Chris Wright on Noah and the mission of God

In our journey through Genesis 1-11 on Redcliffe’s Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts degree programme we have reached the account of Noah.

Here is what Chris Wright in The Mission of God says about the covenant God makes with Noah in Gen. 9

The narrative of the covenant that God made with Noah in Genesis 8:15-9:17 is the first explicit reference to covenant-making in the biblical text… The Noachic covenant establishes at least two foundational points that are relevant to the rest of the biblical concept of mission.

God’s commitment to all life on earth. In the context of God’s radical judgment on the comprehensive nature of human sin (repeatedly portrayed as “violence and corruptions”), God still commits himself to the created order itself and the preservation of life on the planet. Although we live on a cursed earth, we also live on a covenanted earth. There is an unambiguous universality about God’s covenantal self-commitment here: His promise is not only with humanity but also with “every living creature on earth” (Gen 9:10). This Noachic covenant provides the platform for the ongoing mission of God throughout the rest of human and natural history, and thereby also, of course, the platform for our own mission in participation with his. Whatever God does, or whatever God calls us to do, there is a basic stability to the cotnext of all our history.

This does not of course mean that God would never again use his natural creation as the agent of his judgment as well as his blessing (as the rest of the Old Testament amply testifies). But it does set limits to such actions within history. Apart from the final judgment of God that will bring an end to fallen human history as we presently know and experience it on this sinful planet, the curse will never again be expressed in an act of comprehensive destruction as the flood. This is God’s earth, and God is also covenantally committed to its survival, just as later revelation will show us that God is also covenantally committed to its ultimate redemption. Even the final judgment will not mean the end of the earth as God’s creation but the end of the sinful condition that has subjected the whole of creation to its present frustration. Our mission then takes place within the framework of God’s universal promise to the created order. This is a framework that gives security and scope to all our mission: security because we operate within the parameters of God’s commitment to our planet, and scope because there is nothing and no place on earth that lies outside the writ of God’s covenant with Noah. The rainbow promise spans whatever horizon we can ever see.

The ecological dimension of mission. The language with which God addresses Noah at the end of the flood clearly echoes Genesis 1. In a sense this is a fresh start for all creation. So Noah and his family are blessed and instructed to fill the earth and (although not with the same phrase) to have dominion over it. The creation mandate is renewed. The human task remains the same-to exercise authority over the rest of the creation, but to do so with care and respect for life, symbolized in the prohibition on eating animal blood (Gen. 9:4). So there is a human mission built into our origins in God’s creation and God’s purpose for creation. To care for creation is in fact the first purposive statement that is made about the human species; it is our primary mission on the planet. The covenant with Noah effectively renews this mission, within the context of God’s own commitment to creation. (pp326-327, his italics)

Here are a few questions to get you thinking.

  • Is our reading of the Bible so focused on humanity that we miss what it says about God’s purposes for the wider creation?
  • What do you make of God making a covenant with all of creation, and not just humans?
  • What do you think of Wright’s point that, ‘there is nothing and no place on earth that lies outside the writ of God’s covenant with Noah’? How does it rebuke or encourage you as you engage in God’s mission?
  • How does Wright’s section on ecology inform discussions on creation care? To what extent do we treat creation care as peripheral to mission?

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below…

The Bible, justice, advocacy and reconciliation

jusTice initiative at Redcliffe CollegeOne of the many exciting things going on at Redcliffe is the new jusTice initiative.

Part of the initiative is the development of a new MA in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation in Intercultural Contexts.

Some info about the course is available below. First, though, here is what Joel Edwards says about it:

Justice is still the ugly sister in theological education. This is an awful tragedy because it remains one of the most pervasive ideas and convictions in the Bible. Our reluctance to go beyond acts of kindness to explore and respond to systemic injustices has a great deal to do with a distinct lack of theological reflection. This new MA, and the jusTice Initiative is attempting to put that right and deserves our support. A more robust biblical reflection on this critical issue will produce a generation of men and women who are truly able to show the whole council of God, make a substantial difference to our biblical advocacy and in turn, make a material difference to the 1.4 billion people who still live in abject poverty. (Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge)

Justice, advocacy and reconciliation are key biblical themes which frame our Christian witness and contribute to creating a world where people and the environment can flourish and become all that God wants them to be.

In an increasingly complex and globalised world, there is a critical need for us to identify and understand how the structures of society can facilitate or obstruct the flow of justice and how the Church can act in ways which promote justice, advocacy and reconciliation.

Redcliffe’s exciting new MA in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation in Intercultural Contexts seeks to equip the rapidly-growing number of people involved in justice and mission-related activity. Students will explore Biblical frameworks, mission thinking and practice and explore a number of key issues in areas of socio-political, economic and environmental (in)justice.

The course is being developed in consultation with Christian Aid, International Justice Mission, Micah Challenge, CARE and Coventry Cathedral’s Reconciliation ministry, along with others who will be involved in the ongoing development and delivery of the course. It is subject to validation by the University of Gloucestershire and the planned start date is September 2012

Who is the course for?

  • Mission agencies who require their members to develop biblical, theological and missiological frameworks in preparation for justice, advocacy or reconciliation-related work
  • Partner agencies with members who wish to develop theological and missiological perspectives to undergird their justice-related expertise
  • Those already engaged in mission who want to reflect biblically and missiologically on their role and activity
  • Members of para-church agencies and non-governmental organisations working in related areas who wish to develop biblical and theological frameworks for reflective critique
  • Missionaries on home leave, looking to reflect and engage with such issues, relevant to their mission context
  • Church leaders and the wider Christian community engaged in justice-related ministry and who wish to add a theological/missiological framework

Course structure
Subject to validation, students complete three compulsory modules* and choose one further module from the options below.

  • Method and content in missiological study*
  • Just Mission – justice issues in intercultural contexts*
  • Advocacy, Reconciliation and Peace-building in intercultural contexts*
  • The mission of the Church in the context of post-colonialism and globalisation
  • Theology of religions
  • The Greening of mission
  • Crucial issues in Asian mission and theology
  • Crucial Issues in European mission and theology
  • An introduction to global leadership
  • Independent study module

The MA is available in full-time, part-time and flexible learning modes. 

Shalom as a way into the Biblical story

Transformation After Lausanne - TizonThere are numerous concepts or images that we could use to trace the storyline of the Bible (covenant, election, kingdom, etc). What about the concept of the presence, disruption and restoration of shalom?

Here’s a nice quote from Al Tizon’s very helpful book, Transformation After Lausanne: Radical Evangelical Mission in Global-Local Perspective:

Only a shallow translation of the Hebrew word shalom would limit its definition to the idea of the absence of conflict and peace. Although it certainly includes peace, shalom also conveys the justice and righteousness that produces that peace (Jer. 6:13, 28). Shalom denotes a state wherein God rules, resulting in a harmonious relationship between God and humankind. And flowing from that relationship come: 1) the wholeness of persons, physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being, 2) the wholeness of human interactions – love and family, social justice, righteousness and peace, and 3) the wholeness of the relationship between humankind and the rest of creation – ecological sustenance and environmental stewardship…

God’s affirmative evaluation of the entire created order reflects the biblical theological fact that the world began in a state of shalom. Shalom existed because God ruled the universe.

The account of the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 conveys the tragic disruption of that shalom. Through Adam and Eve’s disobedience via the serpent’s deception, sin entered into the world… In essence the act [of disobedience] challenged God’s rule, and consequently shalom existence collapsed.

Tizon’s book is well worth a read. You can read a review of it by my colleague, Darrell Jackson in issue 33 of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal, which was on the theme of The Psalms and Mission.

Dan Beeby on the Bible, mission and Christendom

Canon and Mission - Dan BeebyJust a short quote to kick off the week. In his fantastic little book, Canon and Mission Dan Beeby asserts the following:

Christendom left us with a church that does not realize that the church exists for mission. It presented us with a God who is not the God of the missio dei. It obscured and concealed the fact that God is a missionary God and that the church exists for mission. It obscured the fact that theology is the handmaid of mission. And it obscured the fact that the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, if taken as a unity, is a handbook of mission. Unfortunately, we have a theology in Europe that is almost completely innocent of mission.

Beeby packs in a lot here. I would agree with what he asserts but would be interested to know if his final point (written in 1999) would still hold up, and whether readers would have agreed with him then or now. Perhaps my colleagues at Redcliffe’s Nova centre for research in European Mission would like to wade in? 🙂

Why community is vital for evangelism – a missional reflection on Mark 3

In a lecture on Mark’s Gospel today we were reflecting on Jesus’ words in 3:33-35:

33. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35. Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (NIV)

Bible and Mission Intern, Mark, made a shrewd observation by prodding us to think about what this might mean in a context where someone professes faith in Christ and is shunned by their family and community as a result.

Just what is our responsibility towards those whom we are seeking to reach? Surely at the very least it should mean that the church offers a family and community to which the new believer can be embraced. The image of church as family is a powerful metaphor; perhaps like no other it conveys the intense and necessary community that can make all the difference.

Reckoning with our already sentness

What would happen if you and I grasped – really grasped – our ‘already sentness’? How would our lives and churches be different if we all saw ourselves as joining in with God’s mission?

This is something we discussed at length in yesterday’s first Biblical Basis of Mission class. We used this quote from Chris Wright as a stimulus:

It is not so much, as someone has said, that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission is not just something we do (though it certainly includes that). Mission, from the point of view of our human endeavour, means the committed participation of God’s people in the purposes of God for the redemption of the whole creation.
(in Truth with a Mission: Reading Scripture Missiologically, p14)

For a start I would like to think that a wholesale reckoning with our already sentness would break down the unhelpful and unbiblical perceptions of ‘missionaries’ being on another plane of spirituality (nb. this is just as unhelpful for them as it is for those at home. Question: how do we honour those working cross-culturally without these unhelpful connotations?)

Would reckoning with our already sentness affect how mission was done in the local church? Would it give us more energy, more outward focus, more confidence that God is at work and we are joining with him in what he is doing?

What difference would it make to you to reckon with your already sentness? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Joy, thankfulness, psalms and mission

What motivates your participation in the mission of God? It seems to me there are various things that might focus our minds on being and sharing the good news of Jesus: obedience (Matt. 28:18-20) is one; love and conviction are others (2 Cor. 5:14-15). But what about joy and thankfulness?

I was speaking at Hillview Evangelical Church in Gloucester on Sunday on Psalm 100. Such a great Psalm:

A psalm. For giving thanks.
 1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
 2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
       come before him with joyful songs.
 3 Know that the LORD is God.
       It is he who made us, and we are his [a] ; [Or and not we ourselves]
       we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
       and his courts with praise;
       give thanks to him and praise his name.
 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
       his faithfulness continues through all generations. (NIV)

The preceeding psalms have been full of the assertion and celebration of God’s kingship, packed with praise and joy but also with an eye on the nations and all creation (see Ps. 96:3-4, 10-13; 97:1; 98:1-9).

Perhaps thankfulness motivates us in two ways:

1. We reckon with who God is and what he has done and is doing, in contrast with who we are and what we deserve. And so we want to share this message of hope with others.

2. We get caught up in a vision of the nations (100:1 ‘all the earth’) also rejoicing in the works of the Lord and this inspires us to be part of God’s purposes for seeing that multiculural thankful and worshipping community come about.

What practical steps can we take to cultivate a ‘missional thankfulness’?

Biblical Basis of Mission course – week six

Would you read the Bible differently if you were being persecuted for your faith?
If so, how? What questions and concerns would you bring to the text?

These were the questions that opened the final lecture of our Biblical Basis of Mission course, which was on the theme of, ‘Mission, the Epistles and Revelation’. I had asked the students to prepare for the lecture by reading up on the persecuted Church. Much of the Bible was written and put together within the context of pressure and even persecution, so there must be ways in which we fall short in our reading of Scripture if we do not take account of this.

We spent a fair amount of time in the early part of the session reading a selection of texts (Romans 1:8-17; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Phil. 1:3-5, 12-18; 1Thess. 1:2-10) and asking, What do these passages tell us about mission, then and now? How do these passages seek to shape God’s people for his mission in the world?

We then moved on the the book of Revelation, looking particularly at the significance of ‘…from every tribe and language and people and nation…’. I’ve posted on J. Brownson’s work on cultural diversity and the nature of God before. Here’s a quote I shared with the class in the context of Rev. 7:9-12:

All of humanity is called to glorify God, not by suppressing diversity and particularity, but by sanctifying it. The universal bond of humanity appears not so much in its set of common responses to its creator and sustainer, but rather by humanity’s diverse responses to the singular vision of God disclosed in the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (p.485; from J. Brownson, ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’, International Review of Mission, Vol 83, No. 330 (1994), pp.479-504)

Finally, we looked at Rev. 21:1-22:5 and discussed…

In what ways does this passage conclude the grand story of God’s mission?
How might it encourage those facing persecution for their faith, then and now?
How does it encourage you in your walk with God and role in his mission?

So, the course has finished (except for the students’ assignments that will be hitting my desk shortly!) but I’ll do at least one more post in the near future on my thoughts about the course as a whole.

Mission, the resurrection and HIV AIDS

Today’s post is a contribution to Slipstream’s synchronised blogging day. Slipstream is part of the Evangelical Alliance and “exists to network, equip and grow leaders across the generations”. They asked bloggers to post an entry on the resurrection on Maundy Thursday.

In my recent post Human trafficking and mission I asked how we might connect certain texts in the Old Testament with the issue of contemporary slavery and trafficking. Today I want to highlight one aspect of the importance of the resurrection in relation to the global shadow of HIV/AIDS. In his The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Chris Wright offers the following comments, which are well worth reflecting upon:

Only the gospel offers and proclaims the promise of a new humanity to those whose present humanity has been shattered and shredded by this virus.

I say “only the gospel” with a double intention. First, because this essential gospel promise of eternal life for all who believe, founded on the cross and resurrection of Christ, is nonnegotiable and cannot be substituted for or sublimated into any of the other responses that we must make to HIV/AIDS, all of which have their own equally nonnegotiable validity and Christian interpretation. But secondly, I say only the Christian gospel, as distinct from all other religions and their view of death. For actually, it is the stark fact of death that throws up and defines most clearly the chasmic divide between religions and between the myriad views of what salvation might mean…

a missiology that omits the only ultimate answer to death from the range of responses to those in the grip of death has no claim to a Christian name either. (pp. 440-441, emphasis in bold is mine)

Mission, migration and the book of Ruth

In an article entitled, ‘Bible heroine crosses cultures’ Bible Society’s recent supporters newsletter has a wonderful story of the Bible and mission in action. They recently co-funded a production of the story of Ruth that was used to engage with asylum communities in the UK:

It started when Bible Society’s Arts Development Officer Luke Walton suggested to a theatre company the possibility of exploring the Old Testament story.

‘We didn’t know the story of Ruth,’ said No Nonsense Theatre’s Artistic co-Director Lisa O’Hanlon. ‘The first time we read the biblical account we weren’t enthusiastic at all. Yet when we explored the Jewish history and looked at the Christian perspective, it became clear many women share her story today.

‘But it wasn’t until we involved the asylum community that this story really came to life. As the women who’d been forced to flee their own countries walked past our picture board portraying famine, grief, displacement and alienation, they each remarked, “That’s my story”.

It’s a beautiful account of  some of the ways in which the Bible can build bridges, express human experience, and connect. Here is a link to the whole article: Bible Heroine Crosses Cultures article