Wright-the nations

In last two chapters of The Mission of God, Christopher Wright deals first with the Old Testament vision of the nations, and then with the New Testament mission to the nations. The “nations” means the other nations besides Israel.

His chapter on nations in the Hebrew Bible says that God includes the nations in creation, redemption and judgment. The nations will ultimately benefit from Israel’s blessing.

The one criticism I would offer is that he tries too hard to make those books speak with a single voice. When I read the Old Testament I see several perspectives on the nations. Obadiah, for instance, never said anything positive about the nations. Wright emphasizes those writers who have a more positive view of the nations. This is legitimate in that the perspective of Jeremiah and the Deuteronomists shaped the Hebrew Bible. But it did so in a way that did not silence voices that departed from that perspective.

So Deuteromomy 9 says that the Israelites deserve judgement just as much as the Canaanites. But that does not mean that there is not a sharp polemic against the Canaanites. Israel deserves judgement because they imitated the nations, not because Israel is no different from the nations.

Wright is particularly good at drawing together those passage in the Psalms and Prophets that speak of the nations as joining in the worship of God.

He argues that some passages foretell that God will include the nations in Israel’s identity. He translates Psalm 47:9 to say that the rulers of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham. Most contemporary translations agree with this. But an alternative would be to translate it to say that the rulers assemble along with the people of the God of Abraham.

I might argue with the term “identity”. But the unity of the nations with Israel is part several passages. Zechariah 2:11, which says that many nations will join themselves to the Lord on the day of salvation, is absolutely clear.

There is no doubt that some visions speak of the salvation of the nations and their entry into the house of God.

In fact, Wright notes this when he turns to the New Testament. The difference between the two testaments in broad terms is that in the Bible of Israel the nations are attracted to Israel. There is usually no impulse to engage in mission, to go and preach to the nations. Now there are exceptions. Jonah is a kind of missionary to Nineveh and Isaiah 66 speaks of a messenger to the nations. But generally the idea is that Israel’s experience with God will be magnetic. It will draw the nations to Israel/Zion/YHWH.

In the New Testament, especially in Acts and Paul’s epistles there is a strong sense of calling to take the message to the nations. The typical Christian idea of an evangelistic mission presents itself. Wright does not deal much with the imminent eschatological expectation that may have been behind this. In other words, if you expect history to go on and on, then you can wait for the world to notice what God is doing. But if there is not much time, you have to be more proactive.

Still Paul was very much aware of the Hebrew Bible’s notion that the nations would be gathered to Israel. Wright draws the same conclusion that I did in some papers I wrote in the 1980’s. The collection for Jerusalem, which Paul raised among his Gentile churches, was a kind of gathering of the nations and their wealth to Zion. For Paul, the bringing of this offering to Jerusalem at least partially fulfilled the prophecies about the gathering of the nations and their wealth to Jerusalem.

A major theme of Wright was that the mission of the church is not just individual, but social. He veered in the direction of making mission about social action as well as evangelism. He says very little about this in his last two chapters. In a way I am glad he did not. This is because I would have hated to see him try to conform Christian mission to the agendas of interest groups in our culture. On the other hand, it is kind of disappointing because he only gave us hints about how one would flesh out the social side of the church’s mission.

For me, the social side of the mission of the church does not need to be political. As I have often said, I think that most of the injustice in the world is not social injustice. Most of the injustice in the world is caused by God or, at least what insurance companies call acts of God. Disease is the big one. But also there are tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes. Creation care (Wright’s phrase) as part of the Christian mission means caring for people after the forces of creation devastate them. Yes, there is also terrible politically caused suffering. You can’t live in the aftermath of the Holocaust without realizing that. But getting involved in politics is complicated and it is easy to bring about bad results even if you have good intentions.

What I appreciated and remember most about The Mission of God is the idea that mission joins us to God’s mission of self disclosure. It is to make God known so that all may see his majesty and join in worship.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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