on 17 December 2010
'There should be no theology without missional impact; no mission without theological foundations'. That's what Chris Wright pens in the introduction, and that's what the book achieves.
The book is divided into three parts. A very brief opening section sets out some key issues, organised around the single question, 'who are we and what are we here for?'. A long second section offers more answers. Seven blistering chapters look at how mission begins with God's Creation, and how it is crystallised in God's calling of Abraham. After a brief interlude, six more chapters look at mission in the light of Christ's death, resurrection, ascension, and return. The third part consists of a brief final chapter with reflections and closing thoughts.
The key point of the book is that mission is not just endorsed by the Bible, but actually what the whole Bible is about. 'God doesn't have a mission for his church, he has a church for his mission', Wright says somewhere near the start. Early chapters focus on earlier parts of the Bible: Creation, Abraham, Moses, the book of Kings, Isaiah. Later chapters focus on what later parts of the Bible say in the light of the earlier parts. What Jesus says, what Paul writes, what Peter praises, and what John exhorts, are all studied in the light of Isaiah, Abraham, and others.
It's driven by a conviction that Christians in the west (and probably elsewhere) must get to grips with the simple point that mission is deeply ethical (something he illuminates with great explanations of Hebrew terms whose meanings tend to get simplified in translation). Many people involved in 'mission' ask 'how shall the nations hear?', he notes, but a more relevant question for the church to ask, is 'what do the nations see?'.
Wright chats to the reader in a bright, lively style. What he says is simply based on a good knowledge of the Bible. For instance, you don't need a PhD to pick up your Bible and see that Paul spends a lot longer writing about collections for famine relief than he does writing about justification by faith. But what a difference that makes to how we see what Paul's work was all about! It is 300 pages long, but still easy to dip into. I read the entire thing squashed on the commute to and from work, but still found it engaging, even late at night when I was tired and longing to get home!
One final thing. This book follows a 600-page doorstopper called 'The Mission of God' (still not out in paperback: why not?). That book asked if it was possible and right to read the whole Bible from the perspective of the mission of God. This book, Chris Wright says, is different: it moves on from those issues, to ask 'so what?'. It's a real treat. I recommend it for private reading, or even better, as the framework for a bible study group, or a weekend away.