The Church periodically re-discovers dormant truths. Not the elaborate constructions of creative theologians, but the simple, profound keys that unlock difficult passages or concepts. The moment of discovery is usually marked by an exclamation (“Duh!”) because we simultaneously realize that we are seeing something for the first time, and yet it was there all along. The true beauty of such truths is their persistence; once seen, you cannot “unsee” them. They filter, color, and transform much of what we thought we knew.
Take, for example, the Missio Dei as expressed in the current “missional” conversation. To re-discover that God is at work (and has been at work all along) reshapes our understanding of both individual and corporate purpose—our calling and our ecclesiology. “It’s not that the church has a mission, but rather that the mission has a church. We join Jesus on His mission.” (Ed Stetzer, paraphrasing Moltmann)
This realization of God “already at work” tends to expand my limited understanding of prevenient grace. (John Wesley did not invent prevenient grace, by the way. God had already injected it into the realm of ideas. There is a great irony here if you’re willing to dig for it).
Considering prevenience and mission as intertwined and inseparable brings four implications to mind:
1. From Initiating to Noticing
If God is already at work in the world and Jesus is already at work (through his Holy Spirit) in the lives of individuals, then our task is not as much initiating as it is noticing. If we believe that we “take Jesus with us” into the world then we must invent, create, and catalyze opportunities to inject Jesus into the conversation. If He is already there, we need a constant awareness of where He is present and what He is up to. The most underrated skill of a disciple-maker, then, is noticing; listening to the Holy Spirit and paying attention to clues as to how we may cooperate in an ongoing process.
2. From Aspiration to Revelation
Prevenience may change our mode of proclamation from aspirational (“This is what should be true”) to revelational (“This is what is already true”). Missiologist David Bosch suggests that proclaiming the Gospel is “Alerting people to the universal reign of God through Jesus.” He is already Lord. The Kingdom is already here. We are not the artist. We are the exhibitor pulling the shroud off the existing masterpiece.
3. From Persuasion to Partnership
Prevenience undercuts the very notion of evangelistic “cold-calling.” Random acts of persuasion (think: apologetic assaults) belie our lack of trust in the Holy Spirit. Think of the “Person of Peace” described in Luke 10. As we notice (!) those who are already spiritually sensitive and form partnerships where the Holy Spirit is already at work, God opens up whole networks of unreached people to the Gospel.
4. From Assimilating to Sending
If the essence of the Missio Dei is an awareness of sent-ness, then our preoccupation with assimilating and connecting people must change. We must move from capturing to releasing. This is where prevenience gets legs: equipping disciples to notice and partner is much different from training them to initiate and persuade. The difference is in truly believing that God is already at work, and letting that faith inform our participation in the Missio Dei.