As I predicted, Christopher Wright tries not to go all left-wing with his use of the exodus to define mission. He set up two opposing wrong conclusions (I am blogging through his The Mission of God). He is unsatisfied with the typical evangelical spiritualizing of the exodus as freedom from sin through the atonement of Christ. So am I. So, on the one hand he says that the spiritualizing interpretation does not go far enough.
He also says that the politicizing interpretation is wrong. Here he talks about liberation theology. He thinks such theology emphasizes liberation in the sense of independence and self-determination, and that this is not what God did for Israel. Rather, God brought them out of slavery. He freed them from service to Pharaoh so that could begin service to God and worship him in a fitting way. The politicizing interpretation stands in danger of leaving out worship and service to God.
Wright still holds that the exodus, even though God’s covenant relation with Israel is unique, is paradigmatic for all cultures.
He claims this is implicit in Deuteronomy 10:17-19:
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt (NET Bible).
By applying the lesson from the exodus to the resident foreigner, Deuteronomy universalizes the exodus and makes it paradigmatic for all peoples. To apply this directly to Christian mission, giving all people food and clothing and treating them in a just way without graft is part of our mission.
To the point that I have read so far, Wright does not say whether he sees this mission as happening through Christian-influenced government or just through church benevolence. The fact that Israel was society with no separation of church and state, whereas the modern church does not function as a state, make applying this to Christian mission complicated.
I agree with Wright that just getting people to say the sinner’s prayer or “receive Jesus” is not the full mission of the church. I agree that sacrificial kindness toward all kinds of people is part of our mission. My problem with this is that there is an emotional pull toward the idea that compassion requires us to get the government to do most of this. We pass what is our mission off on a secular society.
Even after reading Wright more fully, I do not think the exodus is paradigmatic in the way he thinks it is. As Jon Levinson once pointed out, in spite of the exodus there is not one verse in either the Old or New Testament that affirms God’s universal opposition to slavery. This is a hard truth for us to accept. We are against slavery. We would like to quote scripture against it. Scripture certainly had something to do with the thought of Abraham Lincoln. It had a lot to do with the thought of Martin Luther King. But it is more complicated than transferring biblical concepts through the filter of our democratic ideas.
I like to say that my politics consists of favoring the conservation of liberal democracy and that I do not know whether I am a liberal because I want to conserve liberal democracy or a conservative because I want to conserve liberal democracy. But I am quite aware that the Bible deals with monarchy not democracy. By favoring democracy, I put myself politically outside of anything the Bible proposes.
The “Kingdom of God” is not democracy. So I am against the kingdom unless it is directly administered by God. All the well-intentioned political initiatives supposedly inspired by the Bible end up being put into force by people. Puritans take over. We end up with reconstruction. We end up with prohibition. We end up with the welfare state. We end up with sodomy laws. We end up with the war on drugs. All these things have been disasters.