Mike Morrell asks a couple of very pertinent questions in response to my “presumptuous appeal to both emergents and Reformed”. Very pertinent. The first has to do with the relationship between Jesus and Paul, the second with the fact that any talk about the “wrath” of God makes emergent type Christians feel very uncomfortable.
In The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative Chris Wright follows David Bosch’s analysis and comes to the same basic conclusion—that the phrase missio Dei remains valuable because it expresses a major biblical truth: “The God revealed in the Scriptures is personal, purposeful and goal-orientated” (63). He sums up the overarching mission of God in these terms:
…from the great promise of God to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 we know this God to be totally, covenantally and eternally committed to the mission of blessing the nations through the agency of the people of Abraham.
This commitment of the missional God may then be located within a biblical metanarrative that moves from creation, through human rebellion, to the extensive “story of God’s redemptive purposes being worked out on the stage of human history”, culminating beyond history “with the eschatological hope of a new creation” (63-64). In other words, the mission of God from Genesis 11 through to the end of history is the blessing of the nations, by which is meant the redemption of humanity.
Koinōnia is a very serious collective biblical-theological blog hosted by Zondervan Academic and Friends. Today’s post by Bill Mounce looks at a technical issue of translation, but he frames the problem in a way that brings out rather sharply the contrast between a mainstream evangelical and a narrative-historical reading of Paul.
The idea that the mission of the church is in the first place the mission of God or missio Dei has its origins in the thought of Karl Barth. A good summary of its development can be found in David Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (389-93).
Barth’s argument that mission must be understood as an activity or attribute of God himself was first proposed in a paper given at the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932. The full concept was articulated in 1952 at the Willingen Conference of the International Missionary Council. Mission was understood to derive from the Trinitarian nature of God: the Father sends the Son; the Father and the Son send the Spirit; and the Trinitarian God sends the church into the world as a dynamic embodiment of divine love towards creation.
It is essential for the integrity, credibility and mission of the church that we read the Bible well. Modern evangelicalism has preserved a particular theological outcome, a thesis, from scripture—the argument that God became incarnate in Jesus for the purpose of dying for the sins of the whole world so that we might be saved or redeemed or justified or reconciled with God, live holy lives here on earth, and have the ultimate hope of going to heaven when we die. This thesis, however, has been so critical not only for the identity but arguably for the survival of the modern church that it has come to be understood not simply as a particular theological outcome but as the determinative canon for the reading of scripture. The effectiveness of the modern gospel has, therefore, come at a considerable hermeneutical price.
I argued in the recent posts on Luke’s Christmas stories and on Paul’s description of Jesus as a “servant of circumcision” that a central plot-line in the New Testament narrative is that God saves Israel through Jesus and the Gentiles respond to this, in the first place, by praising the God who has proved himself righteous, proved himself faithful to his people, shown mercy to his people in this way. The “salvation” of the Gentiles is secondary to that and has a quite different narrative-historical dynamic.
I want to pursue the argument a bit further by considering two rather disparate texts: Paul’s address to the Jews and God-fearers in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41), and an account of the eschatological restoration of Israel in Sibylline Oracles, which I think I will save until tomorrow.
At the beginning of last year a lot of people were proclaiming the imminent demise of the emerging church. That prognosis may have been premature. Andrew Jones is sometimes credited with having written a self-defeating obituary from within the movement, but he has clarified his position: the emerging movement has not died, it has evolved. An upbeat post by Jonathan Brink on the Emergent Village Weblog also suggests that what Anthony Bradley declared dead a year ago was merely a passing form of the phenomenon—and good riddance to it. Meanwhile, the underlying issues have not gone away: “People were still gathering together in pubs, coffee houses and homes, wrestling with questions of faith, reformation, atonement, the goodness of God, what it means to follow Jesus, and how to live in a post-Christian culture.” He goes on to list a number of publications and events as evidence that the emerging movement is still active and influential. He concludes:
The emerging church isn’t dead. It’s just finally wrestled with the angel and won. It’s shedding it [sic] old image, the one that got people so riled up in the first place. The conversations won’t ever go away because in the end, we’re looking for what it means to be human. We’re looking to discover the reality that Jesus was trying to present, one of infinite grace and beauty, stark reality of the kingdom of God in our midst, and a renewed sense of possibility for the restoration of the world.
What we are faced with here is a basic dilemma regarding the structure of the story about salvation in Jesus. On the one hand, we have a conventional view, according to which Jesus is sent into the world in order to save humanity from its sins. On the other, we have the argument that Jesus “came” to save Israel from its sins, an event which subsequently came to have radical implications for the Gentiles. This was the tenor of the posts on the true-meaning-of-Luke’s-Christmas. In relation to Romans 15:8 there is the further particular issue of how the significance of the salvation of Israel is pertinent for the nations.
My argument in The Future of the People of God is that Paul is thinking in rather consistent Old Testament terms of the nations praising YHWH for his mercy towards Israel. What prompted this inconsiderately lengthy re-examination was some comments by Peter Wilkinson disputing this reading of the text. His argument is essentially that the “blessing” of the nations as the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham is much more directly in view in Paul’s argument.
In a comment on the first of my true-meaning-of-Luke’s-Christmas posts my old friend Rogier asks whether the argument about judgment has not been overstated:
I raise this with you, because in so many of our conversations it seems like you interpret much of the gospel and the Jesus-story through the historical event of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Romans. Now, I don’t disagree that there are passages in scripture that allude to this — but is it possible you see this coming judgment in too many places in scripture? I, in spite of your writing, don’t actually see it in this passage.
It’s a good question, one that gets to the heart of the dilemma that we currently face as committed interpreters of the New Testament.
Embedded in the familiar story of the birth of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel are a number of resonant prophetic and poetic statements: the announcements to Zechariah and Mary, Mary’s Magnificat, Zechariah’s Benedictus, and the angel’s message to the shepherds. They interpret the birth as a singular sign that the God of Israel was about to overturn the existing political-religious order of things. Israel’s metaphorical state of exile would be brought to an end; a corrupt elite in Israel would be brought down, the humble poor would be lifted up; a new king would bring peace to a people terrorized by its enemies; and he would reign over this redeemed people throughout the coming ages. This is not a story of the beginning of personal salvation; it is not the story of God taking on human flesh in order to save mankind. We need to clear our minds. It is the story of the birth of an exceptional king, through whose agency God would save his people from the disastrous consequences of their sins.