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Some Thoughts on a Biblical Theology of Mission - Part 1

The Bible tells a story. A grand, overarching narrative of God’s grace and beauty. It tells the story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and even Renewal. But often we stop at Redemption. As important as the cross was and is, it is not the final resting place of God’s dealings with the universe. After the cross was the tomb – and then the Resurrection, that great stake in the ground where God cracked open the rebellious and fallen vault called “The World” and began to flood it with the light of life. This light of life that fills the world is the resurrected Christ. He typifies what all of the new people, new heavens, new earth, new city and new universe will look like someday. That is the end goal – the complete and total renewal and restoration. God initially saw the creation as good, but it was lost in the Fall. But the only thing better than an original creation, is a creation that has been lost and then restored.

Biblically we are to be about both redemption and renewal. The separation of these two is unbiblical, and does not reflect the gospel of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, it wasn't until the early 1900's that we in the U.S. began to see a bifurcation in these two areas, mainly because of a reaction to German biblical criticism. This criticism led to many of the mainline denominations dropping the deity of Christ like a rotten tomato, yet still holding to the "social gospel" of outreach to the poor and oppressed. This caused a reaction in the "fundamentalist" camp that then said that the "social gospel" is of the devil, and we need to retreat to biblical inerrancy and hold our ground for the truth, throwing out the poor and oppressed baby with the bathwater.)

Lesslie Newbigin, in his book on the theology of mission aptly titled The Open Secret, asserts that the dichotomy of justice verses conversion must change, adding that the “first need” of these dichotomies “is for theological understanding” as well as a “restructuring of structures” (Newbigin: 11). This holistic perspective of mission is crucial. Newbigin asserts this by pointing out the implications of the confession of “Jesus as Lord.” This confession, he notes,

“…implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world – its philosophy, its culture, and it politics no less than the personal lives of its people. The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all” (Newbigin: 17).

I believe that these two orientations should, and must, go together. On the cross, God purchased redemption. But the Bible doesn't end there. It goes on through to the book of Revelation where there is, guess what, a renewed heavens, a renewed earth, a renewed city, a renewed Jerusalem, and us, yes, us with a renewed body. God is going from redemption toward renewal. He is going somewhere with all this - to the renewing of all things (see also Colossians). And the resurrection was a stake in the ground to say, "Look, you want to know where I'm going with all this? Look at Jesus and his... yep, you guessed it - renewed body." God is moving toward the renewal of all things.

It is far too easy to focus primarily on redemption, living out the vestiges of the inner-Gnostic in all of us. But we also have to focus on renewal as well. The fundamentalist want to focus on the spiritual aspects of redemption while the social gospel folks want to focus on renewal. Both are needed because both are what God is actively doing right now. Jesus is not a disembodied spirit - his is in a renewed body as a foretaste of the ultimate renewal we will all see one day (see also Colossians and Rev. 19 & 20). As N.T. Wright once said, “There is life after ‘life after death’” (Wright: 219).
There is life after heaven - heaven is a holding tank, not a final resting place. The renewed earth, whether we like it or not, is our final home. This means that we must be committed to the whole gospel for the whole person.

Newbigin, Lesslie
1994 The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Wright, N.T.
2006 Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. New York: Harper Collins.

image: crossroads by PedjaP

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