There is a lot to like about this new book from Chris Wright: The Mission of God's People (Zondervan, 2010).
The writing style and the format of the book makes it so accessible to home groups, for example. The 'sermonic atmosphere' hovering around the chapters is suggestive to preachers looking for ideas. It is the start of a new, and overdue, series on 'biblical theology for life'. It makes accessible many of the themes introduced in the author's earlier and larger magnum opus, The Mission of God ... and it answers the practical question "What are we here for?"
The answer comes by affirming that "mission has to do with the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world - and that means using the whole Bible (266)." And so, as the subtitle expresses it, this is a "biblical theology of the church's mission" - with care taken to avoid the two dangers of "theology proceeding without missional input or output (and) mission proceeding without theological guidance or evaluation (19)."
To give you a taste of the book, here is a countdown of the five chapters which impacted me the most...
Chapter 2: People Who Know the Story They Are Part Of
Here we find Chris' summary of the biblical story in four parts as creation, fall, 'redemption in history', new creation (with a useful diagram on p40). That phrase 'redemption in history' has advanced my understanding in that he resists identifying redemption with the arrival of Jesus, arguing that it goes back at least as far as the call of Abraham. There is an insightful page on Luke 24 (p38) - and a terrific extended quotation from Philip Greenslade on the need to 'indwell' this story as "we stop trying to make the Bible relevant to our lives and instead begin to find ourselves being made relevant to the Bible. We give up the clumsy attempt to wrench the ancient text into our contemporary world and instead bring our world back into collision with, and cleansing by, the strange new world of the Bible (Philip Greenslade, quoted on p45)."
Chapter 6: People Who Are Redeemed for Redemptive Living
Here Chris engages the Exodus event with a simple thesis: 'exodus-shaped redemption demands exodus-shaped mission'. The redemption is holistic - political, economic, social, spiritual - and so must be the mission as well. He slides across to the cross of Christ as "the fulfillment of the exodus, including within its total redemptive accomplishment final liberation from all that enslaves and oppresses humanity and creation (p111)." Quoting from the earlier book, "we need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess (quoted on p110).
Chapter 11: People Who Proclaim the Gospel of Christ
The preacher in me is drawn into this chapter by the sheer simplicity of what he discovers in Isaiah 52.7-10: God Reigns, God Returns, God Redeems ... and the "gospel is on its way (186)." First he demonstrates how 'Jesus was and is God reigning' and then how 'Jesus was and is God returning' and how 'Jesus was and is God redeeming' ... before touching down in Paul and asking "how then did Paul think and speak of the gospel? (190)." And from a study of every use of the word 'gospel' by Paul, Chris comes up with six features of Paul's gospel and explains them. He then concludes by arguing that Paul's gospel is historical and ecclesial, faith and obedience, heard and seen, personal and cosmic... In the way it spans the scriptures, there is something so satisfying (that seems to be the best word!) about this chapter.
Chapter 13: People Who Live and Work in the Public Square
How refreshing is this? More to the point, how affirming is this? "For God, the corruption of the public square is not a reason to vaporise it, but to purge it and redeem it (p227)." He embraces Is 65.17-25 and its vision of the hope which we have when "the whole of life - personal life, family life, public life, animal life - will be redeemed and restored to God-glorifying productiveness and human-fulfilling enjoyment (p227)." I loved the pages on three of my favourites - Joseph, Daniel, Esther - and then the chapter closes with a nice touch: "A personal message to Christians in the public square (pp241-243)" by someone who "feels that he speaks as a coward, for my own working life is not spent in the secular marketplace (p242)." Those called to the public square will cherish these two pages ... and Chris returns to this theme later in the book: "People don't go to church on Sundays to support their pastors in their ministry. The pastor goes to church on Sunday to support the people in their ministry (p272)."
Chapter 8: People Who Attract Others to God
My spirit soared as I made my way through this chapter. And yes, I realise that this is largely because I am in such deep agreement with what is written. It is a theme I have been banging on about in this NZ context for years - being 'distinctive with distinction' is the way I like to express it ... but having someone of Chris Wright's stature draw the themes from scriptures (from five different places!) with such a chatty and practical eloquence is just thrilling. Churches and leaders are pigging-out on the need to be incarnational, at the expense of being attractional. It is a big mistake. We mix in, but if we lose our difference as we do so, where does this leave us? Salt - but also Light, I think someone once said. Or, as Chris puts it repeatedly in this book, "there is no biblical mission without biblical ethics (p94)." The downgrading of the struggle to be holy (when did you last hear a sermon on it?) is just one expression of this concern. "God's people are to live in such a way that they become attractors - not to themselves, but to the God they worship (p129)." Or, as Chris wryly observes, "We often sing, "Shine, Jesus, Shine". I sometimes hear a voice from heaven muttering, "Shine yourself, why don't you?" (p143).
Well, there are five of the chapters! There are eight others carrying the freight in this book, before a final chapter on "The Journey So Far and the Journey Ahead". In articulating five "scandals" in the church on p283, Chris gives us an agenda on where to start being distinctive with distinction. It will not be easy.
[NB (1): Chris Wright is visiting New Zealand from Sunday October 23 - Sunday October 30. He will be in Auckland, Waikanae, Wellington and Christchurch (DV!), primarily to participate in the kiwi-made preaching forums - but also to speak and preach in different settings. Contact the Langham office for further details (firstname.lastname@example.org +64 6 376 5190)
NB (2): If you are in New Zealand, the Langham office has copies of this book available - with further details here on the offer being extended to you.]