predestinarians say they affirm creaturely freedom but also the idea God alone decides the chosen few who will be saved. They are, to use the philosophical language, “compatiblists,” at least when it comes to issues of salvation.