I have been reading and commenting about Christopher Wright’s book, The Mission of God. I have been distracted by some storm damage here. We were on the edge of a tornado, apparently. A big maple tree in my backyard partly came down and required some chain saw work and clean up. The month of May, after the long, frigid winter here, will also distract me with some of the pleasures of being retired: grandchildren, gardening, and fishing. But I will keep plodding along, posting a few times a week.
Chistopher Wright does not tie the notion of Christian mission to Pentecost. Some do, he says, because Luke and Acts contain the idea that the disciples waited until the Holy Spirit fell up on them before they began their mission. If we look at the Bible’s grand narrative, though, mission is something in the character of God and its beginning lies way before Pentecost.
Wright wants to start with Abraham. He does this in a round about way. He begins, not with the Genesis account of Abraham, but with the Apostle Paul’s interpretation of Abraham. He appropriates his grand narrative through Paul’s understanding of it. Not only that, but he goes behind Paul’s letters to the situation shown in Luke/Acts as the reason for Paul’s exploration of Abraham.
The Apostolic Conference shown in Acts 15 puts Paul at the center of an impassioned conversation within the early church about the meaning and extent of mission. Paul has brought non-Jews into his communities without requiring circumcision. He has relaxed Jewish food laws. To this kind of mission some in Jerusalem are saying, “What about Moses?” And Paul replies, “Never mind Moses, what about Abraham?” (p. 193).
For Paul, Abraham has priority over Moses both in time and in meaning. God’s mission had already been announced to Abraham when God promised to bless all nations through his seed (Galatians 3:6-9). God’s promise in Genesis 12 contains the “gospel in advance.”
So Wright goes back and takes a closer look at Genesis 12:1-3. Abraham gets two action commands from God: “Go” and “Be a blessing”. Abraham has to leave behind his country and his family. He has to go. And the object of his going is the nations of the world to whom he and his seed are to be a blessing. You can compare this to the command of Jesus at the end of Matthew to “go and make disciples”.
What does it mean to be a blessing? Wright surveys the rich meaning of blessing in the Hebrew scriptures. Blessing means prosperity, many children and long life. “What modern secular man call ‘luck’ or ‘success’ the Old Testament calls ‘blessing’” (p. 209). But it is not luck or chance. It is a gift of God. Blessing or well-being is God’s intention for humanity. It cannot be separated from its covenental and ethical foundations. So it can’t become a prosperity gospel. Blessing is for the downtrodden as well as the privileged. So blessing calls us to devotion and justice. It calls us to acknowledge God as the source of blessing.
For Christian mission there are two important aspects of the call of Abraham. First, it is multinational. It is not just for the chosen people. The point is to extend God’s blessing to the nations.
Second, it is christological. Christians follow Paul in affirming that the offspring of Abraham who gives fullest expression to the blessing of the nations is Jesus.
It looks like Wright is setting up to argue that the gospel is too constrained if we understand it as having to do with “being saved” as evangelicals often understand that. Being blessed would extend to the attainment of our fullest humanity in this life as well as the next.
I just hope he does not use that as an excuse to take sides in political and cultural wars. I saw this article yesterday about whether Jesus would be for the minimum wage. Ugh! So let us also discuss Jesus’ views on trade relations with China, the core curriculum, and Toyota headquarters moving to Texas (sarcasm in case you didn’t catch that).