September 29, 2007

OT Theology

Over at Sets 'n' Service blog, Tony announces the release of Waltke's Old Testament theology. Waltke's commentary on Proverbs in the NICNT series has been highly touted, and I look forward to checking out this major book, organized around the theme of God's "Gifts." Check out the TOC and sample on Tony's site.

September 12, 2007

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God

What is the Bible all about? Is it a random collection of writings about people who have experienced God? Is it one story about Israel and another somehow connected story about Jesus? In this masterful work, Christopher Wright sets out to demonstrate that the Bible, from start to finish, can be read as focusing on God's mission: in both the Old and New Testaments, God is on the move.

The depth of Wright's book is too much to summarize here, beyond surveying the ground he covers and discussing a few of the high points along the way. He begins by discussing hermeneutics, that is, how we read the Bible and what we see when we do, and the argument he makes there is that instead of mining the Bible for insights about "missions," we should instead look for God's mission that permeates the pages of the Bible. It's not about searching for texts that tell us to go to the nations, but instead about being attuned to what God is doing and finding our part in it.

To flesh out this them, and to demonstrate how it is one way of showing the unity of the Bible, Wright begins with God, looking at who God revels himself to be and what God reveals himself to be doing in the world. This involves especially the fundamental notion of God's uniqueness, the foundation of biblical monotheism. The second foundational idea about God is that God wants to be known by that which he has created. God has revealed himself in many and various ways. The final investigation Wright undertakes with regard to God's identity is an extended investigation into the theme of idolatry, a major theme especially of the Old Testament, where he demonstrates that the constant prohibitions of idolatry over and over show God's desire to be known and Israel's conviction (though often forgotten) that God is the only true God.

After establishing who God has revealed himself to be, Wright goes on in part 3, the most substantial part of the book, to look carefully at "The People of Mission." This begins with the programmatic and foundational text of God's covenant with Abraham, with special focus on God's commitment to bless Abraham and bless the world through him. This statement of God's intention really sums up what God is doing, and signals a major shift after the rather dismal happenings in Genesis 3-11. After humans have broken their relationship with God and utterly messed up God's good creation, God steps in on a mission, a mission of blessing. And the way God goes about it is through Abraham. God makes a particular choice, of Abraham and his descendants, but God is not playing favorites. Instead, God chooses the particular for the sake of the universal. Abraham is a man with a mission, he is a man whom God chooses to use to begin the reconciliation of the whole world. Wright investigates these themes, and especially the two poles of universal and particular, as he goes on to discuss election and the people of Israel as God's missional people. He then goes on to investigate God's redemption of his people, through the programmatic story of the exodus, and God's model for restoration, the Jubilee year. Wright then gives special attention to the covenants of God with his people, in Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the New Covenant, showing how they trace God's mission throughout Israel's formative statements. He then concludes his discussion of God's people with a look at the ethical implications of God's mission and election, with a discussion of the role of the law as the instrument of God's purposes and blessing in the world. Each of these topics could warrant a full discussion, and some of them will probably warrant revisiting, but, in short, Wright traverses the span of the Old Testament showing that God is up to something, and Israel is where it begins, but certainly not where it ends. Through it all, there is always at least an eye to the nations (God's eye, if not always Israel's).

In the final part of the book, Wright broadens his scope to what he calls the "arena" of God's mission. Where is this mission situated, and who is involved. He begins with the whole earth, with a sustained and insightful discussion about the care of the earth, integrating creational responsibility into missional activity. He steps into what is often a sensitive issue in many evangelical camps with a clear and balanced call to take note of God's whole creation, and to care for it as part of God's mission, all the while noting that this doesn't mean a divinization of that creation. Instead he shows how care of creation is a part of our mission, how it fits with the larger picture of what God is doing in the world, and how it embodies the mission we as God's people are supposed to have to the world. He then goes on to discuss humanity as the field of God's mission, beginning with a discussion of humanity in God's image, demonstrating that we have been made for relationship with God, and that is God's intention for all people. He concludes the chapter with an insightful look at the Wisdom literature of the Bible, investigating how it incorporates the "wisdom" of other cultures (always critically) and can demonstrate how to create an international or cross-cultural bridge in our proclamation of God's truth. He also has a very insightful and important excursus in the middle of this chapter on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the mission of God's people in the world. It provides a clarion call to take note of opportunities to be part of what God is doing here on Earth and to note the opportunities to undertake God's work. Wright then concludes his discussion of the arenas of mission with a look at the "nations" in first the Old Testament and then in the New Testament. The Old Testament has a persistent eye on the nations, with Israel declared to be a nation of priests for God, but the fullness of God's plan for the full incorporation of the nations isn't fully made known until the New Testament, when this persistent vision of inclusion and universality is given God's means, in Jesus Christ. Finally, God's eschatological promises of the gathering of the nations, of the universality of God's blessing, are made known and are under way.

Christopher Wright's book, The Mission of God, is a spectacular work of theology. He achieves his goal of showing that God's mission is the underlying "grand narrative" of the Bible, from first chapter to last. Wright goes far beyond a "theology of mission" to demonstrate that "mission" itself is what God is all about, and it is God's mission that we need to take not of. Our "missions" are derivative and secondary, even as they are important.

Wright, as an Old Testament scholar, focuses especially on the Old Testament texts, but this is, I think, one of the greatest strengths of the book, for he demonstrates the broad sweep of who God is and what God is doing, painting a coherent and continuous picture from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. In fact, this book would be well used as an exercise in Old Testament Theology, as well as a book investigation the whole Bible, for he illumines most of the major themes of the Old Testament, creation, covenant, election, ethics and law, and fits them together into an elegant mosaic of God's purposes.

The Mission of God is technical at times, but still highly readable, and I recommend it enthusiastically. It helps bring to life the Old Testament, showing that it isn't just dusty literature with a few important prophecies, but that it is the very heart of God's revelation, brought to completion (not obscurity) in Jesus Christ. Wright does Christians a service, in showing what the Bible is all about, and I think he succeeds in showing that God is on a mission, and that this theme unifies the narrative of the Bible.