This is the first in a series of posts critiquing Gary Millar’s “A Biblical Theology of Mission: An Evaluation of Chris Wright” delivered at the 2013 Gospel Coalition National Conference. Below is a summary of this talk. The posts that follow will take one or more of Millar’s main sections, as outlined below, and further develop his content as well as offering critique when necessary. As he begins his talk and in his final summary, as quoted below, he explains his reluctance in doing this critique as well as his desire not to overstate the case. This series of posts will demonstrate that Millar does indeed overstate the case and quite unnecessarily, and I would add quite unfortunately, so.
Posts in this Series
Three Reasons this Matters
- “The Mission of God is now basically the standard evangelical work on mission.”
- “The Mission of God represents a strand of thinking about mission that’s almost universal in the evangelical world and I’ve noticed that it tends to be simply stated and taken for granted, rather than argued or defended.”
- “I think that The Mission of God contains key flaws; which if left unchallenged will lead to the dilution of the missionary efforts of the evangelical church across the world.” He argues that this is not Wright’s intention.
Summary of Key Conclusions from The Mission of God
- Mission is the Mission of God
- Everything is Mission
- The Great Commandment is as Important as the Great Commission in Seeking to Reach the World
- The Exodus and the Jubilee form the Key Paradigms for Understanding our Mission
The Mission of God Overview
- Part 1: The Bible and Mission – The main argument here is that mission is God’s mission, mission is central to the whole Bible, the bible was written on mission, we need to read the Bible with a missional hermeneutic, and the whole Bible should shape our mission.
- Part 2: The God of Mission – There are two key locations where Israel comes to
know their God, the exodus and the return from exile. He defends monotheism, discusses idolatry, and critiques religious pluralism.
- Part 3: The People of Mission – Here he argues for the primacy of mission in the election of Israel, this is the controlling idea in the Old Testament. He then demonstrates how the Exodus and the Jubilee encapsulate the heart of God’s missional agenda. Finally, the priesthood of Israel is also presented as a controlling idea in the Old Testament.
- Part 4: The Arena of Mission – Here he begins to spell out how this affects how we do mission today particularly as it pertains to creation, the image of God, and the nations.
Chris’ Argument Throughout the Book Summarized
- Mission is the mission of God.
- Mission is central to the whole Bible as God is central to the whole Bible.
- The Bible is written on mission that it is the product of God’s people on this journey to perform his mission.
- We need to read Bible through a missional lens, a missional hermeneutic.
- If all the Bible is about mission, then we need to allow The whole Bible to shape our mission, not just the great commission.
- He argues that sin is all-pervasive, between individuals, between generations, in countries.
- The paradigms for mission are the Exodus and the Jubilee and therefore, God’s mission is all-embracing, setting all nations, all peoples, free from the all-encompassing sin that we encounter.
Thoughts on Clarity
“I hope I have represented him fairly. It is a very sweeping vision, or re-visioning of the idea of the mission of God. That’s what he argues, ok. Now, if you’ve never read The Mission of God that’s as clear as I can make it. It is not the clearest book that has ever been written.”
Some Things Millar Loves
- The God-centeredness of the approach.
- The defense of the uniqueness of Christ in the face of religious pluralism “winsome clear and powerful.”
- His insights into key Old Testament texts.
- The discussion of Old Testament missiological texts “This is the most complete, comprehensive, and theologically nuanced discussion of mission in the Old Testament I’ve seen.”
- He clearly articulates what God asks of us.
- At points he affirms that evangelism is at the heart of mission.
Some Things Millar Noticed
- Confusing Terminology
- A Tendency to Overstate the Case
- A Strange Aversion to the Idea of Going Anywhere
- An Annoying Habit of Using Straw Man Arguments
The Things that Concerned Millar Deeply
- An Absence of the Bible at Key Points in His Argument
- There is a Persistent Exegetical Carelessness
- There is an Unwillingness to allow the New Testament to Shape the Way We Read the Old Testament
- The Contention that Chris Makes that Evangelism is Ultimate but not Primary
- The Weak Doctrine of Sin and Judgment in the Mission of God
- The Gospel is Never Defined nor Discussed Nor is it Cited as the Driving Force Behind Mission
Millar’s Concluding Summary of His Concerns
“If this book dominates evangelical and reformed thinking on mission for the next twenty or thirty years then where will we be? Very simple, my fear is that we will be in a place where there is no hell, no judgment, not really any hope for a cross. My fear is that no one will go anywhere, that no one will preach to anyone, that no one will actually care. Why not? Because I am not sure that God actually cares that much, because everything is mission, because being will take away the need for going. Would Chris Wright argue for any of these positions? Of course not but even the best of us are capable of missteps, of misleading, of missing the point. I think that’s what has happened in this book. That is why I think it would be disastrous if we took our theology of mission from The Mission of God. That’s why, however reluctantly, I agreed to do this critique. It’s not so much what’s in the book, as what’s left out. And my fear is that if we leave out what’s left out of The Mission of God then there will be no going, there will be no preaching because who would stand up and preach a gospel that may get us persecuted if there is an option, there will be no evangelism, there will be no hell, there will be no judgment, there will ultimately be no need for a cross. I do not want to overstate it but ultimately there would be no mission.”