There was a radical change in the theology of missions. Instead of seeing evangelism as one part of the whole for the mission of God, some in Christianity started to see mission as the defining characteristic of the community of God. In previous centuries, mission was done through an anthropocentric or ecclesiocentric perspective. This shifted to a theocentric understanding of missions. Instead of man leading the charge for the souls of the world, in fact God is the frontrunner for all evangelistic activity. This perspective started to gain attention through the work of Karl Barth. He broke from tradition by grounding mission first in God and not in the human endeavor of the church. At this time, Barth used the term “actio dei”, in the following year (1932), Karl Hartenstein using the same theology, but changing the term to “missio dei”. For Hartenstein, missio dei suggested that from eternity past the triune God has been on a mission. The next step in the crystallization of the concept came in 1952 during the meeting of the International Missionary Council in Willingen, Germeny. At this time, Georg Vicedom stated “mission flows from the inner movement of God in personal relationships.” In the aftermath of these thoughts, a shift in the church’s thinking started to occur. Theology in the church moved from believing that the church is in possession of a mission, to God being a missionary Father, and the church participating in His mission. It is not that Jesus gave the church a mission, but rather Jesus invites the church to join the Father’s preexisting outreach.
The theology of the missio dei has solidified into this present day definition. The missio dei is God’s missional activity on earth. Klaus Detlev Schulz defines the term as:
The Trinitarian redeeming and reconciling activity in history, motivated by his loving will for the entire world, grounded in the atoning work of Jesus Christ and carried out by the Holy Spirit of Christ through the means of grace, by which God justifies man, delivers him from rebellion, sin and death, subjects him under his reign and leads him, with the redeemed community, to the final goal in history.
The idea of the missio dei seems to have some defining features. It is Trinitarian, there is a strong connection to the kingdom of God, and there is the sense of sending featured. The trinity moves among man as a missionary, in order to announce the reign or rule of God, which is understood as life free from the reign of all those forces which enslave humanity, and Christians are sent out to participate in this work on earth. David J. Bosh seems to bring a multitude of scholarly sources to the terminology of the missio dei. He states:
In the new image mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church. Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.
One of the major components in this new emphasis on the missional character of God is the nature of the trinity. Mission is located not in the great commission passages, but in the very essence of God. This shift from methodology to theology is beneficial because instead of the church being a community to propagate its own life or particular interests, but rather is to serve the larger purposes of the trinity. The church is called away from itself to a life of serving to others. The church is following in the footsteps of the trinity. This perspective roots the missio dei in theology not in strategy.
Once again, the events at Willingen seemed to be a frontrunner in this theological shift. Instead of mission being located in ecclesiology or soteriology, the mission is in trinity. Mark Love trances this development of thought through two major figures. The first is Karl Barth, because in his massive work “Church Dogmatics” he locates his theological developments through the starting point of the trinity. He is credited with bridging the gap between God’s immanent and economics. According to Love, the trinity fell on difficult times because the doctrine was seen as impractical and non-relevant. Barth helped to bring it back into the discussion. But the author that is given the most credit in bringing the doctrine of the trinity to weight on missional concerns is Karl Rahner. Instead of seeing God as vastly apart from man, Rahner opened the notion that God is engaged in the modern culture.
This shift leads to the modern day expressions of trinity as community. It can be called social trinitarianism. God does not just have relationships, God is relational. God exists in community for the sake of community. This communal nature of God takes precedence over the individual. Reality is influenced through the social aspects of God, and this picture influences the church. There is interpenetration within the trinity. John 17:20-24 speaks to this interconnectedness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and church.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
The next step in understanding the influence of Trinitarian thought on the missio dei is concerning the nature of sending. Discussion of sending is foundation for missions. The old line of thought of linear direction seems to miss the point on participation. Classic sending theology states that God sent the Son, the Son sent the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit sent the church, and the church is sent to the world. But this view does not seem to incorporate the intricacies of the interconnectedness of the trinity. Pannenberg states:
The Father does not merely beget the Son. He also hands over his Kingdom to him and receives it back from him. The Son is not merely begotten of the Father. He is obedient to him and therefore glorifies him in his obedience to the Father, thereby glorifying the Father himself. In so doing he leads into all truth (John 16:3) and searches out the deep things of Godhead (1 Cor. 2:10-11).
The trinity is not defined through linear relationships, rather is expressed through reciprocal interactions. There is interdependence. Trinity is a “richly structured nexus of relationships.” The social dynamic of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is characterized as mutual, reciprocal, and diverse. Instead of God being seen as totally separate and apart, God is open to each another in the Godhead. God is participating in the drama of on earth and heaven. God is not just sending to the world, but he is in the world, through the world, and cares for the world. Love summarizes this shift well in stating: “God is no longer a series of one-way sendings in a straight line but a participatory God making room for the other with movements in all directions.” This shift moves the Godhead from the arena of merely a list of characteristics and attributes to establish God’s identity, to a God that is invested and influenced through the creation and man. God is defined through relation, exists in relationship, not totally as a separate being unmoved or uninfluenced by the affairs of those that he loves. This is a theology of participation, which leads the church to be defined, not as a separate community, but one that is discovered through its mission in the world. The church is sent to the world, but soon discovers that God is already there.
The missio dei or the mission of God is rooted deeply in the nature of the trinity. It is expressed as God not merely sending, but participating in the world. John Flett does an excellent job of summarizing and defining the term. He states:
The missio dei--a trinitarian theology of mission—begins first with God’s own proper life as Father, Son, and Spirit. This is the living God who, in himself from all eternity, lives in the partnership of the above and the below and in the history of the traversing. In that his life overcomes the distance between himself and his creation without destroying that distinction, God is a missionary God. This position retains all the necessary caveats: the priority of God’s perfection; this act as a deliberate act, but eternally so in the life of God; and, the intentionality of his act. This God is not remote from the human. God remains the subject in his life, as history in partnership, and gives the human a share in his act and so a share in his life.
The theology of the missio dei has come far, and this dynamic shift is influencing the expression of the missional church.
 This created a new lens for Biblical studies, and a missional hermeneutic was developed. Michael Barram defines this pursuit as “an approach to Biblical texts that privileges the missiological ‘location’ of the Christian community in the world as a hermeneutical key.” The missional hermeneutic continued to take shape in Christopher J.H. Wright’s The Mission of God. In this book, he develops an extensive paradigm for reading the Bible through God’s missional nature. Michael Barram, “The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic” Interpretation 61 (2007):42-43. Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006).
 Fiftteen years after Willingen, the term missio dei developed two lines of thought. One position stated that methodical, concerted missionary activity of the church was urgent and justified if the church was to be a tool for God’s missionary work. The other position states that the missionary activity of the church dissolves in God’s universal activity in history. In this line of thought, the church and God’s mission is separate from one another. The function of mission has been changed from the particular saving activity of God in Jesus Christ to a principle of goal-oriented progress. For the purposes of this paper, the author falls more in line with the first line of thought than the second. Wilhelm Richebacher, “Missio Dei: The Basis of Mission Theology or a Wrong Path? International Review of Mission 92 (2003): 593.
(3] W. Rodman MacIlvaine III, “What Is The Missional Church Movement?” Bibliotheca Sacra 167 (2010): 95-97.
 Klaus Detler Schulz, “Tensions in the Pneumatology of the ‘Missio Dei’ Concept” Concordia Journal 23 (1997): 102-103.
 Tormod Engelsviken, “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology” International Review of Mission 92 (2003): 485.
 David J. Bosh, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis, 2002), 390
 Mark Love, “Missio Dei, Trinitarian Theology, and the Quest for a Post-Colonial Missiology” Missio Dei 1 (2010): 56-58. Mark Love goes even deeper into this theology in another article. Jannie Swart, Scott Hagley, John Ogren, and Mark Love, “Toward a Missional Theology of Participation: Ecumenical Reflections on Contributions to Trinity, Mission, and Church” Missiology 37 (2009): 75-87.
 Ibid. 63
 Gailyn Van Rheenen, “From Theology to Practice: Participating in the Missio Dei” Missio Dei 1 (2010): 42.
 There are two concepts concerning the social nature of the trinity. Is God a single, shared substance, which constitutes deity, or is God three persons in relation? Eastern theology has focused more on deity-in-relation, while Western theology has focused on single substance. For the purpose of this paper, a deity-in-relation view is foundational.
 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 305.
 Ibid. 289
 Love, 64.
 Ibid. 64.
 Guder notes this development in modern churches in America. He states “…in the separation of the kingdom of God from the message of personal salvation, in the recasting of the church as an institution that primarily administers salvation and preserves its members’ savedness, and in our modern context, in the polarity between evangelism and social justice which plagues most mainline denominations.... Darrell Guder, “Missio Dei: Integrating Theological Formation for Apostolic Vocation” Missiology 37 (2009): 70.
 Of course this view of the participation of the trinity within the world can be pressed too far. If one is not careful, this view can become erroneous by stating that God is in everything. God is in the water, air, etc. in some mythical sense. There is a tension in holding that God is far as well as near. Simpson does a good job in his article on highlighting both extremes of the Trinitarian belief system. Gary M. Simpson, “No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity” Word & World 18 (1998): 64-71.
 John G. Flett, “Missio Dei: A Trinitarian Envisioning of a Non-Trinitarian Theme” Missiology 37 (2009): 15.