A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 4: Christ)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

A Hindu once asked Dr. E. Stanley Jones, ‘What has Christianity to offer that our religion has not?’ He replied, ‘Jesus Christ.'” Indeed, Jesus Christ is central to Christian belief and practice, and is the driving force in our missiology. He stands at the center of the universe, at the center of the Scriptures, and at the center of our missiology.

Jesus Christ is Supreme

Jesus Christ is pre-eminent-All things were created by Him, through Him, and for Him (Col 1:16). It is only through Him that man is saved (Acts 4:12) and only through Him that the church is built (Mt 16:18). It is in Christ, as Ajith Fernando asserts in The Supremacy of Christ, that “The Creator of the world has indeed presented the complete solution to the human predicament. As such it is supreme; it is unique; and it is absolute. So we have the audacity in this pluralistic age to say that Jesus as He is portrayed in the Bible is not only unique but also supreme.”

He is the Center of the Scriptures

In Christian mission, we are proclaiming the Scriptures, which proclaim none other than Christ himself. Both the Old and New Testaments are Christocentric-Christ Himself is the axis of the testaments, the linchpin of the canon. The purpose of the Scriptures is to present Christ (Luke 24:27).

How do the Scriptures present Christ? We may begin by saying that the central promise of the Scriptures is that God would send Messiah. Riveted to that is the further promise that Messiah would win the nations unto himself and indeed reconcile all things unto himself. From the third chapter of Genesis onwards, we see the triumphant march of God to fulfill that promise, in spite of seemingly impossible obstacles. God fulfilled His promise, in that Messiah came and dwelt among us. He was crucified, rose again, and ascended to heaven, where he is now at the right hand of God the Father. And God will further fulfill His promise, in that Messiah will come again and bring with Him a new heavens and a new earth.

He Has Commissioned Us

It is between the first and second coming of our Lord that we now live and minister. We live “between the times,” and our commission is to join Him as He wins the nations and reconciles all things unto Himself.

In Matthew’s gospel, we are given Jesus’ command: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In the first phrase, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” it is made clear that the follower of any other lord must repent and follow Jesus, and that this is on the basis of the supreme authority of the Lord of the universe. He created the universe; he sustains it; indeed, in Him all things hold together. He has authority over Satan, evil spirits, the forces of nature, the human race, and indeed all of the created order. We go in confidence.

Next, Our Lord gives the imperative, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In this command, we are instructed to make disciples, and not merely professions of faith. Moreover, we are given directives for disciple-making. We are to do so through baptism (and therefore in the context of His church) and in the name of the Triune God (who alone can save).

Moreover, making disciples includes “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The missiological implications of this are manifold. Here are two:

First, the “commands of Christ” are contained in the Christian Scriptures. There is no true evangelism or discipleship apart from the proclamation of the Word of God. Any other tool that we may use, such as apologetic dialogue, is preliminary and is for the purpose of engaging that person with the Word of God.

Second, the “commands of Christ” are not limited to those statements in the New Testament in which Jesus speaks in the imperative. Indeed, the entirety of Scripture, including Old and New Testaments, teaches us what God has done through Christ. Anything that Scripture teaches, Christ teaches. There are some who would say that this is “bibliolatry,” that we are making a paper pope of the Bible. They would set Christ in opposition to the Scriptures, and then claim that their allegiance is to Christ but not to the Scriptures. They “just want to follow Jesus.” And it is our conviction that the only way to follow Jesus is to follow him back to the Bible. We follow him, for example, to Mt 5: 18, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” All Scripture is inspired by God, and hence also bears the insignia of Christ. Our evangelism and discipleship, therefore, will include the clear teaching of the entire canon of Scripture.

He is the Impetus for Missiology

In the final phrase of Mt 28:20, our Lord promises, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is our confidence, that we go under the authority of Christ and in the very presence of Christ. Missiology is at its heart Christological. There is perhaps no better picture of the Christological nature of missiology than Rev 5, where we see the Lamb-Like Lion receiving the worship of the nations, as the nations sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”

We now live in anticipation of His Second Coming, when He will be seen in all of His splendor as the King of the Nations. Until that time, and upon His authority, it is our charge to proclaim the gospel to all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations, whether they be found far or near.

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 3: The Triune God)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

The doctrine of God is absolutely central to all of the church’s life. Ironically, however, we seem to have the most difficult time allowing this doctrine to drive our practice. How does such a lofty and majestic doctrine speak to concrete and even mundane practices? How do God’s Trinitarian nature, His creativity and His sovereignty affect our strategies and methods? To begin with, here are several:

God as Trinity

One of the central tasks of proclamation is to communicate the gospel across cultures and across languages. We are called to communicate the precious truth of a God who took on human flesh, who lived and died and rose again, and who will return and bring with him a new heavens and a new earth. And we are called to do so with people who speak different languages and who live in cultures far removed from our own.

This challenge lies at the heart of missiology. Entire forests have been chopped down to make way for the books, articles, and essays on cross-cultural communication and contextualization. But nearly all of these publications fail to recognize that the success of this enterprise rests squarely on the shoulders of the Triune God. In fact, the Trinity is a model of accomplished communication. The Triune God is God the Father (the One who speaks), God the Son (the Word), and God the Spirit (the one who illumines and guides and teaches); God the Father speaks through His Son and we as humans are enabled to hear and understand that communication by His Spirit. The Trinity is a demonstration, contra Derrida and others, that accomplished communication is possible.

God as Creator & King

It is God who created this world in which we minister and God who gave us the capacities to minister. As Creator, he gave us the world in which we now live, and it is a good world. It is ontologically good and-although it is morally corrupt-we ought to use any and all aspects of God’s world to bring Him glory. We are able, like Abraham Kuyper, bring the gospel to bear upon the arts, the sciences, and the public square. We may, as Martin Luther urged, bring the gospel to bear upon our multiple callings-workplace, family, church, and community. In short, we have the great opportunity to give God glory across the fabric of human existence and in every dimension of human culture.

Indeed, it is God who made us in his image, capable of being spiritual, moral, rational, relational, and creative. Although it is Jesus Christ who is Himself the image of God (Col 1:15), we human beings are made in the image of God. Moreover, salvation includes the conforming of sinful men to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29), in which we are remade into the image of our Creator (Col 3:10). The gospel, therefore, affects all aspects of man in the image of God, and further all aspects of man in the image of God ought to be used to minister in God’s world.

Furthermore, it is this same God who claims sovereignty over all of his creation, and directs His church’s mission to extend across all of creation. He is the Lord over every tribe, tongue, tongue, people, and nation-over every type of person who has ever lived across the span of history and the face of the globe. And he is the Lord over every facet of human life-over the artistic, the scientific, the philosophical, the economic, and the socio-political. “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps 24:1).

God and His Name

The Scriptures describe how God does all that He does for the sake of His name, for His renown, for His glory. He created man for his glory (Is 43:7) and chose Israel for His glory (Is 49:3). God delivered Israel from Egypt for His name’s sake (Ps 106:7-8) and restored them from exile for his glory (Is 48:9-11). He sent our Lord Jesus Christ so that the Gentiles would give Him glory (Ro 15:8-9) and then vindicated His glory by making propitiation through His Son (Rom 3:23-26). He sent the Spirit to glorify the Son (Jn 16:14) and tells us to do all things for His glory (1 Cor 10:31). He will send his Son again to receive glory (2 Thess 1:9-10) and will fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Hab 2:14; Is 6:1-3). Indeed, all of this is so, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10).

Indeed God in all of his blazing glory stands at the center of the universe. He is the fountainhead of all truth, all goodness, and all beauty. And it is the increase of His glory that is God’s ultimate goal and man’s ultimate purpose.

One implication of this for mission is that we have the great joy of proclaiming that God’s goal to be glorified enables man’s purpose, which is to be truly satisfied. The Psalmist writes, “O God, You are my God; early will I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1). Man’s deepest thirst turns out to be God’s highest goal-for man to bring glory to God in all that He does. The road toward pleasing God and giving Him glory and the road toward knowing deep happiness are not two roads; they are one. The message we bring to the nations is one that, for them, is profoundly good news.

Another implication of this for the missional Christian is that if our ultimate goal is God’s glory, then we are set free from unbridled pragmatism. Our ultimate goal is to please God, not to manipulate or coerce professions of faith, church growth, or church multiplication. And so, we are directed away from the temptation to engage in evangelism and discipleship that subverts the gospel or the health of the church, and are free to proclaim the gospel God’s way and leave the results to God.

God’s Mission

Finally, and this point will be expanded upon at a later time, mission finds its origin in God. Mission is God-centered rather than man-centered, being rooted in God’s gracious will to glorify Himself. Mission is defined by God. It is organized, energized, and directed by God. Ultimately, it is accomplished by God. The church cannot understand her mission apart from the mission of God.

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 2: Revelation)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

For three decades now, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have united over their belief in the inspiration of Holy Scripture. Unlike those, such as Freud or Russell, who see the Scriptures as human constructions devoid of supernatural revelation, we believe that Scripture is given supernaturally by God. Indeed, it is the very breath of God (2 Tim 3:16). And differing from those, such as Barth or Brunner, who see the Scriptures as a merely human witness to divine revelation, we believe that Scripture is ipsissma verba Dei, the very words of God.

If the Christian Scriptures are indeed the very words of God, then we will want to mold our strategies and methods according to the words of God. And while this might seem to be a yawningly obvious observation, we must pay careful attention in light of the fact that we often do not allow the Scriptures to drive our methods of evangelism, discipleship, church growth, and church planting. Our tendency is to shout very loudly about inerrancy, while undermining that same conviction by our practices.

Instead, we must consciously, carefully, and consistently seek to understand the Grand Biblical Narrative and its implications for church practice, and in particular for our missiological method. This is hard work because (1) as our global, national, and cultural contexts change from era to era, our missiology must be re-worked and re-written afresh for every generation; and (2) proof-texting will not do. Many of the particular challenges that we face are not addressed explicitly by Scripture. Rather, we must call forth the deep-level principles in the Bible and allow them to speak with propriety and prescience to the issue at hand.

This is not to say that we may not learn from extra-biblical sources. In fact, it pleases God for us to use the full faculties of reason and observation as we minister. We ought to read widely in history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, marketing, and other disciplines. It is God who created us with the capacities for reason and imagination and who allows us the great privilege and responsibility of using those for his glory. Theologians have spoken of God’s “two books,” the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. In the Book of Scripture, God has provided us a special knowledge of, for example, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation by grace through faith alone, while in the Book of Nature he has provided us a general knowledge of man and the rest of the created order.

God is the author of both books, and they are not in conflict with one another. When properly interpreted, they agree. How, then, might a missiologist view such disciplines as history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and marketing? Of what use are such disciplines? How are they positioned in light of Christian Scripture?

Among the ways that they might be helpful, here are five:

First, they may be helpful in recognizing God’s existence and some of his attributes (Rom 1). We may make ontological, teleological, cosmological, and moral arguments for the existence of one God, based upon what we may learn in philosophy, anthropology, or sociology.

Second, they may be helpful for fleshing out, or applying, biblical theology. For example, the disciplines of cultural anthropology and sociology are helpful in fleshing out the doctrine of man and man’s relationship to God, himself, others, and the rest of the created order. The psychological and pedagogical disciplines are helpful in teaching us about learning styles and the process of changing a person’s view of the world and life.

Third, they may be helpful in illustrating biblical theology. We often are able to illustrate such concepts as God’s love and fatherhood, or man’s sin and its consequences, through the use of insights gleaned from anthropology and sociology.

Fourth, they may be helpful in subverting false theologies. We may use philosophy and the social sciences to defend the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel, in response to those who would attack us. Further, we may use them to, in Schaeffer’s words, “take the roof off” of opposing salvific systems, showing them to be false saviors, lacking in logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and existential viability.

Fifth, they may be helpful in understanding those to whom we proclaim the gospel. Reading widely in history and current affairs, for example, helps us to understand the civilizational, cultural, and social contexts of those to whom we minister.

This, then, is a very limited exploration of how the doctrine of revelation comes to bear upon the church’s practice. In riveting missiological practice to the doctrine of revelation, we must beware of at least two dangers. The first is to allow the insights gleaned from general revelation (in particular, anthropology, sociology, and business marketing) to take the driver’s seat in missiology. The second danger, however, is to give theology the driver’s seat and demand that no other discipline be allowed a seat. To do so, I believe, is to reject the great gift that God has given us in allowing us to study and interact with His good world. game download