The Mission Of God – Notes & Review

Posted on August 15, 2008

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This Out Of Ur blog post by Scot McKnight inspired this post of my review.

Wright, Christopher J. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. IVP: 2006. (581 pages).

Simply well done and very thorough.  Addressing the need to reassess our understanding of “mission” and all the other words that go with it, Wright helps us to first think through our assumptions, then our hermeneutics, then our approaches to the Bible as a whole.  Though the average reader may get bogged down with the thoroughness of the work, after reading the Introduction and Part I, the key areas are easy to glean from the headings, chapters, and general outlines of each section.

MY SUMMATION: If we are to accurately address the question of mission, we must first begin with the Bible as a story, a grand narrative, authored by God and the very result of His mission in the world; a priori.  This “whole-Bible perspective” (p.41), then sets the foundation for the discovery of God’s desire to reveal Himself through the whole of creation, time, and humanity. (p.55)  Through the people of Israel, the prophets, the person of Jesus Christ, the Exodus out of Egypt, this God (YHWH-יהוה) confronts false idols, and confers upon His people — His chosen — the divine blessing that is to be embraced, enjoyed, and shared amongst the whole world.  “Go, be a blessing,” (p.211) becomes the clarion call of the descendants of Abraham, and YHWH seals the deal through a series of covenants that are God-initiated.  Those covenants are not only ceremonious (Noah, Abraham), but contractual (e.g. the Ten Commandments), and are key communication tools God uses, in our language, to bestow upon us the benefits and the stewardship responsibility of the mission.  The form of the mission of God takes place through restoration, (ch.9) and the continued redemption of His people, the carriers of the mission.  This more holistic view of mission is then to be played out through the entire world, including people and creation (Part IV).  “The whole of creation is God’s mission field” (p.452)  What about Jesus?  “The initial impetus for his ministry was to call Israel back to their God.  The subsequent impact of his ministry was a new community that called the nations to faith in the God of Israel.” (p.506)

What is important to understand about this book, is that it is not primarily concerned with “mission” in modern terms and understandings.  Wright is primarily concerned with “God” and the implications of that God for the whole of Christianity.  The following excerpts help explain.

The Epilogue is so good, here is an excerpt:

When we grasp that the whole Bible constitutes the coherent revelation of the mission of God, when we see this as the key that unlocks the driving purposefulness of the whole grand narrative (to cite our subtitle), then we find our whole world view impacted by this vision.  As has been well documented, every human worldview is an outworking of some narrative.  We live out of the story or stories we believe to be true, the story of stories that ‘tell it like it is,’ we think.  So what does it mean to live out of this story?  Here is The Story, the grand universal narrative that stretches from creation to new creation, and accounts for everything in between.  This is The Story that tells us where we have come from, how we got to be here, who we are, why the world is in the mess it is, how it can be (and has been) changed, and where we are ultimately going.  And the whole story is predicated on the reality of this God and the mission of this God.  He is the originator of the story, the teller of the story, the prime actor in the story, the planner and guide of the story’s plot, the meaning of the story and its ultimate completion.  He is its beginning, end and center.  It is the story of the mission of God, of this God and no other. (p.533)

He then asks some questions that I’d like to include here for further reflection (pp.533-534):

  • We ask, “Where does God fit into the story of my life?” when the real question is where does my little life fit into this great story of God’s mission.
  • We want to be driven by a purpose that has been tailored just right for our own individual lives (which is of course infinitely preferable to living aimlessly), when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation.
  • We talk about the problems of “applying the Bible to our lives,” which often means modifying the Bible somewhat adjectivally to fit into the assumed “reality” of the life we live “in the real world.” What would it mean to apply our lives to the Bible instead, assuming the Bible to be the reality-the real story-to which we are called to conform ourselves?
  • We wrestle with the question of how we can “make the gospel relevant to the world” (again, at least that is clearly preferable to treating it as irrelevant). But in this Story, God is about the business of transforming the world to fit the shape of the gospel.
  • We wonder whether and how the care of creation, for example, might fit into our concept and practice of mission, when this Story challenges us to ask whether our lives, lived on God’s earth and under God’s gaze, are aligned with, or horrendously misaligned with, God’s mission that stretches from creation to cosmic transformation and the arrival of a new heaven and new earth.
  • We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness.
  • I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.

And here are my further questions, along the lines of “rubber meets the road” ministry application. Since I work primarily with youth (Junior High through Senior High), I find it a responsibility to get these questions right, as they are in very key developmental years of their lives.

  • How do we move ministry from a “me”-centered theology in light of the reality that we are dealing with “me”-centered people in a “me”-centered world? Especially since most ministers buy-in and live-in the “how can I pray for you,” “sin-management” (cf. Dallas Willard), “moral checkpoints” of practical ministry lessons?
  • What are we doing with “topical” lessons and teachings?
  • What is the balance between “meeting the needs” of individual people in their individual crises, and doing this kind of theology in our teaching, especially to young people?
  • Where in one’s spiritual journey (i.e. before “accepting Christ” vs. “after accepting Christ”) is it appropriate to interject this mission theology? AND PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANT, have we got the entire “personal Lord and Savior” thing wrong when it comes to our conversion and baptism practices?!! When we baptize, then should not the confession be, “I repent of my personal selfish practices, and I turn back to getting on board with what God is doing in the world”? And how many of us would get fired for doing that?
  • The balance between concrete and abstract thoughts and ideas. The Mission of God falls into that abstract category, and how do we translate that into practical application and worked-out behaviors? AND, do we do a disservice to our students’ spirituality when we get too practical? Have we “dumbed-down” our lessons and teachings because we want to “meet them where they’re at?”
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