Dane Ortlund, Senior Editor at Crossway Books (Bible division) recently asked 25 scholars and pastors to sum up the “message of the Bible in one sentence”. You can read the contributions, some of which are really quite good exemplars of the genre, on his Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology blog. I have two rather contradictory reactions to it, one essentially postmodern, the other much more “modern”—or as I would prefer to call it, “hermeneutically correct”.
The lengthy responses provoked by the third post on missio Dei make for very good reading. I am neither a historian nor a missiologist. What interests me primarily in this discussion is the question of where the New Testament’s view of the future lands us. The traditional view—notwithstanding the complications introduced by various forms of millennial expectation—is that it lands us at the end of the world, on the brink of a final transformation of all things. This is the moment when Jesus comes back, the kingdom of God is fully established, there is a final judgment, the faithful go to heaven, the unbelievers either to torment or oblivion, death is destroyed, and all things are made new.
I started out with a brief history of the missio Dei concept from its origins in Karl Barth’s argument that mission is essentially an attribute of the Triune God, not an activity of the church, to the appropriation of the term by the missional church movement. I then suggested that as a matter of biblical interpretation it makes more sense to understand the mission of God in terms of the escalating conflict between the one good creator God of Israel and the gods of the nations that routinely threatened the political and religious integrity of the people of God, culminating symbolically in the parousia event of the victory of the suffering churches over the “Babylon” which was Rome. So then what?
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.