THE THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS: REDISCOVERING THE GOD GIVEN VOCATION
BY JEFF SCOTT KENNEDY
1 OUTLINE INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………………….. MISSIONS THEOLOGY BEGINS WITH CREATION………………………………………. GOD’S SOVEREIGN ELECTION OF A MISSIONARY PEOPLE…………………………… ISRAEL LOSES ITS ORIGINAL VOCATION……………………………………………… JESUS RECLAIMS ISRAEL’S LOST MISSION…………………………………………… PAUL’S OLD TESTAMENT BASIS FOR MISSION………………………………………. CONCLUSION: HOW THIS THEOLOGY APPLIES………………………………………. 1 1 3 5 5 6 7
INTRODUCTION The ubiquitous theme of scripture is that God has created a race of beings that are worth redeeming. The salvation narrative begins with God choosing one man (Abraham) to bring forth a nation (Israel) who will bring forth one man (Jesus the second Adam), who will bring forth a new nation comprised of all tribes and ethnicities (the Kingdom of God). However, this theme of redemption was temporarily obscured during second temple Judaism and needed to be reclaimed by Jesus, the rabbi from Galilee. This study will seek to show that the call to be a light to the nations was original with Old Covenant Jews and that Jesus came to recover this missionary calling. In order to reclaim this God-given vocation, Jesus would have to announce the Kingdom in fresh and surprising ways, and ultimately embody his mission as the sacrifice for all men. MISSIONS THEOLOGY BEGINS WITH CREATION Any good theology of missions should begin with the doctrine of creation.1 Scripture introduces the reader to a variety of creatures within the panoply of God’s creation. God created animals, angels and Adam. Mysteriously, only one of these categories of beings is redeemable. Missions theology begins with a proper view of God as the proprietor and sovereign over creation.2 Therefore, the promise to renew lost humanity is a seminal theme in scripture. A proper missions theology begins with the doctrine of creation. More to the point, a good missional theology should begin with the creator himself: a benevolent, all-powerful and sovereign king who has willed all things into being. He has created a purposeful, orderly, and meaningful universe (Gen. 1:1). Within that universe he has chosen
Scott A. Moreau, Gary R Corwin, Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 28-30. Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 31-32.
2 one sliver of the cosmos that can sustain life. After creating this cosmic terrarium, God fashions beings that are “made in his image” to inhabit it. Male and female are mutually the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Though the image bearing properties of humanity have been debated much by theologians, at the very least, it is clear that this refers to mankind’s unique ability to relate to God.3 The capacity to engage God in relationship is the crowning attribute of humanity. Conversely, mankind’s potential to walk out of fellowship and communion with God was a great gamble. The absence of freewill would have reduced man to mere servitude with no possibility of free moral action. This would guarantee robotic adherence to divine commands as the man uncritically complied with his “programming.” On the other hand, the absence of divine directives or constraints on man’s freewill would have produced a being incapable of selfrestraint or true moral behavior. The result of either of these extremes would have left God with less than image-worthy beings. God in his infinite wisdom chose to create people with a supernatural aptitude to choose the good. The potential for unsolicited acts of love among these godlike creatures was so awesome that God risked the cosmos on them, against his better knowledge of their actual future choices. As a result, God’s foreknowledge of man’s choice to sin required an a-priori commitment to rescue them, even before they had a chance to sample the garden contraband (Gen. 3:15ff). The conclusion here is that God loves people. Though people have not loved him much in return, he is hopelessly committed to them. These people are the objects of his infinite love and concern, precisely because he made them to reflect his character and relate to his being. God is equally the creator of all things, but he does not equally love all things. He loves his precious people. He loves their potential and he loves the mysterious reflection of himself that he sees in
Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, 35.
3 them. He could easily throw the rest of his handiwork to the flames, but he cannot easily throw men there. Though he owes them nothing, he spares nothing in their rescue. GOD’S SOVEREIGN ELECTION OF A MISSIONARY PEOPLE Genesis chapters 2-11 accentuate the extreme need for a redemption plan to be set into motion. The three crisis situations call for further promises from God to rescue his creation. God’s covenant with Abraham marks a turning point in the story.4 This covenant in Genesis chapter 12 sets into motion God’s redemptive plan in a very specific direction.5 God will bring forth a nation who will be a blessing to all nations (12:3). As Abraham continues his journey, God continues to confirm and reveal more information concerning this promise. Eventually Abraham learns that he will be the father of “many nations” (17:4). The promise to Abraham was clearly not limited to one people group who would eventually subjugate all others. Instead, this new nation from Abraham was to be a channel of that blessing to all the world.6 Concerning the exact wording of the covenant Walter Kaiser notes, “But the sweep of all the evidence makes it abundantly clear that God’s gift of a blessing through the instrumentality of Abraham was to be experienced by nations, clans, tribes, people groups, and individuals. It would be for every size group, from the smallest people to the largest nation.”7 The realization of this covenant would have a curative effect on the curse inherited through the
Walter Kaiser Jr. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel As a Light to the Nations, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 16-17. Right away in Genesis, we see murder, rampant sin and an effort to unify and usurp what can only be God’s alone through the ziggurat of Babel.
Scott A. Moreau, Gary R Corwin, Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions, 31-32.
G.K. Beale, D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 456-457.
Walter Kaiser Jr. Mission in the OT, 19.
4 fall. However, some may object to this on the basis of the passive approach to missions in the Old Testament. Kaiser makes the case that however things actually played out, the rest of the Old Testament holds up the standard of world missions very clearly.8 Starting with Moses’ encounter with Pharoah so that “the nations will see my power” (Ex. 9:14-16), including the many Egyptians who went with the Jews in the exodus (12:38), and culminating in the establishment of a national priesthood where Israel serves as brokers of the covenant for the surrounding nations. The New Testament writers apply this priestly role specifically to God’s new covenant people in Jesus (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).9 Contrary to the popular belief that God had called Israel to be an exclusionary sub-culture, God’s intention for them was to be a prized possession who included the natives (ezrahim), foreigners (nokrim), and the sojourners (gerim). These non-Jews could be included in the public reading of Torah and expected to follow through on these laws (Deut. 5:14; 16:11, 14).10 From the Exodus, Israel would increasingly become more nationalistic in practice. However, the missionary emphasis would continue to be a theme in the Psalms and the Prophets (notably Psalms 2, 33, 66, 67, 72, 96, 98, 117, and 145). There are approximately 175 passages in the Psalms relating to the missionary calling of Israel to the nations.11 The nations are to be glad and worship the Lord, and the people of God are to proclaim the wonders and mighty acts of God to the nations.
Kaiser, Mission in the OT, 21-24. Ibid. Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, 120.
Kaiser, Mission in the OT, 29-30. Kaiser also mentions the many singular acts of outreach to Gentiles by individuals throughout the OT, 42-50.
5 ISRAEL LOSES ITS ORIGINAL VOCATION The Babylonian exile (586 BC) was necessary and in many ways effective. Throughout Israel’s history, they flirted with syncretism and idolatry. These experiences had equipped Israel’s leaders with the particular skill set of guarding and preserving monotheism. However, this “curing” process did more than shore up a core doctrine for them. Though it is true that some non-establishment Jews engaged in a kind of missional approach to foreigners, 12 the establishment (Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Herodians) practiced a fairly exclusionary version of Judaism. Jesus’ approach was to actually touch the world that the pious Jews believed was ritually contaminating them. They were to touch the leper, the sinner, the gentile, and bring the life and grace of Torah to the outcast. The Pharisees chose to keep that life sequestered in a monument to Torah they had erected called the “Elders Traditions” (Oral Traditions).13 Jesus clearly had to abandon any hope of rehabilitating such an entrenched Judaic cultus. Therefore, he would call his radical new movement ekklesia for they would have to be “called out” of the existing religious milieu. JESUS RECLAIMS ISRAEL’S LOST MISSION In order to reintroduce Israel to her God given vocation, Jesus would first have to peel off the many layers of sacred bureaucracy so that the light of Torah could shine once more. Jesus was born into a world where the primary conceptual framework was that of covenant.14 Additionally, Jews typically viewed themselves as the heirs of redemption because of their Abrahamic
Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, 174-177. N.T. Wright, The People of God, 157-166. Ibid., 244-256.
6 pedigree.15 Jesus’ response to this in John 7 and 8 was that they should not think that they are members of the covenant just because they are the direct lineage of Abraham. Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise to Abraham, and in order to reclaim Israel’s original mission, Jesus had to claim that Messianic prerogative to fulfill all things. Secondly, the disciples reclaimed Israel’s mission when Jesus called them his “Apostles.” Jesus’ choice of this term instead of “rabbi” would communicate that they were not to be merely custodians of his message but heralds of it (Matt. 28:18-20). The Apostles made disciples of all nations, and quickly went about setting up elders and overseers in the fledgling churches (Acts 14:23). Each believer was empowered to witness for Christ (Acts 1:8), and given suitable spiritual gifts for service in Christ’s family (1 Cor. 12-14, Rom. 12). PAUL’S OLD TESTAMENT BASIS FOR MISSION Paul considered the original promise to Abraham as fulfilled in the person of Christ, Abraham’s true “seed” (Gal. 3:8-29). All nations can now partake in full membership in the family of God by grace through faith (Rom. 3:20-24). Abraham was justified by faith, and is the true harbinger of future salvation through the Messiah, Israel’s national representative (Rom. 4; Gal. 3). Jesus is the new “Adam” (Rom. 5) and all men are now called to the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). The Abrahamic covenant was a promise to coalesce all nations under one Lord, and restore the losses of Eden.16
CONCLUSION: HOW THIS THEOLOGY APPLIES
Beale, and Carson, Commentary on the New Testament, 456-457.
John Stott, “The Living God is a Missionary God”, In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 3rd edition, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 8.
7 Today, missionaries, pastors and lay members may apply this theology by first calling lost people back to the Creator God who is sovereign and has sacrificed much to offer them reconciliation. This same God has instituted a universal priesthood of believers who are to build relational and missional bridges to the lost world. Like Israel, the church today can run the risk of adopting an exclusionary sub-culture mentality, instead of viewing ourselves as called to be a light to the nations. Additionally, it is always a danger when those who are the called of God think that the professional clergy are supposed to do the work of evangelism and missions. Clergy domination has plagued both Israel and the church, and the modern missions movement would do well to reclaim our God given vocation of personal missions and evangelism to the nations.
8 Beale, G.K. Carson, D.A. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. Glasser Arthur. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. Walter Kaiser Jr. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel As a Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000. Scott A. Moreau, Gary R Corwin, Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. Stott John, “The Living God is a Missionary God.” p.8, In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. 3rd ed. edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009. Wright, N.T. Jesus and the People of God. London: Fortress Press, 1992.