wholes and holes

A couple of blindspots have been exposed in recent decades...

First-up there is the recognition that the earth needs stewardship and the environment needs care. The genius of Genesis 1 & 2 is that it constitutes every possible relationship (God:world; God:humanity; humanity:humanity; humanity:world) - but then from Genesis 3 all of these relationships get stained and ruined by sinfulness and evil. Part of aligning ourselves with the mission of God in the world is to be agents of reconciliation and restoration in each of these relationships. But the two involving the "world" have always struggled to grab some headlines. But I guess people like Al Gore have shamed followers of Jesus into waking up to these issues...

Then there is the recognition that this sinfulness and evil has wrecked the relationship which mentions "humanity" twice (humanity:humanity) leading to a world racked with poverty and injustice. Part of aligning ourselves with the mission of God in the world is to work for justice and equality now, knowing that a judgement day is coming that deals with those situations where we are unsuccessful. As my heart becomes more attuned to injustice (as it has been doing) I find I become so expectant, so excited, about that coming day when God will both punish badness and vindicate goodness and do so for eternity. The people of Israel used to sing about that hope (for example, Psalm 96:11-13) - and so should we.

But here is my question...
If we were to reach a point where the earth is fully cared-for and people everywhere live free from injustice and poverty, has the mission of God on earth been accomplished?

I don't think so!

There is more to the mission of God than this. There is a worrying danger today that in pursuit of a more wholistic gospel (that's good) we might end up with a gospel with gaping holes in it (that's bad).

When Jesus mourned over Jerusalem at the end of Matthew 23, it was not because the city of Jerusalem was beginning to slip into nearby Gehenna, an environmentally-unfriendly wasteland. Nor was it because the people of Jerusalem were oppressed and impoverished, even though they were. Jesus was mourning because they had rejected him and they were lost until they found him, enabling him to be to them "as a hen gathering her chicks under her wings" (Matt 23:37). That is why Jesus mourned. Lost people were remaining lost...

When the great commission was given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 it expressed God's desire to bless all peoples on earth through Abraham. Then when we get to Rev 4 & 5 with "every tribe and language and people and nation" around the throne, God turns to Abraham and says "See, I told you so - I told you I'd do it - here they all are." Actually Chris Wright says it much better in The Mission of God (IVP, 2006): "And God, in the midst of the resounding praises, will turn to Abraham and say, 'There you are, I kept my promise. Mission accomplished." (251)

Ahhh, there are the words that matter -"mission accomplished" - and this is when it happens. Let's be careful that in following Jesus in this world we allow the biblically-shaped gospel to be our guide - in all its fullness and devoid of gaping holes.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor


Mark Maffey said…
The Key word here is RELATIONSHIP.
God's desire is not only the redemption of creation, but also humankind. The Westminster Shorter Catechism captures what our response to God should be "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." God's desire is that we do worship him and he enjoys "inhabits" those praises when they are accompanied by Justice and Righteousness (Amos 5ff) and Micah 6:8 being verses that reflect this view.

God's desire to reconcile that which is lost is no more clearly demonstrated by the three stories in Luke 15, (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal). In Luke 9:35-38 Jesus's compassion and desire to labourers for the harvest reflects the challenge facing the Church. Are we prepared to play our part in the redemptive work in a Lost world. Are we prepared to be the CURES for a lost world

I do agree that without relating to God, our very existence has missed the point. However, I don't see much of the church making that particular mistake. My view of the church is pretty restricted as my illness prevents me from attending a church, but all of the 'feeding' that I get in terms of both environmental stuff and human reconciliation stuff comes from secular sources. And the church I am nominally a part of (and am trying to integrate into) is firmly focused on evangelism and expresses no particular concern for God's creation. Or any deep concern for any aspect of their wellbeing other than their salvation (there are community ministry things, but they seem to be firmly understood as hooks to bring people in so that they can be saved). It was a revelation to me to hear Colin Marshall once expounding from Romans that God cares for and wishes to redeem all creation. As both a keen tramper and a bit of a neo-hippie, I'd always been concerned for the world, but I'd never previously seen that as an expression of my faith. These days I do, passionately, but the Christians with whom I have contact generally seem oblivious to it.

So, sure, if you move in circles where those concerns are paramount and relationship with God is being lost as a key concern, then that's definitely a problem. But I've yet to come across many Christians suffering from that particular error.

I'd be interested to know what other people see in their communities.

Richard said…
excellent post! I tend to find people want to view mission and redemption in very either or kind of ways...either its about creation and having a super-realised eschatology or its "Jesus and me" type sentimentallity. Its good to read someone articulate the balance so well without falling into dualism and a kind of existentialised personal salvation, or alternatively the old school liberal social gospel.

one of the problems i currently have is that much of the reaction against the first "blindspot", and resulting attempt at christian social action and work for "justice now" is that it often seems to buy into a Constantinian framework where we are simply going back to the mistakes of early 20th century. Many Christians (both the emerging type and many more niebuhr esque right wing groups like maxim, vision nz etc.) seem to think that the way to achieve and display kingdom goals , values and biblical justice is by essentially becoming or pressuring Caesar and pressuming that liberal democracy is a quasi-biblical form of governance. This means we lose our visibility as a trully alternative community and society to the rest of our world, and we begin to lose the more personal "on the ground" aspect of God's mission...ie seeking and saving the lost through conversion and showing signs of God's present and coming reign and rule.

I want to see more on the ground, pracitical and sacrifical emphasis on social justice and putting the world right where our identity and call to declare Jesus as Lord is obvious, and not wrapped up in some alternative ideology like liberalism or neo-conservatism. Wouldnt it be great if we could no longer see mission to the lost and bringing about those larger kingdom goals of justice as being diferent goals or missions? The early church seemed to hold these two together fairly well, and i wonder if that was because they hadn't seperated them into seperate "political" and "religious" spheres, nor did they have the option of using state power to achieve such goals.
A. J. Chesswas said…
"If we were to reach a point where the earth is fully cared-for and people everywhere live free from injustice and poverty, has the mission of God on earth been accomplished?"

Aside from the evangelical concerns, the other problem with this question is that it implies that it is some static picture on earth that God is after - a point in time where everything is perfect - rather than emphasising that caring for the Earth and for each other is a dynamic and perpetual thing always changing in the way we express these relationships. We relate t a person differently as they grow from child to adult, just as we do to a person who grows from being carnal to being sanctified. And the only person who has been perfectly sanctified yet is the Son of God himself.

I believe that Genesis 2 is more than just a myth with a good meaning - my feeling is that man's primary vocation at that time was as a gardener. A gardener is one cut above an environmentalist, because not only does he restore landscapes to pristine conditions, but he works with those conditions, and adds his human creative order, to make something even more beautiful - and often even more sustainable and eco-friendly. This gardener, this botanist, is also a zoologist - taking interest in every created being, being devoted to see all of creation - humans, plants and animals - flourish under the blessing of God.

The first Christian calling before the fall and the need for atonement, the "cultural mandate" as some like to call it, is to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, have dominion over it, and tend to it and care for it. This is an endless calling which never reaches a static perfect state, but requires constant attention and care.
Glen said…
"The living God is the God of justice and justification" - Stott, issues Facing Christians today (great book).

I think we can be in danger of separating 'spiritual salvation' from emotional and physical redemption. Jesus said that the kingdom of God was at hand, not that it would be available on death - or as Bono would suggest "Pie in the sky for the day we die".

Jesus not only proclaimed the good news of God, but demonstrated its arrival by healing the sick, feeding the hungry. He then sends us into mission as he was sent by his Father (John 20:21).

Therefore, in the same way that Jesus demonstrated salvation holistically we must too. Not to separate or even differentiate mission qualities as mission attributes.
Paul said…
Thanks for these contributions - they have each added something to my own understanding.

I have continued to read Chris Wright's The Mission of God subsequent to posting this little piece. He actually goes on to specifically address these issues. In a section entitled "Practice and Priorities" (316f) he opts for the language of "ultimacy" over "primacy" in the discussion over holism in mission.

May I quote it at length? It states so well what I have been scratching away at.

"...almost any starting point can be appropriate, depending on what is the most pressing or obvious need. We can enter the circle of missional response at any point in the circle of human need. But ultimately we must not rest content until we have included within our own missional response the wholeness of God's missional response to the human predicament - and that of course includes the good news of Christ, the cross and resurrection, the forgiveness of sin ... That is why I speak of ultimacy rather than primacy. Mission may not always begin with evangelism. But mission that does not ultimately include declaring the Word and the name of Christ, the call to repentance, and faith and obedience has not completed its task. It is defective mission, not holistic mission." (319)

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