All first years at Redcliffe are required to take a Bible overview consisting two modules: ‘A Missional Introduction to the Old Testament’ and ‘A Missional Introduction to the New Testament’ (see these two posts for the rationale behind a missional approach to teaching the Bible: Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 1 & part 2).
Students are currently wrestling with the assignment for the OT course, which this year is to discuss the extent to which they think the book of Jonah would be an appropriate subject for a Bible study series at a church’s mission weekend.
For obvious reasons I’m not going to discuss this at length but I thought this was a nice quote from Chris Wright’s The Mission of God on the subject:
The book of Jonah has always featured in biblical studies of mission, sometimes as almost the only part of the Old Testament deemed to be of any relevance. Here at least is someone who has some semblance of being an actual missionary, sent to another country to preach the word of God. However, for all the fascination of the character and adventures of Jonah, the real missional challenge of the book undoubtedly and intentionally lies in its portrayal of God. If Jonah is intended to represent Israel, as seems likely, then the book issues a strong challenge to Israel regarding their attitude to the nations (even enemy nations that prophets placed under God’s declared judgment), and regarding their understanding of God’s attitude to the nations. The concluding open-ended question of the book is an enduring, haunting rebuke to our tendency to foist our own ethnocentric prejudices on to the Almighty.
It is interesting and informative to compare and contrast the response to Jonah to the word of divine judgment on a pagan nation with that of Abraham. Commissioned to proclaim Nineveh’s doom, Jonah ran away and jumped in a boat, alleging later that he had done so precisely because he suspected that YHWH would revert to type and show compassion. Informed of God’s intention to investigate the outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham jumps to intercession and finds YHWH prepared to be even more merciful than he initially bargained for.
Nathan MacDonald finds a thread running through texts such as Genesis 18, Exodus 32-34, Psalm 103:6-10 and Ezekiel 18. “The Judge of all the earth,” who will unquestionably do what is right, is also the “gracious and compassionate God” who “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” The character of YHWH is exercised in forgiveness and mercy, extended to all nations, not just to Israel. (p.461)