Ten months after I started reading the mammoth book, I have finally reached the end of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. In fact, I’ve read it one and a half times, because I got half way through it and then ended up reading the whole thing as part of my MA in Bible and Mission…
I said when I started reading it that I would try to continue posting my thoughts on the way through, but I’m afraid that hasn’t happened… more due to my busyness and laziness than anything about the book. The book as a whole has without doubt broadened the way I see God’s mission throughout the Bible, and helped me to understand that everything God does throughout Scripture (in relation to the election of Israel and his covenant with them, the prophets confronting idolatry and injustice, redemption, exile, jubilee, and ultimately Jesus coming to live, die and be raised) is for the ultimate purpose of the whole of creation, including people of all nations, being redeemed and restored to a right relationship with him.
Often our theology, and hence our focus in mission can be very egocentric and human-centred, with our justification for evangelism and mission being backed up with a few New Testament proof texts. The Mission of God has reinforced for me the fact that God’s mission is God’s, that he has been doing it since the beginning of the world, and that our role in it is to join in with what he is already doing in the ways that he is doing it. For me this is a paradigm shift from the way the western church tends to see mission in terms of a human effort that we have been left to finish alone before Jesus comes back.
Wright’s epilogue provides a good summary of his perspective:
[M]y experience in wrestling with the massive contours of this Bible-sculpted, God-centered, mission-driven vision of reality, has been to find that it turns inside out and upside down some of the common ways in which we are accustomed to thinking about the Christian life and the kinds of questions we are inclined to ask. This worldview, constituted by putting the mission of God at the very center of all existence, is disturbingly subversive and it uncomfortably relativizes one’s own place in the great scheme of things. It is certainly a very healthy corrective to the egocentric obsession of much Western culture – including, sadly, even Western Christian culture. It constantly forces us to open our eyes to the big picture, rather than shelter in the cosy narcissism of our own small worlds.
- 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 story – the 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 this 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.
As a final comment, I have recently been reading N.T. Wright’s book Justification, which complements well this theme, but whereas Chris Wright focuses mainly on the Old Testament, N.T. Wright looks at Paul’s letters. His general aim is the same however, to help us to realise that we, and our salvation, are an important part of what God is doing, but that if we see ourselves and our justification as the central message of the gospel, we are missing out on the huge majestic bigger picture of God’s mission through Israel, and now through the church, to all nations with the goal of the restoration of the whole of creation, and of which he calls us to be a part.
* I think it is important to make the distinction here between on the one hand not changing the gospel for the world but expecting God to change the world to fit with the gospel, while on the other hand being humble and flexible about the ways we present that gospel, which can and should change according to the context and culture of those we’re engaged with, and should never be tied too strongly to one particular culture or way of doing things. I’ve written a bit on this theme here and here.