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Archive for January, 2009

We have been thinking about mission grounded in God’s own life.  God is the Sending God, His Sent Son and the Reconciling Spirit – this is not simply something He does but who He is.

So it is with the Church.  We have inherited our mission from the Sent One and we too find ourselves not simply doing mission, but being His sent ones to the ends of the earth.

There is discontinuity between God’s mission and ours in that Christ has saved the world therefore we do not.  Instead we point to His once for all saving. 

But there is also continuity between God’s mission and ours.  Therefore, just as the eternal Father’s concern has ever been the exaltation of His Son in His Spirit-empowered word, so too our mission must be thoroughly evangelistic. 

At this point people will often ask, does social justice or care for the environment have a place within such an evangel?  The answer is Yes, but we must emphasize that such concerns find their place within the gospel.  Not instead of it.  And not alongside of it.  God does not have one goal for social, political, cultural and environmental well-being and another goal for the salvation of souls.  Such a dualism has plagued the church’s understanding of mission for too long. 

There are some who have simply privileged one side of the dualism.  So on the one hand there have been the evangelists like D.L. Moody who famously said: “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel.  God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.'”  Such a view divorces creation and redemption and privileges the latter.  On the other hand there has been the ‘social gospel’ of Walter Rauschenbusch in which mission is “transforming life on earth into the harmony of heaven.”  This makes the same divorce but privileges creation instead. 

In fact both fall into a dualism in which heaven and earth, time and eternity, the spiritual and the physical are pitted against one another.  This cannot be the outlook of the Christian who has accepted mission from the hand of the risen Christ.  In Him heaven and earth, time and eternity, the spiritual and the physical are united at the deepest level.

But there is yet another mistake to be resisted.  We have not solved this dualism by accepting these two concerns for creation and redemption and simply determining to give them equal emphasis.  A well balanced two-pronged approach to mission is not the solution, as though some cultural mandate lies side-by-side together with a gospel mandate for the world.  Such a view seems to be that of the very influential Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.  Here is a key statement from them in 1982:

In addition to worldwide evangelization, the people of God should become deeply involved in relief, aid, development and the quest for justice and peace.

It is the phrase ‘in addition to’ that is so problematic.  The authors liken the relation of these two concerns to ‘two blades of a pair of scissors or the two wings of a bird.’  Yet to accept this two-pronged approach is still to put asunder what God has joined together.  These are not unco-ordinated concerns in God’s mission.  The Father does not have one desire for the lifting up of humanity and another for the glorification of His Son.  There is not one will for creation and a separate will for redemption.  Yet this seems to be precisely the assumption of Lausanne’s authors. 

John Stott (the driving force behind the Lausanne declaration) said this in a sermon given the morning before the 1975 Assembly in Nairobi of the Central Committee of the World Council of Church:

“[There are two freedoms and two unities for which Jesus Christ is concerned] On the one hand there is socio-political liberation and the unity of all mankind, for these things are the good will of God the Creator, while on the other there is the redemptive work of Christ who sets his people free from sin and guilt, and unites them in his new community.  To muddle these two things (creation and redemption, common grace and saving grace, liberation and salvation, justice and justification) is to plunge oneself into all kinds of confusion.” (quoted in Timothy Dudley Smith, John Stott: A Global Ministry, IVP, 2001, p204

With the greatest respect for John Stott, I don’t think that’s right.  Creation and redemption are not separately addressed by the Lord and they shouldn’t be separately addressed by His church.  No, the Father has one almighty gospel passion that lifts up humanity and the world precisely in the gospel of His Son.  So it is with God, so it must be with us.  Whatever cultural mandate there is, it is included in and dependent upon the gospel mandate to make disciples of all nations. 

Authentic social, political, economic, cultural and environmental renewal happens within the gospel.  It occurs within the sphere of Christ’s explicit Lordship.  This means, minimally, where the word of Christ is proclaimed as authoritative on its own terms (for instance where the church speaks prophetically into the issues of the day).  But more usually and concretely it occurs where this word of Christ is received in faith and His Lordship is lived out first in the body and, then, spilling over into the world.

In this way the most radically political, social and environmental revolutions can occur.  Yet they occur as gospel revolutions where King Jesus is reigning by the power of His Spirit-anointed word.

More to follow…

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Evangelism

Saw this at Bobby’s blog.  Wow!

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Trinity is not a nuance.

When we unfold the trinitarian life of God in His gospel work, we’re not simply adding a level of detail to functionally unitarian ‘God’-speak.  Trinity is not just a nuancing of more basic truths.  To speak of trinity is to uncover a logic which alters the way we conceive of everything, from the ground up.

Now of course we can still make simple looking statements like ‘God must be worshipped.’  But what it means is I’ll subject all of them to thorough critique.  Specifically, I will refuse to conceive of those sentences in unitarian terms.  Instead I will ensure that the Subject of that sentence can refer to each Person of the trinity and to the triune life as a whole.  And I will think hard about how these explicitly trinitarian considerations affect the truth of the proposition.  In other words I will resolve to conceive of both the Subject and the verb in these sentences in explicitly trinitarian terms. 

But does this really make a fundamental difference to ‘simple God-talk’?

Yes.

The command ‘God must be worshipped’ can be applied to each Person and it can be applied to the triune life as a whole.   So it passes this minimal test.  But as we consider these triune relations, we realize that the Persons glorify each Other.  They are not simply recipients of worship (which the simple ‘God’ is) – but they are themselves worshippers.  More than this, we worship God only when we are rightly included in their worshipping life.  We must be in Spirit and Truth to worship the Father.  And we must first be the objects of His love and glorification before we find ourselves participating in the love and glorification of God.  Do you see how the Subject and the verb are radically affected by trinitarian analysis?

Or think about the concept of ‘God’s monarchy’ – i.e. that God exercises a singular rule.  As a simple (functionally unitarian) concept this would lead us to think of God’s rule in ways fundamentally opposed to a trinitarian understanding.  Trinity doesn’t mean there are three thrones and it doesn’t mean that the Lamb is off-centre on the throne.  It means that the Father rules through (and only though) His Spirit-anointed Son (cf Psalm 2).  Yet without this trinitarian dynamic being explicit, the triune God’s monarchy will be misunderstood. 

Or again, think about this contentious statement: ‘God is unoriginate.’  It was a favourite of Arius – what do we make of it? It seems completely logical. It seems to be guarding against things we want to guard against. Surely full divinity cannot be predicated of anything that has an origin outside itself.  Right?  We can’t have divinity that depends on anything outside itself can we??  Well, on this understanding we look at the Son Who has His eternal origin in the Father, and we conclude that the Son is less than fully God.  That’s the very logic Arius used and it’s just why Athanasius got so picky and said that Arius should not name God from creation and call Him unoriginate but name Him from His Son and call Him Father. In other words – unless from the outset you define God’s nature with the Father-Son reciprocity in mind you won’t be able later to call Jesus God – not fully God.

‘God is unoriginate’ is an example of a statement that sounds good and seems to protect important things. And it might be able to be applied to the Three together (the Three do not have their source of life outside themselves) but it is unwise to make the statement simpliciter.  And it can lead to heresy when it is applied to particular Persons. 

The problem is that it has begun in functionally unitarian ‘God-talk’ and it simply cannot be rescued by trinitarian nuance.  That’s not the direction of travel.  We can’t go from functional unitarianism to trinitarian discussion as though we’re moving from the synopsis to the novel.  The comparison is more like two competing treatises.

When we talk trinity we talk about basic things – fundamental, bedrock things.  We don’t simply uncover extra depths when we lay bare the perichoretic life of God.  Actually we discover an essential logic that requires articulation according to this trinitarian dynamic. 

Trinity is not a nuance. 

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In the last post, we saw the deepest continuity between God’s mission and ours.

But now we must highlight the discontinuity.

Continuity and Discontinuity

Perhaps the Matthean Great Commission will show both the continuity and discontinuity points:

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt 28:18-20).

Here at the resurrection of Christ we see the very consummation of the missio Dei declared decisively in history.  And incredibly Christ says ‘therefore’, and with that connector He lays bare a profound continuity between God’s mission and ours.  The Gospel-mission of God is handed to the Church. 

Yet precisely because our mission comes from the hand of the risen Christ it must not be confused with His.  Here is where the discontinuity comes in.  Our marching orders do not come from a hopeful Commander, trusting us to win victory.  Emphatically our commission comes from the Victor.  All authority is His.  The risen Christ has established the kingdom.  Sin is atoned for, wrath is averted, Satan is vanquished, death is defeated, heaven and earth are reconciled, Man stands on the earth as King under God.  And where this Head has come, His body will most certainly follow.  What can the church, His body, add to such an accomplishment?  All we can do is point to this King and this kingdom. 

Christ’s command is simply to ‘go’ with His resurrection power and presence in a baptizing and teaching ministry that realizes in advance of His return that obedience in the nations which Easter has already won.

Our part in the missio Dei is, therefore, very different to Christ’s, yet, on the basis of His completed work we are called to extend His mission to the world. 

Consequences of this Continuity and Discontinuity

Now that we’ve seen both the continuity and discontinuity between God’s mission and ours we can elaborate on some consequences.

Firstly, because of the discontinuity point, we see that faithfulness to the completed missio Dei in the resurrection of Christ requires witnesses not activists.  We do not bring redemption to the world, we bring Christ to the world as One who has already accomplished our redemption. 

We betray our gospel-mission the minute we think we can establish Christ’s kingdom.  We do not save the world.  In the risen Christ it is already saved.   We are not the do-ers – we are witnesses to His ultimate and all-encompassing Doing.  We ‘go’ as heralds not mini-saviours.

Secondly, because of the continuity point, we can learn much about the nature of our mission by enquiring as to the nature of the missio Dei.  Let us ask, does God’s mission have a centre and goal?  And what is it?

We can answer this with confidence.  The purposes of the Father from all ages have been exclusively focussed on His Son.[1]  In the power of the Spirit, His word has been the agent for all divine activity in creation and redemption.[2]  In the Incarnation of the Word, the Father gives to Jesus His word,[3] which accomplished all that Jesus does,[4] and it is this word that Jesus entrusts to his followers.[5]  The Church has inherited a Gospel mission for the world, i.e. the Father’s mission to the exalt His Son in His Spirit-empowered word.

The triune God – the God who is Sender, Sent and Perfector – is not concerned in a general glorification of Himself nor of the world.  His mission has never been an abstract betterment of the creation.  Rather, the purposes of this Gospel God have always been to create and redeem a people – to reach out and to draw in a bride for the Son, an inheritance for the Heir, a body for the Head.  The goal of God has always been the glorification of the Son through the inclusion of His people by the Spirit so that all may participate in the triune life. 

To put it more plainly, from beginning to end God’s mission is wholly and thoroughly evangelistic.  Both creation and redemption find their place within this evangelistic economy.

Next time we will see the implications of this for our mission.  In particular we will argue that since God’s mission is thoroughly evangelistic, so must ours be.

 


[1] Psalm 2:1-12; Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:13,14; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:15f

[2] 2 Peter 3:5-7; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:1-3; 5:24; 6:63,68;

[3] John 8:55; 14:24;

[4] John 14:10; Mark 4:41; Luke 4:43; John 5:24; 12:48; 17:17

[5] John 15:20; 17:6,14,20

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The figures don’t lie.  My post dissing Darwin has just received its 70th comment.  It has caused twice as much of a stir as my next most controversial post – Piper’s theology of glory.

Pause for thought?

 

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blues-brothers-mission-god

When Karl Barth addressed the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932 he introduced a missiological perspective which has determined the shape of mission theology in every part of the Church. 

“Must not even the most faithful missionary, the most convinced friend of missions, have reason to reflect that the term missio was in the ancient Church an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity-namely the expression of the divine sending forth of self, the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit to the world? Can we indeed claim that we do it any other way?”

Barth cuts through soteriological or eschatological consideration to bring us right back to the Source of mission.  It is not that ‘Salvation is like this therefore mission should be like that.’  It is not that ‘The End will be like this, so mission should be like that.’   No, the real argument is that ‘God’s being is like this, therefore mission should be like that!’  There are missions because of the missio Dei – because God is a sending God.  In Himself, in eternity, God’s being is a being of outgoing love.  This is the Fountainhead for mission.

David Bosch has memorably put it like this:

To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.

This insight has been picked up by all wings of the Church, from the conciliar to the Anabaptist, from the Roman Catholic to the evangelical. 

More important than all this consensus however is the bible’s own testimony.

 Consider the Johannine ‘great commission’: 

As the Father has sent me I am sending you.  (John 20:21; cf 17:18).

We ought to take that little word ‘as’ with full seriousness.  In the same way that the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends His church.  Let us ask, how has the Father sent the Son?

Lest we be Arians we must acknowledge that the Son’s generation from the Father is not a mere product of the Father’s will in time.  It is rather an eternal begetting that is of the very essence of the eternal Godhead.  There is not a God and then a sending.  There has only ever been a sending God – the missio Dei.  Both Father and Son are eternally constituted in these relations of Sending and Sent.

The Son’s being and act is a being and act found and expressed in the Father’s sending.  The Son’s own life is a life in mission.  This has always been true in eternity and it was made manifest in incarnation.

Christ’s most common self-identification in John is as the One sent from the Father.  And His most common articulation of His mission was always to do the will of His Father – a will expressed in thoroughly evangelistic terms – e.g. John 3:16; 4:23; 6:29; 6:38-40.  Christ is sent as the world’s Saviour, the One who seeks worshippers for the Father, who glorifies the Father in His saving death and only then says ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30).

Therefore, because Christ’s being is a missionary being, so His activity is a missionary activity. 

On the cross, the true being and glory of the Son was manifested, and in Him the glory of the triune God  (e.g. John 13:32; 17:5).  Here was demonstrated Christ’s obedience to the Father and, at one and the same time, His love for the world.  Christ’s being and act are laid bare at Golgotha, and shown to be a missionary being and act.

Therefore, returning to John 20:21, we see the continuity of Christ’s mission with ours.  Just as Christ has His being in sent-ness for the world’s salvation, so does the church.  We have received a commission that was passed from the Father to the Son in the depths of eternity.  Our missionary activity finds its origin not in any human enthusiasm for witness but in the being of God.  And our sent-ness for the salvation of the world is not only our activity.  It is, like God’s own missio, constitutive of our very life.

‘The Christian community is not sent into the world haphazardly or at random, but with a very definite task. It does not exist before its task and later acquire it.  Nor does it exist apart from it, so that there can be no question whether or not it might have or execute it.  It exists for the world.  Its task constitutes and fashions it from the very outset.  If it had not been given it, it would not have come into being.  If it were to lose it, it would not continue.  It is not then a kind of imparted dignity.  It exists only as it has it, or rather only as the task has it. Nor is it a kind of burden laid upon it.  It is the inalienable foundation which bears it.  Every moment of its history it is measured by it. It stands or falls with it in all its expressions, in all its action or abstention. It either understands itself in the light of its task or not at all.’ (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p796.)

‘[The task of the Church] is no less, no more and no other than the ministry of witness required of it and constituting it.’ (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p834))

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This began life as an essay I wrote for post-ordination training.

Typically ‘mission’ is understood as an activity that the church undertakes.  On this understanding, the church, alongside its other duties, is also a sender and supporter of gospel workers. 

mission1

In this paradigm a church may seek to enlarge their “sending arrow” greatly.  They may tirelessly champion missionary work, hold constant prayer meetings for overseas workers, schedule regular missions’ Sundays with special fundraising efforts.  They could receive constant visits and prayer-letters from missionaries.  They may even have a missions or outreach committee with a significant budget to support the work.  Such churches may be used wonderfully by the Lord.  And they would undoubtedly gain a reputation for being a ‘sending church’.

But what should we make of this? 

Certainly such an ethos is far superior to the sleepy church that thinks of nothing but maintaining its own buildings and ageing congregation.  We might think – better to have one arrow among many than none at all!  And that would be true.

Yet even such an activist church has missed something foundational to a theology of mission.  Namely this: Mission is not something the local church does.  Church is not the sender of gospel witnesses.  The church is the body that is sent. 

mission2 

We are the missionaries – the church as a whole.  Our very existence is an existence on mission.  We have our being as church in the commission which is laid upon the whole body to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  Mission is not what we do, it is who we are.

As a friend from Crosslinks recently remarked, the ultimate missionary movement is not “West to the rest” nor is it “The rest to the west.”  The ultimate missionary movement is always Heaven to Earth.  We are not senders so much as sent.  As members of Christ’s missionary body we find ourselves, wherever we are, as His ambassadors, God making His appeal through us.  This is not a function that we resolve to undertake (whether poorly or eagerly), it is the very nature of our life together.

Such thinking is radical, yet it is the necessary outcome of a theology of mission grounded in the Missio Dei.

More on this in the next post…

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