Another Perspective on the Mission of God  

Posted by Greg McKinzie in , ,

I grew up in a number of Church of Christ congregations ranging from highly traditional (i.e., rural, patternist, and sectarian) to middle-of-the-road (i.e., urban, attractional, and kind-hearted but essentially traditional in form and thought). If, in younger years, I had been forced to say what Christian missions was, I would have said something about teaching the Bible so people could be saved from their sins in order to avoid the punishment of a God forced by his very nature to deal out retributive justice (Hell). Not that he wanted to; the nature of holiness forced his hand. God was basically saying, “Don’t make me pull this car over!” and missions was getting people the right knowledge (proclamation), which led to being legally off the hook (or off the cross, if you like)--through Baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins, of course. The mission of the church, then, was to effect verbally in the lives of individuals the imputed forensic justification available through the substitutionary death of Christ. Although there were other restorationist elements involved, this way my basic view of what God was after.

By virtue of my biblical studies I began to see more clearly what was at stake and to shed many old assumptions. Further experiences in short-term missions simultaneously opened my eyes to the inadequacy of a technical-salvation-from-sin-driven mission. I mention the generalized movement of my own thinking before launching into a brief description of my present understanding of mission, because although our stories are personal, they may be indicative of the whole community’s movement to something post-restorationist in terms of mission. Although my early belief was actually very evangelical in contour, there is plenty of discussion as to whether the SCM has been or is basically evangelical and thus implicitly whether post-restorationist also means post-evangelical in some sense (see Kevin VanHoozer, The Drama of Doctrine for a great discussion of “post-evangelical” theology).

As I see it now, it is necessary to start with the notion of missio Dei--that the mission is essentially and properly God’s. That God is doing something is the basic datum, and that the people of God are permitted and expected to participate is the corollary that emerges in the narrative of Scripture. What we perceive God to be doing, therefore, is determinative for our articulation of mission. One of the most insightful terms I have encountered in the conversation about mission is coined by Chris Wright in his Mission of God. It is “teleological monotheism,” which handily sums up a number of things at the core of mission. Most basically, mission is about a telos: a goal, purpose, or aim. Movement toward an end characterizes everything God does. He does not simply sustain to sustain, for example, but sustains purposefully. This is the Christian sense of reality that makes “missional” a hopeful framework for emerging God-talk. Also, the particularly Christian nature of mission is rooted in the narrative that assumes the only God, Yahweh of Israel, is the one working his agenda, calling and sending his people to bring it to fulfillment.

Like many, in the course of my theological formation it became evident that a latent Platonic dualism had shaped my assumptions about what God is doing, and having challenged that dualism, a whole new vista emerged that made much more sense experientially. If from a “biblical worldview” (how’s that for a metanarrative?!) it makes no sense to think in terms of salvation of the “soul” or “spirit” apart from the body, then God’s redemptive work must be understood holistically. What he is doing is saving the whole creation, including the whole person. God’s mission is holistic.

But there is more than one way to come at this, as I see it. On one hand, we may look at the ministry of Jesus as paradigmatic (“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” Jn 17.18) and thus understand the proclamation in word and deed (as well as the proleptic realization) of “the Kingdom of God” to be the definitive representation of God’s mission. On the other hand, a comprehensive biblical theology of salvation lays bare the variety of language (often metaphors) used to designate the multifaceted telos of God sometimes described blandly as salvation. This is seen in Paul alone, in fact, where ideas ranging from inclusion in the covenant people to forgiveness of guilt to relational reconciliation to resurrection into new creation are present, to name a few. Accordingly, as this realization has gained acceptance, a broad but representative phrase has become common currency in English: God is “setting things right.” Indeed, the Kingdom on earth as in the heavens is creation set right--the restoration of all things. This is truly biblical restoration; this is God’s mission.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 3, 2009 at Friday, July 03, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

9 comments

Greg,
Thanks for writing this. I found it fascinating to read through your journey. It's really interesting that we wound up in such similar places by somewhat different (though resonant) paths. It might be interesting to issue it as a sort of challenge to other authors.
(I could even see it turning into a book)
AE

July 6, 2009 at 9:21 AM

Thanks, Adam. I agree that a call to other writers is in order. Let's hear from as many as are willing!

July 6, 2009 at 9:40 AM

Greg or Adam,

In light of framing missions through the biblical narrative, how important is the view of eschatology. I am personally struggling though the particulars on traditional eschatology, (the whole world burns up), to this much more attractive redeeming eschatology. Or perhaps you know a good book to read on this? I am attempting to catch up, so perhaps an apology is necessary. Thanks

-Dan Jones

July 6, 2009 at 1:01 PM

Hey Dan. Off the top of my head, I would say N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope is the leading resource in the current discussion on such things, although his Resurrection of the Son of God would be a more technical read if that's what you want. I usually recommend the first few chapters of Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy as well.

July 6, 2009 at 3:09 PM

Dan,
I agree completely with Greg. Those are exactly the resources I would recommend to you (though I might add a little Moltmann).
AE

July 6, 2009 at 3:18 PM

Thanks for the suggestions, I will need to update my wish list.

-Dan Jones

July 6, 2009 at 4:47 PM

I love me some Moltmann too.

July 6, 2009 at 5:44 PM

Dan,
If you want to look into Moltmann, I think the easiest and most accessible intro/on-ramp to his work is a little book he wrote called "Experiences of God".
AE

July 6, 2009 at 5:49 PM

I did not grow up with God's "de facto" judgement for all people being Hell, but as an adult, I was very much exposed to it by christian witnessers who were trying to save me. It seemed, as a nonbeliever, to be strikingly unfair and a failure on the part of God to design a system that would work well, in us humans. As an atheist who could have been open to the idea of God, it was repugnant enough to not make me want to consider it, on the basis of my feeling like a was "more fair" (fairer?) than God. As a Believer, I am still highly resistant to ideas, scriptural or quasi-theological or otherwise, which have God behaving or reasoning in a way which is less wise and merciful than "my way." I do believe that God's way is superior to my own, that He is Sovereign and Just. I am not Sovereign, but I can be Just.
The Holism that you speak of makes a great deal of sense to me, and I think that this is the true Jewish Worldview, and that many ancient and modern Jews would see the idea of God condemning all of His Creation by default (with an escape clause) to be insulting to God. I don't know why Paul so readily accepted and promoted this idea, I think that it may have to with trying to motivate people to take very seriously the emergency nature of the "impending immediate Judgement." It is a good motivational tool, but after two thousand years, I think that we can move beyond a non-Jewish fear-based mechanism for missiological evangelism, if we understand Paul's motivation and Inspiration.

July 15, 2009 at 12:42 AM

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