Gary Millar’s Evaluation of Christopher J. H. Wright – Part Three

Introduction

This is the second post in a series critiquing Gary Millar’s “A Biblical Theology of Mission: An Evaluation of Chris Wright” delivered at the 2013 Gospel Coalition National Conference. This post will take one or more of Millar’s main sections, as outlined here, and further develop his content as well as offering critique when necessary.

Posts in this Series

Summary

The Mission of God Overview

Summarizing Millar’s overview. Millar mingles overview with critique so it is helpful to begin by distilling his overview into a positive summary of the four sections contained within Christopher J. h. Wright’s The Mission of God. This is both helpful in understanding Wright’s work and the broader context into which Millar’s critique fits.

  • 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.

Examining Millar’s overview. Now we will work through Millar’s summary, of parts two through four, both to develop his content and offer critique when necessary. Part one was covered in the previous post, available here.

  • 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.

Millar explains that part two of The Mission of God, “is much more straightforward and offers really helpful engagement both with the biblical text and along the way with some key methodological and missiological issues.” In what follows Wright argues that there are two key locations where Israel comes to know their God, the exodus and the return from exile. Millar notes that Wright then builds on much of his previous work to deliver “an excellent defense of biblical monotheism, a really helpful treatment of idolatry, and a critique of religious pluralism. In doing this Wright is working out a radical God-centered vision of mission in the church and in the world.”

  • 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.

Before diving into part three, which Millar describes as generally very helpful, he begins with a few quibbles as he puts it. The first of these is on page 195. Where Wright describes the fall saying, “the soil comes under the curse of God and the earth no longer responds to human touch as it should.” Millar goes on to say that Wright’s explanation, “makes the fall sound like a minor inconvenience for market gardeners than anything else.” He goes on to explain that these quibbles are the exception and explains that Wrights link between the Tower of Babel and the call of Abraham is brilliant. Again this is another misleading and dismissive remark that must cause the review to seriously question the validity of Millar’s critique.

If that was indeed all that Wright said about the fall then Millar would be correct in pointing out that this description fails to capture the pervasive and devastating effects of the curse. Within its immediate context it is clear that Millar is painting a less than accurate picture for the hearers of this lecture.

The result of this human seizure of moral autonomy is radical fracture in all the relationships established in creation. Human beings hide from God in guilty fear. Men and women can no longer face one another without shame and blame. The soil comes under the curse of God and the earth no longer responds to human tough as it should (195).

So indeed Wright has a very comprehensive understanding of the effects of human rebellion upon all of mans relationships. Man is at enmity with his creator, his fellow man, and the creation. This reviewer would have preferred stronger language here, as well as an explanation of man being at enmity with himself, but it is not as inadequate of a description as Millar would have us to believe.

Moving on, Wright’s argument in part three is the primacy of mission in the election of Israel, meaning that Israel was chosen for mission. Wright argues that this is the controlling idea in the Old Testament. Millar responds that these arguments sound thin and lack exegetical support. Specifically Millar is concerned with Wright’s view that the Exodus shapes our approach to mission and would rather us see it as a spiritual reality fulfilled in Christ. Millar explains, “He argues that a model of exodus which sees it simply foreshadowing the redemptive work of God in Christ, it’s not so much unbiblical it’s not biblical enough.” As an example he quotes Wright,

It would seem more appropriate to link the exodus to the cross not so much in terms of release from slavery to our own sin (which of course is gloriously also part of this reality) but in terms of release from slavery to all that oppresses human life and well-being and opposes God (278).

Millar then concludes, “So if we are to be involved in the mission of God, which began in some sense at the exodus, we don’t simply need to deal with people’s sin we need to deal with ‘all that oppresses human life and well-being and opposes God.’”

Wright then, in similar fashion to the Exodus, argues that the Jubilee encapsulates the heart of God’s missional agenda serving as another repeatable paradigm for mission. Furthermore, the priesthood of Israel is also a controlling idea in the Old Testament. Wright does a fantastic job defending all of these points and establishing why the cosmic effects of human rebellion and sin are met with an equally cosmic redemptive mission from God and he does so by addressing the issue biblical theologically. Millar however moves quite quickly through this summary and while offering some critique he does not take time to counter Wrights supporting arguments.

  • 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.

Millar finds this to be the most problematic section of the entire work. Here Wright asserts that we need to operate with an understanding of the relationship between God, humanity, and the earth. The Genesis 1:27 mandate to work and serve the earth is ecological and mission to the non-human part of creation is still mission. Millar explains this later in his evaluation but it is important to note here that according to Wright mission must include evangelism and the declaring of God’s Word, a call to repentance, faith, and obedience. If one were to engage in a purely ecological mission then Wright would consider that kind of mission to be incomplete and defective.

Again Millar quips that the vast amount of biblical literature covered makes this book difficult to understand and to critique. While he made the assertion earlier that Wright’s arguments were thin and lack clear exegetical support Millar now moves to complain that this section’s abundance of exegetical support make it difficult to grasp. The continued use of such dismissive statements, while failing to dissect Wright’s actual arguments, is not helpful in any sense. If Wright is incorrect please do not dismiss his argument take the time to demonstrate its error.

Wright is concerned that we must develop “a radical and comprehensive understanding of sin and evil” (429). Which Wright goes on to explain, “Sin spreads horizontally within society and sin propagates itself vertically between generations. It thus generates contexts and connections that are laden with collective sin. Sin becomes endemic, structural, and embedded in history” (431). Millar concludes that while Wright can express himself beautifully he doubts whether or not there is biblical warrant behind these formulations. Again Millar has reduced Wright’s argument for the sake of a quick dismissal. Wright devotes an entire chapter to the topic of mission and creation and demonstrates the validity of this assertion by describing how Scripture describes sin as spreading horizontally, vertically, and how it “becomes endemic, structural, and embedded in history.” Furthermore, he then counters arguments against this position and provides the example of AIDs to show how “only a holistic missional approach [can] even begin to address the issue” (439). Millar has left the audience with the impression that Wright has not done the exegetical leg work to support his thesis and is relying upon his eloquence to support his point when this is not the case.

He then moves to explain how Wright understands of the connection between God and the nations; quoting Wright, “The nations of humanity preoccupy the biblical narrative from beginning to end” (454). Millar then attributes the following quote to Wright, which was actually taken from Duane L Christensen’s definition of “Nations” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, “The nations are the matrix of Israel’s life, the raison d’être of her very existence.”

In the end Millar concludes that while this section is very helpful, “there is a sense in which Chris is putting a positive spin on a wealth of fairly negative material. He does have a tendency to view all passages regarding the nations as intrinsically positive.” He notes that Wright’s treatment of this topic is not proportionate to that of Scripture as he devotes one page, in a fifty page section, to the judgment of God upon the nations while Scripture seems to spend far more time on the topic. “To put it bluntly when the judgment of the nations is mentioned it is either skimmed over or relativized by going straight to the judgment of Israel too.”

As at other points Millar is being profoundly reductionistic here as well. Wright divides his section on the nations into two chapters “God and the Nations in Old Testament Vision” and “God and the Nations in New Testament Mission.” Within the chapter on the Old Testament Vision he begins by addressing “The Nations in Creation and Providence” where he begins by working from creation to new creation explaining how the nations and all of their diversity is a glorious reality that will be carried over into worship before the throne of God. After establishing the glorious reality of this diversity and God’s sovereign control over the nations he moves to explain how all nations exist under the judgment of God and the Old Testament reality that any nation can be the agent who carries out God’s justice. This takes several pages rather than the one page that Millar describes in his talk. And from this Wright concludes “the overwhelming message is consistent. All nations are in the hands of YHWH, the living God” (460). “Against such a bleak background, God’s mission to bless the nations and the mission of God’s people as the vehicle of such blessing constitute very good news indeed” (458). This is not a skimming over of judgment but a vivid description of the imminent judgment of God. The rest of the material is positive as he looks toward the fulfillment of the covenant promises as the nations witness the good and bad of Israel’s history, as the nations partake in Israel’s blessing, as the nations worship Israel’s God, and as the nations are included in Israel’s identity. All of this before he begins to look at the nations in the New Testament mission. This reviewer agrees the tone here is positive. But why wouldn’t it be? God is sovereignly bringing about his purposes through judgment and mercy, blessing and curse, God is redeeming a people for Himself and removing the curse from the whole of creation; this is indeed good news. It is a wonder why this disturbs Millar.

This concludes Millar’s overview of The Mission of God. His closing summary and remarks will be the subject of the next post.

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Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Law

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled Jesus on Every Page; these are my notes from those classes.

I. Law in the Context of Grace

A. Freed unto Worship

  • “Before God gave Israel his law he gave them himself, as their redeemer. . .  In his grace and in faithfulness to his covenant promise, he had acted first and redeemed them.  He had not sent Moses with the ten commandments under his cloak to tell Israel that if they would keep the law, God would save them.  Precisely the other way around.  He saved them and then asked them to keep his law in response. . .  Obedience flows from grace; it does not buy it.”[1]

B. The Testimony of Scripture

  • The Nature of the Promise

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise (Galatians 3:16-18).

What is Paul’s point here?  How does he explain the relationship between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants?  Paul is explaining that God’s promise to Abraham, like the one in the garden, finds its fulfillment not in Abraham’s offspring in a general or plural sense but specifically in the singular offspring who is Jesus Christ.  Jesus will possess the gates of his enemies and in Christ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  Because this promise came before the promise to Moses it supersedes it and therefore law keeping cannot be a means of obtaining the inheritance.

  • Grace and Redemption Precede the Giving of the Law

1On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  2They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness.  There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3while Moses went up to God.  The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:1-6).

  • The Law Comes as a Result of the Promise

20“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt.  And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  22And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.  23And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.  24And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.  25And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us’ (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

Because of His promise the Lord rescues His people from bondage and gives them the law.

II. Principles for Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Law

A. The Law Keeping is Not, Nor was it Ever, an Alternate Way to Establish Relationship with God

  • “The law of God is not a system of merit whereby the unsaved seek to earn divine favor but a pattern of life given by the Redeemer to the redeemed so that they might know how to live for his good pleasure.”[2]  Tim Keller puts it this way,

Traditional religion teaches that if we do good deeds and follow the moral rules in our external behavior, God will come into our hearts, bless us, and give us salvation.  In other words, if I obey, God will love and accept me.  But the gospel is the reverse of this: If I know in my heart that God has accepted me and loves me freely by grace, then I can begin to obey, out of inner joy and gratitude.  Religion is outside in, but the gospel is inside out.[3]

So we must be careful not to confuse the religion of the Pharisees with the gracious giving of the law to Israel.

B. Because of His Grace and in Fulfillment of the Promise Christ Keeps the Law on Our Behalf

  • We have seen this clearly outlined for us as we have gone through the Gospel of Luke.  From His birth, circumcision, baptism to His desert triumph over the Tempter and teaching; Luke presents Him as the keeper of the law as the true Adam and faithful Israel.  Jesus lives, dies, and is resurrected on our behalf.

C. The Division of the Law into Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial is Arbitrary at Best

  • The Ten Commandments set forth how we are to image and worship God then “after stating the law in broad, prescriptive, and principial terms, Moses begins the process of applying the Ten Commandments to the historical situation of Israel.”[4]  The law is therefore to be viewed as a unified application of the Ten Commandments to the whole of Israel’s life.  This “is what we find in the teaching of Jesus.  It was not just a repetition of all the laws, like a shopping list.  Nor was it a new law that disregarded the original.  Rather, he restored the true perspective and essential point of the law.  He brought back the urgent appeal of Moses for a single-minded, uncomplicated loyalty to God.”[5]
  • There are differing views on this.  David Murray, the author of Jesus on Every Page, argues that the moral law was given to Adam and Eve and is imbedded in the human conscience and was given to Moses in written form.  The ceremonies prescribed by the Ceremonial law were abolished as Christ has replaced the tabernacle and temple.  The civil law of Israel ceased to exist with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  I do not, however, find Murray’s argument to be convincing.

D. The Structure of the Pentateuch Anticipates a Time of Eschatological Fulfillment

  • “The outlook is eschatological and anticipates a time when that which the law did not achieve in Israel will be the reality.”[6]  From the rebellion of Adam to the golden calf and culminating in the covenant in Deuteronomy the narrative structure of the Pentateuch points to a fulfillment beyond itself (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

III. Encouragement Along the Way

A. Looking Beyond the Covenants Thus Far

  • “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
  • With the mention of heart circumcision as a divine enabling to fulfill the greatest commandment the Pentateuch closes and anticipates something beyond the covenant with Abraham and the covenants with Moses/Israel.

IV. Examples of Jesus in the Old Testament Law

  • The Confirmation of the Covenant – The covenant is inaugurated with the building of an altar, the burning of a sacrifice, and the pouring of blood upon the redeemed covenant community of Israel (Exodus 24:1-8).  What was spread upon the doorposts at Passover in poured out upon the covenant community with the confirmation of this covenant and as redemptive history unfolds and the anticipation of a greater covenant grows so does the apparent need for a greater sacrifice.
  • The Patient and Gracious Covenant Lord – “The inescapable truth is that the grace of God continues to shine upon a people whose major claim to fame is the suicidal ability to break the covenant.”[7]  “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).
  • The Curse of the Law – The covenants were structured with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.  Galatians tells us that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).

 


[1]Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), 192-93.
[2]J. A. Moyter, “Biblical Concept of Law,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter E. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 624.
[3]Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 47.
[4]Michael D. Williams, Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 164.
[5]Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 191.
[6]Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 165.
[7]Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,158.

Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Characters

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled Jesus on Every Page; these are my notes from those classes.

I. The Failure of Moralistic Readings

A. Man-Centered

  • “It tends to put man and his needs in the foreground with God and His glory in the background.”[1]

B. Works-Based

  • “It focuses on what we should and shouldn’t do rather than on what God has done and is doing.”[2]

C. Context-Ignoring

  • It ignores the historical, cultural and redemptive contexts and leaps directly to the quandaries of modern man.  We saw this last week looking at Genesis 1-2.  Knowing that Moses wrote the Pentateuch sometime after the Exodus and sometime before Israel entered the Promised Land informs us of God’s intent in revealing these things to Moses and Israel.

D. Narrative-Fragmenting

  • It divides the sweeping narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation into disconnected narratives that lose their place in the unified whole.  This panoramic picture of God’s grace and glory is reduced to tiny snapshots about men.

E. Christ-Less

  • “When an Old Testament story is detached from the sweep of redemptive history, it often results in God-sermons but not Jesus-sermons.  Some Sermons, books, and Bible studies on Old Testament characters could easily have been taught by non-Christian religions.”[3]

II. Principles for Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Characters

A. David Murray’s Fifteen Places to Find Jesus in the Old Testament Characters[4]

1.   “The Control of Jesus”

2.   “The Character of Jesus”

3.   “The Church of Jesus”

4.   “The Crimes Against Jesus”

5.   “The Contrast with Jesus”

6. “The Call for   Jesus”

7. “The Confession   to Jesus”

8.   “The Compassion of Jesus”

9. “Conversion to   Jesus”

10. “Confidence in   Jesus”

11. “The   Copy of Jesus”

12. “The   Command of Jesus”

13. “The   Cross of Jesus”

14. “The   Call of Jesus”

15. “The   Crowning of Jesus”

B. A Simpler Approach

  1. The Offices of Christ – All of the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings point us to Christ in both their successes and failures.  Unlike the prophets of old with all their failures Jesus comes as the perfect Word of God.  Unlike the priests’ whose sacrifices could never take away sin Jesus comes as our perfect High Priest and our spotless Lamb.  Unlike the failed kings of Israel Jesus comes as the Davidic King, the Lion of Judah, who makes His enemies His footstool.
  2. The Character of Christ – Every individual in the Old Testament in both obedience and rebellion points us toward Jesus.  Joseph’s grace towards his brothers points us forward to grace and forgiveness in Christ.  The murderous rage of Cain points us towards the one who does not seek to exalt Himself by taking life but humbles Himself and gives His life.  The totality of human activity in the Old Testament, and indeed in cosmic history, points us towards Christ.  When we see justice we see a shadow of Jesus, who is perfectly just, when we see injustice we yearn for the perfect justice of Jesus.
  3. The Works of Christ – The work of Christ in the New Testament is foreshadowed by the works of Old Testament individuals.  We see this in everything from intercession and forgiveness to suffering and judgment.

III. Encouragement Along the Way

A. Who are We Looking for Anyway?

  • “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’” (Genesis 3:14-15).

B. We are Not the Only Ones Looking

  • “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands’” (Genesis 5:28-29).

IV. Examples of Jesus in Old Testament Characters

  1. Adam – Adam was a prophet, priest, and king.  This points us to the fulfillment of these offices in Jesus.  With the fall of man Adams’ failure as a prophet, to speak truth to Eve and the Serpent, points us to Jesus the true word of God.  His failure as a priest removed him from God’s presence and this points us towards Jesus, in whom we have access to God.  His failure as a king who subdues creation has brought the entire creation into conflict with man and Jesus comes speaking calm to the raging seas and healing the afflicted.
  2. Noah – Just as Noah finds shelter from the coming wrath in the ark so we find that we are to find shelter from the coming wrath in Jesus.
  3. Moses – Just as Moses speaks the word of God and his face shines with the glory of the Lord so too does Jesus radiate the father’s glory.
  4. Pharaoh – As Pharaoh holds the people of God in bondage we should yearn for Jesus who sets us free from bondage and whose yoke is easy and burden is light.
  5. Abraham – As Abraham intercedes for Sodom, and specifically Lot, we should be reminded of Jesus our intercessor.  Later in the Old Testament Eli asks his rebellious sons “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him” (I Samuel 2:25a)?
  6. Isaac – There are so much here that should point us to Christ but Hebrews 11 notes that this is a picture of the resurrection.  Abraham receives his son back from the dead because of a substitute.
  7. David – David, as the Lord’s anointed, does what the people of God cannot do for themselves; he vanquishes the enemy of the people of God and secures their freedom just as Jesus triumphs over Satan and death.
  8. Boaz – As a kinsman-redeemer Boaz redeems and restores Ruth this theme runs throughout the Old Testament and points us towards redemption in Christ.
  9. Hosea – Hosea redeems his faithless wife; he buys back what is rightfully his.  This is a picture of God’s faithfulness towards faithless Israel and ultimately a picture of Jesus who offers Himself to purchase the people of God.

[1]David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 55.
[1]Ibid., 56.
[1]Ibid., 56.
[1]Ibid., 54-72.

The Mission of God, Islam, and Beyond

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled The Church, the Gospel, and the Ends of the Earth; these are my notes from those classes.

I. Introduction

One of the things we did overseas was organize various trips where churches would send college students over to various cultural experiences we had planned.  So we had students rooming with Muslim college students engaging in various cultural and academic projects and at one point one of the students, who was also a religious leader at his school, confronted his roommate and said, “I know why you are here.  You are here to convert us.  If you were anyone else I would have you arrested and immediately thrown out of the country.”  This student was a spiritual leader on his campus and he did not turn us in to the authorities.  Why would he do this?  He didn’t turn us in because of their relationship.

We live in America our perspective of Islam is skewed because of events like 9/11 and the recent bombing in Boston.  But we have to step out that American paradigm and view this through the lens of the gospel.  If you remember anything from this morning remember the importance of relationship.  I am not going to break Islam down theologically today; if you want resources on that let me know as I have written much on that topic.  I want us to look at how the gospel speaks to the Islamic worldview as well as several other worldviews.  But if you want to understand Islam theologically make a friend, talk to a Muslim, and find out what they believe.

II. The Challenge of Islam

In a way the challenge of Islam is no different than the challenges we face with any other worldview.  At the same time international politics and the reality of terrorism do present a challenge, not so much for us as followers of Christ, but for us as Americans.  So we must view these issues through the lens of the Gospel.  Albert Mohler addresses this tension in a recent article asking,

Do American Christians really believe that Christianity benefits by being associated with all that America represents to the Muslim world?  To many Muslims, America appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion, and sexual revolution.  Does it help our witness to Christ that all this would be associated in the Muslim mind with “Christian” America?  Beyond any historical doubt, the United States was established by founders whose worldview was shaped, in most cases quite self-consciously, by the Christian faith. . .  But America is not, by definition, a Christian nation in any helpful sense.[1]

It is important that we not let our United States citizenship become an obstacle when proclaiming the Gospel.

III. Communicating the Gospel through Culture

A lot of what missions and evangelism is about has been framed in terms of communicating cross-culturally.  The missionary must bridge a cultural gap between themselves and their hearers.  However, in the incarnation Jesus does not bridge a cultural gap.  He becomes a Jewish man and communicates the good news through that Jewish culture.  We too are called to incarnational ministry and I want to look at how we can communicate the gospel through culture.

Robert E. Webber writes, “In a world of competing stories, we call evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s Word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of evangelical life.”[2]  That is why our current preaching series is entitled “Luke, The Truth: Our Savior, Our Story.”  This story, this gospel that bridges from creation to recreation, shapes the whole of our existence.  And furthermore this story is not simply our story; this is everyone’s story, because it is God’s story.  It is the narrative of God’s gracious redemption set forth before the foundation of the world.  Because this is God’s story we can communicate the Gospel through culture rather than treating the Gospel as if it is a foreign element that must be forced into culture.  As the elements of the Gospel are already imbedded in culture, though we have become experts at suppressing them, we must learn to communicate the story of redemption in a way that undoes all rival stories.

Now let’s break this down into something really simple.  Every rival narrative, every culture can be understood in terms of three tensions.[3]  Does anyone know what two tensions characterize the western worldview?  What about a South American or African animistic worldview?  What about the worldview of a Japanese business man and a Muslim Imam?  So these three tensions of guilt and innocence, power and weakness, and honor and shame explain the worldview of any culture you will come into contact with.

A. Guilt and Innocence

As westerners we are concerned with right and wrong.  We frame the Gospel in terms of penal substitutionary atonement and the central theme of all our evangelistic methods is our guilt, it is about justice and forgiveness in Christ.

But the other themes are there too right?  Can anyone give me an example of honor and shame in western culture?  No matter how many times Pitbull and Ne-yo sing “we might not get tomorrow, let’s do it tonight” and all the freedom brought about by the sexual revolution if you go to any university in America, that still has separate men’s and women’s dormitories, there will likely be a path in between them known as the walk of shame.  So no matter what we do to suppress it these themes are embedded in who we are as humans.

B. Power and Weakness/Fear

Can anyone give me an example of a power and weakness, or power and fear, worldview?  I really tried to bring this theme out when looking at the temptation of Christ.  Jesus overcomes for us and liberates us from our fears; He has triumphed over our enemies at the cross.

C. Honor and Shame

I can distinctly remember pacing near that bus stop for an hour waiting for our friend to arrive so we could go to the market together.  He has promised to meet us there and continued to reassure me via text message that he was on his way.  Unfortunately I was thinking like an American I didn’t understand what was happening.  So I called and informed him that it would be dark soon and we needed to go, basically I was hungry and wanted food, he assured me he was on his way.  I asked him where he was and then I found out that he was working on a school project four hours away.  I brought shame upon my friend, I called him out for breaking his promise.  He would rather maintain his honor, by insisting that he was coming, than endure the shame of admitting that he forgot about his project and would not be going to the market with us.  It didn’t bother me, but I am sure that conversation bothered him a lot.

IV.  A Complete Gospel

The gospel speaks to these three tensions.  Jesus bears the wrath of God so that God can justify the ungodly, He becomes sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God.  Just as God clothed Adam and Eve in the garden God covers our shame, He will not put those to shame who believe in Him.  He has triumphed over our enemies in the cross and He has been given all power and authority and we will reign with Him.  So at the end of the day my central encouragement to you is not that you go read a book on apologetics and find out all the answers to the really hard questions in life.  No, my encouragement is that you start a conversation and make a friend all the while knowing that not only does the gospel answer those hard questions more importantly it answers the questions that matter.  So get to know someone, know what their questions are, what their struggles are, and then explain how the gospel makes us righteous, covers our shame, and overcomes our enemies.


[1]R. Albert Mohler Jr., “The Challenge of Islam—A Christian Perspective,” Southern Seminary Magazine 81.3 (2013): 28.
[2]Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 120.
[3]For a more in-depth discussion of this please see Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (n.p.: Xlibris Corporation, 2000).

Gary Millar’s Evaluation of Christopher J. H. Wright – Part Two

Introduction

This is the second post in a series critiquing Gary Millar’s “A Biblical Theology of Mission: An Evaluation of Chris Wright” delivered at the 2013 Gospel Coalition National Conference.  This post will take one or more of Millar’s main sections, as outlined here, and further develop his content as well as offering critique when necessary.

Posts in this Series

Summary

The Mission of God Overview

Summarizing Millar’s overview.  Millar mingles overview with critique so it is helpful to begin by distilling his overview into a positive summary of the four sections contained within Christopher J. h. Wright’s The Mission of God.  This is both helpful in understanding Wright’s work and the broader context into which Millar’s critique fits.

  • 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.

Examining Millar’s overview.  Now we will work through Millar’s summary both to develop his content and offer critique when necessary.

  • Part 1: The Bible and Mission – The main argument up to this point 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.

Millar begins by explaining that the first part of the book is where “he [Wright] justifies his approach and introduces his key terms and conclusions.”  Here Wright begins with a brief autobiography, and Millar makes emphasis of their shared Northern Irish origins, explaining what it was like to grow up with the understanding that only proclamation evangelism can be considered mission and that only when done outside of your homeland.  From this Millar concludes that this book is reactive not proactive.

Wright then moves to define what he means by “mission,” “missionary,” “missional,” “missiology and missiological.”  Without any explanation regarding Wright’s definition of “mission” Millar quips,

Which, if you were listening this morning, you will see is rather different than the one that uh that John offered.  Chris quickly identifies the mission of God is the driving force behind all that we do.  The engine room of the whole book and actually a helpful insight is the quotation we have already seen a couple of times that fundamentally our mission is participation in God’s mission.

Earlier that morning John Piper, in a sermon entitled “The Heart of God in the Call to Proclaim: A Joyfully Serious Courage in the Cause of World Missions,” gave the following definition of mission,

Missions is the great and glorious calling of Jesus for the church to make disciples among the remaining unreached peoples of the world. Local evangelism and frontier missions are not the same. Frontier missions is the specialized calling to plant the church in a people group where the church hasn’t yet taken root.  (This is the wording given in the transcript, available here.  It has been slightly altered from the exact language of the conference but expresses the same thought.)

With that definition of missions in mind Millar dismisses Wright’s definition of mission without any examination or counterarguments.  He simply implies that Wright does not define mission the same way Piper does therefore Wright’s definition is to be dismissed and he moves on to define Wright’s key terms.  Now, is this actually the case?  Does Wright define missions all that differently than Piper does?  Beyond that is Piper’s definition so universally accepted and argument so airtight that there is no room for critique?  In his book Let The Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions John Piper defines missions in strikingly similar terminology to that of Wright.

Piper argues with Wright that mission belongs to God and that our mission is participation in God’s mission as demonstrated by the following three quotations from Let the Nations be Glad.

Missions flows from the fullness of God’s passion for God, and it aims at the participation of the nations in the very passion that he has for himself (cf. Matt. 25:21, 23; John 15:11; 17:13, 26).  The power of the missionary enterprise is to be caught up into God’s fuel and God’s goal.  And that means being caught up in worship.[1]

God’s goal is that his Son’s name be exalted and honored among all the peoples of the world, for when the Son is honored, the Father is honored (Mark 9:37).  When every knee bows at the name of Jesus, it will be ‘to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil. 2:10-11).  Therefore, God-centered missions exists for the sake of the name of Jesus.[2]

God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshippers for himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of his name among the nations.  Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with his, and, for the sake of his name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join his global purpose.[3]

Millar’s dismissal of Wright’s definition of mission, because it is different from Piper’s, is without basis as both Piper and Wright argue that our mission is participation in God’s mission, in God’s global purpose.

There are distinctions to be drawn between the missiology of Piper and Wright; however, these distinctions have nothing to do with Wright’s definition that Millar so quickly dismisses.  The distinction lies between their understanding of the similarities and differences between missions and evangelism; this is evident in the excerpt from Pipers sermon above.  However, in Let the Nations be Glad Piper takes a less polarized stance and even admits to the difficulty of drawing distinctions between these two tasks.  He explains,

The task of evangelism is not the same as missions.  Missions is what moved Paul away from the peoples of Asia Minor and Greece (even from those who were still unconverted!) and pressed him toward the unreached peoples of Spain (Rom. 15:24, 28). . .  there are not two clearly distinct tasks (domestic evangelism vs. frontier missions) but rather graduations of cultural distance from the Christian community.  Where that distance becomes so great that we start calling its penetration “missions” is not always clear.[4]

So while Piper maintains a distinction between missions and evangelism, which Wright does not do, he does so admitting that these tasks are not distinct and delineating points of distinction is a difficult if not impossible task.  Whereas Wright would not draw a distinction between missions and evangelism Piper draws a distinction while admitting the difficulty of and lack of clarity in doing so.  Millar’s dismissal of Wright’s definition is therefore unwarranted.

This unwarranted dismissal is quite unfortunate in terms of Millar’s central argument.  If Millar truly believes his concluding thought, that this book will result in the end of mission, then he should not be dismissing Wright’s definition so casually.  This is a major support structure for Wright’s entire argument in The Mission of God and therefore Millar should be dealing with it accordingly.  He should demonstrate why this definition is incorrect, unbiblical, and cannot support the weight of the argument which it serves to support.  While this reviewer disagrees with Millar’s fears if there is any merit to them then they necessitate a far more serious examination of Wright’s definition than the one given in this talk.

After defining what he means by “mission,” “missionary,” “missional,” “missiology and missiological” the reader is introduced to Wright’s concept of a missional hermeneutic.  Millar explains two ways that Wright uses “missional hermeneutic.”  First, “that the mission of God is the central idea in biblical theology.”  Millar notes that this would simply put Wright’s work in the realm of other biblical theologies which argue for a central unifying theme in the biblical narrative and the reader would simply be tasked with evaluating whether or not this is indeed the case.  Secondly, Wright uses this to describe a method of reading the Bible.  Millar argues this is confusing as he never adequately explains this.  Millar asks “is this then the only way of reading the Bible?  Is it one of many ways of reading the Bible?  Is this the best way of reading the Bible?”  He then argues that Wright has likely set aside the doctrine of Scripture due to much conversation with missiologists who have a lesser view of Scripture than himself.

Before addressing Millar’s critique of Wright’s missional hermeneutic, as he has more to say about it, this accusation must be addressed.  This accusation is misleading and without support as the discussion of a missional hermeneutic takes place within a larger explanation of biblical authority where Wright urges the reader to move beyond proof texting and recognize the larger authority structure of Scripture.  He begins by explaining the importance of the authority of the commands of Scripture, and then moves to explain how reality has an authoritative structure.  Within reality we are confronted with the reality of God, the reality of the biblical narrative, and the reality of our identity as the people of God.  Finally, he concludes with the authority of Jesus, where all of the previous structures find their authoritative climax.  As the word of God the commands of Scripture are the commands of Christ, in Christ we meet God, the entire biblical narrative finds fulfillment in Jesus, and our identity as the people of God is defined in Christ.  Wight explains how this works using the giving of the law.  “The narrative expresses the indicative: Here is what has happened in your history, and these are the things that YHWH your God has done.  Then the law expresses the responsive imperative: Now then, this is how you must behave in the light of such facts [in the light of reality].”  Nowhere is there any hint of Wright setting aside the doctrine of Scripture; rather he upholds it and presents the reader with a robust theology of biblical authority in the process.

In an attempt to support his critique Millar quotes a key summary statement made by Wright,

So a missional hermeneutic must include at least this recognition—the multiplicity of perspectives and contexts from which and within which people read the biblical texts.  Even when we affirm (as I certainly do) that the historical and salvation-historical context of biblical texts and their authors is of primary and objective importance in discerning their meaning and their significance, the plurality of perspectives from which readers read them is also a vital factor in the hermeneutical richness of the global church (39).

Millar jests, “There you go if you can explain that to me I would be most delighted, come and tell me what it means after.”  At this point a trend has emerged which causes this reviewer to seriously consider the spirit in which this critique is being given and casts suspicion and doubt upon the sincerity of Millar’s introduction pointing to their shared Northern Ireland origins and his fondness of Wright’s work.

For anyone remotely familiar with missiology and contextualization Wright’s point in the quote above is quite clear.  After Millar feigns confusion he states, “I think he’s saying that a missional hermeneutic sometimes makes sure that we don’t assume our culture is the only one who can read the Bible properly.”  While that is an important thought Wright actually goes further to state that the global church benefits from the plurality of perspectives from which we approach the biblical text.  The global church benefits from the gleanings of collectivist cultures and individualistic societies.  It benefits from those who read from a power and weakness worldview as well as from those who read from an honor and shame worldview.  Wright is arguing that as we approach the text from these different perspectives we are able to see how one individual’s culture affects their reading of the text, for better and for worse, and they are able to do the same for us.  Therefore, the global church is better able to arrive at a culturally unbiased reading of the text as we interact with one another then we could arrive at when left on our own.

Millar then makes another dismissive critique, “in fact at one point Chris argues that his missional hermeneutic, as he calls it, actually subsumes liberation theology, post modern readings, overcomes them all, but doesn’t become relativistic.  Now, these are huge claims but they are not defended all that robustly.”  Once more Millar offers no explanation of the weaknesses in Wright’s defense and paints no picture of what a more robust defense might look like.  Wright’s thought here comes out as an implication of a missional hermeneutic.  Because of “the multiplicity of perspectives and contexts from which and within which people read the biblical texts” the global church is able to learn from liberation and postmodern readings while recognizing and correcting the points at which their culture moves from illuminating the text to being imposed upon the text. Using postmodernity as an example he notes the importance of narrative within the postmodern mind and so we accept this correction but we do so while maintaining that the biblical narrative “is nevertheless actually the story” and all of our little stores make sense only within this larger story.  So a missional hermeneutic allows for postmodernity’s correction of modernistic readings and allows the church to better balance truth as proposition (modernistic readings) and truth as metanarrative (postmodern readings).  While Wright offers far more depth in his explanation that overview should be sufficient enough to demonstrate once more that Millar’s dismissive critique is without basis.

Wright then explains that the Bible is both about mission and a product of mission.  Millar agrees and notes that this is particularly obvious in the New Testament epistles.  Then Millar explains how Wright introduces the third major conclusion of this text that “the Great Commandment is as important as the Great Commission in seeking to reach the world.”  This comes as Wright explores the relationship between mission and authority which Millar explains as summarized best by Wrights statement, “A missional hermeneutic takes the indicative and the imperative of the biblical revelation with equal seriousness, and interprets each in the light of the other” (61).  Wright then concludes the first section of his book by drawing a hermeneutical map where, “not only do the major features of the landscape stand out clearly but also other less well-trodden paths and less scenic scholarly tourist attractions turn out to have surprising and fruitful connections with the main panorama” (69).  The main argument up to this point 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.


[1]John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God In Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 36.
[2]Ibid., 38-39.
[3]Ibid., 43.
[4]Ibid., 194-95.