I have the privilege of engaging a group of student leaders Thursday evening (8/30) who participate in the Wesley Foundation at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) in conversation about the broad narrative of the Bible. Here are some notes from the presentation that I will make.
1) The grand narrative (or metanarrative) of the Scriptures:
Israel (the Call of God’s people)
Jesus the Messiah
Church (the Sending of God’s people)
2) Importance of Creation
Mission begins in God’s creative activity
Creation is very good (Gen 1:31)
God’s creation is the locus of mission
Universal Scope of the Story
Our understanding of salvation is rooted in God’s creational intentions for humanity
Imago dei (image of God) as mission, holiness, and community
3) Role of the Fall (Key text: Genesis 3-11)
All persons are hopelessly lost because sin has permeated the world including every human and institution (Paul echoes this in Romans 3:23 “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”)
All ministry this side of New Creation occurs in a post-Genesis 3 reality
Shift in God’s mission: salvation of a fallen world and lost humanity
God’s love for humanity and creation is evident in His desire bring redemption
4) Israel (Key texts: Genesis 12:1-3 and Exod 19:3-6)
In Genesis 12, history turns a corner. God’s mission amps up with the calling of one family to serve as a new community.
God calls Abram/Abraham.
Out of the nations, God called one family to become a missional community that would reflect God’s character to the rest of the world. In Genesis 12, God calls Abram into his service. With the promises to Abram and later Abraham, God’s work of redemption begins to move forward powerfully and purposively. The call and setting apart of Abraham is not due to Abraham’s innate worthiness or for a special privileged position over other humans. Rather it is missional. Abraham is called to be a blessing to the nations. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). Genesis 12-50 traces how these profound promises are passed intergenerationally.
Israel as God’s people becomes a nation.
Abraham’s extended family becomes a full-fledged nation in the book of Exodus. God redeems Israel from Egypt in order to reignite God’s mission for God’s people. The deliverance from slavery is not merely a liberation from evil; it is a liberation for God’s mission. Exodus 19:3-6 makes it clear that God is remaining true to his promises to Abraham and extending his vision for Abraham corporately to Israel. As redeemed from slavery, Israel as a whole was to serve as a missional community that would reflect God’s character to the nations.
Israel’s Legal Materials Establish an Ethos of Holiness for God’s People.
It may come as a surprise to many that the Law also serves a missional role. Israel’s legal materials, forever wed to Moses and his encounters with God on Mount Sinai/Horeb, establish an ethos for God’s people. Rather than lifting up legalism as the legacy of Israel, the Torah of Moses was to create a missional environment for God’s people to embody. The laws in all of their variety and strangeness (from our modern perspective) served to insert the character of God into all aspects of Israel’s corporate life. Israel’s lifestyle was to be a living testimony to the character of her God before the rest of the nations of earth. This is not to say that Israel was completely unique from other nations in every aspect of her life. Rather as a whole Israel was to witness uniquely to the unbelievable life that was possible only under the care of the Creator God. The Torah was never the means of Israel’s salvation. It was Israel’s response to the grace of God in delivering her from Egypt and all future enemies.
Israel’s story of its time in the land (Joshua - 2 Chronicles) provides a testimony to the prospects and perils of serving as a missional community in the world.
These are the so-called Historical Books in the Protestant canon. Their story line is a familiar one: recurring cycles of obedience and disobedience. This cycle ultimately climaxes in the Babylonian Exile and then God’s restoration of his people in the Promised Land.
How do these episodes inform a missional reading of the Old Testament? First, they model the possibilities of successfully doing God’s work and the great feats that can be accomplished. The generation of Joshua, the rise of the Davidic empire, the first half of Solomon’s reign, the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah, and the work of Nehemiah and Ezra are highpoints in these books. Second, they serve as a warning to God’s people (see 1 Corinthians 10) about the perils of disobedience to God’s mission in the world. In a sense, disobedience temporarily thwarts the work that God desires to accomplish through his people. Judges, Eli and sons, most of the kings of Judah and Israel are witnesses to the disastrous results of disobedience. Last, missional outreach as familiar readers of the New Testament is adumbrated in stories such as the salvation of Rahab (Jos 2-6) and her family, Ruth’s inclusion in the royal lineage of David, and the healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5).
The Prophets serve as a wakeup call for Israel to reclaim her vocation as a missional community that reflects God’s character.
First, the prophets indict Israel for her turning aside from her mission. This is a point that we miss. We too often associate a prophetic voice with a message to the wider secular culture. God’s prophets were mostly sent to indict God’s people. In the church, the prophets serve as a testimony to the crucial need to embody a God-centered, Scripturally informed ethos in our communities. Second, the prophets have a keen interest in the surrounding world. Of course, much of this interest is framed in judgment oracles at the enemies of Israel but the implication is clearâ€”the God of Israel is the God of all the earth. The God of Israel is the only true God worthy of worship. Third, the prophets have an interest in the salvation of the nations. This is most explicit in Isaiah and Jonah. The book of Jonah serves as a warning to God’s people lest they forget that God loves the nations and desires their salvation. The second half of Isaiah contains several profound utterances about a coming servant of God will extend justice to the nations (Isa 42:1-7). Last, the prophets point ahead to a new work of God.
The Psalms function as the prayer book for the people of God.
There testimony to mission is more implicit and subtle. Yet, these prayers of ancient Israel inform and enrich a mission minded community in several ways. First, the Psalms repeatedly witness to the sovereignty of God. It is the LORD who reigns over all of the earth. This fact is inherently missional. The God of Israel is the God of all people. Second, the largest block of psalms are the psalms of lament. These are prayers that cry out to God for help in the face of life difficulties: enemies, false accusation, disease, etc. Persons committed to living a missional lifestyle will certainly be in need of such prayers throughout their lives. Last, the Psalms contain a profound eschatological hope for the future. The Psalter ends with a climactic crescendo of five psalms (146-150) that call for the praise and adoration of the Lord. In fact, the final verse of the Psalter exhorts: Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! God’s mission calls on us to spread this good word to everyone.
Israel’s Wisdom traditions are missional because they intersect the surrounding cultures explicitly.
In fact, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes have much in common with the wisdom of Israel’s neighbors. Wisdom is interested in navigating successfully through life. Israel’s wisdom is profoundly practical and relevant to culture because it is rooted in Creation. Since God created all that is, the wise can observe life astutely and deduce principles for living in God’s world. This focus on the human side of life makes it easy to connect Israel’s wisdom to culture. Yet, Israel’s unique contribution to the wit and maxim of the world is profoundly missional: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”The implication: careful attention to the human condition may prepare persons for the truth about God (Ecc 12:12-14).
5) Jesus the Messiah
Embodies and fulfills all that Israel was to be and accomplish
Jesus’ life serves as a model for what it means to be a human being
Cross and Resurrection are the climactic events in history
Jesus’ death on the cross models obedience to God the Father, demonstrates the love of God for humanity and creation, and was for our sins
The resurrection of Jesus proclaims God’s ultimate victory for Creation. Death, injustice, sin, and evil are not the final word.
Gift of the Holy Spirit
6) Church (Sending God’s people to serve as witnesses to God’s Gift of Jesus the Messiah)
Church exists as the New Israel (1 Pet 2:9)
Holy Spirit Poured Out on All followers of Jesus for cleansing and empowerment
Gentiles have been grafted into Family
Mission now involves explicit engagement with World: “Go” rather the “Come” or simply “Be”
Guder: “NT communities were founded in order to continue the apostolic witness that brought them into being.”
7) New Creation
New Heaven and New Earth
Full Salvation (return to Eden)
Story ends where it began: a very good creation with humanity serving as God’s holy missional community
© 2007 Brian D. Russell