I continue to read The Mission of God by Christopher J.H. Wright.
Wright has said that God makes himself known in Israel by both grace and judgement. Now he says that God makes himself known in Jesus Christ.
He deals with the divinity of Jesus. A lot of perspectives are fine with the divinity of Jesus because all kinds of things are divine for them. From a pantheistic or panentheistic position divinity infuses everything. But Wright argues that from Israel’s perspective divinity was a unique property of YHWH. To claim that any human possessed it was startling.
And yet, Wright says, the New Testament does claim that Jesus shares the identity of YHWH. The term Maranatha (1 Corinthians 16;22) was an old prayer formula from the early days of the church in Palestine. It addresses Jesus in Aramaic as Lord. The early Greek-speaking church also addressed Jesus as Lord, Kyios. Both the fact that Jesus was addressed in prayer at all, and the use of the word Lord point to the divinity of Jesus in earliest Christianity. This goes against the common mistake that the divinity of Jesus was a late-developing idea–under Constantine perhaps.
Not only did the church address Jesus as one would address YHWH, but Jesus functioned for the early church as YHWH functioned for Israel. Wright cites many instances of this, but Colossians 1:16 can stand as a clear example: “for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him” (NET Bible).
As YHWH functions in the Hebrew Bible as creator, ruler, savior and judge; so Jesus functions in these roles for the church. The monotheistic faith of Israel gets expanded and reinterpreted in a way that focuses upon Jesus. So Wright argues that Jesus fulfills the mission of God.
The will of God is to make himself know through Jesus, and this desire moves more and more from Israel to all the world.
For Wright, any discussion of mission must begin with God’s desire to disclose himself, to make himself known. The mission of God is revelation. Our mission, then, exists as an extension of God’s own mission. The mission of God in the Hebrew Bible has grown to emphasize the inclusion of the nations. The prophets and psalms anticipated this. But it becomes most clear in Jesus and the church.
Now the christological reinterpretation of Israel’s monotheism is “untidy”. If you have an evolutionary view of the development of monotheism, you would think that once a religion evolved to faith in one unique God, the power of that truth would keep religion from ever going back to complications like the two natures of Christ or the Trinity. But Christians have to struggle with monotheism. To pray to Jesus introduces a need to reconcile the uniqueness of Jesus with the singularity of God. It also complicates Jewish-Christian relations.
Wright goes back to something I think he learned studying Ezekiel. The end of the mission of God is human doxology. When God’s greatness is known, people respond with praise. Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament have a vision of all nations finally praising God.
Praise, says Wright, is both the end of mission and equally the energy that propels mission.
Here is an interesting quotation that I will remember:
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the church in Europe was born through the conversionary power of praise, if one thinks of the hymn-singing Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail (p. 133).
So, while taking an orthodox stand on the person of Christ, Wright tries to stay with a theme from Israel’s scriptures. Rather than dealing with the question of whether Israel is still the people of God (the question of supersessionism), he talks about how both Jewish and Christian narratives lead to praise. Thus he shows Israel as part of the mission of God.
Some Christians have talked about mission as though it was a new thing inaugurated with the last verses of Matthew: the Great Commission. The value of Wright is that God has always had a mission. The question is how do Israel and the Church fit into it.