From space, the Pacific glitters in ocean blue. What might the world’s largest ocean contribute to missio Dei? A spiral methodology is used to trace connections between the baptism of Jesus, early Christian art, recent legal (Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal) research and indigenous knowing, including ocean voyaging, ancestor understandings of whirlpools, Māori water rites and oral history of river beings (taniwha).
The argument is that indigenous Oceanic (Māori) understandings of water, in conversation with baptismal narratives, present missio Dei as an immersion in God. Mission is located not in the activity of the church – and hence mission expansion as part of European colonisation – but in the being and becoming of God. Creation and redemption are interconnected and an environmental ethic is expected. Children of the waters (ngā tamariki o te Moana nui a Kiwa) listen to creation’s voice (taniwha speaking) and act for the life (waiora) of water.
While theologies of missio Dei and their divergent missiological developments have been refined and contested in the academy over the past seven decades, the theoretical discussions and even the term itself are still far from commonplace in the life and discourse of many local congregations. Nonetheless, among such congregations there are examples of changing practice and new modes of local mission engagement that seem to be in alignment with aspects of a missio Dei orientation. In this article the experience of one congregation will be considered, asking whether a missio Dei perspective might be discerned in recent initiatives and developments in its engagement with its local community.
The phrase missio Dei represents a significant advance in contemporary missiology: recognizing that God’s agency and impulse precedes and lies behind human engagement in mission. While missiological research can help Christians discover how God is at work in the world, in order to become involved in the missio Dei, missiology generally borrows its methodology from the social sciences, which focus on human processes: potentially desacralizing faith and discounting the agency of God. This article explores how critical realism offers an ontological framework within which to explore the missio Dei. It further shows that grounded theory provides a rigorous methodology for areas of study that have previously not sought to discern God’s agency. Finally, the article provides an example of research attentive to the missio Dei: exploring why previously secular (unchurched) Australians are becoming Christians today.