The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 581 pp. $40.00.
There are many books on mission theology, a large number of which make a strong biblical case for mission. There are several books now that present the Bible as a book of mission. But Christopher Wright’s book stands out among all of these for a couple of reasons. First, and most obvious, he approaches the subject from the vantage point of an Old Testament scholar, focusing primarily on the missio Dei theme that runs throughout the Hebrew Bible. Beginning with God’s call of Abraham to the final pages of Revelation, Wright argues that God’s mission to restore God’s creation underlies every page of Christian Scripture.
Second, Wright is less interested in merely listing well-established passages that seem to speak of God’s desire to reach out to the nations than he is to show that Israel’s purpose as a nation was to be God’s outpost, leading the rest of the nations back to God. Israel was to be both priest and prophet to the world. In short, we need to approach the entire Bible with a missional hermeneutic rather than see “mission” as one of many biblical themes. “Mission,” in fact, is the glue that holds the Testaments together.
The book is well-structured for this purpose, divided into four main sections. Part one looks at “The Bible and Mission.” Wright quotes Charles Taber in claiming that the Bible is itself a product of God’s mission. He helps the reader to view the text from a broader perspective in order to see how the mission extends from God to humanity to Israel to Jesus and then on to the Church.
Part two covers “The God of Mission.” Again, looking at the text through a wide-angle lens, Wright shows how God consistently revealed God’s self to and through God’s people and later through God’s Son. He is especially keen to show how idolatry corrupted the mission and was, therefore, consistently targeted by God’s spokespeople.
Part three has to do with “The People of Mission.” Here Wright goes into a detailed exposition of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12:1-3, with particular attention to the meaning of being a “blessing.” God’s people are to be the instrument through which God will bless all peoples. This theme emerges throughout the Old and New Testaments. He looks at the themes of redemption and restoration using the models of the Exodus and the Jubilee. Both models reveal that God’s mission is multi-dimensional. God is interested in every aspect of God’s creation and every facet of humanity: spiritual, rational, physical, and social. Thus, the modern distinction between a gospel of proclamation and a “social” gospel is both ill-conceived and unbiblical. The ethical behavior of God’s people goes far beyond wooden legalism: it is the means by which they can become distinctively attractive as God’s emissaries to the nations.
Finally, part four deals with “The Arena of Mission.” Of particular note here is Wright’s understanding of how being created in God’s image has missional significance. He concludes with an overview of mission from both an Old Testament and a New Testament viewpoint.
Wright’s book is both masterful and comprehensive. Normally, we find books on mission written from the perspective of theologians or missiologists. The strength of this book lies in the fact that it was written from the standpoint of a biblical scholar. If there is any weakness, it may be in his fairly light treatment of the New Testament texts; but even here I believe it was intentional. The New Testament and God’s mission have long been connected in the minds of missiologists. Old Testament texts have long been used either as isolated examples of God’s interest in mission (e.g., Jonah’s call to preach to Nineveh) or as proof that occasionally God took interest in the nations (Psalm 67, Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the Temple, and others.) Wright goes beyond using the Hebrew Bible for apologetic anecdotes and shows convincingly that “mission” is the central theme of all of Scripture, and that what we find of it in the New Testament is consistent with and founded upon what already was there in the Old.
Michael L. Sweeney
Assistant Professor of World Mission and New Testament
Emmanuel School of Religion
Johnson City, Tennessee, USA