Hirsch and Frost seemed to have stirred quite a debate with their recent tour courtesy of BLAH. Personally I felt that their voices were worth hearing. Personally I felt that the consequent debate was healthy. Personally I wanted to keep the strong themes that ensued fresh and accessible.
Two major issues seem to underlie the debate.
Firstly the perceived slap in the face for the institutional church. Maggi picks up the theme by identifying their portrayal as a "less-then-truthful caricature of the institutional church…". The slap comes in their analysis of Christendom and its love child – the institutional church. Given that they suggest a return to a more incarnational than attractional DNA – the slap stings for anyone operating from within a theology of space. Therefore the assumption is easily – whether rightly or wrongly - made that centre based activities are based in Christendom and therefore of no value as they are by spatial definition attractional and not missional. Therefore the answer lays in incarnational involvement in your community. However their principle’s within the debate are rather mono-dimensional and therefore comes across as fairly rigidly ‘either/or’ and adds weight to those feeling slapped who expressed annoyance at their seemingly ‘complete "answer" to the church's problems’.
Secondly the counter slap that draws upon Hirsch and Frost's concepts and brands them mission ‘lite’. Accuses them of needing a ‘more rigorous theology of mission’. Accuses them of returning to the old-fashioned association of mission = evangelism. Accuses them of having a simplistic assessment. Accuses them of no real contact. "oi Aussie emergers with your shoe shop churches take that!". A bit harsh. Perhaps lost in the engaging stories. Perhaps lost in the evangelistic speel - but there a theology of mission based on Lausanne and not a passing fad.
However, out of that debate buried deep in the comments on Jonny's "what is God’s mission" and Maggi's 'The Shape of things to Come' have come some real nuggets as the thread of thought settled to identify mission beyond the being part of the emerging collection of buzz words…!
"mission is about the whole work of God - Jesus sent his disciples out to preach (evangelism) teach (build up the faithful in the synagogue) and heal (being concerned with the wholeness of life, healing and breaking down barriers. Any separation between Church and mission is wholly false…"
God's mission is the recovery of shalom (wholeness) in his creation. Part of this, undoubtedly is individual salvation, but God's Redemptive activity goes beyond. He is in the process of making "all things new." www.tribem.blogspot.com
Participating in God's mission is about so much more than notching up conversions. Participating in God's redemptive activity can equally be about providing opportunities for the disadvantaged, caring for the poor and marginalised - in other words Justice. This way of thinking …draws together the two very often-separate streams of practice - explicit evangelism and social work. (benbell).
My conclusion is that Hirsch and Frost have much to say to churches that are pre-occupied. They have much to say to those churches that are content. They have much to say to churches that are settled with a form of christendom that is not connecting. However there are many models of church that don’t fit in their ‘either/or’ taxonomy. There are churches that are working through an incarnational programmed life. There are churches whose missional life are grace centred and not ‘means to an end’ and in their definition ‘attractional’. There are churches that achieve ‘proximity’ by providing centres of love and acceptance. There are churches that are making connections and being relevant through being real.
Perhaps it says to me that their emerging missional structures represent not so a much spatial question but more of a question of attitude.