The Practice of Mission Theology

“Theology is important – as long as academic theologizing is not confused with Christian living” (Introducing World Missions, 71).

I get the point, but I would push back in the following ways:

1. “Theologizing” at its best is the highest form of conversation and has intrinsic value in itself. It seeks to think God’s thoughts after him, however feebly.

2. When the Church “does theology” well, it is often the contested place where the Spirit leads God’s people into a deeper understanding of “God and all things in their God-relatedness.”

3. Theology, properly understood and practiced, is itself a component of Christian living; it is best not to extract it from this fuller context. The question is how to practice theology wisely and in submission to Christ, with the aid of the Spirit, and for God’s glory.

4. To do “mission theology,” therefore, (both local or global) is a most worthy exercise in which the Spirit may well lead us into deeper insight into the mission Dei, resulting in more faithful Christian discipleship as the Church participates in God’s mission in the world.

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Wisdom Christology at Credo Magazine

Luke Stamps has written a helpful and fair review of Wisdom Christology at Credo Magazine. His concern that I may underplay the legitimate function of Lady Wisdom as a Christological type is a valid concern. I commented on the legitimate use of such an approach in an earlier interview with Andy Naselli at the Gospel Coalation. The relevant part follows here:

The Gospel Coalition has been highlighting resources on preaching Christ in the Old Testament. How does your book help people in this regard?

These confessional texts and New Testament Christology in general have multiple Old Testament roots. So when students of the New Testament locate such a strand (particularly one related to creation, redemption, and revelation) the proper move would be to

run the theme through the OT,

then to the life and ministry of Jesus, and

finally to a confession about Christ in one of these apostolic texts.

Consider “wisdom” in Proverbs 8. Like the function of other Old Testament figures and institutions (e.g., prophets, angels, Torah, temple), Wisdom culminates in Christ. If I were preaching from Proverbs 8, I would look earlier to God’s creation by his word in Genesis 1. Then I would move forward to Christ’s public ministry, with his verbal power over creation exhibited in his nature miracles. I would then land in John’s prologue, which emphasizes the Word and the Son’s creative power. Or one could end in Hebrews 1:1-4, where the Son’s creative power symmetrically aligns with his redemptive power (i.e., the one who “made” all things is the same one who “made” cleansing for sin).

The practical takeaway is that we can be confident that the gospel is the wisdom and power of God (Rom 1:16). God powerfully removes our sins. This helps God’s people see that the Old and New Testaments cohere, that Christology is rich, and that the gospel is climatically important.

Wisdom in the New Testament by Thiselton

Anthony ThiseltonAnthony Thiselton has written some helpful comments on Wisdom that are relevant to my recent book, Wisdom Christology.   Here is the bibliographic information, followed by an abstract of his article.

“Wisdom in James denotes not intellectual cleverness but a practical gift from God for everyday life, especially in the face of trials. Parallels exist in Judaism and Stoicism. In the Gospels wisdom often finds expression in short, pithy aphorisms, particularly in ‘Q’ and in pronouncements following parables. Jesus is more, but not less, than a wisdom-teacher. Examples are considered. In Corinth wisdom had become a status-seeking commodity. Hence Paul speaks of the wisdom of God and of the cross. In the Pauline epistles wisdom has Christological significance.”

Expanding the Church’s Vision of “Witness”

John G. Flett on The Witness of God

This quote is worth pondering.  It sets the present mission of the Church in a richer eternal and Trinitarian context:

“Witness is the nature of the Son’s relationship with the Father (John 14:10), the Father’s relationship to the Son (John 5:32), the Spirit’s relationship to the Son (John 15:26), the Son’s relationship to the disciples (Acts 26:16-18), and the disciples’ relationship to the Son (Rev. 7:9-10).  Witness is not something beyond which the community will move in the eschaton.  It is the very nature of the eschaton, for it is the very nature of the history that is the human fellowship with the divine (pp. 224-225).

While much of Fleet’s book is a critique of the use of the “missio Dei” motif  (it has functioned almost like a “Master Signifier” to link it with the fascinating and troubling book, The End of Evangelicalism? by David E. Fitch).  However, in chapter six  (“The Trinity Is a Missionary God”) Fleet gets to his positive construction.  The following paragraph summarizes his thesis well:

“The question of the grounding and consequent form of mission is, first, a question of who God is in himself.  God is a missionary God because his deliberate acting in apostolic movement toward humanity is not a second step alongside – and thus in distinction to – his perfect divine being.  In his economy, in his movement for the human, God lives his own eternal life….Second, it is a question of how it is actual that this God lives his own proper life in the economy of salvation.  Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and humanity, has objectively completed the reconciliation of the world, and he calls humanity to active participation in the fellowship of God’s self-humiliation and his exaltation of the human.  Third it is a question of the accomplishment of reconciliation. The Spirit acts to secure the human’s subjective involvement in God’s act, uniting the human with the history that takes place first in God’s own life and then in the history of Jesus Christ with us.  Participation in this history takes the particular form of a servant.  That is, the community accompanies Jesus Christ in his mission as she herself is an apostolic community – shaped to be so by the witness of the Spirit” (197).

For a helpful reviews of the book see the following:

Deanna Ferree Womack’s review at Princeton Theological Seminary

W. Travis McMaken  at Der Evangelische Theologe

Sarah Wilson at The Lutheran Forum

And for some helpful background to the discussion, see the post by Andrew Perriman:

“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 1

Allah

Miroslav Volf has written an important book  for the church on the question of the God of Islam and the God of Christianity, entitled  Allah: A Christian Response.  Whether one agrees with Volf on all the details of his argument or not, this volume will help advance an important and necessary conversation.  May this  help us who confess to follow Jesus to be “peacemakers” and faithful to the gospel.  May Muslims who  listen to our conversation find a people who love in word and deed.