Three Features of Everett Cattell’s Mission Theology


In preparation for the convergent Friends retreat this weekend I have been putting together some discussion notes on Everett Cattell. I will be presenting him as a “convergent Friend of the past” on Saturday evening. Because of this I was reminded that I wanted to post some summary remarks about his theology.

This past couple quarters at Fuller were spent studying Quaker missionary Everett Cattell. I am interested in his contributions as a Quaker missiologist and how his mission theology informed his vision for Quaker renewal. This is because my dissertation is largely rooted in the question of how renewal within traditions takes place, my argument, following Cattell and others, will be that renewal/innovation takes place within a tradition through missional engagement with culture. I have already posted a number of short articles looking into some of Cattell’s ideas:

Here I want to offer a few summarizing points to draw things together. There are (at least) three features that would comprise what we might call Cattell’s “missional ecclesiology.”

First, Christian disciples, regardless of whether they are at home or in the ‘field,’ are “missionaries or ambassadors for Christ” (Cattell 1981). This is what he calls “missions without adjectives,” the church is called to make disciples everywhere, not just in “foreign lands” (Cattell 1965). Cattell’s focus on the Great Commission as normative for all Christians leaves a missiological residue on everything he touches. That is to say, rather than having Biblicism, Quakerism, or even holiness as his framework, Cattell understands the nature of the church as essentially missionary:  “We are all missionaries if we belong to Christ. And we are all under obligation to make disciples” (ibid.).

Second, the church is first and foremost a people, organic and mobile. This community is held together by the Holy Spirit in

koinonia (community/fellowship) that transcends both time and place. Koinonia helps to name a messianic stance the church has towards its institutions. The church is rooted in the messianic inasmuch as a) the koinonia is structured and bound together by the Holy Spirit (which can work in structures but is not bound to it), and b) it operates in light of the reality of God’s (coming) kingdom. With the emphasis on koinonia, Cattell is able to remain at the level of ambivalence towards institutions, even suspending their role in favor of God’s messianic act of reconciliation and relationship that cuts across structures. One might say that when it comes to institutions Cattell’s attitude is, “Don’t let sentimental attachments and traditionalism stand in the way of the kingdom’s progress!”

Third, the church is political and missional and takes a third-way approach to church in society. An ambassador for a kingdom may participate in a mission by delivering a message, but both the status of the ambassador and that message are political. There is no way for the faithful, missionary church, to remain uninvolved in the world because kingdom of God calls for diakonia (Service). Yet the way the church responds will always be modeled on the way Jesus responded. In his Shrewsbury Lecture he wrote:

“From the incarnation we also learn that the Word having become flesh “dwelt among us.” This settles the question of withdrawal from the world. Periodically in the history of the church, the pendulum has swung toward the monastic ideal, whether celibates in an institutionalized holiness, or Quakers building new colonies peopled only by their own kind, or evangelicals staying out of politics, and avoiding public life, all for the purpose of keeping uncontaminated by the world.

Jesus ate with sinners, dealt with sinful women without scandal, made no effort in the daytime to escape the crowds, even touched lepers, and went everywhere doing good. The religion of withdrawal is not for Christ’s ambassadors. Withdrawn Christians have lost their sense of mission – indeed, one wonders whether they are still Christian! Jesus lived dangerously. So must we. Our contact with people must be such as to naturalize us in their presence. God spoke once through angels and the shepherds were frightened almost to death. But Jesus was born. He spoke their language…He completely belonged. And to all his followers comes the same challenge of identification” (1963).

Further, when writing about communism Cattell makes the point that communism is never so evil that the church can do anything in the name of protecting against it! While the church may never withdraw, it is also to remain obedient to the way of Christ. “War is never justified…” So, “Let us Friends in our day be as courageous in living fully our Christian testimony at any cost even as ancient Quakers did…Let not our Quakerism be a Christianity of the meetinghouse only – let us be Christ-like in our whole range of public and private life” (1958). Faithful witness to Christ is living out the pattern of the incarnation, and this vision of witness traverses both the political and missional currents of faith.

Renewal for the Friends Church, according to Everett Cattell, was not going to be easy and would require a disavowal of preciously held commitments.  The hard work he called for was to realize the missiological nature of Quakerism, which was birthed out of a call and an encounter with the living God.  Cattell would concur with missiologist David Bosch who said the Spirit enables the past to be efficacious (Bosch 1991, 86).  It is not that Cattell was against the distinctives of Quakerism; rather he thought they should never be the primary focus of how we maintain our identity. That this, so to speak, was to put the cart before the horse. What Cattell was interested in was the church joining God’s work today and allowing the particularities and contextualizations to be formed in light of that work.


This is cross posted at Barclay Press as well.

Image courtesy of Malone College.