Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series from D.A. Horton on how American demographics are changing and how churches can adapt.
In this installment, I answer the question, “What is a missiological method?” Bruce Ashford and Scott Bridger say it contains the “…ways in which we can ground our mission practice in sound, biblically faithful theology, in conversation with church history, the social sciences, and our cultural contexts.” A missiological method places Scripture as its primary source. Faithful study of Scripture should lead Christians in their development of a Bible-centered theological method, that is then brought into dialogue as one’s reason, culture, experience, and tradition.
Samuel Escobar emphasizes, “Mission requires orthodoxy, a concern for the integrity of the gospel, but it also requires orthopraxis, a concern for the way in which the believer practice is carried on.” Following the cues of Ashford, Bridger, and Escobar, the first stage in building a missiological method is rooting in Scripture.
The Christian should view Scripture as the authoritative voice not only regarding what they believe but also what drives the way they engage culture. Kevin Vanhoozer said, “Orthodoxy is not merely a systematization of information contained in the biblical statements…doctrines were not written in the language of heaven, but in time-bound and culture-bound languages, governed by the dialogue we find in Scripture. Interpretation of Scripture is important, and so is the culture.”
The story of Scripture identifies God’s creation of the universe, our fall into sin, the redemption of humanity through Jesus and creation’s full restoration. All truth is God’s truth and any statement made that aligns with the story of Scripture is confirmed truth. Everyone has a story, so they have the potential to be connected to God by hearing how the gospel is the bridge that connects their story to God’s.
Scripture reveals the entire human being, including our ability to reason (or think), has been corrupted by sin. A missiological method considers how non-Christians think so their beliefs can be brought into a dialogue with Scripture.
What each Christian believes is not a result of their understanding alone; rather, it’s part of an ongoing conversation of Christians throughout the history of the Church. Christian doctrine harmonizes with historical fact throughout human history. It was not developed in isolation, but rather through the public wrestling with pushback and tensions from the culture of the day. For centuries, Christians have encountered historic events, assessed the voices of influence of their day, filtered them through Scripture, and dialogued with the popular ideas and thoughts by sharing God’s view on the topic.
When the culture encounters Christians proclaiming the story of Scripture, it should cause them to ask questions the Christian should answer in humility (1 Pet 3:15). One process used in answering these questions is what David Clark calls the dialogical method, which not only allows Scripture to answer the concerns [of the culture] but also transform those concerns.
Since God placed eternity in the hearts of every human (Ecc 3:11) we all have questions yet, because of sin, our motives are misdirected. The dialogical method applies Scripture to the initial questions from the categories the non-Christian knows in order to introduce them to new categories. Over time, prayerfully, the heart of the non-Christian will be pierced by the constant proclamation of truth in Scripture to the point God draws them to Jesus (John 6:44).
Everyday experiences in life happen so they should not be ignored. However, experiences must submit to Scripture (2 Pet 1:16-21). Human experiences can mislead us to replace Scripture with pragmatism. This was perhaps the misstep of Friedrich Schleiermacher which led to the development of liberal Protestant theology.
By placing too much emphasis on human experience and intuition, Schleiermacher gave the reader of Scripture room to place their experience on the same level as the original author of a passage, which resulted in the potential to change the meaning of the text to fit the reader’s view. This practice is avoided when experiences bow to their rightful authority of Scripture, and the passage is rightly interpreted and applied.
Studying Church history allows Christians to uncover how Christian theology has been shaped over time. Christian theology is birthed out of controversy, and believers in the modern era have the opportunity to research what beliefs have been embraced as orthodox and which ones were condemned as heretical.
Christians today should be comforted by the fact that the faith we’re in possession of is nothing new; rather, it has been handed down for over three millennia as it bears fruit throughout the world (cf. Col 1:6). Listening to the voices of Church fathers, councils, creeds, and faithful scholars of the past and present can provide Christians with keen insight into doctrinal and practical issues that surface and need to be handled with care.
If evangelicals in the United States today are considering the church of tomorrow, then a missiological method on how to engage and reach Latino youth is necessary. Pastors in local churches talk to Latino youth in their community before determining how they can apply a missiological method. In addition, members in the congregation should prioritize ongoing conversations with Latino youth to determine how their church can faithfully meet their needs while sharing the gospel. The question I will answer next is, “How can a missiological method be applied in order to reach Latino youth?”
 Bruce Ashford and Scott Bridger, “Missiological Method” a chapter in, Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions, 2nd ed., John Mark Terry, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015), 31.
 Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 25.
 Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture, & Hermeneutics, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 243.
David Clark and John S. Feinberg, To Know and Love God: Method for Theology, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 113—122.
Richard Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer, (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969), 87-88.\
Want to see more from Pastor D.A.? Check out his other LifeWay Voices posts: