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Friday, October 21, 2022

What is the New Testament’s vision of mission?

What is the New Testament’s vision of mission?

I have just published my second Grove booklet of the summer: What is the New Testament's Vision of Mission? Here I offer the introduction and conclusion; the intermediate chapters explore some key passages in the NT which give insight into mission theology and practice. 

Does the New Testament have a vision of mission? At one level, no; our Bibles are a collection of diverse writings from many contexts written by a whole range of different human authors, so it would be problematic to suggest that this collection could have a single intension or vision. Yet the collection of these writings into one ‘canon’ of Scripture claims that they have a theological coherence, visible despite their diversity. They describe the action of God in relation to his people and to the wider world, and if they are a true testimony to God, God’s own unity of purpose and action will be visible here.

But Scripture is always ready to surprise us, and we need repeatedly to return to the vision set out here, since (God says) ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ (Isa 55.8). The first and biggest surprise that it has for us is that, despite the importance of ‘mission’ as an idea in Christian ministry, the word (in the sense we normally use it) doesn’t occur anywhere in the Bible!

This is because ‘mission’ is an abstract noun, and most often the Bible deals with concrete actions. And the term is derived from the Latin missio, the act of sending someone, which in turn derives from the verb mittere, meaning ‘to release, let go, send or throw.’ This gives us our way in to understanding what Scripture says about mission: God is constantly ‘sending’ people. This connects with the common use of the term ‘mission’ in the world around us; it is most often used as the title of a task give to someone to accomplish by another person who has a larger goal (‘This is your mission, if you are willing to accept it: to…’). 

So, before turning to our New Testament passages for taking soundings and samplings, we need to understand the broader picture of ‘mission’ that we find across the whole canon of Scripture.

The Beginning of Mission

The story of God forming his people Israel starts with God’s call to Abraham: ‘Go from your country, your land and your father’s household to the land I will show you…’ (Gen 12.1). This involves a sharp disruption in his situation, relationships and occupation—though continuing a journey that his father Terah failed to complete (Gen 11.31). God doesn’t specify exactly where Abraham will end up, and is commissioning him for a task that seems humanly impossible—both of which will demand that Abraham trusts God like never before.

With the call of Abraham, we are immediately introduced to a vital dynamic of mission for the people of God: it is about them, but this is a means to the wider end of God’s reaching out to the whole world. 

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 12.2–3). 

There is some ambiguity here about the nature and means of blessing. But it is striking that, at the outset of God’s call to Abraham, God sets before him a much bigger vision of what God intends to do. It is a bigger vision that, through the biblical narrative, his people struggle to keep hold of.

The post What is the New Testament’s vision of mission? first appeared on Psephizo.

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