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

Introduction

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

Summary

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.”

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Bottoms Up: Reflections on Alcohol and the Word of God

Messiah BoldWithin “American Christianity” there is a longstanding tradition of legalism when it comes to the consumption of alcohol; however, this tradition is not as old as you may think. It was not until Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch, a Methodist minister and the founder of Welch’s, developed a pasteurization process in 1869 that it became possible to produce and store unfermented grape juice for use in communion. Welch was a staunch prohibitionist and proceeded to persuade churches in New Jersey to abandon the use of fermented beverages and use his “unfermented wine” when celebrating the Lord’s Supper. His denomination then helped to spearhead the movement that led to the prohibition and now it is fairly normative that churches in America use Welch’s grape juice, or a generic equivalent, for communion.

When one views this phenomenon over the course of church history the current practice is an odd one indeed. From the church’s inception till the early twentieth century, that is twenty centuries for those of you who are mathematically impaired, the normative practice of the church has been to use fermented wine to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, not to mention its use in the home and for virtually every other celebration. Furthermore, if one views this phenomenon as it occurs within the global church the practice of most American churches stands out as an oddity as well with our little plastic cups and our unfermented wine. In fact if one were to explain this to Christians outside of America one would be surprised to discover how many would question whether or not our practice is biblical, after all Jesus used wine.

All of that is simply to give you a context in which to understand my reflections. How your church practices communion is neither here nor there; my main concern in this post is addressing the sinful and legalistic mindset that believes godliness necessitates abstinence. Such legalism is just as deadly and far more subtle than drunkenness; especially when it becomes a predominant expression of holiness within the church.

  • Scripture is undeniably opposed to the sin of drunkenness (Romans 13:13; I Corinthians 5:11; 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:18).
  • The priests were forbidden from drinking “wine and strong drink” when serving in the Tabernacle; however, when they were not serving they were commanded by God to drink “the best of the wine,” were to drink it as something “most holy,” and they were to drink it in a “most holy place” (Numbers 18:8-32).
  • Drink offerings were pleasing to the Lord (Exodus 29:38-41).
  • Jesus’ first miracle was to turn 120 to 180 gallons of water into wine at a wedding where the guests were already drunk (John 2:1-11). With this miracle Jesus would have been forbidden to minister by many American denominations; I find this very problematic.
  • Jesus compared the gospel to wine (Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-39).
  • Jesus drank wine and spent so much time eating and drinking with sinners that He was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:18-19).
  • Elders and deacons are not to be drunkards (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).
  • Paul, an apostle, instructed Timothy, an elder, to drink wine for his stomach (I Timothy 5:23).
  • When Paul addresses the Corinthian church concerning the Lord’s Supper he rebukes their drunkenness rather than their use of wine. Furthermore, his rebuke speaks primarily to their self-centered gluttony, i.e. he wrote to make sure that all in the church at Corinth were able to partake of the wine rather than a thirsty minority (I Corinthians 11:17-34).
  • The argument that wine during ancient times had a lower alcohol content than the alcoholic beverages of today is an inadequate justification for mandatory abstinence. Regardless of its alcohol content it is clear from Scripture that individuals were able to, and in many cases did, become drunk from drinking it in excess. It is also evident from Scripture that the OT priests, Jesus, the twelve apostles, and the vast majority of the early church were able to drink wine in moderation and avoid drunkenness. In the same way one can drink modern alcoholic beverages in excess and become drunk and one can drink modern alcoholic beverages in moderation and remain sober minded. The key in both situations is not the relative alcohol content of the beverage in question but its consumption in either moderation or excess.

As we approach this issue let us do so with both a wisdom that avoids the deadly dangers of legalism and liberalism. If you choose to discuss please do so with charity.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
—I Corinthians 10:31

The Absurdity of Emergent Rhetoric on Mission

This past Sunday I was reading the “Faith and Values” section of The Lexington Herald Leader and came across an interesting article entitled “Evangelicals must rethink mission.” It was written by Chuck Queen the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY and the title immediately piqued my interest. You can read the article in its entirety by clicking on the link above as only excerpts and critique will be given below.

He begins by urging us to rethink mission an then points the reader to Luke 4:18-19 and explains that Jesus is not mandating “a triumphalistic missionary enterprise that seeks to impose a particular set of beliefs and culture on people who have a different set of beliefs and culture.” Rather the mission of Jesus “was a mission to the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, and the spiritually blind. . . . Jesus realized that spiritual oppression from sin could not be separated from economical, political, and social oppression from the powers that be.”

I agree Jesus did not come to impose a particular culture; however, I always find it odd to hear individuals claiming “Jesus was concerned about the total person” and then reducing his ministry to a mere social ministry. How can Jesus minister to the total person if He comes only to shape their sociopolitical circumstances and not their belief structures as well?

The article continues:
Jesus’ vision for humanity was that of a world under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails. When a crowd of people tried to get Jesus to stay in their town Jesus said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (God’s vision for the world) to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Jesus intended his community of disciples (the church) to be an outpost for the kingdom, reflecting the values and characteristics of God’s new world. But the church is not the kingdom, though it is part of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is much broader and wider than the church. So catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.

The kingdom of God as it pertains to humanity is about human beings becoming more truly human; that means becoming the persons and communities God intended for us to be. It is not about propagating a particular brand of belief or doctrine. For Christians, Jesus is the representative, quintessential, revelatory human being on what it means to be human.

At this point I am beginning to wonder if he is just stringing together quotes and pithy sayings to make his version of Jesus sound cool. It is quite ironic that he speaks of Christ’s global vision and global kingdom, even going so far as to describe it as a place “under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails,” and yet he has the audacity to claim that the kingdom is not about doctrine. Maybe he thinks his readers are not listening or are too dumb to notice that he is giving us a doctrine of the kingdom.

As for the kingdom being larger than the church I agree the kingdom is global, as Abraham Kuyper has so vividly stated, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine’(1)!” However, Queen oversteps his bounds by claiming that “catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.” The church as the body of Christ is an outpost of the kingdom and a witness to the redemption and reconciliation that will extend to the whole of God’s creative order. Such an outpost is necessary because it exists amidst a world in need of reconciliation and redemption; a world of rival kingdoms and rival kings. What is the use of such an outpost within Queen’s theology where both those within and those without are members of the same kingdom? Maybe a kingdom divided against itself can stand after all.

Again I agree Jesus is the ideal human; however, we must frame this within the larger context of the imago Dei. Humanity was made in the image of God, that image was holistically and pervasively corrupted by the fall. Jesus comes as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and so redeemed humanity is being restored into the imago Christi. It is in this sense that Jesus is the ideal human, He is the ideal human in that He is the exegesis of God; in Christ we have the attributes of God demonstrated in concrete form. This is a problem for Queen as it undercuts his theologically amorphous version of God. Queen’s god cannot have his attributes concretely demonstrated because he cannot be described by “a particular brand of belief or doctrine.”

Now for some tidbits on Jesus:
For Christians Jesus is the way that leads to truth and life; though he is not exclusively the way for all people. A God of love would not be so stingy as to exclude vast numbers of humanity who happen to be born into non-Christian cultures.

Is it just me or do you recall Jesus arguing to the contrary of Queen’s statement? What does he mean by “God of love?” Whatever he means he is not using this in the sense that Scripture does (see here for a more thorough treatment of this.)

After all of this he concludes:
The mission of the church is to proclaim, teach, manifest, and work for the kingdom of God, not get people to believe what we believe about Jesus. And yet, as Christians, we invite people to be disciples of Jesus because we know that by following Jesus, God’s dream for the world can be realized.

What is the point? Who cares? If it does not matter what one believes about Jesus then why talk about him at all? If there are other, broader, more kingdom oriented ways to realize “God’s dream for the world” then why limit ourselves to the narrow perspective of Jesus and the church?

This is what makes emergent rhetoric on mission so absurd. After all their talking all and arguing that mission is not about doctrine but “peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice” we are left with nothing. We have an inconsequential Christ, a narrow and largely irrelevant church, and a god who is so theologically amorphous that he is hardly worth knowing.

Chuck if there is salvation outside of Jesus then why should your church waste their time looking like bigots by promoting some narrow-minded Jewish messiah who is practically useless to the rest of humanity?

(1) Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998) 488.

Faux-Pentecost: Rick Warren Fakes History

In late March Rick Warren announced that he would be attempting to fake make history if he could find 3,000 individuals willing to be baptized by him in a single day. From his blog he offers the following eight reasons for signing up:

  1. I’m personally teaching Class 101 for the first time in ten years.
  2. I’m personally baptizing after Class and you’ll receive a photo & baptism certificate.
  3. You’ll get a free one year subscription to Purpose Driven Connection magazine. (Never offered before)
  4. You’ll get free copy of The Purpose Driven Church book.
  5. Your name will be included in the historical list of Saddleback Pioneer Members who joined in our first 30 years. (This Easter is our 30th Easter and I want you included in this list.)
  6. The class is 1 hour shorter than normal. You can watch session 3 here online now.
  7. You’ll be a part of making Christian history! The largest membership class ever!
  8. We love you & want you in our family. There is no good reason to procrastinate.

I for one am thankful that on this historical day Pastor Warren has decided to stick with the same motivations Peter issued during his sermon at Pentecost. On the day before this watershed moment in church history Warren posted that they still needed 600 more people to make history. I don’t know how this turned out, nor do I care, but if you do I am sure Google can find the answer for you. What are your thoughts?

Dead Orthodoxy — Dead Orthopraxy

Lately I have been thinking about the easy-believism that is so prevalent in American churches and their general disconnect between faith and practice. I generally see this occurring on two fronts, each of which is equally dangerous, yet one has been largely ignored as of late.

A Dead Orthopraxy

The first front is made up of liberals and emergents; theirs is a gospel that radically alters the lifestyles of those who embrace it yet it ultimately lacks sufficient doctrinal content to truly be considered a biblical gospel. While they may in many senses be considered orthodox in praxis this movement’s impetus is a set of social concerns and not the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ and as such their orthopraxy is a dead one. To phrase it simpler their gospel restructures their lifestyle yet it fails to transform their belief structure. This movement has received prolific critique lately and as such it is not the focus of this post. If you are unfamiliar with the emergent church then I would recommend the following link (here).

A Dead Orthodoxy

The second front has largely been ignored recently and as such presents a far subtler danger. This second front is comprised of some conservatives and fundamentalists; theirs is a gospel that radically alters the doctrinal beliefs of those who embrace it yet it ultimately lacks sufficient doctrinal content to truly be considered a biblical gospel. While they may in many senses be considered orthodox in belief this movement’s impetus is a set of truth claims and not the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ and as such their orthodoxy is a dead one. Again, to phrase is simpler their gospel restructures their belief structure yet it fails to transform their lifestyle. While these churches will affirm the basic tenets of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” their conduct argues to the contrary. I think several examples of this will suffice to prove my point.

  • They deny the manifold glory of God by failing to teach and laboring to learn the deep things of God (Mark 12:30; II Peter 3:16-18)
  • They deny the lordship of Christ by endorsing the salvation of countless voluntarily inactive members (Hebrews 10:25).
  • They deny the sanctifying work of the Spirit by failing to discipline members in sin (Matthew 18:15-17; I Corinthians 6:9-12).
  • They deny the efficacy and infallibility of the Scriptures (Isaiah 55:10-11) by failing to shepherd the flock (I Peter 5:1-5) and by refusing to engage in biblical counseling and “referring” their church members to secular psychologists (II Timothy 3:16-17).
  • They deny the fundamental essence of the church by allowing inactive and sinning members to continue in membership (I Peter 2:9).
  • They deny the interdependent nature of the church by failing to exhort the congregation to hold one another accountable (I Corinthians 12:12-13; Colossians 3:16).

These churches have been given a pass for far too long. Their verbal assent to the doctrines of Scripture apart from the proper practice thereof is far more than institutionalized hypocrisy, it is a false gospel.