God’s Mission and Post-Modern Culture by John C. Sivalon


John C. Sivalon, God’s Mission and Post-Modern Culture, Orbis Books, 2012, ( £18.99 (available from Alban Books & Amazon)
The subtitle of this fine book is, The Gift of Uncertainty. The phrase can jar because no one likes to live in uncertainty. Yet uncertainty seems to be a dominant theme in the life of the contemporary church. Just recently in February Pope Benedict XVI renounced his Pontificate thereby casting into uncertainty the direction the church will take after his reign. Events since his leaving office indicate that those exercising high office do not seem to know which way to go. Can that uncertainty be a gift?

Mission has lived in a state of uncertainty for many decades now. Since Vatican II with its bold new statements about a Church for the life of the world, a church attentive to the joys and sufferings of all of humankind, a church immersed in the world with its turbulence and upheaval, the Church has sought a new paradigm of doing God’s mission according to the signs of the times. How is uncertainty a gift?
Uncertainty has its origin in contemporary science which has been shaken to its foundations by “chaos theory”. By this theory, subject to ongoing verification, science can no longer count on predictability. This is owing to further deepening knowledge of the sub-atomic world where systems of organisation are volatile, subject to change and unpredictable as to the new order they will create.
Something similar occurs in social systems. One can foresee, though not predict, that social upheaval will occur. One cannot, however, predict the outcome of that upheaval, as we see in the Middle East since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Maybe something of the same magnitude will occur in the Catholic Church upon the election of Pope Francis. Uncertainty is a newly discerned characteristic of contemporary society.
Contemporary culture is sometimes referred to as ‘post-Modern’. The term tries to convey the idea that the Modern has now passed on. Its cherished dream of the triumph of Reason and Progress is turning into a nightmare, be it nuclear, ecological or technological. The pursuit of Truth is proving illusive. Religious absolutism is to be discarded. This has thrown the traditional paradigm of Mission as conversion to Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church into a tailspin. The last fifty years have been replete with countless books and theses and articles about how to renew Mission and its practitioners.
One of the characteristics of postmodern culture is the surge of ecological sensitivity and awareness. This has impacted on mission which is now focussed on announcing the Good News of God’s loving embrace of creation. This in turn has had a related effect on the evolution of a “transdenominational ecclesiology”. This is raising questions regarding the certainty of the truths of the faith. Uncertainty in this context is the basis for new questions which with patient discernment will give rise to new answers.
John C. Sivalon wants to help us as persons called to Mission to understand what is happening within our post-modern cultural surround. He makes the astounding claim that postmodern culture can breathe “fresh insight, vision and life into Vatican II’s notion that mission is centered in the very heart of God.” Mission springs from the heart of God.
The mission of God is the ongoing transformation and transfiguration of Creation and of all Creaturehood. God is a God of Process, a God present actively in destruction and extinction as also in birthing and building. Within that process the Christ event—life, death and resurrection—is symbolic and sacramental of where the process is destined to lead: a New Creation, though we do not know what it will look like.
Missio Dei in a postmodern context deprives us of a certainty we had as missionaries regarding our identity and our task. Now we find ourselves on a broader canvas, a more spacious plane where we find other cultures which point to God, other seekers who long for God and other mystics whom God has touched.
The book’s value is enhanced by the inclusion of four brief first-person accounts of cross-cultural mission experience. These give witness of a different approach to mission and of an acceptance of the gift of uncertainty. There is also an Index and copious footnotes.
This book is well worth the time and effort to absorb its thesis. Mission is of God; the Church is its agent. The missionary requires openness to the gift of uncertainty. The Church must be a kenotic community, unconcerned with its status in the world. It must be capable of taking a prophetic stance regarding the rampant, criminal capitalism which destroys persons and environment. Our calling is to reflect God’s Trinitarian love for all of creation by ‘being there’ and seeking ways of announcing effectively God’s inbreaking Reign.
This book is not a definitive text for Mission, but it serves a great purpose in pointing us in the direction that Mission for our world and moment in time is to take.

Frank Regan
April 2013  http://www.amazon.com/Gods-Mission-Postmodern-Culture-Uncertainity/dp/1570759995