Mission and Daniel

Christian Mission - Old Testament Foundations and New Testament DevelopmentsThe book of Daniel is not really renown for its missional perspective.  However, in a recent Missional Introduction to the Old Testament lecture we asked the class to ‘stretch their missional muscles’ and discover how Daniel could be read and understood missionally?   Subsequently, I came across a chapter in Christian Mission: Old Testament Foundations and New Testament Developments, by Stanley Porter and Cynthia Long Westfall (pages 59-60) that has some intriguing insights into Daniel and the kingdom of God.  Below is a short extract.

In both Daniel 1-7 and the New Testament, the kingdom is something that is planted by God and subsequently grows, eventually resulting in a wider awareness of God.  Again in Daniel, the kingdom begins as a stone that grows in to a mountain (Dan. 2:35).  In the subsequent narratives, this growth is reflected in the increasingly orthodox testimony of the Babylonian and Persian monarchs.  In the parable of the Mustard Seed in Matt 13:31-32, Jesus likens the growth of the kingdom of God to the way in which a tiny mustard seed can eventually become a tree that is substantive enough to provide shelter for the birds.  In this concise parable, Matthew combines several terms and phrases that show that he is directly drawing on Daniel for inspiration…. What the parable in Matthew reflects is not only a reuse, but also a reapplication of the material from Daniel 4.  What originally spoke of the growth of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and the sustenance provided by it is reused by Matthew to speak of the same things in relation to the kingdom of God. In the parable of the Yeast (Matt 13:33), the kingdom of God is likened to yeast that works its way through the dough, bringing out growth as it does so.

In both Daniel 1-7 and the New Testament, the faithful are called to engage society.  In Daniel 1-7, the faithful are participants in structures that are not part of the kingdom of God.  Their presence there creates a testimony that sometimes put them at odds with the power structures, but that also transforms those structures.  In each case, the faithful are rescued from crisis and witness a royal acknowledgement of God.  A basic example of how members of the kingdom are to be engaged in society comes in Jesus’ response to the question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” (Matt 22:15-22).

Chronicles Lense

According to Fee and Stuart the book of Chronicles is,

a brilliant retelling of the story of Judah intended to give the present generation a sense of continuity with its great past and to focus on the temple and its worship as the place where that continuity could now be maintained’. How to Read the Bible Book by Book, page 101

In other words it draws from other portions of the Bible, especially 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, which portray Israel’s history as an ever increasing spiral of sin and idolatry, which inevitably lead to exile. However, in contrast with these books, Chronicles reflects events and circumstances from a positive perspective. The authors intention was not to ‘rewrite’ history but to communicate where the community should find its identity; in God. It was written to answer the questions, ‘are we still in covenant, are we still God’s chosen people, and do we still fit into God’s plan?”.

While we in the West have not experienced exile per se, there is a well documented trend that the Church here is in decline. Also, there are many books written to explain the intricacies and development of this phenomenon. One message to come out of this research (especially those who look into the effects of Christendom) is that the Western Church has neglected or forgotten how to be missional into its own contemporary situation, therefore inevitably aiding to its own decline. While understanding the need and importance of this work, sometimes there is a negativity that overshadows any positive accomplishments. Could this be said to be a reading of history through the lenses of Kings? If so, do we need to try on the lenses of Chronicles to find some sense of continuity with the past, and therefore understand at a more profound level how the Western Church actively entered into Mission with God. In doing so we might be encouraged to see the extent our identity is found in Christ, become motivated to partake in the Spirit’s mission in bringing the restoration and reconciliation of God to the here and now.

What do you think?

Canon and Mission

Have you ever thought about how the Bible is a Missional Book?  If your are a regular visitor to this blog hopefully you have, but what about the actual unity of the canon itself, in its composition, compilation and its organisation?  Dan Beeby in his little book Canon and Mission looks at this specific theme with great insight.  Amongst other things, he questions the reason why the Old Testament ordering is different from that of the original Hebrew Bible.  He notes on page 32,

They took out the center part of the Hebrew scriptures and put it at the end.  The prophets were taken from the middle, from between the Torah and the writings, and put at the end because the prophets were read in the church as prophecies of Jesus Christ and so would have to be put nearest the Gospels.  So we have our Old Testament ending with the forward-looking conclusion of Malachi, and then you come immediately to the Gospels and the coming of Jesus Christ.

 

So what is the missional significance of this?  This is about seeing the big picture of the Bible.  Often when we come to read or study the Bible we categorise, atomise and dissect  it into chapter and verse or even into specific word studies.  While this is by no means a wrong or ineffective way of studying, do we miss something?  How often do we just read it to remind ourselves of the very fact that we have an inspired book that screams “God can be found and wants to be known”.  The inspired men from centuries past brought together independently written books with their individual agenda’s in such a way that the very flow of the library that is the Bible shows us that God has a mission; he desires to be known.

Eavesdropping Abraham

Genesis chapter 18 is a curious passage to engage with missionally, especially around verses 16-21. In these verses the reader learns of YHWH either talking to himself, or His companions, in deep perplexing contemplation, loud enough to enable Abraham to overhear.  The narrator has placed it between God having a meal with Abraham, reiterating His covenant and Abraham’s intercession for Sodom.  How does one engage with this from a missional perspective?  Was it simply to teach further generations the punishment for sin, or warning Abraham as a patriarch of what a great nation should not to become.  Or is there a deeper understanding linking this story with earlier themes in Genesis.   Was Abraham eavesdropping or did God use it as device to stir the depths of Abrahams soul, enabling him to access a greater understanding of what it means to be ‘made in the image of God’.   Whether eavesdroppng or not, it prompted Abraham to begin a form of negotiation with the Creator of the universe, prompting Him to reconsider the total obliteration of the city.  There is little evidence in the text to say why Abraham risked the consequences of debating/questioning YHWH’s judgement apart from Lot, nevertheless, his intercession went beyond that of his family or even the righteous, it was extended to those throughout the city who did not deserve it.  Is it possible that this could be a prototype of Matthew 22:36-40 when Jesus highlights the greatest commandments, showing that its missional value firmly rooted in the foundations of love.

The Challenge of Luke 9:1-6 for Western Contemporary Mission

Chris Wright, notes in The Mission of God, p40, that, ‘It is the common witness of those, including myself [Wright], who have lived and worked in cultures other than their own that reading and studying the Bible through the eyes of others is a challenging, mind-blowing and immensely instructive privilege’.

 

This year we have the privilege of welcoming Laurence Gatawa, a Filipino scholar and lecturer in New Testament Studies as our visiting scholar.  In his first lecture on Luke-Acts he challenged the class to read Luke 9:1-6, (Jesus sending out the 12 saying, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics….” (ESV)), from a position of someone from the Majority World/Global South.  Following this line of thought he asked ‘What would their interpretation be? Would they hear this as a call to mission, if so what would be their response?’

Is it easier for those from the Global South/Majority World to follow Jesus’ teaching here?

He further challenged the class to reflect on how we (the West) have a tendency to build resources first before embarking mission.  Do we neglect this passage in our Missional understanding?

How would you respond to both the lecture questions and the Biblical passage?

Myth

In the much disputed creation – evolution debate the word myth is usually attributed to the Genesis account of creation by one particular side. In using the words myth or mythological, for the creation narrative naturally communicates that it belongs in the realm of misconception, fairy tale and fantasy.  This understanding of myth has been perpetuated due to the fact that most great stories about gods or creation are in the guise of great epic stories based in an unscientific and non-rational age.  On account of this perception (especially in the Western world) it has enabled them to then become massive cinematographic blockbusters, such as Thor, Clash of the Titans and Evan Almighty to name but a few, providing viewing pleasure of millions of people. But what is mythology? John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis One writes,

Mythology by its nature seeks to explain how the world works and how it came to work that way, and therefore includes a culture’s “theory of origins”.  We sometimes label certain literature as “myth” because we do not believe that we the world works that way.  The label is a way of holding it at arm’s length so as to clarify that we do not share that belief – particularly as it refers to involvement and activities of the god’s…. Their “mythology” expressed their beliefs concerning what made the world what it was; it expressed their theories of origins and how their world worked.

By definition, our modern mythology is represented by science – our own theories of origins and operations. Science provides what is generally viewed as the consensus concerning what the world is, how it works and how it came to be.  Today, science makes no room for deity (though neither does it disprove deity), in contrast to the ancient explanations, which are filled with deity.

So how is this relevant missionally? What do we do with these two great mythologies?  Firstly, we must recognise that each culture and people group has their own interpretation of the origins of the cosmos, whether this is in the local pub, university or the other side of the world. Secondly, we should endeavour to find affirmations, similarities and critiques, between world views with the aim of finding a model that enables authentically contextualised missional engagement.

What do you think?

A Re-reading of Acts 10-11

Mission After Christendom by David Smith is a fantastic book that highlights some key challenges facing the modern missionary movement in an ever increasing globalised world.  He seeks to address each challenge using astutely discerned biblical passages as a model to motivate the Church to engage missionally with its surrounding culture effectively.

Looking at the challenge of pluralisation, he uses the narrative found in Acts 10-11 of Peter and Cornelius.   The following is an abstract from his book.

The literary structure of the first two scenes is similar; in both the prayer of the central character leads on to a vision, which is then followed by a special divine revelation.  However, there is also a contrast between Cornelius, who is open, responsive and obedient to the divine word, and Peter, whose reaction is characterised by confusion, resistance and rebellion.  The contrast is striking and disturbing; the man without the Bible is humbly obedient to the light given to him, while the one with all the privileges, who in this case has actually walked with the incarnate Word of God, resists further light and will not budge from an inherited theological position.

It is important to consider carefully the nature of the obstacles that initially prevented Peter from following the call of the missionary Christ.  He has a vision in which a sheet comes down from heaven containing both clean and unclean animals, which he is then commanded to ‘Kill and eat’.  His reaction is a very strong one, something like the ringing statement: ‘Never Lord! For not once in my life have I ever eaten anything unclean’ (10:14). Peter has always understood dietary behaviour to reflect the divine will since it was based on what seemed to be special revelation.  The dietary laws were not a merely human construction designed to provide ethnic distinctiveness to the Jewish people, but were an expression of holiness.  It is this perspective which explains the strength of Peter’s reaction and his seeming irreverence in resisting the voice from heaven.  He is, we might say, arguing for God against God.  Peter’s resistance to the divine command is long and vigorous, so that even after the instruction has been issued and declined three times he is still left ‘wondering about the meaning of the vision’ (10:17).

What is in fact happening here is that the apostle is making the painful discovery that things he has always regarded as unchanging absolutes were in fact, in the light of Jesus Christ, culturally relative. In a missionary context the church will always find itself involved in the struggle to distinguish biblical absolutes from culturally conditioned beliefs as practices.  The great Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes once accused his contemporaries of ‘making more sins than God has made’ and long-established theological traditions are always in danger of limiting Christian freedom by an unwarranted expansion of beliefs and practices classified as absolutes.  Put another way, mission involves the discovery that our faith and theology have been conditioned by culture to a far greater extent that we had ever realised.  Cultural conditioning is not something that happens only to other people, we too carry cultural baggage which needs to be declared ‘excess’ and left behind when we seek to share Christ with others.

It is incredibly difficult to perceive our own cultural baggage, especially as we are immersed within our own culture.  How can we take a step back and survey what are timeless unchanging truths and what is culturally relative baggage and in need of being left behind?

The Dispersion at Babel as Divine Cultural Enrichment

Throughout modern history there has been a tendency to view the dispersion or the confusion of language at Babel as a Divine judgment on the whole of humanity for their arrogance at trying to make a name for themselves.  Gordon Wenham highlights this perfectly when he writes, ‘The tower of Babylon stands as a monument to man’s importance before his creator, and the multiplicity of human languages is a reminder of divine retribution on human pride’ (Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis 1-15, p244).  This understanding seems to shed a negative light on the diversity of language, placing it in the same category of judgement as the ‘Flood’, the ‘killing of Abel’ and the ‘Fall’.  However, what if there is a positive understanding of this story rather than its primary function being judgment?

The increased accessibility of travel, and the awareness of becoming ‘multicultural’ in our society, has increased the ease at which we are experiencing multiple cultures in very short spaces of time.  It is here that postmodernist studies have helped us grasp the depth of diversity in other cultures. They highlight the layers of cultural lenses found within different peoples and nations, celebrating the vast range of resources, creativities, interpretations and expressions, that can only be gained through experiencing multiple cultures.  What if the Babel story found in Genesis 11:1-9 is more about creation and enriching the peoples of the world by gently nudging them to fulfill God’s mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it’ (ESV), giving them a head start in ‘mixing up their languages’.  This enrichment was the creation of a world that is varied in how it lives out its existence, varied in how it understands itself and creation, and varied in how it worships God.  The narrative of creation found in Genesis shows explicitly how God loves variety throughout His creation. Further, Revelation 7:9-10 gives us a picture of the variety of people worshiping God (people from every tribe, tongue and nation).  Is variety the full realization of the story of Babel, and its thrust, God urging us to explore our creativity in all things, and through this enrichment process giving a greater glory to God?

What do you think?

If you want to read more check out Eddie Arthur’s blog

Babel, Pentecost and the Blessing of Diversity http://www.kouya.net/?p=2734

James and Justice

In Howard Marshall excellent book New Testament Theology: Many witnesses, one gospel, he writes

Of all the books of the New Testament the letter of James is the one that may appear at first sight to be the least theological. But at least it mentions Jesus, which is more than can be said of 3 John! (p269)

Recently when preparing an introduction to the book of James I came across this quote which pricked my interest.  His statement surprised me until I discovered how Martin Luther wanted to remove the book of James from the canon of scripture calling it ‘the epistle of straw’, and citing the fact that Jesus is only mentioned sporadically throughout the entire book.  However, delving a little deeper into the text we begin to see that the author’s thinking is so engrained with the teaching of Jesus that he ‘neglects’ to mention his references.  Nevertheless, if we cross reference James with Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ found in Matthew 5-7 we begin to see remarkable parallels, the most compelling being the theme of Justice.  In noting this we must first recognize that the book of James fits neatly into the literary category ‘Wisdom’, (like, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Eccesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon) which was extremely familiar to first and second century Jews.  Therefore, it is from within this perspective that we should understand the author of James as advocating a ‘hard hitting and reality-orientated attitude’ (Peter Davids, 1989), offering us a realistic benchmark for how to live out a life filled with justice and integrity.

Israel as a Home Page for the surrounding Nations

During one of our recent Biblefresh seminars we were trying to get to grips with how the whole Bible fits together as one coherent story. This involved looking at the idea that ancient Israel was given a missional mandate, which was, according to Chris Wright, ‘entrusted to them from God for the sake of God’s wider purpose of blessing the nations. Israel’s election was not a rejection of other nations but was explicitly for the sake of all nations’ (in his The Mission of God, p65).

 

In previous lectures, to illustrate the purpose of Israel’s election and subsequent blessing to the nations, we have often used the metaphor of a shop’s display window, presenting its wares for all to see. Israel was to demonstrate to the surrounding nations how to live a faithful life before an Almighty God. However, in contemporary UK society with the decline of town centre shopping and the rise of internet shopping this metaphor feels less compelling.  We no longer window shop, but browse the internet, navigating to several home pages, clicking tabs, or clearly identifiable icons before we find what we are looking for.

 

This shift in consumer purchasing inspired a thought: that Israel’s missional function could be more adequately imagined as an internet home page. From within this metaphor, Israel was to be the home page that all the surrounding nations navigated to find how to live before a Holy God. This would include all the intricacies of dietary laws, private and corporate worship, temple duties, cleansing rituals, offerings, ethics, politics, etc. In other words everything relating to a righteous life should have been easy to access by navigating to the desired tab, icon or news feed. However, as the majority of us are aware every website has the potential to house a destructive virus or worm, leading to corruption, distortion and the inability to function according to its design and purpose, which brings us back to the Old Testament’s portrayal of Israel. And, as ever, the challenge remains for the church today…