THE MISSION OF GOD’S PEOPLE: A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF THE CHURCH’S MISSION by CHRISTOPHER J. H. WRIGHT
What can the entire Bible, including both testaments, teach us about the purpose of God’s people, who they are, and what they are to be and accomplish in the world? This is the topic that The Mission of God’s People seeks to address. (17). Therefore, when Wright uses the term “mission,” he refers to the overarching goal that unifies all that God’s people are called to be and do in this world. So, when he writes, “I am thinking of all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose,” he is thinking of both what God is doing and what he is calling us to do. (25)
The focus of the book’s first half is focused on the kind of individuals God is calling us to be. People who identify as Christians ought to be “People Who Know the Story They Are Part of” (ch. 2), “People Who Care for Creation” (ch. 3), “People Who Walk in God’s Way” (ch. 5), and “People Who Represent God to the World” (ch. 7). Wright shifts his attention in the second half to the particular duties God’s mission calls us to after laying this theological and ethical framework. He calls us to be, in particular, “People Who Bear Witness to the Living God”, “People Who Proclaim the Gospel of Christ” (chapters 10 and 11), and “People Who Live and Work in the Public Square” (chapters 13).
The mission of God is what unites the Bible from creation to new creation, according to Wright, who advocated for a “missional hermeneutic of the whole Bible.” Building on that basis, Mission of God’s People responds to the “so what” question; “If the Bible renders to us the grand mission of God through all generations of history, what does it tell us about the mission of God’s people in each generation, including our own? What is our mission?” (17).
The Exodus serves as the primary Old Testament example of God acting as a Redeemer, according to Wright. This is what God’s redemptive work looks like. (41). He claims once more that “God’s idea of redemption is exodus-shaped” (96). By this, Wright argues that just as the Exodus had political, economic, social, and spiritual dimensions, so too does God’s ultimate act of atonement, the Cross of Christ, have the same range. Wright contends that the biblical concept of redemption not only draws inspiration from the exodus but also “matches” the exodus at every significant point (103). The application of this viewpoint in practice is described as follows by Wright:
The exodus has been seen as the biblical foundation par excellence for theologies of mission that emphasize the importance of social, political, and economic concern alongside the spiritual dimensions of personal forgiveness. Or rather, and with greater biblical faithfulness, it is the biblical basis for the integration of all these dimensions within the comprehensive good news of the biblical gospel. Such holistic, or integral, understandings of mission point to the totality of what God accomplished for Israel in the paradigmatic redemptive event—the exodus. And I believe they are right to do so. (109)
The book makes apparent Wright’s well-known emphasis on holistic mission: “We need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess” (p. 110). He states unequivocally that evangelical proclamation is always necessary in order to carry out the mission of God because ministries to meet human needs are never sufficient on their own. The goal of God’s people, in page 179, is to spread good news in a world where bad news is depressingly common.
Wright very cautiously maintains that the spreading of the gospel has “a certain priority” in the church’s mission, following the Lausanne covenant of 1974 and the “Grand Rapids Report” of 1982. Nevertheless, he quickly asserts that “in missional practice, the distinction is hardly, if ever, a real one” (276) even then. As with prayer and Bible reading in a Christian’s devotional life, Wright argues that evangelism and social action should be so entwined in our practice that it is essentially irrelevant to ask which is more important (277).
Wright responds to the idea that “‘centrality’ as opposed to ‘primacy’ might be a better word for evangelism within mission” (278). He interprets the concept of evangelism’s “centrality” in a way that implies complete interdependence between evangelism and social action without supporting or dismissing this terminology: “If evangelism is like the hub, connected to the engine of the gospel power of God, then it also takes the living demonstration of the gospel in Christians’ engagement with the world to give the hub connection and traction with the context—the road” (278).
My View of this Book
In addition to offering motivation and guidance for carrying out the cultural mission, Wright’s insights on ministry in the public sphere elevate the frequently disregarded work and ministry of lay people in the public sphere. His chapter on mission as sending and receiving is a shining example of depth, breadth, and heartrending summary in biblical theology, and it will leave thoughtful readers reflecting for days after they have read it.
On occasion, Wright utilizes language that unnecessarily merges the identity of the church with that of Israel. In the current dispensation, the church effectively fills much of Israel’s role in carrying out God’s mission and serving as God’s ambassador to the outside world, and he is correct in this. However, in the New Testament era, national Israel still has its own identity. It would have been beneficial to draw a clearer difference between the extent to which the church accepts Israel’s uniqueness and its limitations.
Wright discusses texts from the New Testament that support and expand on ideas that are founded in the Old Testament after discussing the Old Testament principles that provide the basis for missional thinking and behavior in the majority of these chapters. Wright has not given enough emphasis to these important New Testament passages on mission, which leads to less consideration of normally highlighted New Testament texts, such as the different New Testament passages about the Great Commission.
The importance of missions is widely acknowledged among Christians, yet many are unsure of its full scope. Is it packing up your belongings and leaving your nation of residence? A theology degree, is that it? Is it giving sermons on the street? The ultimate goal of God’s people is His glory, even though their missions may also involve such things. And the main way that God is honored by His people is by seeing them put the truths they have accepted from the gospel of Christ into practice. It also means that, Christians “have a mission that is as broad as the earth, for which we are commanded to care” (p. 265). Everything a Christian is, says, and does should be missional in its deliberate involvement in the mission of God in God’s world.