Christopher Wright in The Mission of God has said that God’s mission is to make himself known. The created world is the arena of God’s mission. He made the world good. This world is sacred, but not divine. The world is the object of God’s redemption . The glory of God is the goal of creation.
On the basis of this theology of creation, Wright argues that mission must include much besides evangelism. Mission includes environmental action. He calls this “creation care.” This will bring Christianity into conflict with global capitalism (p. 417).
Creation care will also, he says, bring us into conflict with new age spirituality. Environmental concern is about being stewards or managers of creation. It is not about some kind of mystical union with nature.
In the Bible, though, the pinnacle of creation is the creation of humans. We were created in the image of God. So Wright has a long chapter on how mission especially pertains to the redemption of human beings. This is the emphasis of the evangelicals he is in dialogue with. But Wright wants to expand “creation care” for mankind beyond soul winning.
That God made people in his own image implies several things. First, people are addressable by God. That is, people are open to God’s mission of making himself known. Second, humans are accountable to God. Third, humans have dignity and equality. He says that this means that mission must treat people as people, not as Hindus, atheists, Christians and so forth. Fourth, the gospel has to fit all people. I think this means that it has to apply to the image of God in everyone. “Whatever the appearances and caricatures have been, Christian mission is not a matter of inviting or compelling people to become Westerners or Koreans or Nigerians” (p. 424).
Wright makes note of the verse that played such a large part in Karl Barth’s view of the image of God. In Genesis 1:27 male-female complimentarity stands in tight parallel to the image of God in man. It is not, says Wright, “that God himself is sexually differentiated but that relationship is part of the very being of God, and therefore also part of the very being of humanity, created in his image” (p. 427).
Wright sets this over against Genesis 2 where human sexual differentiation is in the context of God giving people a task. He makes the very good point that the problem of the man being alone without a mate is not that the man would be psychologically lonely. The man doesn’t so much need company as he needs help. So God gives him a partner in his task.
This means that social relationships are intrinsic to human life. Salvation cannot be just an individual thing, but must include the family, the workplace, and society.
Wright then talks about sin as the breakdown of interconnected, task-oriented community life. He has a section where he uses HIV/AIDS as a metaphor for sin and its spread in humanity. He clearly has compassion for those hit hard by this disease. But do we really want to use a (primarily) sexually transmitted condition as our metaphor for sin? Doesn’t that reinforce some bad teaching about sin and sex that the church would do better to get away from?
His idea of sin as societal supports his notion that mission must reach for something more holistic than the conversion of individuals. He has a suggestive section where he talks about how Hebrew wisdom literature brought in insights from the whole world, including other cultures. This gives us licence to think more creatively and use material from other cultures and religions all in the effort to restore wholeness to human lives and communities.
On a general level, I agreed wholeheartedly with Wright. Salvation is not an individualistic thing. Sin is a group endeavor as much as it is a matter of individual conscience. One of the items we might bring in from secular thought as we analyse how our families and communities have gone wrong is family systems theory.
However, I am afraid that social-justice types will just latch on to this as an excuse to link Christian action with the so-called progressive movement. I hope many people will be more creative than that.
Wright gives some support to this tendency when he talks about global capitalism. I have noticed that other writers from Britain like N.T. Wright and Leslie Newbigin talk about capitalism the same way. They all say capitalism stands for greed. So, since greed is a deadly sin, God must be against capitalism. I think this is an unexamined assumption drawn from Labor Party rhetoric. (Socialism can be greedy too. I saw this article just today.)
I tend to think of capitalism in contrast to Communism and socialism. I tend to think of capitalism in terms of free markets, small businesses, the middle class and everyone living unafraid under their own vine and fig tree (Micah 4:4). I probably have an idealized view of capitalism. Private businesses certainly can do evil at times. And I really do not like what has come to be called “crony capitalism” where government favors certain private stakeholders in exchange for political support. But, if capitalism is the enemy, what is the alternative? Communism, socialism, feudalism?
Wright would like to use the exodus and the Jubilee laws of the Hebrew Bible to forge something new. But wouldn’t bringing something out of the Bible into our secular economic system violate the separation of church and state? At least, considering the alternatives, I would prefer to work and vote for a more humane market system than to consider capitalism the enemy.