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…

Was Jonah a missionary?

Chris Wright's The Mission of GodAll 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)

Free access to reviews of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God

Chris Wright's The Mission of GodI’ve noticed in the last few days that we have had a lot of hits on a post a I wrote back in February giving links for reviews of Chris Wright’s 2006 work, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Grand Narrative of Scripture.

All the links given there are for freely available, online reviews of the book.

I am inferring from this recent trend that a lot of classes in Bible Colleges, seminaries and other training programmes are starting around now and they have Wright’s important book on the curriculum. This is great news!

While there is a growing body of literature on the missional interpretation (see our Bible and Mission resources section for details), Wright’s The Mission of God is still, I think, the most significant work on the subject and, as such, is essential reading. It is on the reading lists for undergrads and postgrads at Redcliffe and is a core text in the ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ module on our MA in Bible and Mission programme (indeed we read it cover to cover, alongside other important works).

So, if you are reading The Mission of God in a class this year, whether here at Redcliffe or anywhere else in the world, may you be informed, inspired and changed as a result. May you be more encouraged and engaged in your participation in the mission of God.

P.S. I’d love to know what type of courses are using Wright’s book in different places. Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Mission accomplished – the book of Revelation

We’ve reached the astonishing vision of Rev. 7 in Redcliffe’s module on Revelation. I’ve posted before on this chapter when considering what James Brownson describes as the multicultural presence of God. This time Chris Wright provides the insights in a chapter on Particularity and Universality in the Bible, in his The Mission of God (pp249-251, his italics):

Revelation 4-7 is a comprehensive single vision-a neck-searching, mind-boggling vision-in which John “sees” the whole universe from the vantage point of God’s throne at its center. The meaning of the history of the world is symbolized in a scroll in God’s right hand, which was slain. In other words, the cross of Christ is the key to the unfolding purposes of history; or, in terms of our argument here, the unfolding mission of God. Why is Christ worthy to govern history? Because he was slain. And what difference has that made? The song of the living creatures and twenty-four elders explain it for John, and for us.

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth. (Rev 5:9-10)

The song gives three reasons why the cross is the key to history.

• First, it is redemptive. People who were lost, defeated, or enslaved in sin have been “purchased” for God. Humanity will not go down the drainpipe of history into the abyss.

• Second, it is universal. Those who have been so redeemed will come from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

• Third, it is victorious. The Lamb wins! He and his redeemed people will reign on the earth.

The echoes of Old Testament Scripture are clear. The universality of the Abrahamic promise is captured in the list of tribe, language, people and nation. And the specific calling on Israel in Exodus 19:5-6, to be God’s kingdom of priests in the midst of all the nations of the whole earth, has now itself been internationalized and projected into an eternal future of serving God (as priests) and reigning on earth (as kings). The rightful place of redeemed humanity is that they are restored to their original status and role within creation: under God and over creation, serving and ruling. This is the wonderful combination of priesthood and kingship that redeemed humanity will exercise in the redeemed creation.

The climax of this vision, with the sixth seal, brings together the 144,000 crowd, representative of the historic twelve tribes of Israel, with the immediately following panorama of that innumerable multinational host of the redeemed, the final fulfillment of what God promised Abraham:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Rev 7:7-9)

If, when God first called Abraham and designated him and his barren wide in their old age to be the fountainhead of his whole mission to rescue creation and humanity from the woes of Genesis 3-11, we imagined the sharp intake of breath among the astonished heavenly hosts, then in John’s vision we are not left merely to our own imagination. For he goes on to tell us:

All the angels were standing round the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Rev 7:11-12)

And God, in the midst of the resounding praises, will turn to Abraham and say, “There you are. I kept my promise. Mission accomplished.”

Reviews of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God

Chris Wright's The Mission of GodAs this blog has noted on numerous occasions, Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative is a seminal work in the field of Bible and Mission. It is essential reading for students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) here at Redcliffe and forms the basis of the Reading the Bible Missionally module on our MA in Bible and Mission. While there are an increasing number of other important works around on the subject, anyone wanting to read, write, research or speak on the Bible and Mission will need to continually engage with Wright’s book.

In April 2008 I edited issue 17 of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal on the theme of Mission and the Old Testament. This focused on The Mission of God which had been published a few months earlier and includes an interview with Wright about his book, as well as two reviews. As the book straddles the two disciplines of Biblical Studies and Missiology, we asked Prof Gordon McConville and Dr Kang-San Tan to evaluate the volume in the light of the two fields.

Mission: What the Bible is All About – An interview with Chris Wright
(Tim Davy)

Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: An Old Testament Scholar’s Perspective (Prof J. Gordon McConville)

Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: A Missiologist’s Perspective
(Dr Kang San Tan)

But there are plenty of other reviews of The Mission of God out there. To that end this post highlights a number of online reviews and we’ll keep it up to date as we come across more. If you know of any not mentioned here, or want to contribute a review, drop me a line in the comment box below.

evepheso blog

SBL review by Christopher N. Chandler

Global Missiology review by Mark R. Kreitzer

fbcnewlondon blog review by Mike Leake

vialogue blog

beginningwithmoses website review by Michael J. Glodo

9marks website review by Mike Gilbart-Smith

Biblical Basis of Mission course – week one

Truth with a MissionToday was the first day of lectures at Redcliffe and I began a six-week course with the first years called, The Biblical Basis of Mission, which is coupled with a six-week course next term on Issues and Trends in Contemporary Mission.

This morning we looked at some foundational stuff using Chris Wright’s introductory material on missional hermeneutics. It’s found in a few different places – Fanning the Flame: Bible, Cross and Mission (edited by P. Gardner et al, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003); Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (edited by C. Bartholomew et al, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004); Text and Task: Scripture and Mission (edited by M. Parsons, Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2006); and expanded in Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006) – but the most accessible format is his 2005 Grove booklet, Truth with a Mission: Reading Scripture Missiologically (Cambridge: Grove Books).

The issues we discussed included: the Bible as the story of God’s mission; the Bible’s call to mission; the Bible as the product of mission; the Bible as a tool of mission; mission as the theme of the Bible; the messianic and missional nature of the Bible; the difference between evangelism and mission; mission as first-and-foremost God’s activity; and more!

I love this quote in particular:

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, p. 14)

Next week, Mission and the Torah…

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)

A missiologist and a biblical scholar review Chris Wright’s The Mission of God

missionofgodBack in April 2007 I edited an issue of Encounters Mission Ezine, on the theme of Mission and the Old Testament. Every now and then I will blog on these articles as contributors came up with some really interesting stuff.

At the time, Chris Wright’s The Mission of God had just come out so we featured an interview with him about it. As the book spans both Missiology and Biblical Studies, I was interested to see what specialists from each discipline would make of it. So I asked both Dr Kang-San Tan, Head of Mission Studies at Redcliffe College, and Prof Gordon McConville, Professor of Old Testament Theology at the University of Gloucestershire, to review it.

Both described The Mission of God as “remarkable”. Here are a couple of extracts from their reviews.

Prof Gordon McConville:

The product of Wright’s readiness to embrace the particularity of Israel in his view of mission is a holistic Gospel.  The exodus model shows that political freedom is part of God’s purpose for humanity; similarly, the Jubilee (Leviticus 25) illustrates an economic aspect.  Such facets of social existence are inseparable from the spiritual life, and the twin dangers of over-spiritualizing and over-politicizing the Gospel are well addressed (pp. 275-88).  Mission ultimately embraces all dimensions of human life, including praise (p. 132), pastoral and ethical concerns (pp. 182-86), and environmental issues (pp. 397-420).  And this vision informs evangelism, since ‘the fundamental theology behind [the Jubilee] also lies behind our practice of evangelism’ (p. 300).  In these ways, the particularity of Israel is put to the cause of a universal proclamation.  In God’s purpose, Israel not only witnesses to the nations, but the nations are finally brought under covenant obedience along with Israel.  Ultimately too, the divine mission overcomes death, for a biblical concept of salvation is distinguished from all others by its promise of the defeat of death itself (p. 440).
Read Prof McConville’s review article in full

Dr Kang-San Tan:

Although it was not the expressed purpose of the book, The Mission of God contributes towards the closing of the existing gap between missiology and biblical studies.  Instead of separating theology and biblical studies from mission contexts, Wright approaches the texts of scripture through a mission paradigm.  In some circles, theological and biblical studies have been considered academic and scientific, while missiology still finds itself under suspect by scholars of other academic disciplines.  Part of the distrust may come from missiologists using biblical proof-texts to justify their mission theories and strategies.  To some extent, Wright demonstrates in action, more than words, that mission readings and careful exegesis of scripture are both needed for critical missiology.
Read Dr Tan’s review article in full

Chris Wright to give lecture on Bible and Mission at Redcliffe College


Exciting news! On Tuesday 12 May 2009 Rev Dr Chris Wright will be delivering Redcliffe College’s Annual Lecture in World Christianity on the subject of The Bible and Mission.

I would argue that Chris is perhaps the most influential writer on the subject of Bible and mission around today, as evidenced by his magesterial volume, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. He writes and speaks with passion and persuasion.

We are thrilled that he has accepted Redcliffe’s invitation and are very much looking forward to the event. I’ll post more details in due course; it is a public lecture so why not come along?

To whet your appetite have a look at this interview I did with Chris last year for Encounters Mission Ezine: Mission: What the Bible is All About – An Interview with Chris Wright