A Biblical Theology of Mission

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled The Church, the Gospel, and the Ends of the Earth; these are my notes from last Sunday’s class on a biblical theology of mission.

I. Introduction

Last week we looked at the goal of missions, namely the glory of God.  This week we are going to trace the theme of mission through Scripture as it builds from God’s promise of redemption in the garden to the nations basking in the glory of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  This task of tracing a theme as it develops through the narrative of Scripture is called biblical theology.

What is Biblical theology?

The easiest way to explain biblical theology is to show you how it works.  If we were to begin reading in Genesis we would immediately learn that God exists and He creates (1:1).  Then we would see that this pre-existent Creator-God exists as a Spirit (1:2), a Spirit who speaks and indeed He doesn’t just speak but by His word He speaks creation into being (1:3).  This speaking Creator-God is good and can subsequently declare that His creation conforms to His inherent goodness (1:4).  Later on we see that this God is relational (1:26ff).  Further into the story we learn that this relational Creator-God is gracious (3:9ff).  That is biblical theology.

A. Two Definitions of Biblical Theology

  • “Biblical theology is concerned with God’s saving acts and his word as these occur within the history of the people of God.  It follows the progress of revelation from the first word of God to man through to the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.”[1]
  • “Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive preredemptive Special Revelation given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon.”[2]

B. Five Key Aspects of Biblical Theology

  • First, biblical theology is concerned with the action undertaken by God to redeem rebellious humanity; in this sense it is synonymous with the phrase redemptive history.
  • Second, it deals with, and when codified takes the form of, process; “its principle of organizing the Biblical material is historical rather than logical.”[3]  Unlike systematic theology which organizes biblical material thematically and topically biblical theology is organized chronologically as it follows the narrative of Scripture.
  • Third, its content is the self-revelation of God, while its form may resemble that of a historical narrative its chief interest is God’s progressive revelation of Himself and His purpose over the course of history.  Just as you will learn the characteristics or attributes of a character over the course of a film or novel in the same way God’s actions in the story of Scripture demonstrate His characteristics.
  • Fourth, biblical theology deals with God’s word and so it is exegetical in nature; “its goal is the correct exegesis of the entire Bible so that each part of the whole is understood as it was originally intended to be.”[4]
  • Finally, its central focus is “the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.”[5]

What is mission?

Since we are looking at a biblical theology of mission we will not begin with a definition but will look at how this theme organically develops along the Bible’s storyline.  The storyline of Scripture can be understood within the framework of the following five points which each ask a critical question.

C. The Storyline of Scripture

  • Creation — How did we get here?
  • Fall — What went wrong?
  • Redemption — Can it be fixed?
  • Consummation — Where is it going?

II. Biblical Theology in Overview

A. Creation — How did we get here?

Last week we discussed that the goal of mission is the glory of God and so we begin in Genesis with the created world perfectly reflecting the glory of God, after all everything that God made was good.  In particular God created man as His image-bearer to both reflect and enjoy His glory as His representative and the mediator of His presence who would care for His creation.[6]

B. Fall — What went wrong?

But then something goes terribly wrong; man rebels.  Rather than reflect God’s glory man seeks to rival it.  Rather than represent God’s authority and rule man seeks to live by his own authority and to exercise his own rule.  Because of this the whole of creation is stricken with a curse.  This ground which once brought life will now bring hardship, pain, frustration, and death.  The harmony of God’s good creation is shattered and man is now at war with creation, with his fellow man, even with himself, and ultimately with God.  This perfect picture of God’s glory has become a cosmic revelation of His judgment and wrath.

C. Redemption — Can it be fixed?

1. Seeing Mission in the Garden – The Adamic Covenant

Man does not seek out God in repentance; he does not attempt to atone for his sins.  No, man hides from God in the garden.  This is still man’s tendency (Romans 3:9-18).  From this narrative it is clear that man is both unwilling and unable to turn to God in repentance on his own accord.  God must intervene and intervene He does.  “God comes into the Garden from without, seeks out Adam, and both judges and shares the redemptive promise with him . . . God was on a mission to Adam.  He had no other man to send, so he sent himself.”[7]   God is a missional God.  He seeks out rebellious man to redeem him (Genesis 3:9).  God promises and provides for redemption (Genesis 3:15).  By the shedding of blood God covers their shame (Genesis 3:21).  And it is God who provides a means by which rebellious humanity may enter into relationship with him (Genesis 4:1-5).

This is our first glimpse of mission in Scripture, this is the defining moment for everything that follows.  From the Genesis narrative it is clear that “Mission is not ours; mission is God’s.  Certainly the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in.  Or, as it has been nicely put, it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.”[8]

Earlier we defined biblical theology and now we must add one more aspect to our understanding of it.  Biblical theology is Missional theology as God’s self-revelation of Himself through the narrative of Scripture is missionary activity.  God is the ultimate missionary, He makes Himself known.

Is Old Testament Mission Centripetal or Centrifugal?

There is a lot of debate about the distinction between OT mission and NT mission.  It is argued that the OT presents mission as the nations coming to Israel, centripetal mission, while the NT presents mission as the church going to the nations, centrifugal missions.  This is both unhelpful and fails to grasp mission as presented primarily as an act of God and secondarily as a response of God’s people to His mission.  Furthermore mission is always both centripetal and centrifugal.  God sends Himself, His Son, His Spirit, and His church and simultaneously God calls His people to a nation, a land, a city, a temple, and ultimately to Jesus Christ.  The going out and the calling in are inseparable throughout the full biblical narrative of mission.

2. Seeing Mission in the Flood – The Noaic Covenant

As man multiplied and filled the earth, rather than imaging God and representing His rule, man was characterized by self-worship and rebellion.  Indeed “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  And in this context God seeks out Noah and redeems him from the wrath to come.  In God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:17-22; 8:20-22; 9:8-17) we see the scope of God’s mission.  Just as the curse touched the farthest regions of God’s creation so God’s mission reaches as far as that curse is to be found.  In the flood we see both God’s judgment upon the curse and foretaste of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

3. Seeing Mission in the Calling of Abraham – The Abrahamic Covenant

In what first appears to be a dramatic narrowing of God’s mission God calls Abram and establishes a covenant with him and his offspring (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-22; 18; and 22:1-18).  But this is not a narrowing of God’s mission.  God is not abandoning the nations for the sake of Israel.  He is not blessing Israel at the expense of the nations.  No, He has called and will bless Israel for the sake of the nations.  The cosmic scope of His mission remains as the means by which He accomplishes this mission narrows its focus upon the singular seed of the woman, the offspring of Abraham, and as we will see later the descendant of David in whom God’s mission finds its fulfillment.

4. Seeing Mission in the Exodus – The Mosaic Covenant

Through a series of events recorded in Genesis 37-Exodus 1 the mission seems to be lost and it appears that God’s people have been forgotten and enslaved.  But this too was all part of God’s mission to make Himself known (Genesis 15:13ff.).  God demonstrates His redemptive might to the nations as He rescues His people from pharaoh and brings them to His mountain.  God then establishes a covenant with his people (Exodus 19-24) and declares that they are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Beyond God’s mission it is clear that His people, “Israel definitely had a sense of mission, not in the sense of going somewhere but of being something.”[9]  God has both a mission and a people for this mission He is making Himself know through Israel.  As a holy nation they will demonstrate God’s character and as a kingdom of priests they will mediate His presence.

5. Seeing Mission in Judgment and Restoration – Deuteronomic Covenant

The failure and faithlessness of God’s people is nothing new.  From Noah and Abraham to the constant grumblings of Israel in the Exodus this is a theme that runs through Scripture.  So as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land God establishes another covenant with them in addition to the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1).  This covenant promises both blessing for obedience as well as curses for disobedience.  But God’s mission would not fail.  He will make Himself known among the nations in Israel’s victories, as His people dispossess their enemies, and in their failures as He disciplines His people, and ultimately He will make himself known as He restores them in their eventual repentance.  This covenant gives Missional understanding to everything that follows in the history of Israel.

6. Seeing Mission in the Monarchy – The Davidic Covenant

As His people struggle to live as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests God appoints a king to represent His rule, both to Israel and the nations.  Despite his many failures David “typified theocratic kingship”[10] and became the standard by which future kings were judged.  God establishes a covenant with David (II Samuel 7:8-16, 23:5; Psalm 89:34-37).  The covenant with David echoes many of the promises made to Abraham and so it becomes clear that the cosmic restoration pictured in the flood and the blessing of the nations promised to Abraham would come through the eternal kingship promised to David and his offspring.

7. Seeing Mission in the Prophetic Hope – The New Covenant

A Brief Outline of the Prophetic Hope:

  • Reconciliation with God – Throughout Scripture God promises that if His rebellious people would turn to Him in repentance then He will return to them as their God and will gather them as His people (II Chronicles 7:13-14; Jeremiah 30:8-22; 31:1; Ezekiel 34:30-31).
  • Return to the Promised Land – Furthermore, they are also promised a return to and the expansion of the promised land (Isaiah 54:1-3; Jeremiah 30:3; Ezekiel 34:11-16).
  • Reestablishment of Davidic Kingship – There is also an emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant with particular emphasis placed upon the rule of the Davidic King (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24).
  • Rebuilding of the Temple – Also included in the emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant is the promise that a new temple will be built within a New Jerusalem and that God’s glory will return and He will dwell among His people forever (Ezekiel 40-48).
  • The New Covenant – However, the most significant occurrence during this time is not the prophetic word concerning covenant renewal but the promise of a new and better covenant whereby the people will be indwelt by the law of the Lord and will dwell with Him in an eternal city (Jeremiah 31:31-40).

All of this is brought about by the mission of Christ.  Just as God seeks out rebellious Adam and Eve in the Garden so Jesus comes to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant, in Jesus we are reconciled to God; He is the Promised Land, the Davidic king, and the new temple.  Jesus fulfills the mission of God!

D. Consummation — Where is it going?

In Revelation 22:1-5 we will see the great end towards which all of God’s mission is working.  This passage points us to the fulfillment of all that we have studied.  Looking back to the fall of man and the cursing of creation we read in verse 3 that “No longer will there be anything accursed.”  Also in verse 3 we see that man’s relationship with God has been restored as “his servants will worship him.”  Looking back to God’s covenant with Abraham we see that indeed the nations are blessed as verse 2 tells us of the tree of life whose leaves are for “for the healing of the nations.”  Thinking of God’s covenant with David and the promise of an everlasting kingdom and throne we read of “throne of God and of the Lamb” in verse 1 and verse 5 closes with the promise that God with His people “will reign forever and ever.”

E. Application — What now?

Stating the profoundly important role of narrative Alasdair MacIntyre writes, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself apart?’”[11]  We stand between the giving of the New Covenant, in Christ, and the consummation of the covenants at His return.  This is not just the story of God’s mission this is also our story and subsequently our mission.

I left out a critical aspect of the New Covenant mission of God above.  The same God who seeks out man in the Garden, the same God who sends His Son, also sends His Spirit to indwell His church, and just as God sent His Son, in the power of the Spirit, God now sends His Spirit-empowered church out to call the nations to glorify God.  This mission is not new, indeed it is very old, as “what blossoms and flourishes in the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel to convert all persons to discipleship to Jesus Christ is anticipated in the Old Testament’s proclamation of the goodness and grace of God.”[12]  And like Israel we too are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).


[1]Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 32.
[2]Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948) preface.
[3]Ibid.
[4]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 35.
[5]Ibid., 32.
[6]Stanley J. Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei,” in Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 88.
[7]Francis M. DuBose, God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1983), 57.
[8]Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 62.
[9]Wright, The Mission of God, 504.
[10]Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from Creation to the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988), 222.
[11]Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 216.
[12]Patrick D. Miller Jr., “’Enthroned on the Praises of Israel’: The Praise of God in Old Testament Theology,” Interpretation 39 (1985): 8.

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Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

This Sunday’s cover story, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, for The New York Times Magazine is nothing new. I wrote several years ago, in “When the Fertility Clinic Meets the Abortion Clinic: A Modern Paradox,” about a similar article in the Los Angeles Times. In fact the only thing that has changed in these four years are the numbers. The reasons and the response are the same things that have been around since the first abortion and if we were to go back further to the origins of infanticide. When reading these articles, or the responses to them, they are so predictable that they almost appear to be scripted. With that I hope to take a departure from the typical response and argue that the real issue here is not life, it is not choice, and it is not even murder. The real issue is sovereignty.

Let me explain what I mean. In her June article, “Yes, Abortion is Killing. But It’s the Lesser Evil,” Antonia Senior explains how having a child changed her perspective regarding abortion. After explaining the lack of a consensus regarding a scientific or philosophical definition of life she concludes,

What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure. My daughter was formed at conception, and all the barely understood alchemy that turned the happy accident of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg into my darling, personality-packed toddler took place at that moment. She is so unmistakably herself, her own person — forged in my womb, not by my mothering.

Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life

She then explains that such conclusions have resulted in a movement aimed at separating feminism from “fertility control.” However, she views this as entirely incompatible with the central aim of feminism exclaiming, “The single biggest factor in women’s liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology.” The freedom of women then depends upon one thing the unencumbered exercise of the will.

With a shocking candor she concludes,

As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.

For Antonia Senior, and I would argue for all of us, the principal issue is sovereignty, a woman’s ultimate right to impose her will upon herself and upon others.

Sovereignty occurs vertically in the form of worship, we could use other words but the concept remains the same. We either rejoice in the sovereignty of the God in whose image we are made or we deny it by worshipping any number of god’s made in our image. Horizontally human interaction exists upon a continuum of two extremes; escape and conflict. Both extremes end in death and both are false exercises of sovereignty. At the extreme end of escape is suicide where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over the self by taking one’s life. At the extreme end of conflict lies murder where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over another by taking another’s life.

The first two articles mentioned, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” and “The abortion debate brought home,” regarding reduction, which let’s be honest is a clever play on words to sanitize something far more grisly and sinister, bring another exercise of sovereignty into the question, namely in vitro fertilization and the creation of life. Imposing one’s will upon one’s own biology may require medical assistance and donated eggs which is where our current discussion often begins. With in vitro fertilization, when multiple embryos are transferred, there is always the possibility of multiple embryos implanting and when multiple babies are not wanted or the mother is unable to give birth to multiple children then one or more of them must be put to death. In 1988 Dr. Mark Evans penned guidelines for this procedure stating that “most reductions below twins violated ethical principles.” Things have changed over the past 23 years; the medical community has rethought its ethics and is now willing and able to reduce your pregnancy to one. “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” ends with a counterintuitive conclusion. After choosing to reduce their pregnancy to one child the author asks the women what would happen if they miscarried to which one of them replied, “I’ve come to realize there’s only so much we can control. There’s a point where you just have to let nature take its course.”

After all this talk of a woman’s complete control of her own fertility comes the tragic conclusion that “there’s only so much we can control.” Ultimately you cannot impose your will upon your biology because ultimately you are not sovereign. Your sovereignty is an illusion.

How are we to respond to this? Should we call our senator or state representative? Should we start building picket signs and begin protesting abortion clinics? No, we must respond with the Gospel, in word and deed. We must respond in the same way that God responds to humanity’s first act of false sovereignty in the garden, with grace and the promise that in Christ we will be liberated not unto self but from self and sin and set free to worship the one true Sovereign. Any other response is incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

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.

My Thoughts on Catalyzing Community

Please read Eric Bryant on Reaching the “Hard to Reach” for the background on this post. I hope that what follows does more to build off of what Bryant has written than to tear it down. I read his blog, his books, and have heard him speak on several occasions. I appreciate the evangelistic thrust of his writing and his continued emphasis on xenos; while we do differ at points I hope this post conveys that appreciation.

Principle #1: Christ Creates Community. (Bryant’s 1st Principle)
I mean this in two ways. First, Christ creates all things and all things are a reflection of His, i.e. God’s, attributes. So in this sense all community is a reflection of the intertrinitarian community. Second, as we are specifically speaking of the church we must also understand that Christ has created the church as His body to physically bear witness to Himself. Bryant argues that “cause creates community” and this is true; however, various causes create various communities which reflect the nature of the cause. Here we are forced to be more specific and focus upon the creator of community and subsequently the giver of cause, Jesus Christ.

Principle #2: Christ Transforms Humanity. (Bryant’s 2nd-5th Principles)
I appreciate Bryant’s 2nd-5th principles and my only critique is that, once understood within the biblical framework of the imago Dei, they become the same principle. Man was created in the image of the triune God this image was marred in the fall and now redeemed humanity is being transformed into the image of Christ. We must “develop authentic friendships with those [we] know” (Principle 4) because we were created in the image of a relational God and are being transformed into the image of a relational Christ. We must “meet the needs of those around us” (Principle 2) because we have been made in the image of a God who provided for those needs in the garden and are being transformed into the image of a Christ who met those very needs during his earthly ministry. Finally, we must “reach out to Xenos” (Principle 3 and 5) because we have been made in the image of a missional God and are being transformed into the image of a missional Christ who came to seek and save the lost. I think it is important to remember that these things take place within the context of relationship, not a “Christian” welfare system or environmental agency. We meet the needs of those whom we have relationships with as those needs become apparent to us and as we understand the context in which those needs can be properly met. Furthermore, we must understand that changed individuals create changed culture and so our approach to environmental and social issues comes through engaging individuals with the gospel and not through engaging social policymakers through legislative process.

For a further explanation of the imago Dei I recommend reading this essay.

Principle #3: Christ Leads His Church. (Bryant’s 6th and 7th Principles)
And we are His disciples whom He commanded, with the Great Commission, to make other disciples who will in turn make disciples who will do likewise. This process will not be complete until Christ calls a people from every tribe and language and people and nation. We must not be prone to self-centered spiritual myopia, but must look beyond ourselves and our circumstances toward what God is doing and is going to do among the nations. Then we must live and work towards the fulfillment of this great vision. Bryant’s 6th and 7th principles have a similar thrust; however, I want to focus beyond what God is doing in your particular locale to what God is doing throughout history and around the globe.

Extended Critique―Principle #5: Allow people to belong before they believe.
Under this principle Bryant writes, “We should never allow our convictions to become a litmus test for friendship. In fact, we should actively pursue friendships with people – even people with whom we may disagree. Go to www.mosaic.org/faq for more on the staff process at Mosaic.” In a sense this is redundant and simply expounds what is means to “reach out to Xenos.” Furthermore, I thoroughly agree that “we should never allow our convictions to become a litmus test for friendship” and that “we should actively pursue friendships with people – even people with whom we may disagree.”

Eric has commented below and I think his comments thoroughly clarify this point. Also I would recommend reading The Suicidal Missionary where in a comment following the post he exclaims, “I am calling for the proclaiming of the gospel AND embracing of all those who need to repent.” I think that is the heart of what it means to allow people to belong before they believe.

“How long, O Lord?” — Isaiah Models Missional Prayer

My friend Todd recently posted on Isaiah 6 as it pertains to the order of salvation in “Confronted by Glory- What Isaiah 6 Teaches Us About the Process of Salvation” and then as it pertains to repentance and salvation in “Confronted by Glory- Two Practical Questions from the Experience of Isaiah.” I would commend his posts to you. While Todd focused on Isaiah’s immediate response to this vision I want to focus on the later part of this passage as it also has much to teach us.

After Isaiah beholds the glory of the Lord, responds to it in broken humility over his sin and the sin of Israel, the atoning sacrifice is applied to his guilt and sin, and then, in verse 8, the story continues:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
   and their ears heavy,
   and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
   and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
   and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
   without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
   and the land is a desolate waste,
and the LORD removes people far away,
   and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
And though a tenth remain in it,
   it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
   whose stump remains
   when it is felled.
The holy seed is its stump.”

Isaiah hears the intertrinitarian conversation as the Lord asks Himself “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Having just seen the Lord upon His throne and experiencing His atoning sacrifice for sins Isaiah exclaims, “Here am I! Send me.” The prophet cries out, “I will tell of your glory, I will make your gracious atonement known!” The Lord’s reply is devastating as He exhorts Isaiah to proclaim, “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive” and command him to “Make the heart of this people dull . . . [lest they] turn and be healed.” Isaiah, having just experienced the Lord’s atoning sacrifice for sins, would not be proclaiming that great salvation to his people; no, his message was one of judgment and its purpose was to harden Israel’s heart so that she would not turn to the Lord in repentance.

Upon hearing this Isaiah replies asking, “How long, O Lord?” There are two primary ways in which Isaiah’s question has been interpreted; first, “how long must I proclaim this message?” and second, “how long will their hardness persist?” or “how long until you save your people?” Based upon Isaiah’s emphasis upon the fulfillment of YHWH’s covenant promises and subsequently his understanding of the blessings and curses of those covenants (cf. Deuteronomy 28; 30:1-10) the later understanding of his reply best fits within the context of his ministry. In this sense Isaiah cries out “How long until your people repent and you restore your blessing to them?” The Lord’s reply glimmers with the same hope promised in the covenants, though Israel will be scattered in exile and the Promised Land laid to waste a stump, a remnant, will remain. A remnant of which Isaiah later prophecies, “And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 37:31-32).

We must regain Isaiah’s missional understanding of the Lord, his missional zeal for his people, and his missional petition on their behalf. We must come to view God as Isaiah did; as a God who sends and saves, who graciously self-discloses Himself, and who makes atonement for His people. We must be broken over our sin and over the sins of our culture responding in humble obedience. We must not respond triumphalisticly as a politicized evangelicalism seeking moral legislation nor as an incensed evangelicalism in protest of sin. No, we must respond in broken intercession crying out “How long will our cities be ravaged by the worship of idols? How long will this people persist in self-reliance? How long will they perceive your invisible attributes and continue to suppress the truth in unrighteousness? How long will they harden their hearts against you? How long will they keep on hearing, but not understand? How long will they keep on seeing, but not perceive? How long will you make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes? How long until they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts? How long until you turn them to yourself that they may be healed? . . . How long, O Lord?