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Rethinking the Mission of God

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Bill Fowler, YTI Church Relations and Professor of New Testament and Practical Theology

October 24, 2018


A Biblical Theology of Missions?

My earliest efforts at demonstrating the missional heart of God were aimed at producing a “biblical theology of mission.” I would look for scriptures that expressed God’s concern for “the nations,” prophecies and passages that included the universal aspect of God’s love. By doing so, I hoped to convince and encourage Christians that “being involved in missions” was a legitimate expectation of a follower of Christ. From my Baptist roots I would insist that every Baptist should be a “missionary” Baptist.

William Carey’s treatise that launched the modern missionary movement, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, was a piece that intrigued me. Carey, an 18th century cobbler, strove to use God’s Word to convince the pastors of his day that missions were important. I was trying to do the same, to validate a call to missions for the church.

Or a Missional Theology of the Bible!

Looking back now I feel silly. What my study has shown me as I have lived with scripture over my lifetime is that there is no “biblical theology of missions.” Instead, there is a profoundly “missional theology of the Bible.” Mission is not “one” of the themes of the Bible, something that can be defended by careful exegesis of certain texts; it is the heart and soul of the Bible.

The metanarrative of scripture is the Missio Dei, the mission of God. We might say that the revelation of the Bible is the “self-disclosure” of God to man, but the key content of that self-disclosure is the missional (and redemptive) heart of God! Christopher Wright nails it when he says, “The Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of creation” (The Mission of God, 22). For Christians to excuse themselves from living “on mission with God” begs justification, rather than the opposite, and I believe that it is impossible to do so from scripture. We are called to missions…each and every follower of Jesus!

Every Follower?

Every follower of Jesus a missionary? Yes! But not necessarily what you think. We are NOT all called to walk away from our occupations, earn a seminary degree, enlist the support of a denomination or mission organization, go to another country, learn another language, become immersed in another culture, and try to convince people different from ourselves that Jesus is the answer (though some people may, indeed, receive such a call). What we ARE called to do is to live our lives for a cause greater than ourselves, for the Kingdom of God, for Jesus’ sake! We are called to be witnesses of Christ’s love and life.

Instead of being Christian teachers, carpenters, bankers, mechanics, or cooks, we should be teacher Christians, carpenter Christians, banker Christians! “Christian” should be the substance of our lives and not just a mere adjective.

Asking Different Questions About the Mission of God

A helpful means of reorienting our thinking to live “on mission” with God is provided by Wright (The Mission of God, 533-534).

1.

We ask “Where does God fit into the story of my life?”
We should be asking “Where does my life fit into the story of God’s mission?”

2.

We ask “What mission is there that has been tailored to be just right for my life?”
We should be asking “How has my life been tailored to be just right for God’s mission?”

3.

We ask “How can I apply the Bible to my life?”
We should be asking “How can I apply my life to the Bible?”

4.

We ask “How do we make the Gospel relevant to the world?”
We should be asking “How do we transform the world to fit the shape of the Gospel?”

5.

We ask “What kind of mission does God expect from the church?”
We should be asking “What kind of church does God expect for His mission?”

6.

We ask “What kind of mission does God have for me?”
We should be asking “What kind of me does God want for His mission?”

I had to rethink the place of mission in the plan and purpose of God. May we all rethink the position of our lives in the mission of God!

Wright, Christopher. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.