God on a Mission—Jesus Wept
A robust missional theology has a Christological focus. And that focus undermines what many Christians from yesteryear assumed: God was impassible. Jesus reveals, instead, that we make a difference to God.
Divine “passability” is the word ancient people talked about God being moved. We might best describe passability with contemporary terms like “influence,” “affect,” or “sway.”
We certainly see Jesus being influenced, affected, and swayed by others. Jesus was passable.
The shortest verse in Scripture describes Jesus’ passability well: “Jesus wept” (Jn. 11:35). Matthew also reports Jesus had compassion on people, because they were “weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). In these instances and others, we find Jesus affected by others.
God isn’t Moved?
With skewed views of God’s perfection, some theologians have said God is uninfluenced by others. God is impassable, they argue. God only influences creatures; creatures never influence God.
Many classic theologies implicitly adopted Aristotle’s view that God is unmoved. Aristotle called God the unmoved mover, because he thought God affected others without being affected.
This vision of an unmoved/uninfluenced/unaffected God doesn’t jibe well with the Bible. The God of Scripture expresses love that both gives and receives. God loves as friend (philia), for instance. When believers respond well to God’s love, we find God rejoicing. When they respond poorly, God is saddened, angry, and even wrathful. According to Scripture, creatures really affect God.
Today, many rightly speak of God’s passability by saying our Savior is the “suffering God.” This suffering was most poignant on the cross. In Christ, God suffers pain and death for the benefit of all. In fact, many theologians agree with Jürgen Moltmann and call the one who seeks and saves, “the crucified God.”
A suffering God – one genuinely affected by creation – is the relational God at the heart of missional theology. The influence creation has upon God does not alter God’s loving nature, of course. We best interpret biblical verses saying there is “no shadow of change” (James 1:17) in God as describing God’s unchanging nature.
But creatures do influence the particular ways God relates to creation. Just as a perfectly loving father always loves his children, that same loving father allows his children to influence him, so he knows how best to love them in specific instances. A living God gives and receives in relationship.
God’s Salvation is Tailor-Made
To put it in missional terms, the God who seeks and saves does so to best address the specific ways we need saving!
Some of us need saving from alcohol abuse; others need saving from dishonesty; others saving from unhealthy pride.Those things that destroy us and from which we need salvation make up a long list!
God saves from all sin. But because God is moved/influenced by us in relationship, the specific ways God saves are tailor-made for each of us.
 For an accessible theology of holiness from a relational perspective, see the book I wrote with Michael Lodahl, Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 2005).
 Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1993; New York: HarperCollins, 1991; London: SCM, 1974).