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Truth with a Mission. Reading Scripture Missiologically
 
(Grove Biblical Series 38; Cambridge, 2005)
Review by Dr Philip Satterthwaite

Dictionary articles are good. I hope you remember that point from the last time I was writing this column. But dictionary articles are not the only good thing in the world. Also good are seminar papers written up as short articles, at least when the scholar writing them is as experienced and full of theological insights as the author of this week’s Good Book, Chris Wright. Wright suggests that we may have got the question of ‘Bible and Mission’ the wrong way around:

‘“Mission is what we do.” That was the assumption, supported of course by clear biblical commands. “Jesus sends me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Many years later… I found myself teaching a module called The Biblical Basis of Mission…The module title itself embodies the same assumption. Mission is the noun, the given reality. It is something we do and we basically know what it is. And the reason why we know we should be doing it… must be found in the Bible. What, then, is the biblical basis for mission? Roll out the texts. Add some that nobody else has thought of. Add some motivational fervour. And the class is heart-warmingly appreciative. Now they have even more biblical support for what they already believed in anyway…’

Over against this caricature Wright presents his own proposal: ‘…the more I taught that course, the more I used to introduce it by telling the students that I would like to rename it – from The Biblical Basis of Mission to The Missional Basis of the Bible. I wanted them to see not just that the Bible contains a number of texts which happen to provide a rationale for missionary endeavour but that the whole Bible itself is a ‘missional’ phenomenon.’

That is the main point for which Wright argues throughout. The Bible is ‘the product of God’s mission’ (ch. 2): the very reason we have a Bible is God’s intention to reestablish broken relationships with fallen humanity. The risen Jesus read the Bible (for him, the Old Testament) ‘messianically and missiologically’ (Ch. 3): ‘“This is what is written,” he said. “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem”’ (Luke 24:46–47). Reading Luke 24 we readily grasp the point that Jesus is the Messiah in whom all God’s purposes of salvation reach their fulfilment; we tend not to see the point (made equally clearly in Luke 24) that God’s purposes as described in the Old Testament were always to bring blessing (repentance and forgiveness) to the nations. That, in Jesus’ view, was what the Old Testament was ‘all about’.

There are many other insights which emerge as Wright develops his argument:

‘To be human is to have a purposeful role in God’s creation. In relation to that creational mission, Christians need to be reminded that God holds us accountable to himself as much for our humanity as for our Christianity. There is, therefore, a legitimate place for ecological concern and action, for biblical earth-keeping, within our understanding of Christian mission responsibility…’

‘Israel’s election was not a rejection of other nations but was explicitly for the sake of all nations. This universality of God’s purpose that embraces the particularity of God’s chosen means is a recurrent theme…’

‘Many people… are surprised to hear a sermon on mission based on a text from the Old Testament. ‘Mission’ is widely viewed as a task originating from some words of Jesus on the Mount of Ascension. It seems to involve sending off somewhat peculiar but doubtless very worthy people to far-off parts of the earth to work for God in a bewildering variety of ways, and then to return from time to time to tell us about their adventures and ask for continued support. Since nothing of that sort seems to have happened in the Old Testament (not even Jonah came home on furlough to raise funds for a return trip to Nineveh), mission is deemed ‘missing – presumed unborn’ in that era.’

‘Thus, rather than asking if Israel itself “had a mission” in the sense of being “sent” anywhere… we need to see the missional nature of Israel’s existence in relation to the mission of the God of the world. Israel’s mission was to be something, not to go somewhere.’

‘As a holy people [Israel] would be ethically (as well as ritually) distinctive from the practices of surrounding nations… Such visibility would be a matter of observation and comment among the nations, and that expectation in itself was a strong motivation for keeping the law (Deut 4:6–8). The question of Israel’s ethical obedience or ethical failure was not merely a matter between themselves and YHWH, but was of major significance in relation to YHWH’s agenda for the nations (Jer 4:1–2)’

Well, the above are some of the ‘plums’. Now why not try ‘eating’ the entire booklet? At only 28 pages, with lots of interesting questions for reflection, it is good value whichever way look at it. And it may change the way you look at the Bible and mission.

CHAPEL NOTES

On 8th March, Dr. Philip Satterthwaite spoke on the life of Solomon (1 Kings 1-11), under the title 'Conventional Religion' (that is, what are the warning signs that show that one's religion is becoming no more a pious formality?). On 15th March Dr. Aquila Lee chose as his theme 'Facing Predicaments', and addressed this theme with reference to Exodus 14, the account of the Israelites' crossing of the Reed Sea. Recordings of these talks are available (please contact the Library if you are interested). 

Chapel speaker on 22nd March will be Mr. Leong Kok Weng

NEWS BITS
  1. Condolences. The Council, Faculty & staff of BGST extends our heartfelt condolences to Mr Liew Cheng San, Council Member & alumnus of BGST, on the demise of his late mother, Mdm Lim Chui Hiong, who was called home to be with the Lord on 9 March 2006.

  2. Counsellor’s Skills: Developing Micro-Skills in Counselling (CO213). Mr Song Cheng Hock has a minor accident today. His class this Wednesday, 22 March, will be postponed to 29 March. Do keep him in prayer for a speedy recovery.

  3. Counselling Skills: Grief Work (CO237, 1.5 credits) by Mr Song Cheng Hock due to start on 5 April has been pushed back by a week. The new commencement date is 12 April.

  4. Counselling Skills: Working with Children (CO235, 1.5 credits) by Mrs Christabel Hong Seok Ai starts this Thursday, 23 March, at 31 Tanjong Pagar Rd. Time: 7.15-10.15pm.

A BLESSED BIRTHDAY TO....

Mr Edmund Koh  20/3

Ms Emily Loo  20/3

Mdm Lim Sock Kiang  20/3

Dr Lee Soo Ann  21/3

Dr Patrick Chan  21/3

Mr Freddie Ong  22/3

Mr Jacob Ang  22/3

Mr Brian Tan  25/3

Mr Simon Liew  26/3

Mrs Tan Lee Lee  26/3

Mrs Lai Siew Lian  29/3

Ms Jeanie Kou  29/3

Ms Audrey Lao  29/3

Dr Lim Hock Bin  30/3

Dr Koh Tse Yuen  30/3

Ms Lee Hui Ling  31/3

Ms Wong Kai Yun  31/3

Mr Benny Fang  1/4

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